Who was Alexander Hamilton?

Who was Alexander Hamilton? (A brief overview)

  • An orphan who became the first Secretary of Treasury (the “$10 founding father”). He was instrumental in building our modern financial system.
  • An inspiring Horatio Alger story of an immigrant rising from obscurity to help lead his adopted homeland.
  • George Washington’s right hand man (aide-de-camp). Shared a close relationship with Washington and complemented each other’s talents and personalities (yin and yang). Washington’s wisdom and judgment matched well with Hamilton’s passion and brilliance.
  • Revolutionary War hero who personally led the bayonet charge at Yorktown where he was the first over the parapet. The “Little Lion” also saw action at the battles of Long Island, Monmouth, White Plains, and Princeton.
  • Was one of four leaders most responsible for the Second American Revolution of 1787, which resulted in the U.S. Constitution. (Joseph Ellis, The Quartet)
  • Recognized, diagnosed and cured the problems of the Articles of Confederation with the “Fantastic 4” of Washington, Madison and Jay.
  • Author of the Continentalist – which plotted the course for post war America. Hamilton argued that we learned the wrong lesson from the American Revolution. Fear of political power was resulting in anarchy. Hamilton asserted that we were a weak union of states, not a unified nation
  • Principal co-author of the Federalist Papers with Madison & Jay. Wrote 51 essays in six months to support ratification of the U.S. Constitution. According to Thomas Jefferson, the Federalist Papers were the “best commentary on the principles of government ever written.”
  • Inspired law giver and supreme advocate for the Constitution. Supported implied powers and a strong executive branch. His policies help bind the fractious states together starting in 1789.
  • Formidable pamphleteer at all critical moments in early American history. Described by historian Ron Chernow as a  “human word machine.” Wrote under multiple pseudonyms, including: Publius, Phocion, Catillus, Pericles, A Friend to America. Click here for a discussion of Hamilton’s Catillus essays.
  • Was equally potent on his feet and with a pen (unlike Madison and Jefferson).
  • Put in place a program to pay off Revolutionary War debt. Engineered a comprehensive financial system & program of institution building. Click here for a discussion of Hamilton’s Report on the Public Credit.
  • Put America’s financial house in order, allowing Jefferson to purchase Louisiana Territory in 1803 (doubling the size of United States.
  • Founded the Coast Guard, the U.S. Mint, and moved the capital from N.Y. to Washington, DC in a compromise over his debt funding plan. Click here for a discussion of Hamilton’s role with the Residence Act.
  • The most influential cabinet member in U.S. history. He promoted a diversified economy and oversaw an economic boom.
  • Proposed the first governmental health insurance program. Click here for a discussion of Hamilton’s Report on Marine Hospitals. He proposed and help organized a “manufacturing silicon valley” in Paterson, N.J. Click here for a discussion of Hamilton’s Report on Manufactures.
  • Founded the Bank of NY in 1784 with Aaron Burr (the first stock traded on the NYSE in 1792). Founded NY Evening Post.
  • Abolitionist who co-founded the N.Y. Manumission Society. During the Revolutionary War he supported John Laurens’ proposal to allow slaves to fight in the continental army and earn freedom with their muskets. Click here for a discussion of Hamilton’s work as an abolitionist.
  • The subject of a famous sex scandal. He candidly admitted to an “amorous connection with” Maria Reynolds and printed the love letters to defend himself from allegations of corruption.
  • The leader of the Federalist party, which advocated for broad federal powers, including implied powers.
  • Co-wrote Washington’s Farewell Address, which warned about the risks of excessive partisanship/factions.
  • Was the quintessential New Yorker, bright bold and enterprising. A foremost American capitalist.
  • Died in a duel with Aaron Burr in 1804 in Weehawken, N.J. His loyal wife, Eliza, lived another 50 years, working with orphans.
  • Hamilton was largely overlooked by historians until relatively recently. He was the “un-Jefferson” and “forgotten founding father.”
  • A lawyer who defended the rights of minorities (loyalists, freed slaves and Catholics). Click here for a discussion of Hamilton’s representation of minorities and minority rights. He successfully argued the case of Hylton v. U.S. before the Supreme Court. Click here for a discussion of the U.S. at the Supreme Court.

Quotes about Alexander Hamilton:

  • “He would be rescued from tropical obscurity by a combination of sheer talent, boundless ambition, and a series of powerful benefactors who all came to regard him as a prodigy.” (Joseph Ellis, The Quartet)
  • “The bastard brat of a Scotch pedlar.” (John Adams)
  • A “true colossus” a “host unto himself.” (Thomas Jefferson)
  •  Chief Justice John Marshall said that next to Hamilton, he was a mere candle “beside the sun at noonday.”
  • “In fact, no immigrant in American history has ever made a larger contribution than Alexander Hamilton.” (Ron Chernow)
  • “Hamilton was the embodiment of nationality.” “There is no single man” to whom the idea of building an America “owes more than to Hamilton.” (Senator Henry Cabot Lodge)


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