Alexander Hamilton (1757-1804) was a noted statesman and political leader during the early years of the United States.
He served in President George Washington’s Cabinet as the nation’s first Secretary of Treasury. He was also a leader of the Federalist Party, one of the first political parties in the nation.
He was one of the boldest-and most creative thinkers of his time. He supported the establishment of the strong federal government and believed that the US Constitution should be interpreted loosely to give the government greater powers. Hamilton also favored the development of manufacturing to achieve an economic balance between agriculture and industry.
He worked to protect the interests of merchants and other business leaders and believed the nation could best be governed by people from these groups. Many of Hamilton’s policies were strongly opposed by Tomas Jefferson and other political leaders of the time. An immigrant from the West Indies, he played a crucial part in the political legal, and economic development of the new nation. He served as Washington’s right-hand man during the American Revolutionary War, he helped established the Constitution, he wrote most of the Federalist Paper’s, and he modernized America’s fledging finances among other notable achievements.
Hamilton was the most powerful politicians and controversial figure in American history. But today, scholars agree that Hamilton’s ideas have had lasting importance. Also including a Broadway musical Hamilton, which premiered in 2015 as a smash hit by Lin-Manuel Miranda, and a biography book by Ron Chernow.
Hamilton claimed he was born on January 11, 1757, but the scholars and historians have found evidence that shows the year of his birth to have been 1755.
He was born in Charleston on the island of Nevis in the West Indies, a second child of James Hamilton, a Scottish merchant, and Rachel Lavien, who was separated from her husband. Speculation that Hamilton’s mother was of mixed race, though persistent, is not substantiated by verifiable evidence. In 1766-1767, James Hamilton, Hamilton’s father left the family. As a boy, Alexander Hamilton worked for a trading firm on St. Croix, an island in what is now the Virgin Islands of the United States.
He grew up in a slaveholding family on slaveholding islands and witnessed the unfairness and cruelty of that institution that he denounced as an adult. His mother Rachel died in 1768 of an unidentified disease, she was 40 years old. His talents had impressed his employers that they helped send him to school in North America in 1772. He attended school in Elizabethtown, NJ (now Elizabeth), and then entered King’s College (Columbia University).
In 1776, during the American Revolutionary War, Hamilton was appointed captain of a New York artillery company.
In 1775, after the first engagement of American troops with the British at Lexington and Concord, Hamilton and other King’s College students joined a New York volunteer militia company called the Corsicans, later renamed or reformed as the Hearts of Oak.
He drilled with the company, before classes, in the graveyard of nearby St. Paul’s Chapel. Hamilton studied military history and tactics on his own and was soon recommended for promotion. Under fire from HMS Asia, he led a successful raid for British cannons in the Battery, the capture of which resulted in the Hearts of Oak becoming an artillery company thereafter.
Through his connections with influential New York patriots such as Alexander McDougall and John Jay, Hamilton raised the New York Provincial Company of Artillery of sixty men in 1776, and was elected captain. It took part in the campaign of 1776 around New York City, particularly at the Battle of White Plains; at the Battle of Trenton, it was stationed at the high point of town, the meeting of the present Warren and Broad streets, to keep the Hessians pinned in the Trenton Barracks.
Hamilton participated in the Battle of Princeton on January 3, 1777. After an initial setback, Washington rallied the American troops and led them in a successful charge against the British forces. After making a brief stand, the British fell back, some leaving Princeton, and others taking up refuge in Nassau Hall. Hamilton brought three cannons up and had them fire upon the building. Then some Americans rushed the front door, and broke it down. The British subsequently put a white flag outside one of the windows. 194 British soldiers walked out of the building and laid down their arms, thus ending the battle in an American victory.
George Washington’s staff
From 1777 to 1781, he served as a secretary and a close assistant of General George Washington.
Hamilton served for four years as Washington’s chief staff aide. He handled letters to Congress, state governors, and the most powerful generals in the Continental Army.
He drafted many of Washington’s orders and letters at the latter’s direction; he eventually issued orders from Washington over Hamilton’s own signature.
Hamilton was involved in a wide variety of high-level duties, including intelligence, diplomacy, and negotiation with senior army officers as Washington’s emissary.
During the war, Hamilton became close friends with several fellow officers.
His letters to the Marquis de Lafayette and to John Laurens, employing the sentimental literary conventions of the late eighteenth century and alluding to Greek history and mythology, have been read by Jonathan Ned Katz, as revealing a homosocial or perhaps homosexual relationship.
On the other hand, biographer Gregory D. Massey dismisses all speculations on a Laurens-Hamilton relationship as unsubstantiated, describing their friendship as purely platonic cameraderie and placing their correspondence in the context of the flowery penmanship of the time.
While on Washington’s staff, Hamilton long sought command and a return to active combat. As the war drew nearer to an end, he knew that opportunities for military glory were diminishing.
In February 1781, Hamilton was mildly reprimanded by Washington and used this as an excuse to resign his staff position. He asked Washington and others for a field command.
This continued until early July 1781, when Hamilton submitted a letter to Washington with his commission enclosed, “thus tacitly threatening to resign if he didn’t get his desired command.”
On July 31, 1781, Washington relented and assigned Hamilton as commander of a battalion of light infantry companies of the 1st and 2d New York Regiments and two provisional companies from Connecticut. In the planning for the assault on Yorktown, Hamilton was given command of three battalions, which were to fight in conjunction with the allied French troops in taking Redoubts No. 9 and No. 10 of the British fortifications at Yorktown. Hamilton and his battalions fought bravely and took Redoubt No. 10 with bayonets in a nighttime action, as planned. The French also fought bravely, suffered heavy casualties, and took Redoubt No. 9. These actions forced the British surrender of an entire army at Yorktown, Virginia, effectively ending major military operations in North America.
Congress of the Confederation
After the Battle of Yorktown, Hamilton resigned his commission. He was appointed in July 1782 to the Congress of the Confederation as a New York representative for the term beginning in November 1782. Before his appointment to Congress in 1782, Hamilton was already sharing his criticisms of Congress. He expressed these criticisms in his letter to James Duane dated September 3, 1780. In this letter he wrote, “The fundamental defect is a want of power in Congress…the confederation itself is defective and requires to be altered; it is neither fit for war, nor peace.”
While on Washington’s staff, Hamilton had become frustrated with the decentralized nature of the wartime Continental Congress, particularly its dependence upon the states for voluntary financial support. Under the Articles of Confederation, Congress had no power to collect taxes or to demand money from the states. This lack of a stable source of funding had made it difficult for the Continental Army both to obtain its necessary provisions and to pay its soldiers. During the war, and for some time after, Congress obtained what funds it could from subsidies from the King of France, from aid requested from the several states (which were often unable or unwilling to contribute), and from European loans.
An amendment to the Articles had been proposed by Thomas Burke, in February 1781, to give Congress the power to collect a 5% impost, or duty on all imports, but this required ratification by all states; securing its passage as law proved impossible after it was rejected by Rhode Island in November 1782. Madison joined Hamilton in persuading Congress to send a delegation to persuade Rhode Island to change its mind. Their report recommending the delegation argued the federal government needed not just some level of financial autonomy, but also the ability to make laws that superseded those of the individual states. Hamilton transmitted a letter arguing that Congress already had the power to tax, since it had the power to fix the sums due from the several states; but Virginia’s rescission of its own ratification ended the Rhode Island negotiations.
Congress and the army
While Hamilton was in Congress, discontented soldiers began to pose a danger to the young United States. Most of the army was then posted at Newburgh, New York. Those in the army were paying for much of their own supplies, and they had not been paid in eight months. Furthermore, the Continental officers had been promised, in May 1778, after Valley Forge, a pension of half their pay when they were discharged. By the early 1780s, due to the structure of the government under the Articles of Confederation, it had no power to tax to either raise revenue or pay its soldiers. In 1782 after several months without pay, a group of officers organized to send a delegation to lobby Congress, led by Capt. Alexander McDougall. The officers had three demands: the Army’s pay, their own pensions, and commutation of those pensions into a lump-sum payment if Congress were unable to afford the half-salary pensions for life. Congress rejected the proposal.
Several Congressmen, including Hamilton, Robert Morris and Gouverneur Morris, attempted to use this Newburgh conspiracy as leverage to secure support from the states and in Congress for funding of the national government. They encouraged MacDougall to continue his aggressive approach, threatening unknown consequences if their demands were not met, and defeated proposals that would have resolved the crisis without establishing general federal taxation: that the states assume the debt to the army, or that an impost be established dedicated to the sole purpose of paying that debt. Hamilton suggested using the Army’s claims to prevail upon the states for the proposed national funding system. The Morrises and Hamilton contacted Knox to suggest he and the officers defy civil authority, at least by not disbanding if the army were not satisfied; Hamilton wrote Washington to suggest that Hamilton covertly “take direction” of the officers’ efforts to secure redress, to secure continental funding but keep the army within the limits of moderation. Washington wrote Hamilton back, declining to introduce the army; after the crisis had ended, he warned of the dangers of using the army as leverage to gain support for the national funding plan.
On March 15, Washington defused the Newburgh situation by giving a speech to the officers. Congress ordered the Army officially disbanded in April 1783. In the same month, Congress passed a new measure for a twenty-five-year impost—which Hamilton voted against—that again required the consent of all the states; it also approved a commutation of the officers’ pensions to five years of full pay. Rhode Island again opposed these provisions, and Hamilton’s robust assertions of national prerogatives in his previous letter were widely held to be excessive.
In June 1783, a different group of disgruntled soldiers from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, sent Congress a petition demanding their back pay. When they began to march toward Philadelphia, Congress charged Hamilton and two others with intercepting the mob. Hamilton requested militia from Pennsylvania’s Supreme Executive Council, but was turned down. Hamilton instructed Assistant Secretary of War William Jackson to intercept the men. Jackson was unsuccessful. The mob arrived in Philadelphia, and the soldiers proceeded to harangue Congress for their pay. The President of the Continental Congress, John Dickinson, feared that the Pennsylvania state militia was unreliable, and refused its help. Hamilton argued that Congress ought to adjourn to Princeton, New Jersey. Congress agreed, and relocated there. Frustrated with the weakness of the central government, Hamilton while in Princeton drafted a call to revise the Articles of Confederation. This resolution contained many features of the future U.S. Constitution, including a strong federal government with the ability to collect taxes and raise an army. It also included the separation of powers into the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches.
Return to New York
Hamilton resigned from Congress, and in July 1782 passed the bar and set up practice in Albany after six months of self-directed education. When the British left New York in 1783 he practiced there in partnership with Richard Harison. He specialized in defending Tories and British subjects, as in Rutgers v. Waddington, in which he defeated a claim for damages done to a brewery by the Englishmen who held it during the military occupation of New York. He pleaded for the Mayor’s Court to interpret state law consistent with the 1783 Treaty of Paris which had ended the Revolutionary War.
In 1784, he founded the Bank of New York which became one of the longest operating banks in American history, it stayed in business for over 220 years before it merged with another bank in 2007. Hamilton was one of the men who restored King’s College, which had been suspended since 1776 and severely damaged during the War, as Columbia College. Long dissatisfied with the weak Articles of Confederation, he played a major leadership role at the Annapolis Convention in 1786. He drafted its resolution for a constitutional convention, and in doing so brought his longtime desire to have a more powerful, more financially independent federal government one step closer to reality.
In 1786, at the suggestion of either Nathaniel Gorham, then-President of the Continental Congress, or Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, the Prussian general who served in the Continental Army, Hamilton invited Prince Henry of Prussia to become President or King of the United States, but the offer was revoked before the prince could make a reply.
In 1780, he married Elizabeth Schuyler, the daughter of a wealthy New York family. Hamilton and his wife had 8 children.
Early Political Career
Hamilton was admitted to the bar in New York in 1782 and soon began to practice law there.
Also in 1782, he became a delegate from New York to the Congress of the Confederation.
The Congress had been established by the Articles of Confederation in 1781, but it had little power.
In 1786, Hamilton wrote a proposal calling for a convention of the states for the purpose of strengthening the federal government.
The Constitutional Convention met in Philadelphia in 1787.
Few of Hamilton’s ideas were included in the US Constitution, but he worked hard for its ratification by the states. Hamilton and two other statesmen, John Jay and James Madison, wrote letters to newspapers urging approval of the Constitution. These letters were later republished in an influential book called The Federalist.
The Federalist Papers
Hamilton recruited John Jay and James Madison to write a series of essays defending the proposed Constitution, now known as The Federalist Papers, and made the largest contribution to that effort, writing 51 of 85 essays published (Madison wrote 29, Jay only five). Hamilton supervised the entire project, enlisted the participants, wrote the majority of the essays, and oversaw the publication. During the project each person was responsible for their areas of expertise; Jay covered foreign relations, Madison covered the history of republics and confederacies, along with the anatomy of the new government and Hamilton covered the branches of government most pertinent to him: the executive and judicial branches, with some aspects of the Senate, as well as covering military matters and taxation The papers first appeared in The Independent Journal on October 27, 1787.
Hamilton wrote the first paper signed as Publius, and all of the subsequent papers were signed under the name. Jay wrote the next four papers to elaborate on the confederation’s weakness and the need for unity against foreign aggression and against splitting into rival confederacies, and, except for Number 64, was not further involved. Hamilton’s highlights included discussion that although republics have been culpable for disorders in the past, advances in the “science of politics” had fostered principles that ensured that those abuses could be prevented, such as the division of powers, legislative checks and balances, an independent judiciary, and legislators that were represented by electors (Numbers 7–9). Hamilton also wrote an extensive defense of the constitution (No. 23–36), and discussed the Senate and executive and judicial branches in Numbers 65–85. Hamilton and Madison worked to describe the anarchic state of the confederation in numbers 15–22, and have been described as not being entirely different in thought during this time period in contrast to their stark opposition later in life. Subtle differences appeared with the two when discussing the necessity of standing armies.
Secretary of the Treasury
Hamilton became the first Secretary of the Treasury on September 11, 1789 appointed by President George Washington. He proposed that Congress establish a national bank to handle the government’s financial operations. This measure was opposed by Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, who didn’t believe that Congress had the power to establish such an institution. Hamilton then developed the doctrine of implied powers (those suggested by the Constitution). The Supreme Court later upheld this doctrine. Hamilton wanted the government to encourage manufacturing and the recommended measures for that purpose. Jefferson and Madison resulted in the development of the nation’s first two political parties. Hamilton led the Federalist Party, which favored a strong federal government. The Democratic-Republican Party, headed by Jefferson and Madison, wanted to weak national government.
Report on Public Credit
Before the adjournment of the House in September 1789, they requested Hamilton to make a report on suggestions to improve the public credit by January 1790. Hamilton had written to Robert Morris as early as 1781 that fixing the public credit will win their objective of independence. The sources that Hamilton used ranged from Frenchmen such as Jacques Necker and Montesquieu to British writers such as Hume, Hobbes, and Malachy Postlethwayt. While writing the report he also sought out suggestions from contemporaries such as John Knox Witherspoon, and Madison. Although they agreed on additional taxes such as distilleries and duties on imported liquors and land taxes, Madison feared that the securities from the government debt would fall in foreign hands.
In the report, Hamilton felt that the securities should be paid at full value to their legitimate owners, including those who took the financial risk of buying government bonds that most experts thought would never be redeemed. He argued that liberty and property security were inseparable and that the government should honor the contracts, as they formed the basis of public and private morality. To Hamilton, the proper handling of the government debt would also allow America to borrow at affordable interest rates and would also be a stimulant to the economy.
Hamilton divided the debt into national and state, and further divided the national debt into foreign and domestic debt. While there was agreement on how to handle the foreign debt (especially with France), there was not with regards to the national debt held by domestic creditors. During the Revolutionary War, affluent citizens had invested in bonds, and war veterans had been paid with promissory notes and IOUs that plummeted in price during the Confederation. In response, the war veterans sold the securities to speculators for as little as fifteen to twenty cents on the dollar.
Hamilton felt the money from the bonds should not go to the soldiers, but the speculators that had bought the bonds from the soldiers, who had shown little faith in the country’s future. The process of attempting to track down the original bond holders along with the government showing discrimination among the classes of holders if the war veterans were to be compensated also weighed in as factors for Hamilton. As for the state debts, Hamilton suggested to consolidate it with the national debt and label it as federal debt, for the sake of efficiency on a national scale.
The last portion of the report dealt with eliminating the debt by utilizing a sinking fund that would retire five percent of the debt annually until it was paid off. Due to the bonds being traded well below their face value, the purchases would benefit the government as the securities rose in price.
When the report was submitted to the House of Representatives, detractors soon began to speak against it. The notion of programs that resembled British practice were wicked along with the power of balance being shifted away from the Representatives to the executive branch were some of the prejudices that resided within the House. William Maclay suspected that several congressmen were involved in government securities, saw Congress in an unholy league with New York speculators.:302 Congressman James Jackson also spoke against New York, with allegations of speculators attempting to swindle those who had not yet heard about Hamilton’s report.:303
The involvement of those in Hamilton’s circle such as Schuyler, William Duer, James Duane, Gouverneur Morris, and Rufus King as speculators was not favorable to those against the report, either, though Hamilton personally did not own or deal a share in the debt. Madison eventually spoke against it by February 1790. Although he was not against current holders of government debt to profit, he wanted the windfall to go to the original holders. Madison did not feel that the original holders had lost faith in the government, but sold their securities out of desperation. The compromise was seen as egregious to both Hamiltonians and their dissidents such as Maclay, and Madison’s vote was defeated 36 votes to 13 on February 22.
The fight for the national government to assume state debt was a longer issue, and lasted over four months. During the period, the resources that Hamilton was to apply to the payment of state debts was requested by Alexander White, and was rejected due to Hamilton’s not being able to prepare information by March 3, and was even postponed by his own supporters in spite of configuring a report the next day (which consisted of a series of additional duties to meet the interest on the state debts).
Some of the other issues involving Hamilton were bypassing the rising issue of slavery in Congress after Quakers petitioned for its abolition (though he returned to the issue the following year), Duer having resigned as Assistant Secretary of the Treasury, and the vote of assumption being voted down 31 votes to 29 on April 12.
The temporary location of the capital from New York City also played a role, as Tench Coxe was sent to speak to Maclay to bargain about the capital being temporarily located to Philadelphia, as a single vote in the Senate was needed and five in the House for the bill to pass. The bill passed in the Senate on July 21 and in the House 34 votes to 28 on July 26, 1790.
Report on a National Bank
Hamilton’s Report on a National Bank was a projection from the first Report on the Public Credit. Although Hamilton had been forming ideas of a national bank as early as 1779, he gathered ideas in various ways over the past eleven years. These included theories from Adam Smith, extensive studies on the Bank of England, the blunders of the Bank of North America and his experience in establishing the Bank of New York. He also used American records from James Wilson, Pelatiah Webster, Gouverneur Morris, and from his assistant Treasury secretary Tench Coxe.
Hamilton suggested that Congress should charter the National Bank with a capitalization of $10 million, one-fifth of which would be handled by the Government. Since the Government did not have the money, it would borrow the money from the bank itself, and repay the loan in ten even annual installments. The rest was to be available to individual investors. The bank was to be governed by a twenty-five-member board of directors that was to represent a large majority of the private shareholders, which Hamilton considered essential for his being under a private direction. Hamilton’s bank model had many similarities to that of the Bank of England, except Hamilton wanted to exclude the Government from being involved in public debt, but provide a large, firm, and elastic money supply for the functioning of normal businesses and usual economic development, among other differences. For tax revenue to ignite the bank, it was the same as he had previously proposed; increases on imported spirits: rum, liquor, and whiskey.
The bill passed through the Senate practically without a problem, but objections of the proposal increased by the time it reached the House of Representatives. It was generally held by critics that Hamilton was serving the interests of the Northeast by means of the bank, and those of the agrarian lifestyle would not benefit from it. Among those critics was James Jackson of Georgia, who also attempted to refute the report by quoting from The Federalist Papers. Madison and Jefferson also opposed the bank bill; however, the potential of the capital not being moved to the Potomac if the bank was to have a firm establishment in Philadelphia (the current capital of the United States) was a more significant reason, and actions that Pennsylvania members of Congress took to keep the capital there made both men anxious. Madison warned the Pennsylvania congress members that he would attack the bill as unconstitutional in the House, and followed up on his threat. Madison argued his case of where the power of a bank could be established within the Constitution, but he failed to sway members of the House, and his authority on the constitution was questioned by a few members. The bill eventually passed in an overwhelming fashion 39 to 20, on February 8, 1791.
Washington hesitated to sign the bill, as he received suggestions from Attorney-General Edmund Randolph and Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson dismissed the ‘necessary and proper’ clause as reasoning for the creation of a national bank, stating that the enumerated powers “can all be carried into execution without a bank.” Along with Randolph and Jefferson’s objections, Washington’s involvement in the movement of the capital from Philadelphia is also thought to be a reason for his hesitation. In response to the objection of the ‘necessary and proper’ clause, Hamilton stated that “Necessary often means no more than needful, requisite, incidental, useful, or conductive to”, and the bank was a “convenient species of medium in which they (taxes) are to be paid.” Washington would eventually sign the bill into law.
Establishing the U.S. Mint
In 1791, Hamilton submitted the Report on the Establishment of a Mint to the House of Representatives. Many of Hamilton’s ideas for this report were from European economists, resolutions from Continental Congress meetings from 1785 and 1786, and from people such as Gouverneur Morris and Thomas Jefferson.
Because the most circulated coins in the United States at the time were Spanish currency, Hamilton proposed that minting a United States dollar weighing almost as much as the Spanish peso would be the simplest way to introduce a national currency. Hamilton differed from European monetary policymakers in his desire to overprice gold relative to silver, on the grounds that the United States would always receive an influx of silver from the West Indies. Despite his own preference for a monometallic gold standard, he ultimately issued a bimetallic currency at a fixed 15:1 ratio of silver to gold.
Hamilton proposed that the U.S. dollar should have fractional coins using decimals, rather than eighths like the Spanish coinage. He also desired the minting of small value coins, such as silver ten-cent and copper cent and half-cent pieces, for reducing the cost of living for the poor. One of his main objectives was for the general public to become accustomed to handling money on a frequent basis.
By 1792, Hamilton’s principles were adopted by Congress, resulting in the Coinage Act of 1792, and the creation of the United States Mint. There was to be a ten-dollar Gold Eagle coin, a silver dollar, and fractional money ranging from one-half to fifty cents. The coining of silver and gold was issued by 1795.
Revenue Cutter Service
Smuggling off American coasts was an issue before the Revolutionary War, and after the Revolution it was more problematic. Along with smuggling, lack of shipping control, pirating, and a revenue unbalance were also major problems. In response, Hamilton proposed to Congress to enact a naval police force called revenue cutters in order to patrol the waters and assist the custom collectors with confiscating contraband.:340 This idea was also proposed to assist in tariff controlling, boosting the American economy, and promote the merchant marine. It is thought that his experience obtained during his apprenticeship with Nicholas Kruger was influential in his decision-making.:32
Concerning some of the details of the “System of Cutters”, Hamilton wanted the first ten cutters in different areas in the United States, from New England to Georgia. Each of those cutters was to be armed with ten muskets and bayonets, twenty pistols, two chisels, one broad-ax and two lanterns; the fabric of the sails was to be domestically manufactured; and provisions were made for the employees’ food supply and etiquette when boarding ships. Congress established the Revenue Cutter Service on August 4, 1790, which is viewed as the birth of the United States Coast Guard.
Jay Treaty and Britain
When France and Britain went to war in early 1793, all four members of the Cabinet were consulted on what to do. They and Washington unanimously agreed to remain neutral, and to send Genêt home. However, in 1794 policy toward Britain became a major point of contention between the two parties. Hamilton and the Federalists wished for more trade with Britain, the new nation’s largest trading partner. The Republicans saw Britain as the main threat to republicanism and proposed instead a trade war.
To avoid war, Washington sent Chief Justice John Jay to negotiate with the British; Hamilton largely wrote Jay’s instructions. The result was Jay’s Treaty. It was denounced by the Republicans, but Hamilton mobilized support throughout the land. The Jay Treaty passed the Senate in 1795 by exactly the required two-thirds majority. The Treaty resolved issues remaining from the Revolution, averted war, and made possible ten years of peaceful trade between the United States and Britain. Historian George Herring notes the “remarkable and fortuitous economic and diplomatic gains” produced by the Treaty.
Several European nations had formed a League of Armed Neutrality against incursions on their neutral rights; the Cabinet was also consulted on whether the United States should join it, and decided not to. It kept that decision secret, but Hamilton revealed it in private to George Hammond, the British Minister to the United States, without telling Jay or anyone else. (His act remained unknown until Hammond’s dispatches were read in the 1920s). This “amazing revelation” may have had limited effect on the negotiations; Jay did threaten to join the League at one point, but the British had other reasons not to view the League as a serious threat.
In 1795, Hamilton resigned as Secretary of Treasury because of personal financial problems and increased opposition in Congress. But he remained active in public life and in 1796 helped President George Washington writing his Farewell Address.
John Adams, a federalist became the 2nd President in 1797. Adams and Hamilton had many personal disputes, and they also disgraced about foreign policy and other issues. Shortly before the Election of 1800, Hamilton wrote a pamphlet attacking the President. The pamphlet widened a split among the Federalists.
During the military build-up of the Quasi-War of 1798–1800, and with the strong endorsement of Washington (who had been called out of retirement to lead the Army if a French invasion materialized), Adams reluctantly appointed Hamilton a major general of the army. At Washington’s insistence, Hamilton was made the senior major general, prompting Henry Knox to decline appointment to serve as Hamilton’s junior (Knox had been a major general in the Continental Army and thought it would be degrading to serve beneath him). Hamilton served as inspector general of the United States Army from July 18, 1798, to June 15, 1800; because Washington was unwilling to leave Mount Vernon unless it were to command an army in the field, Hamilton was the de facto head of the army, to Adams’s considerable displeasure. If full-scale war broke out with France, Hamilton argued that the army should conquer the North American colonies of France’s ally, Spain, bordering the United States. Hamilton was prepared to march his army through the Southern United States if necessary, possibly also using his army in Virginia to quash opposition to Adams and himself.
To fund this army, Hamilton wrote regularly to Oliver Wolcott Jr., his successor at the Treasury; William Loughton Smith, of the House Ways and Means Committee; and Senator Theodore Sedgwick of Massachusetts. He directed them to pass a direct tax to fund the war. Smith resigned in July 1797, as Hamilton scolded him for slowness, and told Wolcott to tax houses instead of land. The eventual program included a Stamp Act like that of the British before the Revolution and other taxes on land, houses, and slaves, calculated at different rates in different states, and requiring difficult and intricate assessment of houses. This provoked resistance in southeastern Pennsylvania, led primarily by men such as John Fries who had marched with Washington against the Whiskey Rebellion.
Hamilton aided in all areas of the army’s development, and after Washington’s death he was by default the Senior Officer of the United States Army from December 14, 1799, to June 15, 1800.
The army was to guard against invasion from France. Adams, however, derailed all plans for war by opening negotiations with France. Adams had held it proper to retain the members of Washington’s cabinet, except for cause; he found, in 1800 (after Washington’s death), that they were obeying Hamilton rather than himself, and fired several of them.
United States Presidential Election
As a result, the Democratic-Republican candidates, Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr, won the election. Jefferson and Burr received an equal number of electoral votes which was a tie. Under the voting procedure of the time, both men were eligible for the presidency.
The House of Representatives had to decide the winner of the election. Hamilton, who distrusted Burr even more than he did Jefferson, supported Jefferson for President. Jefferson finally won and Burr became Vice President.
In 1804, when Burr ran for governor of New York, Hamilton criticized Burr’s character and worked to defeat him.
Burr lost and then challenged Hamilton to a duel with pistols. The duel began at dawn on July 11, 1804, along the west bank of the Hudson River on a rocky ledge in Weehawken, New Jersey.
Coincidentally, the duel took place relatively close to the location of the duel that ended the life of Hamilton’s eldest son, Philip, three years earlier. After the seconds measured the paces, Hamilton, according to both William P. Van Ness and Burr, raised his pistol “as if to try the light” and had to wear his spectacles to prevent his vision from being obscured. Hamilton also refused the hairspring set of dueling pistols (that would make the pulling of the trigger lighter) offered by Nathaniel Pendleton. Vice President Burr shot Hamilton, delivering what proved to be a fatal wound. Hamilton’s shot broke a tree branch directly above Burr’s head. Neither of the seconds, Pendleton nor Van Ness, could determine who fired first, as each claimed that the other man had fired first. Soon after, they measured and triangulated the shooting, but could not determine from which angle Hamilton fired. Burr’s shot, however, hit Hamilton in the lower abdomen above the right hip. The bullet ricocheted off Hamilton’s second or third false rib, fracturing it and causing considerable damage to his internal organs, particularly his liver and diaphragm, before becoming lodged in his first or second lumbar vertebra. Biographer Ron Chernow considered the circumstances to indicate that, after taking deliberate aim, Burr fired second, while biographer James Earnest Cooke suggested that Burr took careful aim and shot first, and Hamilton fired while falling, after being struck by Burr’s bullet.
The paralyzed Hamilton, who knew himself to be mortally wounded, was ferried to the Greenwich Village home of his friend William Bayard Jr., who had been waiting on the dock. After final visits from his family and friends and considerable suffering, Hamilton died on the following afternoon, July 12, 1804, at Bayard’s home at what is now 80–82 Jane Street. Gouverneur Morris gave the eulogy at his funeral and secretly established a fund to support his widow and children. Hamilton was buried in the Trinity Churchyard Cemetery in Manhattan.