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If one were to ask a classroom of people who some important figures in American history are, one would get a slew of answers. They’d hear names like ‘George Washington,’ and ‘Harriet Tubman,’ and ‘Abraham Lincoln,’ and ‘Barack Obama.’ One name that wouldn’t likely be heard is that of Alexander Hamilton (at least not until 2015). However, the fact remains that he was one of the founding fathers, and had such a profound effect on government, that it can still be seen today. The original immigrant story, the life of Hamilton begins in the Caribbean, carries him to the Revolutionary War. Then later in life, he has led him to the beginning of his government life and the creation of the Federalist Papers. Then the final parts of his life and the legacy he left behind.
A Bastard Orphan
If you look only at the early life of Alexander Hamilton, you would say that there is no way that this kid would leave a mark on a country’s history. Born on January 11, 1755, Hamilton was brought out of the womb is desolation. His Mother, Rachel Faucett had been married to a man named Johann Michael Lavien. She separated from him and traveled to a place called St. Kitts, and island in the West Indies, where she met James Hamilton, who fathered two of children, Alex included. After finding out that Rachel’s previous husband had wanted a divorce on the grounds of adultery and desertion, James left her After that, Rachel supported her family by running a store in Christiansted. She remained there until she died from yellow fever, leaving a young Hamilton, having just had his 13th birthday, alone in the world with just his brother (Chernow).
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The Hamilton children were then taken by his cousin Peter Lytton. During this time, Hamilton started a job at Beekman and Cruger, where he was a clerk. Although this might sound like some sunshine in an otherwise dark life, it was short lived for soon after Peter committed suicide. It was also at this point that Hamilton and his brother were separated. Hamilton was sent to live with a Nevis merchant by the name of Thomas Stevens. There, nasty rumors flew that Hamilton was in fact the bastard son of Stevens instead of James Hamilton. However, this was unfounded gossip spread based on the fact that the two men looked similar and that Stevens son, Edward was similar in appearance and spoke French like Hamilton (Chris Weller).
Proving himself capable as a trader, Hamilton found love in books and later writing. On August 30, 1772, Hamilton wrote a letter to his father about the hurricane that had just came. The letter found itself in the hands of a man by the name of Hugh Knox, who in a stroke of inspiration that changed the course of history, published the letter. According to Ron Chernow, author of the biography of Hamilton, titled Alexander Hamilton, says “…it does seem wonderouse that a self-educated clerk could write with such verve and gusto.” With the letter published the course of Hamilton’s life was about to change. Community leaders read the letter and found that such brains needed to seek higher education. The members and people on the island raised money, and invested in Hamilton, sending him to America to further his education.
After being sent away from the Caribbean to better himself, Alex found himself being privately tutored in a private school by a Jewish headmistress. In October 1772, Alex found himself rooming with Hercules Mulligan, the brother of a trader that helped Hamelton pay for his education. By 1773, Hamilton worked on completing his education, and eventually found himself at King’s College as a private student. This is where he began to dip his toes into the politics that would paint the rest of his life. He spoke with concision over the patriots’ defense against the British. He would also for a literary society that is the precursor for the Philolexian Society, which is a literary debate club. However, his time at school was coming to an end with the approach of the British troops closing the doors to the college months before his graduation.
Much like school, as Alexander moved his focus from school to war, he flourished. He led a successful raid of stealing cannons from the British, which successfully lead the Hearts of Oak, a student led militia that Hamilton was a part of, to become an artillary company (Chernow).
Meanwhile, during the times of the war, Hamilton was being courted by a name one may recognize, George Washington. After rejecting several war courters such as Nathanael Greene and Alexander McDougall, the man himself wanted Hamilton. Although Hamilton felt the only way to rise above his early life was succeed in the war, Washington gave him terms that were just too sweet to resist. Becoming lieutenant colonel, led him to a four-year job as chief staff aide for none other than Washington himself. This also led him to meet several friends, such as Marquis de Lafayette and John Laurens, the latter of whom has sparked much debate over whether there was a homosexual relationship between to the two (Chernow).
While that relationship was debated, the one that wasn’t was that of Miss Elizabeth (Eliza) Schuyler. The two met near the end of the war in 1779, and were married a year later. The two would eventually have 8 children over the course of their lives (Maranzani).
As the war ended, Hamilton was itching for a battle, and after a small tiff with Washington, Hamilton resigned and lived with Eliza close by. He continued to beg Washington for a command. Finally, after threatening to resign for good, Hamilton was given command of troops, and fought in Yorktown, where he was particularly anal about his assault, making all the soldiers remove their bullets so that their nighttime siege wouldn’t be given away by a stray gunshot. The tactic worked though, and this battle led to the end of the war. Although it can be said that Washington only gave in because it was the end of the war and it would be safest point to allow Hamilton to command. Just like that, the war is over, and America is left with a great question: now what? With no foundations, they had to figure out how to lead (Chernow).
The Man is Non-Stop
With the war over, Hamilton began a new life dividing his time between his two loves, politics and law. Returning to school, he finished and passed the bar exam. In, between his lawyering, he began to put his eyes upon the government. Attending a Constitutional Convention in 1787, Hamilton fought very hard against the idea of the Constitution. He proposed that people shouldn’t have the power, and that America should have a president for life that is removed by the people based on their behavior. As history shows, it was a fight that he lost, and seeing that he was losing, he turned his support to the Constitution, although his support of a more English style of government would later be used as ammunition against him. Still disagreeing with some things in the constitution, he fought very hard to make sure that the government could ratify the document as needed, so their changes could be made and nothing would-be set-in stone (Chernow).
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After all this effort, Hamilton turned to support the constitution and joined together with John Jay and James Madison to publish essays in support of the document. These essays were published by Hamilton himself in The Independent Journal during 1787. Jay wrote 5, Madison wrong 29 and Hamilton wrote the other 51 for a total of 85 essays. This support, along with a large part that he was playing in government, led George Washington to appoint him a secretary of the Treasury (History.Com Editors).
How Can I Say No to This?
Appointed to the position in 1789, and retaining it for five years, Hamilton is one of the people responsible for our current government as during that time much of what government was, was hammered into detail.
One of the biggest contentions that Hamilton did occurred in 1790 as Hamilton proposed the National Debt. Most were against that because they felt that they shouldn’t share that responsibility and that each state would be responsible. Hamilton argued that by using a national debt, borrowing would be at a lower interest rate and allow everyone to have opinions on how money is spent. He divided up into Nation and State Debt, and then divided the National Debt into Foreign and Domestic Debt (History.com Editors).
However, to get this to pass, he had to go get the support of people that he actively been fighting against, such as previous coworker James Madison and John Jay, and future president, Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson and Hamilton were constantly fighting over which way to take the government as their ideas were wildly different. Washington would sign this bill into law. Hamilton would also create the first U.S. Mint and be responsible for reopening King’s College after the war (History.com Editors)
After resigning from the position, Hamilton still was in the public eye working with Washington, and even writing his farewell address. It was at this time that Hamilton entered an affair with Mariah Reynolds. When her husband found out about the affair, he extorted Hamilton for money, which Hamilton complied with. Later, Reynolds was arrested, and documents of money were found out about between Hamilton and Reynolds, James Monroe proposed that the two were working together to bring down the government, which was supported by Hamilton’s actions at the Constitution Convention. Hamilton published a book called They Reynolds Pamphlets, which detailed the entire affair. His wife Elizabeth would eventually forgive him, but the public eye remained conspicuously on him (Chernow).
Parden Me, Are You Aaron Burr? Sir?
One person that has yet t bee talked about but played a part in Hamilton’s life was that of Aaron Burr. The two met young, and both were involved in government. They even worked together as council for Levi Weeks in the first murder trial of America. Hamilton was always a little bit ahead of Burr, with both of them going in for the job of Washington’s secretary. However, after Hamilton’s son was killed in a duel, Hamilton stepped away from government for the last time before his death. John Adams, who Hamilton opposed was running for president again, against Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr. While Hamilton wasn’t in government anymore, he had a large group of supporters, and whoever he supported would win. Hamilton chose to support Jefferson despite their ideological difference (Chris Weller)
Several letters were sent between Hamilton and Burr, which columnated in a duel where Hamilton lost his life on July 12, 1804. Eliza took over his life, living nearly 50 years longer, and worked for the ideas that he supported, including against slavery (Maranzani).
Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story
Hamilton’s life was short, but his effect of government is still seen today, as we still have a national debt, a national bank, and mint. He earned his position as a founding father, perhaps doing more than any of the others to establish what our government is and should be. He had his idea, and he fought for them. If he wasn’t always right, he was passionate and that led to his name being remembered today. So, the next time someone asks a class who is important in American history, maybe suggest it’s the ten-dollar founding father, Alexander Hamilton.
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