Biography of Alexander Hamilton

Statue of Alexander Hamilton. Getty Images

Alexander Hamilton was born in the British West Indies in 1755 or 1757. There is some dispute of his birth year due to early records and Hamilton's own claims. He was born out of wedlock to James A. Hamilton and Rachel Faucett Lavien. His mother died in 1768 leaving him largely an orphan. He worked for Beekman and Cruger as a clerk and was adopted by a local merchant, Thomas Stevens, a man some believe to be his biological father.

His intellect prompted leaders on the island to want him to be educated in the American colonies. A fund was collected to send him there to further his education.

Education

Hamilton was extremely smart. He went to a grammar school in Elizabethtown, New Jersey from 1772-1773. He then enrolled at King's College, New York (now Columbia University) either late in 1773 or early in 1774. He later practiced law along with being a huge part in the founding of the United States.

Personal Life

Hamilton married Elizabeth Schuyler on December 14, 1780. Elizabeth was one of the three Schuyler sisters that were influential during the American Revolution. Hamilton and his wife remained very close despite his having an affair with Maria Reynolds, a married woman. Together they built and lived in the Grange in New York City. Hamilton and Elizabeth had eight children: Philip (killed in a duel in 1801) Angelica, Alexander, James Alexander, John Church, William Stephen, Eliza, and Philip (born soon after the first Philip was killed.)

Revolutionary War Activities

In 1775, Hamilton joined the local militia to help fight in the Revolutionary War like many students from King's College. His study of military tactics led him to the rank of Lieutenant. His continued efforts and friendship to prominent patriots like John Jay led him to raise a company of men and become their captain.

He was soon appointed to George Washington's staff. He served as Washington's untitled Chief of Staff for four years. He was a trusted officer and enjoyed a great deal of respect and confidence from Washington. Hamilton made many connections and was instrumental in the war effort.

Hamilton and the Federalist Papers

Hamilton was a New York delegate to the Constitutional Convention in 1787. After the Constitutional Convention, he worked together with John Jay and James Madison to try and persuade New York to join in ratifying the new constitution. They jointly wrote the Federalist Papers. These consisted of 85 essays of which Hamilton wrote 51. These had a huge impact not only on ratification but also on Constitutional law.

First Secretary of the Treasury

Alexander Hamilton was selected by George Washington to be the first Secretary of the Treasury on September 11, 1789. In this role, he had a huge impact in the formation of the US Government including the following items:

  • Assuming all the state's debts from the war thereby increasing federal power.
  • Creating the US Mint
  • Creating the first national bank
  • Proposing an excise tax on whiskey to raise revenue for the federal government
  • Fighting for a stronger federal government

    Hamilton resigned from the Treasury in January, 1795.

    Life After the Treasury

    Although Hamilton left the Treasury in 1795, he was not removed from political life. He remained a close friend of Washington and influenced his Farewell Address. In the election of 1796, he schemed to have Thomas Pinckney elected president over John Adams. However, his intrigue backfired and Adams won the presidency. In 1798 with the endorsement of Washington, Hamilton became a major general in the Army, to help lead in case of hostilities with France. Hamilton's machinations in the Election of 1800 unwittingly led to Thomas Jefferson's election as president and Hamilton's hated rival, Aaron Burr, as vice president.

    Death

    After Burr's term as Vice President, he desired the office of governor of New York which Hamilton again worked to oppose.

    This constant rivalry eventually led to Aaron Burr challenging Hamilton to a duel in 1804. Hamilton accepted and the Burr-Hamilton duel occurred on July 11, 1804, at the Heights of Weehawken in New Jersey. It is believed that Hamilton fired first and probably honored his pre-duel pledge to throw away his shot. However, Burr fired at and shot Hamilton in the abdomen. He died from his wounds a day later. Burr would never again political office in large part due to the fallout from the duel.