Alexander Hamilton

ALEXANDER HAMILTON was born in 1757, in the island of Nevis. His father was a native of England, and his mother of the island. At the age of 16, he became a student of Columbia college, his mother having emigrated to New York. He had not been in that institution more than a year, before he gave a brilliant manifestation of the powers of his mind in the discussion concerning the rights of the colonies. In support of these he published several essays, which were marked by such vigor and maturity of style, strength of argument, and wisdom and compass of views, that Mr. Jay, at that time in the meridian of life, was supposed, at first, to be the author. When it had become necessary to unsheath the sword, the ardent spirit of young Hamilton would no longer allow him to remain in academic retirement; and before the age of 19, he entered the American army, with the rank of captain of artillery. In this capacity, he soon attracted the attention of the commander-in-chief, who appointed him his aid-de-camp, with the rank of lieutenant-colonel. This occurred in 1777, when he was not more than 20 years of age. From this time, he continued the inseparable companion of Washington during the war, and was always consulted by him, and frequently by other eminent public functionaries, on the most important occasions. He acted as his first aid-de-camp at the battles of Brandywine, Germantown, and Monmouth, and, at the siege of Yorktown, he led, at his own request, the detachment that carried by assault one of the enemy's outworks, Oct. 14, 1781. In this affair, he displayed the most brilliant valor. After the war, colonel Hamilton then about 24, commenced the study of the law, as he had at that time a wife and family depending upon him for support. He was soon admitted to the bar. In 1782, he was chosen a member of congress from the state of New York, where he quickly acquired the greatest influence and distinction, and was always a member and sometimes chairman of those committees to which were confided such subjects as were deemed of vital interest to the nation. The reports which he prepared are remarkable for the correctness and power which characterize every effort of his pen. At the end of the session, he returned to the practice of his profession in the city of New York, and became eminent at the bar. In 1786, he was chosen a member of the legislature of his state, and was mainly instrumental in preventing a serious collision between Vermont and New York, in consequence of a dispute concerning territorial jurisdiction. He was elected a delegate of New York to the convention which was to meet at Philadelphia, in order to form a constitution for the United States. As the doors of the convention were closed during its sittings, and its records have never been given to the world, it is not possible to state the precise part which he acted in that body. It is well ascertained, however, that the country is, at least, as much indebted to him for the excellencies of the constitution, as to any other member of the illustrious assembly. Hamilton and Madison were the chief oracles and artificers. After the adoption of the constitution by the convention, he associated himself with Mr. Madison and Mr. Jay, for the purpose of disposing the public to receive it with favor. The essays which they wrote with that design, addressed to the people of New York, during the years 1787 and 1788, are well known under the name of the Federalist, and contributed powerfully to produce the effect for which they were composed. The larger portion of them was written by Hamilton. In 1788, he was a member of the state convention of New York, which met to deliberate on the adoption of the federal constitution, and it was chiefly in consequence of his efforts that it was accepted. On the organization of the federal government, in 1789, he was appointed to the office of secretary of the treasury. This was a situation which required the exercise of all the great powers of his mind for the public credit was, at that time, in the lowest state of depression and, as no statistical account of the country had ever been attempted, its fiscal resources were wholly unknown. But before Hamilton retired from the post, which he did after filling it during somewhat more than five years, he had raised the public credit to a height altogether unprecedented in the history of the country, and, by the admirable system of finance which he established, had acquired the reputation of one of the greatest financiers of the age. His official reports to congress are considered as masterpieces, the principles which he advocated in them still continue to exercise a great influence in the revenue department of the American government. Whilst secretary of the treasury, he was, ex officio, one of the cabinet counselors of president Washington; and such was the confidence reposed by that great man in his integrity and ability, that he rarely ventured upon any executive act of moment without his concurrence. He was one of the principal advisers of the proclamation of neutrality issued by Washington in 1793, in consequence of an attempt made by the minister of France to cause the United States to take part with his country in the war then waging between it and England. This measure he defended in a series of essays, under the signature ofPacificus, which were successful in giving it popularity. In 1795, Hamilton resigned his office, and retired to private life, in order to be better able to support a numerous family by the practice of his profession.