Alexander Hamilton was born in Charlestown, St. Kitts and Nevis, on January 11, 1755 or 1757 to the unmarried James Hamilton, a Scottish trader, and Rachel Fawcett Lavine. Despite his humble beginnings, Hamilton’s intelligence and determination propelled him to a clerkship and then an education at King’s College in New York City.
At the onset of the Revolutionary War, young Hamilton joined the patriotic cause, participating in the battles of Trenton, Princeton and Yorktown, among others. During this time, he became one of General George Washington’s most trusted aides. After the war, he was selected as a delegate for the state of New York and served at the Constitutional Convention in 1787. Though he did not take part in drafting the Constitution, Hamilton was a staunch supporter of it and played a large part in its successful ratification. Of the 85 Federalist Papers, Hamilton wrote 51, the most out of the three authors.
In his first term as president, Washington appointed Hamilton as Secretary of the Treasury. As Secretary, Hamilton succeeded in creating the first national bank of the United States, which produced currency, issued loans, and kept government funds. Though influential with Washington, he butt heads with Thomas Jefferson and James Madison over economic and foreign policies.
Later, in the presidential election of 1800, Jefferson faced an electoral tie with Aaron Burr for the presidency. Although he and Jefferson were political enemies, Hamilton felt Jefferson would be a better choice than Burr and publicly argued that the House should award the election to Jefferson. In the succeeding years, enmity only grew between Burr and Hamilton: in 1804, a newspaper reported Hamilton’s expression of a “despicable opinion” of Burr. Based on this report, Burr challenged Hamilton to a duel in which Hamilton was fatally shot and died the following day, July 12, 1804.
Below is a collection of resources recognizing Alexander Hamilton’s influence in American political thought and as a founding father. Browse these resources or jump from section to section by clicking the links below:
Selected online resources on Alexander Hamilton:
The National Archives has digitized its entire collection of the Hamilton Papers, making them available online. The Papers, spanning from 1768 to 1804, include poetry, letters between Hamilton and George Washington, and reports to the Speaker of the House.
Want to walk in Hamilton’s footsteps? Architectural Digest has compiled a list of 7 Hamilton sites that are open to the public. Highlights include the Hamilton Grange in New York City, Hamilton’s childhood home in the Caribbean, and the First Bank of the United States in Philadelphia.
2016’s Hamilton is arguably the most popular musical of its decade and has made Alexander Hamilton a publicly-celebrated founder in recent years. But is it historically accurate? At the peak of Hamilton’s popularity, JMC fellow Richard Samuelson wrote a piece for the Claremont Review of Books examining the play’s faithfulness to reality.
JMC fellow Andrew Porwancher argues that Alexander Hamilton was of Jewish parentage. After extensive research into Hamilton’s family and upbringing, Professor Porwancher has found indications that the founder has Jewish roots. Porwancher’s book on the topic, The Jewish Founding Father: Alexander Hamilton’s Hidden Life, is under contract with Harvard University Press.
The Federalist was written to ensure the ratification of the new Constitution and, as Hamilton stated in Federalist No. 1, “the safest course for your liberty, your dignity, and your happiness.” The majority of the 85 essays making up The Federalist were written by Alexander Hamilton. Although he was not shy in promoting his federalist viewpoint, above all, Publius’ arguments were designed to focus on truth and the very real concerns of the average antifederalist. The subsequent body of work became what Thomas Jefferson deemed “the best commentary on the principles of government, which ever was written.” Long after the ratification of the Constitution, citizens referred to The Federalist as an authority when discerning the true meaning of the Framers and even in contemporary times, scholars return to The Federalist while studying American political theory.
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