Ah, Alexander Hamilton, the hip, modern and “woke” founding father. If you haven’t noticed, Alexander Hamilton has his own Hip Hop Broadway play and has somewhat turned into an icon in modern-day America. He’s on the ten dollar bill, has numerous statues and is the primary subject of a slew of popular biographies and fiction books.
But, I’m not here to look at the dramatized version of the man, Alexander Hamilton. I want to introduce you to the brilliant political mind of one of America’s key founders.
Alexander Hamilton: The Man
Hamilton was born on the island of Nevis in British West Indies on January 11, 1755 or 1757. His mother, Rachel Fawcett Lavien, was of British and French Huguenot descent. She was first married to an abusive older merchant, named John Lavien. She was eventually imprisoned for adultery and upon her release, fled to St. Kitts where she met and married James Hamilton. She birthed James and then Alexander Hamilton before her husband abandoned her and the boys.
Tragically, Hamilton’s mother died of an illness at age 39 leaving Alexander and James to fend for themselves. To learn more about Hamilton’s childhood, read Overcoming Adversity: The Childhood of Alexander Hamilton.
Fortunately, Hamilton was an ambitious and sharp child. He took his first job at age 11 as an accounting clerk and his acumen in accounting was so robust that his employer decided to send him to America for further education.
Take a moment to appreciate how Hamilton is the clear embodiment of the American dream, before America was ever an independent country.
He arrived in America in 1773 at age 16 and enrolled at Kings College (Columbia University). This did not last long however since he quickly became involved in the politics of the day and left.
He wrote his first political piece in 1774, at age 17 and ended up leaving college early to join the patriots in their fight against the British. In 1775, Hamilton, now part of the New York Provincial Artillery Company, fought in the battles of Long Island, White Plains and Trenton and later, Brandywine Creek, Germantown and Princeton. It was after these final three battles that he was promoted to lieutenant colonel of the Continental Army.
George Washington saw his military skill and made him his assistant and trusted advisor. Hamilton ended up writing many of Washington’s letters and reports and stayed close to Washington throughout the war and until his death.
He spent his post-war years as a lawyer and politician and family man. Hamilton married Eliza Hamilton and had eight children with her, despite having a rather public affair. However, unlike the other founders, he was never able to see the hard work he put into the founding of the country pay off, because his life was ended early, when he was murdered by a political rival, Aaron Burr, during a gun dual in 1804.
Alexander Hamilton: The Patriot
During and after the war, Hamilton was very concerned about the discord, chaos and disunity he saw in the country under the Articles of Confederation. In 1787, Hamilton participated in the Constitutional Convention as a New York delegate. He argued for a stronger source of income for the federal government, saying that without it, the government would not last.
While Madison was the primary author of the Constitution, Hamilton did much to ensure its ratification. He joined forces with Madison and John Jay to write the Federalist Papers, papers meant to convince the state legislatures to ratify the Constitution. He wrote 51 of the 85 essays and was a key reason that the New York legislature voted to ratify the Constitution.
Take a moment and consider. Remember, Hamilton was born in 1755 or 57, which means that he was just 30 when he wrote some of the most influential and lasting pieces of political philosophy in American history. He was a brilliant young mind and contributed much in his short time on earth.
So, while Hamilton did advocate for a more powerful centralized government, he also, in many ways, shared Madison’s concerns about putting corrupt men into places of power. He said, “Give all the power to the many, they will oppress the few. Give all the power to the few, they will oppress the many.”
In the Federalist papers, Hamilton articulated he and Madison’s primary concern about human nature: “Have we not already seen enough of the fallacy and extravagance of those idle theories which have amused us with promises of an exemption from the imperfections, weaknesses and evils incident to society in every shape?”In other words, those founding America, would do well to remember human nature and to take it into account while creating the government. Of course, he shared the same skeptical view of human nature as the theorists from the past.
He says of the reason for government: “Why has government been instituted at all? Because the passions of man will not conform to the dictates of reason and justice without constraint.” One can almost hear the fervor and the passion for America that Hamilton’s words hold.
Americans today would do well to listen to Hamilton’s words rather than simply sensationalize his story while mocking and degrading the very country he spent his life serving.
Alexander Hamilton: Secretary of Treasury
In 1789, Washington became America’s first president and appointed Hamilton to be America’s first Secretary of Treasury, at the young age of 32.
Hamilton’s legacy as Secretary of Treasury is likely his greatest contribution and is still being felt today (although politicians have taken and perverted what he did to turn his work into one of the worst aspects of America now).
So, Hamilton firmly believed in a much more robust and powerful central government and feared what would happen to the Republic should the states retain too much power and should the federal government lack the financing it needed to function.
From biography.com, “His proposed fiscal policies initiated the payment of federal war bonds, had the federal government assume states’ debts, instituted a federal system for tax collection and would help the United States establish credit with other nations.”
Hamilton saw the economic power of England at the time and attributed the success to the operations of the Bank of England. Based again, on biography.com, he wanted the United States to have the ability to grow from an agrarian society into a commercial powerhouse as well and felt that a centralized bank was the key.
The issue with a centralized bank was whether or not it was constitutional. According to Federal Reserve History: “Hamilton invoked a flexible reading of the US Constitution that has informed American constitutional law to this day. He acknowledged that although the Constitution didn’t explicitly mention any kind of ‘national’ bank, its ‘necessary and proper’ clause implied that Congress had the power to create one if needed.” Hamilton’s contribution to Constitutional interpretation here is questionable; although, I give him the benefit of the doubt given he was one of the men responsible for creating the government.
The history continues: “In Hamilton’s view, the Bank was indeed ‘necessary’ because the cash-strapped new republic lacked a central institution that could expand the money supply, extend credit, collect taxes, pay the nation’s debts, handle foreign exchange, and store government money – in short, the key fiscal and monetary authorities of the Treasury and the Federal Reserve today. (The Constitution explicitly referred to some of these functions but did not say how they were to be executed.) This concept of ‘implied powers’ allowed Hamilton and his fellow Federalists to lay the groundwork for a robust expansion of the executive branch in the decades to come. In 1819, the Supreme Court formalized this doctrine in McCulloch v. Maryland.”
I don’t believe that Hamilton would have approved of or supported the Federal Reserve, but his financial acumen and ability to create a bank that could handle and promote a more powerful government and give room to the American economy to expand commercially (and expand commercially it did.) is likely the reason America became the economic powerhouse it did.
So, we have Hamilton to thank for fighting and defending the Republic during the war, playing a key role in the battles and battle plans. He was a close confidant to Washington and even wrote his infamous farewell address. He was instrumental in writing the Federalist Papers and seeing that the new Constitution be ratified. And lastly, he created the first national bank. In some ways his desire to expand federal power was damaging and yet, we would not have the government, liberty and country we have today had Hamilton’s mind not been part of the minds that created this country. His perspective was pivotal.
Hamilton contributed greatly to this country and should be remembered and respected for his work and passion for creating a country with a government strong enough to bring order and promote commerce. He was a brilliant young mind and his fervor for the U.S. was unmistakable.
I’ll leave you with two final quotes. The first of which should be heard and digested by the young today. Tyrants always start out promising rights and good for the people, but never follow through.
“A dangerous ambition more often lurks behind the specious mask of zeal for the rights of the people than under the forbidden appearance of zeal for the firmness and efficiency of government. History will teach us that the former has been found a much more certain road to the introduction of despotism than the latter, and that of those men who have overturned the liberties of republics, the greatest number have begun their career by paying an obsequious court to the people; commencing demagogues, and ending tyrants.”
And this quote, which perfectly depicts what we are facing today.
“The truth unquestionably is, that the only path to a subversion of the republican system of the Country is, by flattering the prejudices of the people, and exciting their jealousies and apprehensions, to throw affairs into confusion, and bring on civil commotion.”
Yes, Hamilton, that is the truth indeed.
The Liberty Belle