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Biography of Alexander Hamilton


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Hamilton, Alexander (1757-1804), was born at Nevis, in the West Indies, January 11, 1757. His father was Scotch; his mother, French. He was sent to New York City to be educated. He was enrolled at King's College when the Revolutionary War broke out. He was a student of unusual precocity. He began writing political pamphlets at the age of seventeen. When hostilities began he organized a company of cavalry and served in the battles of Long Island and White Plains. Washington placed confidence in his ability and made him a member of his staff. After Yorktown, young Hamilton married the daughter of General Schuyler and settled in New York to practice law. He could not refrain from politics, however. In 1782 Hamilton was in the Continental Congress. He took part in the Annapolis Convention of 1786. He was also a member of the Constitutional Convention of 1787. Hamilton advocated a constitution granting the general government much more extensive authority than was finally agreed to. When the Constitution was submitted to the votes of the several states for ratification, Hamilton entered into the discussion in its favor with all his heart. With others, he wrote a series of pamphlets devoted to arguments in favor of adopting the new constitution.

Hamilton was decidedly undemocratic. He wished a "governor" for life, chosen by electors selected by electors, and to his elected king he wished to give an absolute veto upon all legislation. The senate he wished to compose of members chosen for life by electors, while, for the lower house of Congress, he would have had only freeholders vote. The state governments he would have wiped out, or have left wholly dependent upon the central government.

In 1789 Hamilton entered Washington's cabinet as the first secretary of the treasury. His opinions on financial matters, on the public credit, methods of raising revenue, the mint, the bank, manufactures, etc., were law with the administration. Hamilton and Jefferson came into direct conflict. Hamilton left the cabinet in 1795. He advocated putting down the whiskey insurrection with a firm hand. He defended Jay's Treaty with Great Britain. He assisted Washington in composing his farewell address.

Hamilton and Aaron Burr were not only bitter political enemies, but local rivals. Hamilton thwarted some of Burr's dearest plans. Burr, though vice-president of the United States, brought on a duel with his opponent at Weehawken, New Jersey, opposite the city of New York, in which Hamilton was mortally wounded. He died July 12, 1804.

Hamilton's private life was far from right. He was imperious in his manners and had a degree of self-confidence that in any other man would be considered sheer egotism. He was one of the most brilliant and intellectual men ever connected with public affairs in this country. His writings were, for their day, marvelously ingenious and strongly formed pieces of argument. He possessed a genius for organization and administration such as belongs to few men. The faults of his private life, the quarrelsomeness of his disposition, and the manner of his death have prevented him from receiving the full degree of admiration and praise that is due.