Before the boom in the popularity of the Broadway musical Hamilton, Alexander Hamilton was one of the lesser-known and under-appreciated Founding Fathers. People tend to refer to men such as George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson as the men who shaped our country. Although they certainly did their part, Hamilton’s impact is often overshadowed by other men’s accomplishments. So, take a look back to see what kind of man Hamilton was, the life that he led, and the impact that he made in the formation of the United States.
He Dropped Out Of College To Fight In The American Revolution
In 1772, Alexander Hamilton traveled from his childhood home in what is now the Caribbean to Boston. There, he hoped to be enrolled in one of the few establishments where a young man could get an education. His number one choice was Princeton, however, he was rejected after requesting an accelerated course of study.
By 1773, he was enrolled in King’s College, now Columbia University, where he proved to excel as a student. However, after the first military engagement between the American troops and the British at Lexington and Concord, he and some fellow students dropped out and joined a New York Volunteer militia later known as the Hearts of Oak.
He Supported Himself As A Young Man
Hamilton was born in Charleston, Nevis in the Leeward Islands in what was part of the British West Indies. His father, James Hamilton, abandoned the family, and his mother moved Hamilton and his brother to St. Croix. Soon after, she contracted yellow fever and died in 1768, leaving Hamilton orphaned.
As a teenager, Hamilton then became a clerk at the import-export firm Beekman and Cruger which traded with New York and New England. He proved to do extremely well in his position, even being left in charge of the company for a period of time while the owner was off at sea. It was also during this time that he became mostly self-educated.
He Founded A Major Bank Before He Was 30
Throughout his life, Alexander Hamilton proved to be a genius in most financial matters, eventually earning his image on the ten dollar bill. Yet, one of his greatest financial accomplishments was establishing the Bank of New York in 1784 along with Aaron Burr.
He managed to do this before he was even 30 years old, and the bank went on to become not only one of the oldest banks in the United States but in the world. Eventually becoming the Bank of New York Mellon Corporation, it finally shut its doors in 2007.
One Of America’s First Publicized Relationship Scandals
Although Hamilton appeared to be happily married to Elizabeth Schuyler, a daughter from a powerful New York Family, in 1791 he went against his marriage and had an affair with 23-year-old Maria Reynolds. She was married as well and her husband blackmailed Hamilton to keep quiet about the affair.
Eventually, tired of paying Maria’s husband and sneaking around, Hamilton publicly admitted his faults. Although the affair put a strain on his marriage with Elizabeth, the two managed to work it out. On the other hand, Maria Reynolds divorced her husband and ironically had Aaron Burr as a lawyer, the man who would later kill Hamilton.
He Was Active In America’s First Murder Trial
In 1800, a young carpenter from New York named Levi Weeks was accused of murdering a woman he was involved with named Gulielma “Elma” Sands. Her body was found in a well in Manhattan, giving the trial the name of the Manhattan Well Murder. This was the first murder trial in the United States where there is a recorded transcript.
Luckily, Week’s brother was Ezra Weeks, one of New York’s most successful builders. His brother’s position allowed him to hire Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, and Henry Livingston, three of the most respected attorneys in New York. The three were able to have Weeks acquitted within 5 minutes of jury deliberation.
Growing Up In The Carribean Might Have Influenced His Beliefs About Slavery
Alexander Hamilton grew up in the Caribbean, which at the time was the center of British slavery. There, he was most likely exposed to the cruelty and horrors that the native people faced as they were torn from their families and shipped off. This is believed to have had an impact on Hamilton. In 1785, Hamilton became involved with the New York Manumission Society, an organization whose goal was to slowly end slavery.
He’s also been described by some biographists as a “fervent abolitionist.” However, like numerous other Founding Fathers, his supposed distaste for slavery remains uncertain as his wife’s family owned slaves in New York.
He Helped Establish The Two-Party System
While Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton were both key players in the establishment of the United States and the government as we know it today, they weren’t necessarily best friends. The two actually disagreed on a lot of matters which eventually led to a schism between the two.
Thomas Jefferson and James Madison favored strong state governments and formed the Jeffersonian Republican Party in opposition to Hamilton who wanted a strong national government. Before long, Hamilton’s allies began to call themselves Federalists. This was the beginning of the two-party system in the United States.
He Was The Only Founding Father Not Born In The American Colonies
Being born in Nevis, an island in the British West Indies, Hamilton was the only Founding Father to not be born in the Thirteen Colonies. He was also born out of wedlock. Like many other young British men, his father, James Hamilton, moved to the British West Indies in hopes of making his fortune in the booming trade industry in the region.
It was there that he met Hamilton’s mother, Rachel Faucette, who was divorced from her first husband. The two lived together and had two sons although they never married.
The Oldest United States Military Unit
During the Revolutionary War, Hamilton was the leader of what is now considered the oldest serving unit in the United States Army. According to the Army Historical Foundation, “Battery D, 1st Battalion, 5th Field Artillery, 1st Infantry Division (Mechanized), the oldest US unit, can be traced back to Hamilton’s artillery company.”
Under his leadership, the company was involved in numerous key battles such as White Plains and Princeton in which their actions helped result in a victory. Impressed by Hamilton’s military prowess, George Washington made him an aide-de-camp with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.
He Was Killed In A Duel
Although Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr had been around each other for the majority of their political careers, the two grew to resent each other in the years leading up to 1804. Tensions rose after Hamilton supposedly slandered Burr who was running for New York governor, possibly causing him to lose.
The duel was fought at Weehawken, New Jersey on July 11, 1804, during a time that dueling was being outlawed. The two used pistols which resulted in Hamilton being shot fatally in the stomach with his bullet landing on a branch above Burr’s head. Burr was charged with murder in New York and New Jersey, yet neither charge made it to trial.
He Authored The Majority Of The Federalist Papers
Published between 1787 and 1788, the 85 Federalist Papers were a series of essays that attempted to convince New York’s electorate to ratify the United States Constitution. These documents were written by Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay who wrote them under the pseudonym Publius.
Because they didn’t use their real names, it’s not certain how many essays each of the men wrote. Yet, it is assumed that Hamilton wrote 51, Madison with 29, and Jay with five. The publication of the Federalist Papers is considered to be one of Hamilton’s greatest political accomplishments.
He Founded The New York Post
Hamilton started the paper that’s now known as The New York Post in 1801 after accumulating $10,000 from investors, many of whom were other New York members of the Federalist Party. At the time, it was called The New York Evening Post, which Hamilton utilized as a way to speak out against the Jeffersonian Republican Party shortly after Jefferson had been elected president.
Hamilton was heavily involved with the publication in its early years, writing many of the editorials himself. Still in circulation today, the paper boasts itself to be the oldest continuously published daily newspaper in the United States.
George Washington’s Last Letter Was Addressed To Hamilton
Two days before George Washington’s death, he sent a correspondent to his old friend and former cabinet member, Alexander Hamilton. For some time, Hamilton had been set on establishing “a regular Military Academy” for the benefit of the army and protection of the nation.
Washington also thought that it was a wise proposition and reached out to Hamilton. In the last letter that George Washington ever wrote, he proclaimed that a Military Academy would be “of primary importance to this country.”
He Was The First Secretary Of Treasury
On September 11, 1789, George Washington appointed Alexander Hamilton as the first-ever Secretary of Treasury. During that time, much of the United States government was established as we know it today such as the structure of the Cabinet. During Hamilton’s time in the position, not only was he responsible for his own duties, but Washington frequently relied on him for advice outside of financial matters.
Hamilton also helped to found the first national bank, the U.S. Mint, and the Revenue Cutter Service which would later grow to become the U.S. Coast Guard. Hamilton eventually left the position in January 1795.
His Policies Started A Tax Rebellion
As Secretary of Treasury, Hamilton knew that some taxes needed to be implemented in order to create revenue. Made clear by the Revolutionary War, Americans didn’t like paying taxes. However, it needed to be done and one of his first tax targets was on whiskey made either domestically or imported. He figured this would be the better option than taxing people’s land.
Of course, this still didn’t go over well, and what is known as the Whiskey Rebellion began which lasted from 1791 to 1794. The rebellion was eventually crushed by government troops led by George Washington. This sent the message that the government had the ability to put down any uprisings.
His Age Is Up For Debate
It’s known that Alexander Hamilton was born on January 11. However, the actual year of his birth is still frequently debated, with Hamilton claiming he was born in 1757 with documents saying 1755. Yet, many academics agree that it is likely that Hamilton changed the year of his birth on purpose. It is assumed that Hamilton was 13-years-old when his mother passed away, orphaning him.
Being the clever young man he was, he might have added two years to his age to be more desirable for an apprenticeship. If this was the case, it worked, as he started work at the import-export firm Beekman and Cruger.
Hamilton’s Eldest Son Died In A Duel In The Same Place He Did
Three years before Hamilton and Burr’s historical showdown, resulting in Hamilton’s death, his eldest son Philip Hamilton suffered the same fate at the same location. In 1801, 19-year-old Philip confronted New York Lawyer George Eacker after he had given a defaming speech about his father.
After Eacker refused to retract the statements he had made about his father, the two agreed to a duel in Weehawken, New Jersey, the same grounds where Hamilton would later duel Burr. Philip was shot during the duel and died the next day while Eacker walked away unharmed. It is said that Alexander Hamilton was never the same after losing Philip.
He Was Known To Collaborate With Aaron Burr
After the Revolutionary War, Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr quickly rose to become the two most prominent lawyers in the region. People would flock to the two lawyers for their legal needs which usually ended with Burr and Hamilton pinned against each other. However, on occasion, the two worked together on a case.
The most notorious of these cases was when they both defended Levi Weeks in what is now considered to be the first American murder trial. Of course, Burr would later kill Hamilton in a duel four years later.
His Self-Taught Writing Abilities Helped Get Him To The Colonies
While still living in the Caribbean, on August 1772, Alexander Hamilton wrote a letter to his father about a violent hurricane that had struck Saint Croix. People described the letter as being nothing short of poetic and were amazed by Hamilton’s skills as a writer at such a young age.
Not long after, the letter was printed in the Royal Danish American Gazette newspaper. The locals in the area were so impressed with his work that they created a money collection to help send Hamilton to college in the Thirteen Colonies.
He Helped Thomas Jefferson Win The Presidency
In the nail-biting 1800 presidential election, the House of Representatives was controlled by the Federalists who had two candidates to choose from: Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr. During that time, it was no secret that Hamilton and Jefferson were political enemies being on opposite sides of the political spectrum.
Yet, Hamilton pleaded that Jefferson be chosen as the next president over Burr. In support of Jefferson, he wrote, “Mr. Burr loves nothing but himself—Thinks of nothing but his own aggrandizement—and will be content with nothing short of permanent power in his own hands […] “In a choice of Evils, let them take the least—Jefferson is in my view less dangerous than Burr.”