Statesman; born in Nevis
, W. I., Jan. 11, 1757.
His father was a Scotchman; his mother, of Huguenot
He came to the English-American
colonies in 1772, and attended a school kept by Francis Barber
at Elizabeth, N. J.
, and entered King
's (Columbia) College in 1773.
He made a speech to a popular assemblage in New York City in 1774, when only seventeen years of age, remarkable in every particular, and he aided the patriotic cause by his writings.
In March, 1776, he was made captain of artillery, and served at White Plains
, and Princeton
; and in March, 1777, became aide-de-camp to Washington
, and his secretary and trusted confidant.
He was of great assistance to Washington
in his correspondence, and in planning campaigns.
In December, 1780, he married a daughter of Gen. Philip Schuyler
, and in 1781 he retired from Washington
In July he was appointed to the command of New York troops, with the rank of colonel, and captured by assault a redoubt at Yorktown
, Oct. 14, 1781.
After the surrender of Cornwallis he left the army; studied law; was a member of Congress (1782- 83), and soon took the lead in his profession.
He was a member of the New York legislature in 1787, and of the convention at Philadelphia
, that year, that framed the national Constitution.
With the aid of the able pens of Madison
put forth a series of remarkable essays in favor of the Constitution
, which, in book form, bear the name of The Federalist
wrote the larger half of that work.
He was called to the cabinet of Washington
as Secretary of the Treasury
, and was the founder of the financial system of the republic.
Having finished the great work of assisting to put in motion the machinery of the government of the United States
, and seeing it in successful working order, he resigned, Jan. 31, 1795, and resumed the practice of law; but his pen was much employed in support of the policy of the national government.
When, in 1798, war with France
seemed probable, and President Adams
commander-in-chief of the armies of the republic, Hamilton
was made his second in command, with the rank of major-general.
On the death of Washington
(December, 1799), Hamilton
succeeded him as commander-in-chief, but the provisional army was soon disbanded.
On Sept. 3, 1780, Hamilton
wrote to Duane
, a member of Congress from New York, and expressed his views on the subject of State supremacy and a national government.
He proposed to call for a convention of all the States on Nov. 1 following, with full authority to conclude, finally, upon a general confederation.
He traced the cause of the want of power in Congress, and censured that body for its timidity in refusing to assume authority to preserve the infant republic from harm.
“Undefined powers,” he said, “are discretionary powers,
limited only by the object for which they were given.”
He said that “some of the lines of the army, but for the influence of Washington
, would obey their States in opposition to Congress. . . . Congress should have complete sovereignty in all that relates to war, peace, trade, finance, foreign affairs, armies, fleets, fortifications, coining money, establishing banks, imposing a land-tax, poll-tax, duties on trade, and the unoccupied hinds.”
He proposed that the general government should have power to provide certain perpetual revenues, productive and easy of collection.
He claimed the plan of confederation then before Congress to be defective, and urged alteration.
“It is neither fit for war,” he said, “nor for peace.
The idea of an uncontrollable sovereignty in each State will defeat the powers given to Congress, and make our union feeble and precarious.”
He recommended the appointment of joint officers of state—for foreign affairs, for war, for the navy, and for the treasury—to supersede the “committees” and “boards” hitherto employed; but he neither favored a chief magistrate with supreme executive power, nor two branches in the national legislature.
The whole tone of Hamilton
's letter was hopeful of the future, though written in his tent, in the midst of a suffering army.
was afraid of democracy.
He wished to secure for the United States
a strong government; and in the convention at Philadelphia
in 1787 he presented a plan, the chief features of which were an assembly, to be elected by the people for three years; a senate, to be chosen by electors voted for by the people, to hold office during good behavior; and a governor, also chosen to rule during good behavior by a similar but more complicated process.
The governor was to have an absolute negative upon all laws, and the appointment of all officers, subject, however, to the approval of the Senate.
The general government was to have the appointment of the governors of the States, and a negative upon all State laws.
The Senate was to be invested with the power of declaring war and ratifying treaties.
In a speech preliminary to his presentation of this plan, Hamilton
expressed doubts as to republican government at all, and his admiration of the English
constitution as the best model; nor did he conceal his theoretical preference for monarchy, while he admitted that, in the existing state of public sentiment, it was necessary to adhere to republican forms, but with all the strength possible.
He desired a general government strong enough to counterbalance the strength of the State
governments and reduce them to subordinate importance.
The first report to the national Congress by the Secretary of the Treasury
was waited for with great anxiety not only by the public creditors, but by every thoughtful patriot.
It was presented to the House of Representatives Jan. 15, 1790.
It embodied a financial scheme, which was generally adopted, and remained the line of financial policy of the new government for more than twenty years. On his recommendation, the national government assumed not only the foreign and domestic debts of the old government, incurred in carrying on the Revolutionary War
, as its own, but also the debts contracted by the several States during that period for the general welfare.
The foreign debt, with accrued interest, amounting to almost $12,000,000, was due chiefly to France
and private lenders in Holland
The domestic debt, including outstanding Continental money and interest, amounted to over $42,000,000, nearly one-third of which was accumulated accrued interest.
The State debts assumed amounted in the aggregate to $21,000,000, distributed as follows: New Hampshire
, $300,000; Massachusetts
. $4,000,000; Rhode Island
, $200,000; Connecticut
, $1,600,000; New York, $1,200,000; New Jersey
, $800,000; Pennsylvania
, $2,200,000; Delaware
, $200,000; Maryland
, $800,000; Virginia
$3,000,000: North Carolina
, $2,400,000: South Carolina
, $4,000,000: Georgia
. $300,000. Long and earnest debates on this report occurred in and out of Congress.
There was but one opinion about the foreign debt, and the President
was authorized to borrow $12,000,000 to pay it with.
As to the domestic debt.
there was a wide difference of opinion.
The Continental bills, government certificates, and other evidences of debt were mostly held by speculators, who had purchased them at greatly reduced rates; and
many prominent men thought it would be proper and expedient to apply a scale of depreciation to them, as in the case of the paper money towards the close of the war, in liquidating them.
declared such a course would be dishonest and impolitic, and that the public promises should be met in full, in whatever hands the evidences were found.
It was the only way, he argued justly, to sustain public credit.
He proposed the funding of the public debt in a fair and economical way by which the creditors should receive their promised 6 per cent. until the government should be able to pay the principal.
He assumed that in five years, if the government should pursue an honorable course, loans might be made for 5, and even 4, per cent., with which the claims might be met. The propositions of Hamilton
, though warmly opposed, were obviously so just that they were agreed to in March (1790), and a new loan was authorized, payable in certificates of the domestic debt at their par value in Continental bills of credit (new issue), at the rate of 100 to 1.
Congress also authorized an additional loan to the amount of $21,000,000, payable in certificates of the State
A system of revenue from imports and internal excise, proposed by Hamilton
, was also adopted.
The persistent and sometimes violent attacks upon the financial policy of the government, sometimes assuming the aspect of personality towards Hamilton
, that appeared in Freneau
's National gazette
in 1792, at length provoked the Secretary of the Treasury
to publish a newspaper article, over the signature of “An American,” in which attention was called to Freneau
's paper as the organ of the Secretary of State
, Mr. Jefferson
, and edited by a clerk employed in his office.
This connection was represented as indelicate, and inconsistent with Jefferson
's professions of republican purity.
He commented on the inconsistency and indelicacy of Mr. Jefferson
in retaining a place in the cabinet when he was opposed to the government he was serving, vilifying its important measures, adopted by both branches of the Congress
, and sanctioned by the chief magistrate
; and continually casting obstacles in the way of establishing the public credit and providing for the support of the government.
The paper concluded with a contrast, as to the effect upon the public welfare, between the policy adopted by the government and that advocated by the party of which Jefferson
aspired to be leader.
denied, under oath, that Jefferson
had anything to do with his paper, and declared he had never written a line for it. To this “An American” replied that “actions were louder than words or oaths,” and charged Jefferson
with being “the prompter of the attacks on government measures and the aspersions on honorable men.”
The papers by “An American” were at once ascribed to Hamilton
, and drew out answers from Jefferson
To these Hamilton
The quarrel waxed hot. Washington
(then at Mount Vernon
), as soon as he heard of the newspaper war, tried to bring about a truce between the angry Secretaries
In a letter to Jefferson
, Aug. 23, 1792, he said: “How unfortunate and how much to be regretted it is that, while we are encompassed on all sides with avowed enemies and insidious friends, internal dissensions should be harrowing and tearing out our vitals.”
He portrayed the public injury that such a quarrel would inflict.
He wrote to Hamilton
to the same effect.
Their answers were characteristic of the two men, Jefferson
's concluding with an intimation that he should retire from office at the close of Washington
were never reconciled; personally there was a truce, but politically they were bitter enemies.
In the winter of 1804 Hamilton
was in Albany
, attending to law business.
While there a caucus or consultation was held by the leading Federalists.
It was a secret meeting to consult and compare opinions on the question whether the Federalists, as a party, ought to support Aaron Burr
for the office of governor of the State of New York
In a bedroom adjoining the closed dining-room in which the caucus was held one or two of Burr
's political friends were concealed, and heard every word uttered in the meeting.
The characters of men were fully discussed, and Hamilton
, in a speech, spoke of Burr
as an unsuitable candidate, because no reliance could be placed in him. The spies reported the proceedings to their
principal, and on Feb. 17 a correspondent of the Morning chronicle
wrote that at a Federal meeting the night before the “principal part of Hamilton
's speech went to show that no reliance ought to be placed in Mr. Burr
In the election which ensued Burr
was defeated, and, though Hamilton
had taken no part in the canvass, his influence was such that Burr
attributed his defeat to him. Burr
, defeated and politically ruined, evidently determined on revenge—a revenge that nothing but the life of Hamilton
Dr. Charles Cooper
, of Albany
, had dined with Hamilton
at the table of Judge Taylor
, where Hamilton
spoke freely of Burr
conduct and principles only, to which he declared himself hostile.
, in his zeal, just before the election, in published letters, said:
both consider Burr
, politically, as a dangerous man, and unfit for the office of governor.”
He also wrote that Hamilton
both thought that Burr
ought not to be “trusted with the reins of government,” and added, “I could detail a still more despicable opinion which Hamilton
had expressed of Burr
The latter made these private
expressions of Hamilton
concerning his political character a pretext for a challenge to mortal combat; and, seizing upon the word “despicable,” sent a note to Hamilton
, demanding “a prompt and unqualified acknowledgment or denial of having said anything which warranted such an expression.”
Several notes passed between Hamilton
, through the hands of friends, in one of which Hamilton
frankly said that “the conversation which Dr. Cooper
alluded to turned wholly on political topics, and did not attribute to Colonel Burr
any instance of dishonorable conduct, nor relate to his private character; and in relation to any other language or conversation of General Hamilton
which Colonel Burr
will specify, a prompt and frank avowal or denial will be given.”
This was all an honorable man could ask. But Burr
seemed to thirst for Hamilton
's life, and he pressed him to fight a duel in a manner which, in the public opinion which then prevailed concerning the “code of honor,” Hamilton
could not decline.
They fought at Weehawken
, July 11, 1804, on the west side of the Hudson River
, and Hamilton
, who would not discharge his pistol at Burr
, for he did not wish to hurt him, was mortally wounded, and died the next day. The public excitement, without regard to party, was intense.
fled from New York and became for a while a fugitive from justice.
He was politically dead, and bore the burden of scorn and remorse for more than thirty years.
Report on the coinage
.—On Jan. 28, 1791, Secretary Hamilton
sent the following report to the House of Representatives: