Alexander Hamilton in American History

Nicole – GSAL Alumna (2019 Leaver)

Editor’s Note: Former student Nicole (2019 Leaver) was an editorial member of Salutaris, the Sixth Form academic journal, during her time at GSAL. This thought-provoking essay was originally published in Salutaris 2019, a project led by Mrs Gray, E-Learning Designer. CPD

Alexander Hamilton had a profound yet understated role in American history, which has affected politics even until the modern day. Famously controversial, Hamilton is an incredibly complex character, as evidenced through his actions and relationships with his family, wife, colleagues and so called ‘enemies’. Described as ‘the most brilliant statesman who ever lived’[1] by Theodore Roosevelt, Hamilton’s accomplishments did not get enough credit for all the credit he gave America[2]. Compared to other founding fathers such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton is not a household name. Born in the West Indies, Hamilton was not eligible to becoming President, this possibly being one of his major downfalls. Only since the creation of the Broadway production ‘Hamilton’, and the works of authors and historians such as Ron Chernow (the author of the biography which inspired Lin Manual Miranda to create the Musical ‘Hamilton’), has he become more known and celebrated.

Hamilton’s upbringing differed from many of the privately educated, wealthy gentleman he associated with in his life. Born out of wedlock in Charlestown, Nevis, a small Caribbean island, his life was already condemned through no fault of his own. Hamilton was born to Rachel Faucette and James Hamilton, a young Scottish nobleman who immigrated to the Caribbean in hope of wealth. James Hamilton left St. Croix in 1765 and deserted his family due to money issues. Then in 1766, Hamilton and his mother contracted an unknown disease which led to her death in 1768. Within the space of 2 years, Hamilton had become an orphan. Hamilton had begun to clerk for New York traders which built his connections to America. After a devastating hurricane in 1772, Hamilton published an account of the events, and his writing impressed many wealthy men, who made a collection to send him to New York. 

During his time studying at King’s College in New York, Hamilton became highly involved in the American Revolution against the British Monarchy. Hamilton took full advantage of the opportunity of war and was eager to get involved and learn, reading and improving his military skills and learning about tactics and warfare. In July 1775, Manhattan, which was vulnerable as surrounded by water, was greeted by one of the British warships, Asia. Hamilton, along with 15 other members of King’s College, including Hercules Mulligan, stole the British cannons and hid them. Hamilton showed his bravery and determination which would lead him to his role as Washington’s right hand man. Eventually, after many years of fighting and thousands of lives being lost, they defeated the British and started peace negotiations, formally recognised through the Treaty of Paris which was signed in 1783. Hamilton showed key management and leadership skills which made him stand out from the rest, especially due to his successes at the Battle. After the success, Hamilton left Washington’s staff, bringing an end to his military career. 

Throughout the war Hamilton analysed and explored the government’s financial as well as political weaknesses, and worked towards creating a financial system that would restore faith and stimulate the economy as well as reduce inflation. The over-printing of paper money devalued the currency to such an extent that they had to replace 40 old dollars with one new dollar, meaning the whole of America lost its savings. Hamilton witnessed what financial instability could create as well the effects of depreciating money during the revolution, and had envisioned a stable financial platform of foreign borrowing and private investors. His aim was to restore faith and financial confidence in the banking system for the newly established independent America. Meanwhile, he studied law, and in 1782 Hamilton passed the bar and began his extremely successful legal career. He established his own practice and found copious amounts of work after the revolution, controversially defending the loyalists who were sued by the rebels. One of the most famous cases Hamilton defended was Rutgers v Waddington, due to the fact that it led to the establishment of Judicial Review, a practice which is still used and highly valued to this day, as the Supreme Court which interprets the Constitution. Hamilton, who was a highly regarded lawyer, was elected into the New York legislature to be a delegate for the Constitutional Convention which met in Philadelphia in 1787. The Constitutional Convention worked to creating America’s new political and financial systems and developed the United States Constitution, which was signed by the Founding Fathers. Whilst there, Hamilton proposed his idea for a new form of government, discussing the idea that there should be a federal, central branch of government with an executive, along with state power. The Federal Government would take on the debt of each of the States after the revolution in order to create the foundation of public credit. There was urge for a strong central democracy due to the instability after the revolution. 

To promote the ratification of the new United States Constitution, Hamilton along with James Madison and John Jay wrote a series of 85 essays, with Hamilton writing 51. They were written to try to influence voters to support the Constitution. This led to 39 of the 55 delegates signing the Constitution, who were known as the Founding Fathers of America, Hamilton being one of them. The Federalist papers, of which Hamilton wrote the majority, were extremely influential in advocating the idea of a central branch of government, as well as establishing the Constitution which was agreed at the convention. Hamilton put forward multiple arguments that support the Constitution; for example, Article No.67, authored by Hamilton, argues that the executive branch is not a form of a monarchy or tyranny, but that the power is ‘expressly allotted to the executives of the Individual States’[3]. The pamphlets even persuaded Washington that ‘the constitution is really in its formation a government of the people… It is clear to my conception that no government before introduced among mankind ever contained so many checks and such efficacious restraints to prevent it from degenerating into any species of oppression.’[4] Hamilton wrote these essays in just 6 months, showing his vigorous work ethic and commitment to what he believed to be the best system for America. 

Under Washington’s presidency, Hamilton was given the role of the first US Secretary of the Treasury. Hamilton had a huge role, becoming the head of America’s finance in 1789 as the economy was failing. Hamilton had 4 main objectives to turn the economy around: high tariffs; investment in infrastructure; getting rid of the state debt under the federal government; and the creation of a central bank.[5] He rebuilt America, spending the high taxes to improve manufacturing and infrastructure, as well as supporting small businesses, making the economy flourish. Hamilton remained in this role until 1795, leaving the newly established banking system running smoothly.

Overall, Hamilton’s financial system worked flawlessly and made America strong and current, stabilising the economy and directing it into success. Hamilton handled the US debt post revolution and ensured investment as well as restoring faith within the banking system. Even today, the USA is one of the greatest superpowers in the world holding financial superiority compared other countries due to the foundations that Alexander Hamilton created. 

Nicole

References

[1]Alexander Hamilton: Ron Chernow
[2]’Hamilton’: Lin Manuel Miranda
[3] Federalist No.67; Alexander Hamilton
[4]Washington The Indispensable Man pg. 210
[5] How Alexander Hamilton worked by Clint Pumphry 

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