Watchman Willie Martin Archive

It may well be that the Jewish side of his family was through his mother,

but his wife may also have been a Jewess. He was well connected with

bankers and Jews, and may well have been a Jew secretly. The man who killed

him was certainly a Jew. Yours in Christ, Jim

The National Debt

A national debt, if it is not excessive, will be to us a national blessing.

Alexander Hamilton (1757‑1804), U.S. statesman. Letter, 30 April 1781.

Later, as secretary of the treasury (1789‑95), Hamilton sponsored

legislation to pay off the debt of the Continental Congress, and to charter

the short‑lived Bank of the United States.

Hamilton, Alexander

Hamilton, Alexander, 1755‑1804, U.S. statesman; b. West Indies. In the

AMERICAN REVOLUTION he was Gen. WASHINGTON's secretary and aide‑de‑camp and

served brilliantly in the YORKTOWN CAMPAIGN. As a delegate (1782‑83) to the

CONTINENTAL CONGRESS, he pressed for a strong national government. After

serving as a New York delegate to the FEDERAL CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION

(1787), he did much to get the Constitution ratified, particularly by his

contributions to The Federalist. As secretary of the treasury (1789‑95)

under Pres. Washington, Hamilton sponsored legislation to pay off the debt

of the Continental Congress and to charter the BANK OF THE UNITED STATES.

To raise revenue he advocated a tariff on imported manufactures and excise

taxes. By these measures he hoped to strengthen the federal government and

tie it to persons of wealth. In foreign affairs Hamilton sought close ties

with Britain and opposed the FRENCH REVOLUTION. Opposition to Hamilton and

his supporters, who were known as Federalists, gathered around Thomas

JEFFERSON, and the FEDERALIST PARTY was swept under in the election of

1800. Hamilton was killed in a duel by Aaron BURR, whose bids for the

presidency (1800) and for New York governor (1804) Hamilton had thwarted.1

(b. Jan. 11, 1755/57, Nevis, British West Indies‑‑d. July 12, 1804, New

York City), New York

delegate to the Constitutional Convention (1787), major author of the

Federalist papers, and first

secretary of the Treasury of the United States (1789‑95), who was the

foremost champion of a

strong central government for the new United States. He was killed in a

duel with Aaron Burr.

Hamilton, Alexander

(b. Jan. 11, 1755/57, Nevis, British West Indies‑‑d. July 12, 1804, New

York City), New York

delegate to the Constitutional Convention (1787), major author of the

Federalist papers, and first

secretary of the Treasury of the United States (1789‑95), who was the

foremost champion of a

strong central government for the new United States. He was killed in a

duel with Aaron Burr.

Early life.

Hamilton's father was James Hamilton, a drifting trader and son of

Alexander Hamilton, the laird

of Cambuskeith, Ayrshire, Scot.; his mother was Rachel Fawcett Lavine, the

daughter of a

French Huguenot physician and the wife of John Michael Lavine, a German or

Danish merchant

who had settled on the island of St. Croix in the Danish West Indies.

Rachel probably began living

with James Hamilton in 1752, but Lavine did not divorce her until 1758.

In 1765 James Hamilton abandoned his family. Destitute, Rachel set up a

small shop, and at the

age of 11 Alexander went to work, becoming a clerk in the countinghouse of

two New York

merchants who had recently established themselves at St. Croix. When Rachel

died in 1768,

Alexander became a ward of his mother's relatives, and in 1772 his ability,

industry, and engaging

manners won him advancement from bookkeeper to manager. Later, friends sent

him to a

preparatory school in Elizabethtown, N.J., and in the autumn of 1773 he

entered King's College

(later Columbia) in New York. Intensely ambitious, he became a serious and

successful student,

but his studies were interrupted by the brewing revolt against Great

Britain. He publicly defended

the Boston Tea Party, in which Boston colonists destroyed several tea

cargoes in defiance of the

tea tax. In 1774‑75 he wrote three influential pamphlets, which upheld the

agreements of the

Continental Congress on the nonimportation, nonconsumption, and

nonexportation of British

products and attacked British policy in Quebec. Those anonymous

publications‑‑one of them

attributed to John Jay and John Adams, two of the ablest of American

propagandists‑‑gave the

first solid evidence of Hamilton's precocity.

Revolutionary War service.

In March 1776, through the influence of friends in the New York

legislature, Hamilton was

commissioned a captain in the provincial artillery. He organized his own

company and at the Battle

of Trenton, when he and his men prevented the British under Lord Cornwallis

from crossing the

Raritan River and attacking George Washington's main army, showed

conspicuous bravery. In

February 1777 Washington invited him to become an aide‑de‑camp with the

rank of lieutenant

colonel. In his four years on Washington's staff he grew close to the

General and was entrusted

with his correspondence. He was sent on important military missions and,

thanks to his fluent

command of French, became liaison officer between Washington and the French

generals and


Eager to connect himself with wealth and influence, Hamilton married

Elizabeth, the daughter of

Gen. Philip Schuyler, the head of one of New York's most distinguished

families. Meantime,

having tired of the routine duties at headquarters and yearning for glory,

he pressed Washington

for an active command in the field. Washington refused, and in early 1781

Hamilton seized upon a

trivial quarrel to break with the General and leave his staff. Fortunately,

he had not forfeited the

General's friendship, for in July Washington gave him command of a

battalion. At the siege of

Cornwallis' army at Yorktown in October, Hamilton led an assault on a

British stronghold.

Early political activities.

In letters to a member of Congress and to Robert Morris, the superintendent

of finance, Hamilton

analyzed the financial and political weaknesses of the government. In

November 1781, with the

war virtually over, he moved to Albany, where he studied law and was

admitted to practice in July

1782. That same month he became receiver of continental taxes for the state

of New York, a

post he gave up a few months later, after the New York legislature elected

him to the Continental

Congress. Between July 1781 and July 1782 he wrote six essays for the New

York Packet under

the pen name of The Continentalist, in which he argued for a strong central

government. In

Congress from November 1782 to July 1783 he worked for the same end, being

convinced that

the Articles of Confederation were the source of the country's weakness and


In 1783 Hamilton began to practice law in New York City. He defended

unpopular Loyalists

who had remained faithful to the British during the Revolution in suits

brought against them under a

state law called the Trespass Act. Using the pseudonym Phocion, he

published two pamphlets in

1784 pleading for moderation and justice in the treatment of Loyalists, and

in 1786, partly as a

result of his efforts, state acts disbarring Loyalist lawyers and

disfranchising Loyalist voters were

repealed. In that year he also won election to the lower house of the New

York legislature, taking

his seat in January 1787. Meanwhile, the legislature had appointed him a

delegate to the

convention in Annapolis, Md., that met in September 1786 to consider the

commercial plight of

the Union. Hamilton suggested that the convention exceed its delegated

powers and call for

another meeting of representatives from all the states to discuss various

problems confronting the

nation. He drew up the draft of the address to the states from which

emerged the Constitutional

Convention that met in Philadelphia in May 1787. After persuading New York

to send a

delegation, Hamilton obtained a place for himself on the delegation.

Hamilton went to Philadelphia as an uncompromising nationalist who wished

to replace the

Articles of Confederation with a strong centralized government, but he did

not take much part in

the debates. He served on two important committees, one on rules in the

beginning of the

convention and the other on style at the end of the convention. In a long

speech on June 18, he

presented his own idea of what the national government should be. His model

was the England of

George III: a government of three departments‑‑legislative, executive, and

judicial. The legislature

would consist of an assembly, or lower house, elected for three years by

free male citizens and of

a senate chosen indirectly by electors for life. The president, who also

would hold office for life

and was to be selected by a double set of electors, would have an absolute

veto over the

legislature. The central government would appoint the state governors, who

would have an

absolute veto over state legislation. The judiciary would consist of a

supreme court whose justices

would have life tenure. Although the states were to be preserved, they

would have virtually no

power. Under this essentially monarchical plan, the national government

would have unlimited

sovereignty. Hamilton's plan had little impact on the convention; the

delegates went ahead to

frame a constitution that, while it gave strong power to a federal

government, stood some chance

of being accepted by the people. Since the other two delegates from New

York, who were

strong opponents of a Federalist constitution, had withdrawn from the

convention, New York was

not officially represented, and Hamilton had no power to sign for his

state. Nonetheless, even

though he knew that his state wished to go no further than a revision of

the Articles of

Confederation, he signed the new constitution as an individual.

Opponents in New York quickly attacked the Constitution, and Hamilton an

swered them in the

newspapers under the signature Caesar. Since the Caesar letters seemed not

influential, Hamilton

turned to another classical pseudonym, Publius, and to two collaborators,

James Madison, the

delegate from Virginia, and John Jay, the secretary of foreign affairs, to

write The Federalist, a

series of 85 essays in defense of the Constitution and republican

government that appeared in

newspapers between October 1787 and May 1788. Hamilton wrote at least

two‑thirds of the

essays. The Federalist was widely read, had a great influence on

contemporaries, became one of

the classics of political literature, and helped shape American political

institutions. In 1788

Hamilton was reappointed a delegate to the Continental Congress from New

York. At the

ratifying convention in June, he became the chief champion of the

Constitution and, against strong

opposition, won approval for it.

Hamilton, Alexander

Hamilton's financial program.

When President Washington in 1789 appointed Hamilton the first secretary of

the Treasury,

Congress asked him to draw up a plan for the "adequate support of the

public credit." Envisaging

himself as something of a prime minister in Washington's official family,

Hamilton developed a bold

and masterly program designed to build a strong union, one that would weave

his political

philosophy into the government. His immediate objectives were to establish

credit at home and

abroad and to strengthen the national government at the expense of the

states. He outlined his

program in four notable reports to Congress (1790‑91).

A result of the struggle over Hamilton's program and over issues of foreign

policy was the

emergence of national political parties. Like Washington, Hamilton had

deplored parties, equating

them with disorder and instability. He had hoped to establish a government

of superior persons

who would be above party. Yet he became the leader of the Federalist Party,

a political

organization in large part dedicated to the support of his policies.

Hamilton placed himself at the

head of that party because he needed organized political support and strong

leadership in the

executive branch to get his program through Congress. The political

organization that challenged

the Hamiltonians was the Republican Party created by James Madison, a

member of the House of

Representatives, and Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson. In foreign

affairs the Federalists

favoured close ties with England, whereas the Republicans preferred to

strengthen the old

attachment to France. In attempting to carry out his program, Hamilton

interfered in Jefferson's

domain of foreign affairs. Detesting the French Revolution and the

egalitarian doctrines it

spawned, he tried to thwart Jefferson's policies that might aid France or

injure England and to

induce Washington to follow his own ideas in foreign policy. Hamilton went

so far as to warn

British officials of Jefferson's attachment to France and to suggest that

they bypass the Secretary

of State and instead work through himself and the President in matters of

foreign policy. This and

other parts of Hamilton's program led to a feud with Jefferson in which the

two men attempted to

drive each other from the Cabinet.

When war broke out between France and England in February 1793, Hamilton

wished to use the

war as an excuse for jettisoning the French alliance of 1778 and steering

the United States closer

to England, whereas Jefferson insisted that the alliance was still binding.

Washington essentially

accepted Hamilton's advice and in April issued a proclamation of neutrality

that Republicans said

favoured England. In that month an emissary from republican France,

Edmond‑Charles Genet, in

trying to advance the cause of his own country, violated American

neutrality by arming privateers

in U.S. ports. Hamilton in June began a series of articles under the name

"Pacificus" in defense of

the neutrality proclamation and in August another series under the name "No

Jacobin" that

condemned Genet's activities and eventually led to Genet's recall in 1794.

At the same time, British seizure of U.S. ships trading with the French

West Indies and other

grievances led to popular demands for war against Great Britain, which

Hamilton opposed. He

believed that such a war would be national suicide, for his program was

anchored on trade with

Britain and on the import duties that supported his funding system.

Hamilton persuaded the

President to send John Jay to London to negotiate grievances. Hamilton

wrote Jay's instructions,

manipulated the negotiations, and defended the unpopular treaty Jay brought

back in 1795,

notably in a series of newspaper essays he wrote under the signature

Camillus; the treaty kept the

peace and saved his system.

Out of the Cabinet.

Lashed by criticism, tired and anxious to repair his private fortune,

Hamilton left the Cabinet on

Jan. 31, 1795. His influence, as an unofficial adviser, however, continued

as strong as ever.

Washington and his Cabinet consulted him on almost all matters of policy.

When Washington

decided to retire, he turned to Hamilton, asking his opinion as to the best

time to publish his

farewell. With his eye on the coming presidential election, Hamilton

advised withholding the

announcement until a few months before the meeting of the presidential

electors. Following that

advice, Washington gave his Farewell Address in September 1796. Hamilton

drafted most of the

address, and some of his ideas were prominent in it. In the election,

Federalist leaders passed

over Hamilton's claims and nominated John Adams for the presidency and

Thomas Pinckney for

the vice presidency. Because Adams did not appear devoted to Hamiltonian

principles, Hamilton

tried to manipulate the electoral college so as to make Pinckney president.

Adams won the

election, and Hamilton's intrigue succeeded only in sowing distrust within

his own party.

Hamilton's influence in the government continued, however, for Adams

retained Washington's

Cabinet, and its members consulted Hamilton on all matters of policy, gave

him confidential

information, and in effect urged his policies on the president.

Early in 1797 James T. Callender, a Republican hack, published a History of

the United States

for the Year 1796, in which he accused Hamilton of corruption in connection

with an affair that

Hamilton had had six years earlier with Maria Reynolds. Hamilton met the

attack by writing a

pamphlet in which he confessed the "irregular and indelicate amour" and

printed the blackmailing

letters that the woman's husband, a confidence man, had sent to him but

denied any corrupt

dealings with him. Although Hamilton successfully defended his integrity as

a public man, he

subjected his private life to a bitter humiliation.

When France broke relations with the United States, Hamilton stood for

firmness but agreed with

the president's policy of trying to reestablish friendly relations. After

the failure of a peace mission

that President Adams had sent to Paris in 1798, followed by the publication

of dispatches insulting

to U.S. sovereignty, Hamilton wanted to place the country under arms. He

even believed that the

French, who had embarked on an undeclared naval war, might attempt to

invade the country.

Hamilton sought command of the new army, though Washington would be its

titular head. Adams

resisted Hamilton's desires, but in September 1798 Washington forced him to

make Hamilton

second in command of the army, the inspector general, with the rank of

major general. Adams

never forgave Hamilton for this humiliation. Hamilton wanted to lead his

army into Spain's

Louisiana and the Floridas and other points south but never did. Through

independent diplomacy,

Adams kept the quarrel from spreading and at the order of Congress

disbanded the provisional

army. Hamilton resigned his commission in June 1800. Meantime Adams had

purged his Cabinet

of those he regarded as "Hamilton's spies."

In retaliation, Hamilton tried to prevent Adams' reelection. In October

1800 he privately

circulated a personal attack on Adams, The Public Conduct and Character of

John Adams,

Esq., President of the United States. Aaron Burr of New York, the

Republican candidate for

vice president and Hamilton's political enemy, obtained a copy and had it

published. Hamilton was

then compelled to acknowledge his authorship and to bring his quarrel with

Adams into the open,

a feud that revealed an irreparable schism in the Federalist Party. Thomas

Jefferson and Aaron

Burr won the election, but, because both had received the same number of

electoral votes, the

choice between them for president was cast into the House of

Representatives. Hating Jefferson,

the Federalists wanted to throw the election to Burr. Hamilton helped to

persuade them to select

Jefferson instead. By supporting his old Republican enemy, who won the

presidency, Hamilton

lost prestige within his own party and virtually ended his public career.

Hamilton, Alexander

The Burr quarrel.

In 1801 Hamilton built a country house called the Grange on Manhattan

island and helped found a

Federalist newspaper, the New York Evening Post, the policies of which

reflected his ideas.

Through the Post he hailed the purchase of Louisiana in 1803, even though

New England

Federalists had opposed it. Some of them talked of secession and in 1804

began to negotiate with

Burr for his support. Almost all the Federalists but Hamilton favoured

Burr's candidacy for the

governorship of New York state. Hamilton urged the election of Burr's

Republican opponent,

who won by a close margin, but it is doubtful that Hamilton's influence

decided the outcome. In

any event, Hamilton and Burr had long been enemies, and Hamilton had

several times thwarted

Burr's ambitions. In June 1804, after the election, Burr demanded

satisfaction for remarks

Hamilton had allegedly made at a dinner party in April in which he said he

held a "despicable

opinion" of Burr. Hamilton held an aversion to dueling, but as a man of

honour he felt compelled

to accept Burr's challenge. The two antagonists met early in the morning of

July 11 on the heights

of Weehawken, N.J., where Hamilton's eldest son, Philip, had died in a duel

three years before.

Burr's bullet found its mark, and Hamilton fell. Hamilton left his wife and

seven children heavily in

debt, which friends helped to pay off. ( A.De C./Ed.)


Hamilton's public and private life is examined by Nathan Schachner,

Alexander Hamilton (1946,

reissued 1961), well‑balanced and readable; Broadus Mitchell, Alexander

Hamilton, 2 vol.

(1957‑62), a scholarly study; John C. Miller, Alexander Hamilton: Portrait

in Paradox (1959,

reprinted 1979), strong on his public career; and Forrest McDonald,

Alexander Hamilton

(1979), a reexamination of his political philosophy. Jacob Ernest Cooke,

Alexander Hamilton

(1982); and Marie B. Hecht, Odd Destiny: The Life of Alexander Hamilton

(1982), are

political biographies.

Copyright (c) 1995 Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc. All Rights Reserved

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