Alexander Hamilton is one of the most important figures in the United States history. His contribution in designing the Government of the United States is exceptional. Hamilton’s figure still causes the arguments between historians and political scientists. He did not stand up for People’s Republic, though he rose from humble origin himself; he became the first United States Secretary of the Treasury, though his family was poor and he had to take care of himself since he was 13; he rested upon people’s greediness laying the cornerstone of the country’s financial system, though he was an honorable man and hated acquisitiveness. Many of Hamilton’s contemporaries disagreed with his model of government, calling him the enemy of freedom. But maybe he was just a supporter of order, who put his life into serving his country?
Alexander Hamilton was born on 11th of January in 1775, on the island of Nevis in the West Indies. Hamilton’s father left the family when Alexander was a child, and his mother died when the boy was about 13 years old. Alexander had to make his living on his own. His parents were never engaged, and his opponent and the second President of the United States John Adams often used the fact that Hamilton was an illegitimate child in numerous political conflicts between them. After his mother passed away, Alexander Hamilton started to work in a big accounting firm, and in three years, when he was 16, the young man stood in for his boss, while he was off to New York. Hamilton enjoyed reading and soon became interested in writing. He wrote his first essay about the hurricane that destroyed Christiansted on August 30, 1772. This essay was Hamilton’s ticket into a big world, it impressed many people in the community and some of them decided to collect money to send the young man to the North American colonies for his further education.
When Hamilton arrived in North America, first he studied in a grammar school in Elizabethtown, New Jersey. In 1773 he made an application to the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) for admission to study at the University for an External Degree, but his request was rejected. Then he applied to King’s College in New York City (now Columbia University); the college accepted his application and he entered the college in late 1773. While he was a student, Hamilton began to write political articles for New York Journal. Young Hamilton was full of ambitions; he was an idealist and ardent follower of republican values. He dreamt of forming the republic that would be based on virtues and justice. Relying on the wisdom of a young nation he believed that morality will be the foundation of the United States. However, often facing with cupidity and self-interest of people, who held important posts in army and administrative staff machinery, Hamilton soon became deeply disappointed in his views. Later, in June of 1788, in his speech for the ratification of the United States Constitution, he said: “It has been observed that a pure democracy if it were practicable would be a perfect government. Experience has proved that no position is more falser than this. The ancient democracies in which the people themselves deliberated never possessed one good feature of government. Their very character was tyranny; their figure deformity.” In his college years, he published two pamphlets – “A Full Vindication of the Measures of Congress” and “The Farmer Refuted” with sharp and logical argumentation that revealed Hamilton as a great polemist. These pamphlets made a strong impression on his contemporaries and became a major contribution to the literature of American Revolution.
At the beginning of the war with Britain Alexander Hamilton formed artillery company called Hearts of Oak with other students of King’s College and achieved the rank of the lieutenant, later, in 1776, he became a captain. His first battle wasn’t successful. Giving an order to open fire on the British ships, the captain found out that one of his guns immediately blew up and the enemy’s flotilla remained unharmed. Maybe, that was the first time Hamilton thought that the good war is impossible with the bad industry. But one of the next battles ended with a complete victory. By direct hit, he destroyed one of the Princeton University’s walls. Exceptional pleasure for Hamilton was not only that behind this wall were situated enemy’s forces, but also that he damaged the university that refused his application a few years ago. At the age of 22, Alexander Hamilton became an aide of the Commander in Chief – General Washington. Acquaintance with Washington changed all his life. Hamilton served for four years as Washington’s chief of staff. He was a man of great insight, and his ambitions, business grit and extraordinary talent of conducting diplomatic negotiations helped Hamilton to become an irreplaceable man in Washington’s staff. His duties included diplomacy, gathering intelligence and negotiation with senior army officers as Washington’s emissary. In 1781 Hamilton took part in the assault on Yorktown as a commander of three battalions. The operation was successful and, as a result, Hamilton’s battalions in conjunction with French troops took Redoubt #9 and Redoubt #10. This battle was devastating for the enemy; the British forces incurred huge losses and surrendered, basically ending major military operations in North America.
After the war, Hamilton was occupied with the law practice in New York, but he could not stand aside from politics for too long. In July 1782 he entered the Congress of Confederation as a New York representative for the term beginning in November 1782. In a while, he became certain of the inefficiency of the Congress and turned his attention to ideas of national union and powerful centralized government. He was also a delegate at the Annapolis Convention in 1786. This meeting should have decided an issue about the barriers that limited trade or commerce between the largely independent states under the Articles of Confederation. But unfortunately, the convention did not give any results, because commissioners of New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and North Carolina failed to arrive in Annapolis in time, and Connecticut, Maryland, South Carolina and Georgia had taken no action at all. However, the delegates of this meeting sent a report to the Congress and the states, asking support for calling of another meeting next May in Philadelphia. The Convention in Philadelphia aimed to revise the Articles of Confederation and to correct and specify the existing laws, but in the course of the discussion, delegates came to the conclusion that it is better to create new document – the United States Constitution. Alexander Hamilton put forward a plan of the new Constitution; he proposed to eliminate state sovereignty and consolidate states into a single nation, creating a centralized government. According to his plan, electors supposed to elect the supreme governor for a lifetime of service and the parliament had to be bicameral. The delegates did not approve his plan because his state model was too similar with the British monarchy and, besides, the states did not want to give up their wide powers.
After signing the new Constitution, Hamilton did a lot for its ratification in further, though he was still not satisfied completely about its regulations. Together with John Jay and James Madison, he wrote a defense of the new Constitution, now known as the Federalist Papers. Hamilton wrote 51 of 85 essays, making the major contribution to that work. Being a great polemist Hamilton wrote brilliant essays, bringing the best arguments for the document’s ratification. The Federalist Papers influenced many people in New York State and all over the country; nowadays it is the most cited document among lawyers, jurists, historians and politics as the major contemporary interpretation of the Constitution. The Federalist Papers appeared in three New York newspapers: the Independent Journal, the New-York Packet, and the Daily Advertiser. In Federalist #1 Hamilton made an observation of topics that will be considered in the next articles. Main ideas of the essays included the necessity of creating the national union and forming a new energetic government. Articles revealed the insufficiency of the present Confederation and focused on developing true principles of republican government. Hamilton, Jay, and Madison published the full collection of essays in 1788 under the title “The Federalist”. On 27th of July 1788, the convention of New York has ratified the new Constitution by a majority of votes.
Federal Constitution came into effect after the inauguration of the President George Washington in April 1789. Hamilton accepted an offer to become the first United States Secretary of the Treasury on September 11, 1789. While on this post, he eliminated the currency chaos, set up a dollar as the main monetary unit and provided coinage of gold and silver dollars in correlation 15:1. He has founded the United States Mint, the first national bank, and elaborated the system of duties, tariffs, and excises. Hamilton also helped found the Society for the Establishment of Useful Manufactures, because he believed that future of the United States is in reorganizing from agrarian to industrial country.
After retirement from the post of the Secretary of the Treasury in January 1795, Hamilton got back to New York, his family, and law practice. The presidential election of 1800 between Jefferson and Burr ended with a draw. Hamilton hated Burr with all his heart and publicly expressed his negative opinion of Burr’s candidature more than once. In June 1804 Burr found out that Hamilton is using his influence to prevent Burr getting the presidential post. Burr challenged Hamilton to a duel. On the 11th of July 1804, Aaron Burr shot Alexander Hamilton, who did not open fire and this fact destroyed Burr’s political career.
Alexander Hamilton has played one of the most important roles in establishing and organizing the economic system of the United States. He provided consolidation of administrative staff machinery, appealing to create a strong centralized federated state with the President in authority. His methods and ways of thinking were often criticized by liberals and democrats because Hamilton fought against democracy of the people, considering it as chaos and anarchy. Although, he successfully managed to implement his ideas in the policy of the United States and set the course for further economic development of the country for many years after his death.
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Joseph A. Murray, Alexander Hamilton America’s Forgotten Father (New York: Algora Publishing, 2007).
Madison James, Jay John, Hamilton Alexander, The Federalist, ed. Benjamin Fletcher Wright (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1966).
Hamilton Alexander, Selected Writings and Speeches of Alexander Hamilton, ed. Morton J. Frisch (Washington, DC: American Enterprises Institute for Public Policy Research, 1985).
“Alexander Hamilton Biography.” Accessed August 17, 2011. http://www.notablebiographies.com/Gi-He/Hamilton-Alexander.html.
“Alexander Hamilton. Famous people.” Accessed August 18, 2011. http://www.thefamouspeople.com/profiles/alexander-hamilton-108.php.
“People and Events. Alexander Hamilton.” Accessed August 19, 2011. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/duel/peopleevents/pande06.html.