Long before Hamilton became a smash Broadway musical sensation, I was interested in the man who came to America without pedigree or support and climbed a ladder of obstacles to become an aide and cabinet member to George Washington.
His accomplishments for our country were enormous and his long-running disagreements with Thomas Jefferson, as well as his early demise at the hands of Aaron Burr were monumental incidents in our history.
Hamilton came to New York City about the age of 25 from the Caribbean with little formal education. He attended several prep schools and then Kings College, now known as Columbia University. At the start of the American Revolution, he joined a local N.Y. militia. During his first year, he served as an artillery captain and quickly moved up the ranks to spend four years as one of George Washington’s military aides.
After the war, he studied and passed the N.Y. bar exam. He became one of N.Y.’s most prominent attorneys. He attended the Philadelphia Convention to draft a new constitution for America. In what became the Federalist Papers, he co-authored a series of essays with Jay Jay and James Madison in support of the new constitution.
When Washington was elected our first president, Hamilton became Secretary of the Treasury. Thomas Jefferson was appointed Secretary of State and it was here the rivalry and idealist combat emerged. They had widely differing views on how the country could function and grow.
The two men differed on many subjects, including whether the country would be agrarian (Jefferson) or a manufacturing business society (Hamilton).
In Washington’s cabinet, the main issue dividing the two became the creation of a National Bank. Hamilton argued a strong national bank could pay off the nation’s numerous debts and give creditors a personal stake in the success of the country. Jefferson feared a national bank would take money from the poor and put it in the hands of the rich. Jefferson worried that corrupt politicians could gain access to advance their own personal wealth. In spite of Jefferson’s concerns, Washington ultimately supported the establishment of a National Bank in Philadelphia.
The enmity between the two festered from there.
Alexander Hamilton was only 5’7” tall, but always well-dressed and neat. He had an organized mind, was intense and energetic.
He felt power should be concentrated in a strong central government and supported shipping and manufacturing. His foreign policy was pro Britain.
Jefferson, on the other hand, tended to ramble when he talked, jumped from one topic to another. He was 6’2” tall, poetic, creative and tended to dress in worn clothes.
He wanted decentralized government with power to the states and believed with education humans could be trusted to champion liberty.
His vision for America was for westward expansion and to be primarily a farming community.
He was very pro France.
It’s interesting to note that Jefferson’s early creation of a Republican political party became the forerunner of today’s Democratic Party. Today, the roles have reversed somewhat. The Democrats want a loose, living interpretation of the Constitution while the Republicans want a strict view of the document as written.
In 1795, after six years in the cabinet, Hamilton returned to NYC to his law practice. A few years later, he wrote a series of essays against another rival, Aaron Burr. * Burr felt that Hamilton was responsible for his loss to be governor of New York and challenged Hamilton to a duel. Burr shot Hamilton on July 11, 1804, when he was only 47 years old.
We lost a great contributor to the growth and success of our country. He provided a creative foundation to paying off our debts and generating revenue for our government to operate while encouraging the dynamic growth of the manufacturing and business communities.
In a relatively brief career, Hamilton:
- Championed the ratification of the U.S. Constitution.
- As Secretary of Treasury, he put the U.S. on a stable financial basis, paid off the debts of the states and the national government with a tariff on imports and a tax on whiskey.
- Set up the Central Bank to make liquidity on financial markets possible.
- Authored George Washington’s farewell address, which remains one of the finest statements of conservative principles.
We owe a lot to this unheralded hero of our formation.