Alexander Hamilton: A Short Life with Great Accomplishments

Even the casual student of American History knows the name of Alexander Hamilton, and many can identify his achievements as miltary hero and aide to George Washington, as co-author of The Federalist Papers which secured the ratification of the Constitution, and as the first Secretary of the Treasury. But Hamilton did much more. In his concise biography of Hamilton in his excellent book, The Founders and Finance: How Hamilton, Gallatin, and Other Immigrants Forged a New Economy (Belknap Press of Harvard University, 2012), Thomas K. McCraw narrates less well-known facts about Hamilton, including the following:

1. At the age of fourteen, Hamilton worked in St. Croix for a New York-based merchant which was involved in the shipping industry. Despite his young age, Hamilton was entrusted with sending written instructions to the captains of the ships owned by the company.

2. At the age of seventeen, Hamilton published essays in support of American independence.

3. Although he married a woman from a wealthy family, Elizabeth Schuyler, Hamilton never accepted any money from either her or from her family. Schuyler outlived Hamilton by fifty years, dying at the age of 97 in 1854. Although Hamilton had once been unfaithful to her, she continued to publicize the accomplishments and legacy of “my Hamilton.” In this respect, she prefigured what Elizabeth Bacon Custer, General George Armstrong Custer’s widow, would do for his place in history.

4. Hamilton was an outstanding trial lawyer in New York, and published the first manual on civil procedure in the United States. Focusing on New York trial procedures, it continued in use for decades in that state.

5. Hamilton was instrumental in establishing the Bank of North America, which was the first bank in the United States, and encouraged Robert Morris, the financier of the American Revolution, to head it.

6. In his famous Report on the Subject of Manufactures, Hamilton took a radically different and nuanced approach on the subject of tariffs to protect American industry. Recognizing that most of the revenues which financed the new government came from tariffs on British imports, he urged that tariffs be set low and only be imposed on a few items. In addition, he advocated a decrease in tariffs on items which were needed by American manufacturers to conduct their own businesses.

7. The financial reforms advocated by Hamilton led to a growth in the number of American corporations from a mere eight in the preceding decades to some 311 in the 1790s.

8. In addition to The Federalist Papers, Hamilton also wrote some twenty-eight essays which were instrumental in securing the ratification of the so-called Jay Treaty with Great Britain.

9. Hamilton was the founder of the oldest continuously published daily U.S. newspaper — the New York Post, which he began in 1801.

10. Hamilton’s son Philip died at the age of nineteen fighting a duel to defend the honor of his father. Perhaps because of this, Hamilton prepared some notes before his duel with Aaron Burr in which he recorded his intent to waste his first shot and perhaps even his second. Burr had no such intent and fired a first shot which caused Hamilton’s death on July 12, 1804, at the age of forty-seven.

11. Hamilton’s funeral was the largest in New York history up until that time, and many in New York wore black armbands for a month after the funeral.

Hamilton’s gravestone sums up his career well — “The PATRIOT of incorruptible INTEGRITY/The SOLDIER of approved VALOUR/The STATESMAN of consummate WISDOM.”

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