He was the illegitimate son of James Hamilton (of a prominent Scottish family) and Rachel Faucett Lavien (daughter of a doctor-planter on Nevis and the estranged wife of a merchant). Orphaned and impoverished at around the age of 12, the brilliant, ambitious youth arrived in the North American colonies late in 1772 and studied (1773-74) at King's College (now Columbia). In the troubled times leading to the American Revolution, he wrote articles and pamphlets espousing the colonial cause so well that the works were popularly attributed to John Jay.
In the war he became a captain of artillery, attracted George Washington's notice, and, as Washington's secretary and aide-de-camp, performed invaluable services. Desiring more active duty, he left Washington's staff in 1781 and performed brilliantly in the field at Yorktown. His marriage to Elizabeth Schuyler, daughter of Gen. Philip J. Schuyler, connected him with an old and powerful New York family. He practiced law in New York City and was a member of the Continental Congress.
By 1780 Hamilton had outlined a plan of government with a strong central authority to replace the weak system of the Articles of Confederation, and as delegate (1782-83) to the Continental Congress he pressed continually for strengthening of the national government. It was Hamilton who proposed at the unsuccessful Annapolis Convention (1786) that a constitutional convention be called at Philadelphia in May, 1787, and he was one of New York's three delegates when it was convened.
Although he believed the Constitution to be deficient in the powers that it gave the national government, he did much to get it ratified, particularly by means of his contributions to The Federalist. In New York, Hamilton was a powerful constitutional supporter, fighting vigorously against the opposition of George Clinton and becoming perhaps the strongest advocate of the new instrument of government aside from James Madison.
In the first decade of the republic, Hamilton played a decisive role in shaping domestic and foreign policy. As Secretary of the Treasury under George Washington, he presented (1790) a far-reaching financial program to the first Congress. He proposed that the debt accumulated by the Continental Congress be paid in full, that the federal government assume all state debts, and that a Bank of the United States be chartered. For revenue, Hamilton advocated a tariff on imported manufactures and a series of excise taxes. He hoped by these measures to strengthen the national government at the expense of the states and to tie government to men of wealth and prosperity.
Hamilton was a well-to-do lawyer and banker (he helped to found the Bank of New York), and his own high connections aroused suspicion among the less conservative; his policies alienated agrarian interests and drew opposition from those who feared concentration of power in the federal government. Widespread antipathy to party divisions muted the opposition, however, and Congress adopted the Hamiltonian program.
Foreign affairs soon brought this unity to an end. Hamilton's program depended for success on continued trade with Great Britain. He supported Jay's Treaty (1794), and, opposed to the French Revolution, encouraged strong measures against France in the near-war of 1798—measures bitterly opposed by the pro-French Thomas Jefferson.
Two opposing parties formed: the Federalists, led by Hamilton and John Adams (then President), and the Democratic Republicans (see Democratic party), led by Jefferson and James Madison. Hamilton was perhaps the most powerful of the Federalists, but he was not in complete command of the party (he had even resigned his cabinet post in 1795, largely for financial reasons). There was little personal liking between Hamilton and Adams, and friction between them grew in the course of the Adams administration. Both were swept under in the election of 1800.
Because the Constitution did not provide for the election of the President and Vice President on separate ballots, a tie between Jefferson and his running mate, Aaron Burr, left the choice of chief executive to the House of Representatives in 1800. Hamilton's influence made Jefferson President and Burr Vice President—an outcome in accord with the popular will, but Burr was disgruntled.
When in 1804 Hamilton again thwarted Burr, keeping him from the governorship of New York, Burr accused Hamilton of having called him a "dangerous" man and, when Hamilton replied to the charge, challenged him to a duel. The two men met at Weehawken Heights, N.J., and Hamilton was mortally wounded.
See the definitive edition of Hamilton's papers (ed. by H. C. Syrett, 27 vol., 1961-87) and law papers (ed. by J. Goebel, Jr., and J. H. Smith, 5 vol., 1964-81) as well as Alexander Hamilton: Writings (ed. by J. B. Freeman, 2001). See also biographies by H. C. Lodge (1898), N. Schachner (1946, repr. 1961), B. Mitchell (2 vol., 1957-62), J. C. Miller (1959, repr. 1964), F. McDonald (1979), R. Brookhiser (1999), W. S. Randall (2002), R. Chernow (2004), and one in his own words, ed. by M.-J. Kline (2 vol., 1973); R. Morris, ed., Alexander Hamilton and the Founding of the Nation (1957); C. Rossiter, Alexander Hamilton and the Constitution (1964); J. E. Cooke, ed., Alexander Hamilton: A Profile (1967); G. Stourzh, Alexander Hamilton and the Idea of Republican Government (1970); B. Mitchell, Alexander Hamilton: The Revolutionary Years (1970); S. Elkins and E. McKitrick, The Age of Federalism (1993); A. A. Rogow, A Fatal Friendship (1998); T. Fleming, Duel: Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr and the Future of America (1999); R. G. Kennedy, Burr, Hamilton, and Jefferson: A Study in Character (1999).
See biographies by R. von Abele (1946, repr. 1971) and T. E. Schott (1988).
Alexander Hamilton (January 11, 1755 or 1757 – July 12, 1804) was the first United States Secretary of the Treasury, a Founding Father, economist, and political philosopher. He led calls for the Philadelphia Convention, was one of America's first Constitutional lawyers, and cowrote the Federalist Papers, a primary source for Constitutional interpretation.
Born on the British West Indian island of Nevis, Hamilton was educated in the Thirteen Colonies. During the American Revolutionary War, he joined the American militia and was chosen artillery captain. Hamilton became senior aide-de-camp and confidant to General George Washington, and led three battalions at the Siege of Yorktown. He was elected to the Continental Congress, but resigned to practice law and to found the Bank of New York. He served in the New York Legislature, and was the only New Yorker who signed the Constitution. As Washington's Treasury Secretary, he influenced formative government policy widely. An admirer of British political systems, Hamilton emphasized strong central government and implied powers, under which the new U.S. Congress funded the national debt, assumed state debts, created a national bank, and established an import tariff and whiskey tax.
By 1792, a Hamilton coalition and a Jefferson–Madison coalition had arisen (the formative Federalist and Democratic-Republican Parties), which differed strongly over Hamilton's domestic fiscal goals and his foreign policy of extensive trade and friendly relations with Britain. Exposed in an affair with Maria Reynolds, Hamilton resigned from the Treasury in 1795 to return to Constitutional law and advocacy of strong federalism. In 1798, the Quasi-War with France led Hamilton to argue for, organize, and become de facto commander of a national army.
Hamilton's opposition to fellow Federalist John Adams contributed to the success of Democratic-Republicans Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr in the uniquely deadlocked election of 1800. With his party's defeat, Hamilton's nationalist and industrializing ideas lost their former national prominence. In 1801, Hamilton founded the New York Post as the Federalist broadsheet New-York Evening Post. His intense rivalry with Vice President Burr eventually resulted in a duel, in which Hamilton was mortally wounded, dying the following day.
By his own account, Hamilton was born in Charlestown, the capital of Nevis in the British West Indies, out of wedlock to Rachel Faucett Lavien, of part French Huguenot descent, and James A. Hamilton, fourth son of Scottish laird Alexander Hamilton of Grange, Ayrshire. He was born on January 11 in either 1755 or 1757; most historians now say 1755, although disagreement remains. A young Hamilton claimed 1757 as his birth year when he first arrived in the Thirteen Colonies; but he is also recorded in probate papers, shortly after his mother's death, as being 13 years old, indicating 1755. Explanations for this discrepancy include that he may have been trying to appear younger than his college classmates or to avoid standing out as older, that the probate document may be wrong, or he may have been passing as 13 to be more employable after his mother's death. He was often approximate about his age in later life.
Hamilton's mother had been separated previously from Johann Michael Lavien of St. Croix; to escape an unhappy marriage, Rachel left her husband and first son for St. Kitts in 1750, where she met James. They moved together to Rachel's birthplace of Nevis, where she had inherited property from her father. Their two sons were James, Jr., and Alexander. Because Hamilton's parents were not legally married, the Church of England denied him membership or education in the church school. Instead, he received "individual tutoring" and classes in a private Jewish school. Hamilton supplemented his education with a family library of thirty-four books, including Greek and Roman classics.
A 1765 business assignment led Hamilton's father to move the family to Christiansted, St. Croix; he then abandoned Rachel and the two sons. Rachel supported the family by keeping a small store in Christiansted. She contracted a severe fever and died on February 19, 1768, leaving Hamilton effectively orphaned. This may have had severe emotional consequences for him, even by the standards of an eighteenth-century childhood. In probate court, Hamilton's half-brother obtained the few valuables Rachel had owned, including some household silver. Many items were auctioned off, but a friend purchased the family books and returned them to the studious young Hamilton. (Years later Hamilton received his half-brother's death notice and a small amount of money.)
Hamilton then became a clerk at a local import-export firm, Beekman and Cruger, which traded with New England; he was left in charge of the firm for five months in 1771, while the owner was at sea. He and his older brother James were adopted briefly by a cousin, Peter Lytton, but when Lytton committed suicide, Hamilton was split from his brother. James apprenticed with a local carpenter, while Hamilton was adopted by Nevis merchant Thomas Stevens. Some evidence suggests Stevens may have been Hamilton's biological father: his son, Edward Stevens, became a close friend of Hamilton; the two boys looked much alike, were both fluent in French, and shared similar interests.
Hamilton continued clerking, remained an avid reader, developed an interest in writing, and began to long for a life off his small island. A letter of Hamilton's was first published in the Royal Danish-American Gazette, describing a hurricane that had devastated Christiansted on August 30, 1772. The impressed community began a collection for a subscription fund to educate the young Hamilton on the mainland of North America. He arrived, by way of Boston, at a grammar school in Elizabethtown, New Jersey, in the autumn of 1772.
When Church of England clergyman Samuel Seabury published a series of pamphlets promoting the Tory cause the following year, Hamilton struck back with his first political writings, A Full Vindication of the measures of Congress and The Farmer Refuted. He published two additional pieces attacking the Quebec Act as well as fourteen anonymous installments of "The Monitor" for Holt's New York Journal. Although Hamilton was a supporter of the Revolutionary cause at this prewar stage, he did not approve of mob reprisals against loyalists. One generally accepted account details how Hamilton saved his college president, Tory sympathizer Myles Cooper, from an angry mob, by speaking to the crowd long enough for Cooper to escape the danger.
During the war Hamilton became close friends with several fellow officers, including John Laurens and the Marquis de Lafayette. Jonathan Katz argues that Hamilton's letters to Laurens reveal at least a homosocial attachment and perhaps, in coded allusions to Greek history and mythology, a relationship modern readers would label homosexual. Ron Chernow implies this in discussing Laurens; Thomas Flexner portrays a similar homosocial relationship with Lafayette. These biographers may well be over-reading the literary conventions of the late eighteenth century, an age of sentiment.
In spring 1779, Hamilton asked his friend John Laurens to find him a wife in South Carolina: :
"She must be young—handsome (I lay most stress upon a good shape) Sensible (a little learning will do) —well bred... chaste and tender (I am an enthusiast in my notions of fidelity and fondness); of some good nature—a great deal of generosity (she must neither love money nor scolding, for I dislike equally a termagant and an economist)—In politics, I am indifferent what side she may be of—I think I have arguments that will safely convert her to mine—As to religion a moderate stock will satisfy me—She must believe in God and hate a saint. But as to fortune, the larger stock of that the better."
Hamilton found his own bride on December 14, 1780 when he married Elizabeth Schuyler, daughter of General Philip Schuyler, and thus joined one of the richest and most political families in the state of New York. The marriage took place at Schuyler Mansion in Albany, New York.
Hamilton grew extremely close to Eliza's sister, Angelica Church, who was married to John Barker Church, a Member of Parliament in Great Britain. Some historians argue that the two may have had an affair, although, due to extensive editing of much Hamilton-Church correspondence by Hamilton's later descendants, it is impossible to know for sure.
While on Washington's staff, Hamilton had long been seeking a command position in an active combat situation. As the war drew ever nearer to a close, he knew that opportunities for military glory were slipping away. In February 1781, Hamilton was mildly reprimanded by Washington, and used this as an excuse for resigning his staff position. Immediately following his resignation from Washington's staff, Hamilton began to ask Washington and others incessantly for a field command. This continued until early July of 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 Hamilton was given command of a New York light infantry battalion. In the planning for the assault on Yorktown, Hamilton was given command of three battalions which were to fight in conjunction with French troops in taking Redoubts #9 and #10 of the British fortifications at Yorktown. Hamilton and his battalions fought bravely and took Redoubt #10 with bayonets, as planned. The French also fought bravely, took heavy casualties, and successfully took Redoubt #9. This action forced the British surrender at Yorktown of an entire army, effectively ending the British effort to reclaim the Thirteen Colonies.
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 convincing Congress to send a delegation to persuade Rhode Island to change its mind. Their report recommending the delegation also argued that the federal government needed not just some level of financial autonomy, but also the ability to make laws that supersede 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 Rhode Island negotiations.
Several Congressmen, including Hamilton and the Morrises, attempted to use this Newburgh conspiracy as leverage to secure independent support for funding for the federal government in Congress and from the states. They encouraged MacDougall to continue his aggressive approach, threatening unknown consequences if their demands were not granted, and defeated proposals which 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. Late in January 1783, Hamilton suggested using the Army's claims to prevail upon the states for the proposed national funding system. In February, 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 he 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 was over, 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, and which 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 offended many. The Continental Congress was never able to secure full ratification for back pay, pensions, or their own independent sources of funding.
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 to intercept 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 proceeded to harangue Congress for their pay. The President of Congress, John Dickinson, feared the Pennsylvania state militia was unreliable, and refused their 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 drafted a call to revise the Articles of Confederation while in Princeton. 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.
In 1784, he founded the Bank of New York, now the oldest ongoing banking organization in the United States. Hamilton was one of the men who restored King's College, which had been suspended since the Battle of Long Island in 1776 and severely damaged during the War, as Columbia College. His public career resumed when he attended the Annapolis Convention as a delegate in 1786. While there, 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.
Early in the Convention he made a speech proposing what many considered a very monarchical government for the United States. Though regarded as one of his most eloquent speeches, it had little effect upon the deliberations of the convention. He proposed to have an elected President and elected Senators who would serve for life contingent upon "good behavior", and subject to removal for corruption or abuse. Hamilton's plan attempted to incorporate the "liberties of a republic while "guarding against both anarchy and tyranny", yet his plan was probably the least trusting in the wisdom of the people. The deliberations of the convention were intended to be secret, so as to promote a free and vigorous flow of ideas during the Convention. However, some notes were kept, and due to Hamilton's argument for lifelong terms, and his proposal of measures that some contemporaries saw as too similar to previous monarchist forms of government, Hamilton acquired the reputation in some circles of a monarchist sympathizer.
During the convention, Hamilton constructed a draft for the Constitution on the basis of the convention debates, but he never actually presented it. This draft had most of the features of the actual Constitution, including such details as the three-fifths clause. In this draft, the Senate was to be elected in proportion to population, being two-fifths the size of the House, and the President and Senators were to be elected through complex multi-stage elections, in which chosen electors would elect smaller bodies of electors; they would hold office for life, but were removable for misconduct. The President would have an absolute veto. The Supreme Court was to have immediate jurisdiction over all law suits involving the United States, and State governors were to be appointed by the federal government.
At the end of the Convention, Hamilton was still not content with the final form of the Constitution, but signed off on it anyway as a vast improvement over the Articles of Confederation, and urged his fellow delegates to do so also. Since the other two members of the New York delegation, Lansing and Yates, had already withdrawn, Hamilton was the only New York signatory to the United States Constitution. He then took a highly active part in the successful campaign for the document's ratification in New York in 1788, which was a crucial step in its national ratification. Hamilton recruited John Jay and James Madison to write a defense of 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's essays and arguments were influential in New York state, and elsewhere, during the debates over ratification. The Federalist Papers are more often cited than any other primary source by jurists, lawyers, historians and political scientists as the major contemporary interpretation of the Constitution..
In 1788, Hamilton served yet another term in what proved to be the last time the Continental Congress met under the Articles of Confederation. He remained involved in the politics of New York: the ratification of the Constitution had been a success for two of the family cliques which constituted New York State politics, against a third, that led by George Clinton; the Legislature of 1789 had a majority of those two factions, one led by Hamilton's father-in-law, the other by the Livingston family. They had agreed to each select one of New York's first Senators: Phillip Schuyler was to be one, and James Duane, whose wife was a Livingston, was to be the other. Hamilton, however, persuaded the Legislature to elect Schuyler and his friend Rufus King, instead. The Livingstons responded by breaking the alliance and supporting the Clintons instead; this new coalition was to be the basis for the Democratic-Republican Party in New York. When Phillip Schuyler's term ended in 1791, they began by electing, in his place, the attorney-general of New York, one Aaron Burr. Hamilton blamed Burr for this result, and ill characterizations of Burr appear in his correspondence thereafter, although they did work together from time to time on various projects, including Hamilton's army of 1798 and the Manhattan Water Company.
Within one year, Hamilton submitted five reports:
The primary criticism of the plan was spearheaded by Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson and Representative James Madison. Some states, like Jefferson's Virginia, had paid almost half of their debts, and felt that their taxpayers should not be assessed again to bail out the less provident. They further argued that the plan passed beyond the scope of the new Constitutional government.
Madison objected to Hamilton's proposal to cut the rate of interest and postpone payments on federal debt, as not being payment in full; he also objected to the speculative profits being made. Much of the national debt had been bonds issued to Continental veterans, in place of wages which the Continental Congress did not have the money to pay; as these continued to go unpaid, many of these bonds had been pawned for a small fraction of their value. Madison proposed to pay in full, but to divide payment between the original recipient and the present possessor. Others, like Samuel Livermore of New Hampshire, wished to curb speculation, and save taxation, by paying only part of the bond. The disagreements between Madison and Hamilton extended to other proposals Hamilton made to Congress, and drew in Jefferson when he returned from France. Hamilton's supporters became known as Federalists and Jefferson's as Republicans. As Madison put it:
Hamilton eventually secured passage of his assumption plan by striking a deal with Jefferson and Madison. According to the terms, Hamilton was to use his influence to place the permanent national capital on the Potomac River, and Jefferson and Madison were to encourage their friends to back Hamilton's assumption plan. In the end, Hamilton's assumption, together with his proposals for funding the debt, overcame legislative opposition and narrowly passed the House on July 26, 1790.
Hamilton's next report was his "Report on Manufactures". Congress shelved the report without much debate, except for Madison's objection to Hamilton's formulation of the General Welfare clause, which Hamilton construed liberally as a legal basis for his extensive programs. It has been often quoted by protectionists since.
In 1791, while still Secretary of the Treasury, Hamilton worked in a private capacity to help found the Society for the Establishment of Useful Manufactures, a private corporation that would use the power of the Great Falls of the Passaic River to operate mills. Although the company did not succeed in its original purpose, it leased the land around the falls to other mill ventures and continued to operate for over a century and a half.
The Federalists assembled a nationwide coalition in order to garner support for the Administration, including the expansive financial programs Hamilton had made Administration policy; the Democratic-Republicans built their own national coalition to oppose these Federalist programs. Both sides gained the support of local political factions; each side developed its own partisan newspapers. Noah Webster, John Fenno, and eventually William Cobbett were prominent editors for the Federalists. Benjamin Franklin Bache and Philip Freneau edited major publications for the Democratic-Republicans. Newspapers of both parties were characterized by frequent personal attacks and information of questionable veracity.
In 1801, Hamilton established a daily newspaper the New-York Evening Post under editor William Coleman. It is the oldest continually-published daily newspaper in the U.S., and is now known as the New York Post.
During Hamilton's last year in office, policy toward Britain became a major point of contention between the two parties. Hamilton and the Federalists wished for more trade with Britain, which would provide more revenue from tariffs; the Democratic-Republicans preferred an embargo to compel Britain to respect the rights of the United States and give up the forts which they still held on American soil, contrary to the Treaty of Paris.
In order to avoid war, Washington sent Chief Justice John Jay, late in 1794, to negotiate with the British; Hamilton helped to draw up his instructions. The result was Jay's Treaty, which, as the State Department says, "addressed few U.S. interests, and ultimately granted Britain additional rights". The treaty was extremely unpopular, and the Democratic-Republicans opposed it for its failure to redress previous grievances, and for its failure to address British violations of American neutrality during the war.
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, but kept that decision secret. Jay, in London, threatened to join the League if U.S. rights were not respected, but this was ignored because Hamilton had revealed this decision in private to George Hammond, the British Minister to the United States, without telling Jay—or anyone else; it was 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.
At first Hamilton accused Monroe of making his affair public, and challenged him to a duel. Aaron Burr stepped in and persuaded Hamilton that Monroe was innocent of the accusation. His well-known vitriolic temper led Hamilton to challenge several others to duels in his career.
In the election of 1796, under the Constitution as it stood then, each of the presidential Electors had two votes, which they were to cast for different men. The one with most votes would be President, the second, Vice President. This system was not designed for parties, which had been thought disreputable and factious. The Federalists planned to deal with this by having all their Electors vote for John Adams, the Vice President, and all but a few for Thomas Pinckney of South Carolina, then on his way home from a successful embassage to Spain. Jefferson chose Aaron Burr as his vice presidential running mate.
Hamilton, however, disliked Adams and saw an opportunity. He urged all the Northern Electors to vote for Adams and Pinckney, lest Jefferson get in. He cooperated with Edward Rutledge to have South Carolina's Electors vote for Jefferson and Pinckney. If all this worked, Pinckney would have more votes than Adams; Pinckney would be President, and Adams would remain Vice President. It did not work. The Federalists found out about it (even the French minister to the United States knew), and Northern Federalists voted for Adams but not for Pinckney, in sufficient numbers that Pinckney came in third and Jefferson became Vice President. Adams resented this, since he felt his service to the nation was much more extensive than Pinckney's. Adams also resented Hamilton's influence with Washington and considered him overambitious and scandalous in his private life; Hamilton compared Adams unfavorably with Washington and thought him too emotionally unstable to be President.
To fund this army, Hamilton had been writing incessantly to Oliver Wolcott, 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 was to resign in July of 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 an array of 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 south-eastern Pennsylania, led primarily by men who had marched with Washington against the Whiskey Rebellion, such as John Fries.
Hamilton aided in all areas of the Army's development, and officially served as the Senior Officer of the United States Army as a Major General from December 14, 1799 to June 15, 1800. The army was to guard against invasion from France. Hamilton also suggested that its strategy should involve marching into the possessions of Spain, then allied with France, and potentially even taking Louisiana and Mexico. His correspondence further suggests that when he returned in military glory, he dreamed of setting up a properly energetic government, without any Jeffersonians. Adams, however, derailed all plans for war by opening negotiations with France. Adams had also held it right to retain 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.
In the 1800 election, Hamilton worked to defeat not only the rival Democratic-Republican candidates, but also his party's own nominee, John Adams. In New York, which Burr had won for Jefferson in May, Hamilton proposed a rerun of the election under different rules with carefully drawn districts, each choosing an Elector, so that the Federalists would split the electoral vote of New York. John Jay, a Federalist, who had given up the Supreme Court to be Governor of New York, wrote on the back of the letter the words "Proposing a measure for party purposes which it would not become me to adopt", and declined to reply.
John Adams was running this time with Pinckney's elder brother Charles Cotesworth Pinckney. On the other hand, Hamilton toured New England, again urging Northern Electors to hold firm for this Pinckney, in the renewed hope to make Pinckney President; and he again intrigued in South Carolina. This time, the important reaction was from the Jeffersonian Electors, all of whom voted both for Jefferson and Burr to ensure that no such deal would result in electing a Federalist. (Burr had received only one vote from Virginia in 1796.)
In September, Hamilton wrote a pamphlet (Letter from Alexander Hamilton, Concerning the Public Conduct and Character of John Adams, Esq. President of the United States) which was highly critical of Adams, although it closed with a tepid endorsement. He mailed this to two hundred leading Federalists; when a copy fell into Democratic-Republican hands, they printed it. This hurt Adams's 1800 reelection campaign and split the Federalist Party, virtually assuring the victory of the Democratic-Republican Party, led by Jefferson, in the election of 1800; it destroyed Hamilton's position among the Federalists.
On the Federalist side, Governor Arthur Fenner of Rhode Island denounced these "jockeying tricks" to make Pinckney President, and one Rhode Island Elector voted for Adams and Jay. Jefferson and Burr tied for first and second; and Pinckney came in fourth.
Jefferson had beaten Adams, but both he and his running mate, Aaron Burr, received 73 votes in the Electoral College. With Jefferson and Burr tied, the United States House of Representatives had to choose between the two men. (As a result of this election, the Twelfth Amendment was proposed and ratified, adopting the method under which presidential elections are held today.) Several Federalists who opposed Jefferson supported Burr, and for the first 35 ballots, Jefferson was denied a majority. Before the 36th ballot, Hamilton threw his weight behind Jefferson, supporting the arrangement reached by James A. Bayard of Delaware, in which five Federalist Representatives from Maryland and Vermont abstained from voting, allowing those states' delegations to go for Jefferson, ending the impasse and electing Jefferson President rather than Burr. Even though Hamilton did not like Jefferson and disagreed with him on many issues, he was quoted as saying, "At least Jefferson was honest." Hamilton felt that Burr was dangerous. Burr then became Vice President of the United States. When it became clear that he would not be asked to run again with Jefferson, Burr sought the New York governorship in 1804 with Federalist support, against the Jeffersonian Morgan Lewis, but was defeated by forces including Hamilton.
Soon after the gubernatorial election in New York—in which Morgan Lewis, greatly assisted by Hamilton, defeated Aaron Burr—the Albany Register published Charles D. Cooper's letter, citing Hamilton's opposition to Burr and alleging that Hamilton expressed "a still more despicable opinion" of the Vice President at an upstate New York dinner party. Burr, sensing an attack on his honor, and surely still stung by the political defeat, demanded an apology. Hamilton refused on the grounds that he could not recall the instance.
Following an exchange of three testy letters, and despite the attempts of friends to avert a confrontation, a duel was nevertheless scheduled for July 11, 1804, along the west bank of the Hudson River on a rocky ledge in Weehawken, New Jersey, a common dueling site at which Hamilton's eldest son, Philip, had been killed three years earlier.
At dawn, the duel began, and Vice President Aaron Burr shot Hamilton. Hamilton's shot broke a tree branch directly above Burr's head. A letter that he wrote the night before the duel states, "I have resolved, if our interview [duel] is conducted in the usual manner, and it pleases God to give me the opportunity, to reserve and throw away my first fire, and I have thoughts even of reserving my second fire", thus asserting an intention to miss Burr. The circumstances of the duel, and Hamilton's actual intentions, are still disputed. Neither of the seconds, Pendleton or Van Ness, could determine who 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 caused considerable damage to his internal organs, particularly his liver and diaphragm before becoming lodged in his first or second lumbar vertebra. Chernow considers the circumstances to have indicated Burr to have fired second, and taken deliberate aim.
If a duelist decided not to aim at his opponent there was a well-known procedure, available to everyone involved, for doing so. According to Freeman, Hamilton apparently did not follow this procedure; if he had, Burr might have followed suit, and Hamilton's death may have been avoided. It was a matter of honor among gentlemen to follow these rules. Because of the high incidence of septicemia and death resulting from torso wounds, a high percentage of duels employed this procedure of throwing away fire. Years later, when told that Hamilton may have misled him at the duel, the ever-laconic Burr replied, "Contemptible, if true.
Hamilton was ferried back to New York. After final visits from his family and friends and considerable suffering, Hamilton died on the following afternoon, July 12, 1804. Gouverneur Morris, a political ally of Hamilton's, 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.
From the start, Hamilton set a precedent as a Cabinet member by formulating federal programs, writing them in the form of reports, pushing for their approval by appearing in person to argue them on the floor of the United States Congress, and then implementing them. Hamilton and the other Cabinet members were vital to Washington, as there was no president before him (under the Constitution) to set precedents for him to follow in national situations such as seditions and foreign affairs.
Another of Hamilton's legacies was his pro-federal interpretation of the U.S. Constitution. Though the Constitution was drafted in a way that was somewhat ambiguous as to the balance of power between national and state governments, Hamilton consistently took the side of greater federal power at the expense of states. As Secretary of the Treasury, he established—against the intense opposition of Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson—the country's first national bank. Hamilton justified the creation of this bank, and other increased federal powers, with Congress's constitutional powers to issue currency, to regulate interstate commerce, and anything else that would be "necessary and proper". Jefferson, on the other hand, took a stricter view of the Constitution: parsing the text carefully, he found no specific authorization for a national bank. This controversy was eventually settled by the Supreme Court of the United States in McCulloch v. Maryland, which in essence adopted Hamilton's view, granting the federal government broad freedom to select the best means to execute its constitutionally enumerated powers, specifically the doctrine of implied powers.
Hamilton's policies as Secretary of the Treasury have had an immeasurable effect on the United States Government and still continue to influence it. In 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the U.S. Navy was still using inter-ship communication protocols written by Hamilton for the original U.S. Coast Guard. His constitutional interpretation, specifically of the necessary-and-proper clause, set precedents for federal authority that are still used by the courts and are considered an authority on constitutional interpretation. The prominent French diplomat Charles Maurice de Talleyrand, who spent 1794 in the United States, wrote "I consider Napoleon, Fox, and Hamilton the three greatest men of our epoch, and if I were forced to decide between the three, I would give without hesitation the first place to Hamilton", adding that Hamilton had intuited the problems of European conservatives. Talleyrand, who helped demolish the First French Republic, would have preferred to have a coalition of European monarchies curtail the solitary republicanism of the United States, which would permit the peaceful recreation of the French colonial empire of Louis XIV; he found himself and Hamilton in general agreement.
Opinions of Hamilton have run the gamut: both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson viewed him as unprincipled and dangerously aristocratic. He was sufficiently admired by the time of the American Civil War that his portrait began to appear on US currency, and now appears on the $10 bill; after the Civil War, a time of high tariffs, he was highly praised. Herbert Croly, Henry Cabot Lodge, and Theodore Roosevelt directed attention to him at the end of the nineteenth century in the interest of an active federal government, whether or not supported by tariffs. Several nineteenth and twentieth century Republicans entered politics by writing laudatory biographies of Hamilton.
Hamilton's portrait began to appear during the American Civil War on the $2, $5, $10, and $50 notes. His face continues to appear on the front of the ten dollar bill. Hamilton also appears on the $500 Series EE Savings Bond. The source of the face on the $10 bill is John Trumbull's 1805 portrait of Hamilton, in the portrait collection of New York City Hall. On the south side of the Treasury Building in Washington, D.C. is a statue of Hamilton.
Hamilton's upper Manhattan home is preserved as Hamilton Grange National Memorial, with a statue of Hamilton at the entrance. The historic structure, already removed from its original location many years ago, is being moved again—from its current position, sandwiched between two masonry buildings, to a spot in a nearby park on land that was once part of the Hamilton estate. It is expected to re-open to the public in 2009.
Multiple towns throughout the United States have been named after Hamilton.
Hamilton and Elizabeth had eight children, including two named Phillip. The elder Philip, Hamilton's first child (born January 22, 1782), was killed in 1801 in a duel with George I. Eacker, whom he had publicly insulted in a Manhattan theater. The second Philip, Hamilton's last child, was born on June 2, 1802, after the first Philip was killed. Their other children were Angelica, born September 25, 1784; Alexander, born May 16, 1796; James Alexander (April 14, 1788 – September 1878); John Church, born August 22, 1792; William Stephen, born August 4, 1797; and Eliza, born November 26, 1799.
Hamilton's first polemic against King George's ministers contains a paragraph which speaks of the evils which "slavery" to the British would bring upon the Americans. One biographer sees this as an attack on actual slavery; such hostility was quite common in 1776.
During the Revolutionary War, there was a series of proposals to arm slaves, free them, and compensate their masters. Freeing any enlisted slaves had also become customary by then both for the British, who did not compensate their American masters, and for the Continental Army; some states were to require it before the end of the war. In 1779, Hamilton's friend John Laurens suggested such a unit be formed under his command, to relieve besieged Charleston, South Carolina; Hamilton wrote a letter to the Continental Congress to create up to four battalions of slaves for combat duty, and free them. Congress recommended that South Carolina (and Georgia) acquire up to three thousand slaves, if they saw fit; they did not, even though the South Carolina governor and Congressional delegation had supported the plan in Philadelphia.
Hamilton argued that blacks' natural faculties were as good as those of free whites, and he forestalled objections by citing Frederick the Great and others as praising obedience and lack of cultivation in soldiers; he also argued that if the Americans did not do this, the British would (as they had elsewhere). One of his biographers has cited this incident as evidence that Hamilton and Laurens saw the Revolution and the struggle against slavery as inseparable. Hamilton later attacked his political opponents as demanding freedom for themselves and refusing to allow it to blacks.
In January 1785, he attended the second meeting of the New York Manumission Society (NYMS). John Jay was president and Hamilton was secretary; he later became president. He was also a member of the committee of the society which put a bill through the New York Legislature banning the export of slaves from New York; three months later, Hamilton returned a fugitive slave to Henry Laurens of South Carolina.
Hamilton never supported forced emigration for freed slaves; it has been argued from this that he would be comfortable with a multiracial society, and this distinguished him from his contemporaries. In international affairs, he supported Toussaint L'Ouverture's black government in Haiti after the revolt that overthrew French control, as he had supported aid to the slaveowners in 1791—both measures hurt France. He may have owned household slaves himself (the evidence for this is indirect; one biographer interprets it as referring to paid employees), and he did buy and sell them on behalf of others. He supported a gag rule to keep divisive discussions of slavery out of Congress, and he supported the compromise by which the United States could not abolish the slave trade for twenty years. When the Quakers of New York petitioned the First Congress (under the Constitution) for the abolition of the slave trade, and Benjamin Franklin and the Pennsylvania Abolition Society petitioned for the abolition of slavery, the NYMS did not act.
Hamilton opposed the British ideas of free trade which he believed skewed benefits to colonial/imperial powers, in favor of U.S. protectionism which he believed would help develop the fledgling nation's emerging economy. Henry C. Carey was inspired by his writings. Some say he influenced the ideas and work of German Friedrich List.
Columbia College, Hamilton's alma mater, whose students formed his militia artillery company and fired some of the first shots against the British, has official memorials to Hamilton. The college's main classroom building for the humanities is Hamilton Hall, and a large statue of Hamilton stands in front of it. The university press has published his complete works in a multivolume letterpress edition.
The main administration building of the Coast Guard Academy is named Hamilton Hall to commemorate Hamilton's creation of the United States Revenue Cutter Service, one of the entities that was combined to form the United States Coast Guard.