Founding Father Alexander Hamilton was very active in the founding of our nation. I found too much information about him to include in one post and so divided it. See Part 1 for more information.
Alexander Hamilton was an active participant in the Constitutional Convention. Even though he did not like the final form of the Constitution, he considered it to be a “vast improvement over the Articles of Confederation”. He signed the Constitution and urged his fellow delegates to also sign. Hamilton was the only signer from New York because the other members of the delegation left the convention earlier. He “took a highly active part” in successfully getting New York to ratify the document in 1788.
Realizing that New York’s ratification “was a crucial step in its national ratification,” Hamilton recruited John Jay and James Madison to write a series of essays defending the proposed Constitution. Their essays are known as the Federalist Papers. Hamilton wrote 51 of the 85 essays while Madison wrote 29 and Jay wrote five. “Hamilton’s essays and arguments were influential in New York state, and elsewhere, during the debates over ratification. The Federalist Papers are more often cited than any other primary source by jurists, lawyers, historians, and political scientists as the major contemporary interpretation of the Constitution.”
Hamilton wrote in the Federalist No. 11, 1787: “Let the thirteen States, bound together in a strict and indissoluble Union, concur in erecting one great American system, superior to the control of all trans-Atlantic force or influence and able to dictate the terms of the connection between the old and the new world.”
In 1788, Hamilton served another term in the Continental Congress in the final session under the Articles of Confederation. Newly elected President George Washington appointed Hamilton to be the first United States Secretary of the Treasury on September 11, 1789, and he served until January 31, 1795. “Much of the structure of the government of the United States was worked out in those five years, beginning with the structure and function of the cabinet itself.”
While Hamilton served as Treasury Secretary, political factions began to emerge. James Madison and Thomas Jefferson belonged to the Republicans, now called the Democratic-Republican Party, and Hamilton and his allies called themselves the Federalists. Hamilton’s Federalists supported the Administration and expansive financial programs and opposed France. The Jeffersonian Republicans opposed banks and cities but favored France. “Both sides gained the support of local political factions; each side developed its own partisan newspapers… All the newspapers were characterized by intense personal attacks, major exaggerations and invented claims.”
France and Britain went to war early in 1793, and President George Washington consulted with all four members of his Cabinet. Washington and his Cabinet were unanimous in their decision to remain neutral and to send the French ambassador home. By 1794 the American policy toward Britain was a major cause of problems between the two parties. The Federalists wanted more trade with Britain, America’s largest trading partner, and Republicans thought Britain was a threat to republicanism and proposed a trade war.
Washington did not want war and sent Chief Justice John Jay to negotiate with the British. Jay’s instructions were mostly written by Hamilton, and the result was Jay’s Treaty. The Republicans denounced the Treaty, but it passed the Senate in 1795 by exactly the required two-thirds majority. “The Treaty resolved issues remaining from the Revolution, averted war, and made possible ten years of peaceful trade between the United States and Britain.”
Hamilton was involved in an affair with Maria Reynolds in 1791 that nearly ruined his reputation. Her husband James blackmailed Hamilton for money by threatening to tell Mrs. Hamilton. He told several prominent members of the Democratic-Republican Party – two of whom were James Monroe and Aaron Burr – who interviewed Hamilton. He insisted that he had not abused his position but admitted to the affair. Since his personal behavior had not affected his official duties, the interviewers did not publish the information. After Hamilton retired, rumors began to spread about an affair, and he published a confession which shocked his family and supporters. This confession damaged his reputation for the rest of his life.
Even though Hamilton resigned from the office of Secretary of the Treasury in 1795, he remained close to Washington as an advisor and friend. He “influenced Washington in the composition of his Farewell Address; Washington and members of his Cabinet often consulted with him.”
Hamilton worked behind the scenes in the presidential elections, sometimes working against candidates from both parties, and made enemies. He apparently said or wrote things that caused Aaron Burr to sense an attack on his honor. Burr demanded an apology, but Hamilton could not recall any reason to apologize. The two men exchanged “three testy letters”, and friends tried to avert a confrontation. In spite of all the efforts, a duel was scheduled for dawn on July 11, 1804; the site chosen was a rocky ledge in Weehawken, New Jersey, along the west bank of the Hudson River. As chance would have it, this was the same dueling site where Hamilton’s eldest son, Philip, was killed three years earlier.
Vice President Aaron Burr shot Hamilton while Hamilton’s shot broke a tree branch directly above Burr’s head. Hamilton may or may not have missed on purpose. Burr’s shot hit Hamilton in the lower abdomen above the right hip, ricocheted off his second or third “false rib”, fractured the rib, and caused internal damage, particularly to the liver and diaphragm. The bullet “lodged in the first or second lumbar vertebra.”
Hamilton was paralyzed and knew he had been mortally wounded. He was taken back to Greenwich Village in New York to the home of his friend William Bayard, Jr. who was waiting on the dock. Hamilton was visited by his family and friends and had “considerable suffering” before he died on the following afternoon, July 12, 1804, at Bayard’s home (now 80-82 Jane Street) at the age of 49.
Gouverneur Morris was one of Hamilton’s political allies and gave the eulogy at his funeral; he also secretly established a fund to support Widow Hamilton and the children. Alexander Hamilton was buried in the Trinity Churchyard Cemetery in Manhattan.
Alexander Hamilton’s likeness is on the Series 2004A $10 Federal Reserve Note, based on an 1805 portrait by John Trumbull. His interpretations of the Constitution as set forth in the Federalist Papers remain highly influential, as shown by scholarly studies and court decisions.
The Constitution does not state the exact balance of power between national and state governments, and Hamilton was consistent in his efforts to give greater power to the federal government at the expense of the states. “As Secretary of the Treasury, he established – against the intense opposition of Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson – the country’s first national bank. Hamilton justified the creation of this bank, and other increased federal powers, under Congress’s constitutional powers to issue currency, to regulate interstate commerce, and to do anything else that would be `necessary and proper’ to enact the provisions of the Constitution.” Jefferson found no specific authorization in the Constitution for a national bank, and the controversy was later settled by the Supreme Court in McCulloch v. Maryland. The court took the same view as Hamilton and granted “the federal government broad freedom to select the best means to execute its constitutionally enumerated powers, specifically the doctrine of implied powers.”
Hamilton’s policies as Secretary of the Treasury affected at the time and continue to influence the federal government. “His constitutional interpretation, specifically of the Necessary and Proper Clause, set precedents for federal authority that are still used by the courts and are considered an authority on constitutional interpretation.
“Opinions of Hamilton have run the gamut: both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson viewed him as unprincipled and dangerously aristocratic. Aaron Burr and Hamilton became personal enemies. Herbert Croly, Henry Cabot Lodge, and Theodore Roosevelt directed attention to him at the end of the 19th century in the interest of an active federal government, whether or not supported by tariffs. Several nineteenth- and twentieth-century Republicans entered politics by writing laudatory biographies of Hamilton.”
While historians use him to push their favored agenda, Hamilton is remembered by numerous monuments and memorials. Hamilton’s portrait began to appear on US currency ($2, $5, $10, and $50 notes) by the time of the Civil War. His likeness was also on US postage beginning in 1870. His picture is currently on the $10 bill and also on the $500 Series EE Savings Bond. The portrait of Hamilton on the $10 bill is John Trumbull’s 1805 portrait of Hamilton found in the portrait collection of New York City Hall. A statue of Hamilton is located on the south side of the Treasury Building in Washington. The US Postal Service issued on March 19, 1956, the $5 Liberty Issue postage stamp honoring Hamilton.
“The only home Hamilton ever owned was a Federal style mansion designed by John McComb Jr., which he built on his 32 acre country estate in Harlem in upper Manhattan. He named the house – which was completed in 1802 – the `Grange’ after his grandfather Alexander’s estate in Ayrshire, Scotland. The house remained in the family until 1833 when his widow sold it to Thomas E. Davis, a British born real estate developer for $25,000. Part of the proceeds were used by Eliza to purchase a new townhouse from Davis (Hamilton-Holly House) in Greenwich Village with her son Alexander Hamilton Jr. The Grange, first moved from its original location in 1889, was moved again in 2008 to a spot in St. Nicholas Park on land that was once part of the Hamilton estate. The historic structure was restored to its original 1802 appearance in 2011, and is maintained by the National Park Service as Hamilton Grange National Memorial.”
Alexander Hamilton was one of the first trustees of the Hamilton-Oneida Academy in New York state. The name of the school was formally changed to Hamilton College in 1812. A statue of Hamilton stands in front of the school’s chapel, and an “extensive collection” of his personal documents are in the Burke Library.
Elizabeth Hamilton, Alexander’s widow, survived her husband by fifty years and died in Washington, D.C. in 1854. She was known as Eliza or Betsy and referred to by Hamilton as the “best of wives and best of women”. She was an “extremely religious woman” who “spent much of her life working to help widows and orphans.” “She co-founded New York’s first private orphanage, the New York Orphan Asylum Society.” In spite of the Reynolds affair, Eliza and Alexander were very close – and grew closer after the affair ended.
Hamilton’s alma mater, Columbia University, also honored Hamilton. Its main classroom building for the humanities is Hamilton Hall and has a large statue of Hamilton in front of it. Hamilton’s complete works were published by the university press in a multivolume letterpress edition. The Columbia student group for ROTC cadets and Marine officers candidates is the Alexander Hamilton Society.
Hamilton created the United States Revenue Cutter Service, one of the predecessor services of the US Coast Guard. He has the honor of having the main administration building of the Coast Guard Academy in New London, CT, named Hamilton Hall. Hamilton also has an U.S. Army fort – Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn – named after him. His country home – “The Grange” is located in Hamilton Heights, a neighborhood in upper Manhattan. There is also a gilded statue of Alexander Hamilton in Chicago.