“The rights of neutrality will only be respected when they are defended by adequate power. A nation, despicable by its weakness, forfeits even the privilege of being neutral.”
Alexander Hamilton was a rather colorful character, and he was one of the most influential of the Founding Fathers, but he’s not revered in American history to the degree other Founders are.
He was born out of wedlock on the West Indian island of Nevis. Because he was illegitimate, the Church of England denied him education in the church school, so he was “individually tutored” in a private Jewish school.
His mother died of a high fever when he was 13, which had severe emotional consequences for him.
He and a half-brother were adopted by a cousin, Peter Lytton, but then Lytton committed suicide and Hamilton and his brother were split up. Hamilton was adopted by a Nevis merchant named Thomas Stevens, who encouraged the very intelligent Hamilton in his studies, and sought to enroll him in the College of New Jersey at Princeton. He was refused admission because he insisted on studying as fast as he could, so he ended up at King’s College (now Columbia University).
He was not yet 20 when he entered the growing dispute between the American colonies and the British government.
“A nation which can prefer disgrace to danger is prepared for a master, and deserves one.”
His zeal and organizational ability serving in the militia brought him to George Washington’s attention where he eventually became Washington’s aide-de-camp and confidant. He served with Washington for 4 years. Though he was much admired as a staff officer, he longed for action and he requested a field command. After a lot of haranguing and threatening to quit, Washington finally relented and gave him a field command. Hamilton led three battalions at the Battle of Yorktown in 1781, which resulted in the British surrender at Yorktown of an entire army, effectively ending major British military operations in North America.
His social position also improved dramatically in 1780 when he married Elizabeth Schuyler, the daughter of wealthy and influential Gen. Philip Schuyler –thus joining one of the richest military and most political families in the state of New York.
So well before his 30th birthday, Hamilton had had a distinguished military career, knew intimately most of the leaders of the American Revolution, had achieved high social standing, and was recognized as one of the leading lawyers in the country.
President George Washington appointed Hamilton as the first Secretary of the Treasury. Facing a chaotic treasury burdened by the heavy debt of the Revolutionary War, Hamilton’s first interest was the repayment of the war debt in full. “The debt of the United States . . . was the price of liberty,” he affirmed. He proved to be a brilliant administrator both in establishing the Treasury Department and in paying off the nation’s debts in full after the Revolution so that the fledgling country could establish good credit with foreign countries. Hamilton’s attack on the debt helped secure the confidence and respect of foreign nations. He also helped found the United States Mint, the first national bank and the United States Coast Guard.
“If the representatives of the people betray their constituents, there is then no recourse left but in the exertion of that original right of self-defense.”
Hamilton was by no means a study in human virtue, and was well known for his vitriolic temper, but Hamilton’s plans were so comprehensive and so brilliantly useful to commercial expansion that his plans were implemented. But along the way, he aroused the opposition of powerful players like Madison, Jefferson and others who did not support such a strong national government. So the debates raged and philosophical camps emerged and verbal battle lines were drawn.
Hamilton’s conduct as Secretary was investigated repeatedly in Congress and his reactions to the “witch hunts” created rifts and dissention.
In 1791 Hamilton became involved in an affair with Maria Reynolds that badly damaged his reputation. Her husband blackmailed Hamilton for money, threatening to tell his wife. Hamilton resigned from office and published a confession of his affair, shocking his family and supporters by not merely confessing, but also by narrating the affair in lurid detail, thus injuring his reputation for the rest of his life.
In 1795 when he resigned as Secretary of the Treasury, that did not remove him from public life. He remained a close friend of Washington’s and even helped compose his Farewell Address. Washington and members of his Cabinet often consulted with him.
“Those who stand for nothing fall for anything.”
Hamilton continued to present his vision of American government in his eloquent but outspoken manner. Finally, after a long-standing political and personal rivalry that had developed over the years between Hamilton and Aaron Burr (and after Hamilton’s journalistic defamation of Burr’s character), tensions exploded and then-sitting Vice-President Burr challenged Hamilton to a duel.
Duels were against the law in New York, so they had to row across the river to New Jersey to conduct the duel.
Hamilton’s son had been killed in a duel just 2 years before, and Hamilton had been reported as having severe mood swings, characteristic of a manic-depressive disorder, starting around 1800, so his intentions for dueling with Burr remain suspicious.
It was known that Burr was a poor shot, and Hamilton fired first, but intentionally fired high and wide. He was mortally wounded by Burr’s shot and died the next day.
Many historians, considering Hamilton’s emotional traumas as a child, the death of his son and the suspected manic-depressive disorder since then have wondered if Hamilton was perhaps suicidal.
Burr was charged with murder in both New York and New Jersey but neither charge reached trial. The duel, and subsequent backlash and repercussions, ended Burr’s career and he went into exile.
~ from www.ustreas.gov, wikipedia.org, americanrevwar.com