Sunday, January 11, 2015

ALEXANDER HAMILTON ~ January 11, 1755 or 1757 ~ July 12, 1804

Alexander Hamilton (January 11, 1757 – July 12, 1804) was the first United States Secretary of the Treasury, a Founding Father, economist, and political philosopher. The chief of staff to General George Washington during the American Revolution, he was a leader of nationalist forces calling for a new Constitution; he was one of America's first lawyers, and wrote half of the Federalist Papers, a primary source for Constitutional interpretation. He was more influential than the other three members of Washington's Cabinet, and the financial expert; the Federalist Party formed to support his policies.

Born and raised in the Caribbean, Hamilton attended King's College (now Columbia University) in New York. At the start of the American Revolutionary War, he organized an artillery company and was chosen as its captain. Hamilton became the senior aide-de-camp and confidant to General George Washington, the American commander-in-chief. After the war, Hamilton was elected to the Continental Congress from New York, but he resigned to practice law and to found the Bank of New York. He served in the New York Legislature, and he was the only New Yorker who signed the U.S. Constitution. He wrote about half the Federalist Papers, which secured its ratification by New York; they are still the most important unofficial interpretation of the Constitution. In the new government under President Washington he became Secretary of the Treasury. An admirer of British political systems, Hamilton was a nationalist who emphasized strong central government and sucessfully argued that the implied powers of the Constitution could be used to fund the national debt, assume state debts, and create the government-owned Bank of the United States. These programs were funded largely by a tariff on imports and a highly controversial whiskey tax.

By 1792, the coalition led by Hamilton was opposed by a coalition led by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. Hamilton's Federalist now had to compete with Jefferson's Democratic-Republican Party. The parties fought over Hamilton's fiscal goals and national bank, as well as his foreign policy of extensive trade and friendly relations with Britain, especially the Jay Treaty which was ratified, by a single vote, after a lengthy struggle between the two coalitions. Embarrassed by a blackmail affair that became public, Hamilton resigned as the Secretary of the Treasury in 1795 and returned to the practice of law in New York. In 1798, the Quasi-War with France led Hamilton to argue for, organize, and become the operational commander of the new national army.

Hamilton's opposition to his fellow Federalist John Adams hurt the party in the 1800 elections. When Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr tied in the electoral college, Hamilton helped defeat his bitter personal enemy Burr and elect Jefferson as president. With his party's defeat, Hamilton's nationalist and industrialization ideas lost their former national prominence. Hamilton's intense rivalry with Burr resulted in a duel, in which Hamilton was mortally wounded.

Hamilton was always denounced by the Jeffersonians and later the Jacksonians, but his economic ideas, especially support for a protective tariff and a national bank, were promoted by the Whig Party and after the 1850s by the newly created Republican Party, which hailed him as the nation's greatest Secretary of the Treasury.

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