Alexander Hamilton
1755 - 1804
"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. He divined Europe."
                                                                        --Charles Maurice de Talleyrand

Before earning such a glowing acclamation from the French statesman, Alexander Hamilton would have a rocky road to travel. He was most likely born on the island of Nevis in the British West Indies in 1755. The exact date of his birth is unknown, and even his year of birth is an item of dispute among scholars. The youngest of two illegitimate sons born to Rachel Faucett Lavien, a Huguenot, and James Hamilton, an irresponsible but charming Scottish merchant, Alexander had no birth certificate nor baptismal record to track his early journey. What remains in print is a single document stating his age at 13 in 1768 when his mother died. What is known, however, is that Alexander, his brother James, and their mother, who had been abandoned by their undependable father in 1765 on St. Croix, lived on the bottom rung of white society on the mercilessly stratified island.

Having to fend for herself and her two children after James left, Rachel opened a store, and employed her youngest son as clerk and bookkeeper. It was in his mother's store that Hamilton got his first taste of finance; it was also in that high-visibility capacity that he probably became the target of malicious whispers, or perhaps even outward disdain from the townspeople he encountered. Rachel's husband, who had had her imprisoned in Christiansted some years before for adultery, had posted a public summons for her to appear before a divorce court, declaring her a whore who had given birth to illegitimate children. After Rachel's death from yellow fever, her husband then sued for all her assets, depriving her "whore children" of any benefit her meager belongings might bring.

That Hamilton frowned upon as a youngster can be reasonably assumed by his behavior later in life: primarily his preoccupation with matters of honor and character, and his often visceral reactions to criticism aimed at him. He was also painfully aware that, having no money, family connections, or inherited prestige, nothing would be handed to him. He would have to work harder and excel beyond everyone else in order to make a name for himself, which is what he resolved to do early on. However, the harsh and shameful circumstances of his childhood haunted Hamilton throughout his life; and even long after he had proved himself a brave soldier and a brilliant statesman, the whispering would continue.

Oddly, after his family situation had disintegrated, Alexander's life seemed to improve immensely. His experience as bookkeeper in his mother's store landed him a job as a clerk with the international trading firm of Nicholas Cruger, a New Yorker whose business hub was on St. Croix.

The boy's exceptional skills and endless learning capacity soon saw him running the firm upon the owner's absence. As a teenager, Hamilton was inspecting cargoes, advising ships' captains, and preparing bills of lading. Under Cruger's tutelage, Hamilton mastered the intricacies of global finance and experienced first hand how the material interests of peoples and countries interwove in the complicated fabric of international trade. The bustling port of St. Croix, which was a melting pot of residents and visitors from all over the world, early formed a picture of a global village in Hamilton's mind. He also saw the darker side of international dealings, as the island was a center for the slave trade. Hamilton came away with a deep hatred of slavery, and he eventually co-founded an abolitionist society in New York. In the meantime, the youngster drank in everything he saw. Nothing Hamilton experienced ever went unused.

Whereas Nicholas Cruger exposed Alexander Hamilton to material realities, the Reverend Hugh Knox provided him with a strong spiritual and intellectual grounding. Knox -- who took Hamilton under his wing shortly after Rachel's death -- was a Scottish Presbyterian minister at odds with the mainstream of his faith because of his firm belief in free will over the Calvinist doctrine of Predestination. For someone like Hamilton who was otherwise predestined to a life of obscurity, we can see how Knox's philosophy would have appealed to him. The Reverend's encouragement and influence undoubtedly led Hamilton to dream big dreams. Knox, a brilliant sermon-writer and occasional doctor, took the young orphan under his wing and tutored him in the humanities and sciences. When he was able to get away from the office, Hamilton further expanded his intellect in Knox's library, where he read voluminously in the classics, literature, and history. Hamilton, who had early fancied himself a writer, published an occasional poem in the local paper, and impressed the residents of the island with a particularly vivid and florid account of a hurricane in 1772.

By 1773, his mentors had raised enough money to send him to America to continue his education. It was clear to all who encountered the young man that he was much too brilliant and determined to remain in what Hamilton himself termed "the grovelling condition of a clerk." Cruger, Knox, and other wealthy islanders, sent Hamilton off in June of 1773 to New York to study medicine, most likely in the hope that he would return to the island and set up his practice there. But Alexander Hamilton was never to see the West Indies again.

Hamilton reached New York Harbor in early 1773, entered King's College (now Columbia University) in 1774, and began his studies in medicine. At the time he entered college the first Continental Congress was meeting to decide the future of the colonies under the increasingly tyrannical rule of the English government. Although Kings College was known for its loyalist leanings, Hamilton's American benefactors, the Elias Boudinot family, were Presbyterians of the Whig persuasion who supported rebellion against England.

Following the Boston Tea Party, Hamilton journeyed to Boston to investigate the situation, and came back to New York convinced that the American colonists had a valid argument against England. This was to become a familiar working pattern for Hamilton -- dedicated to making informed decisions, he researched extensively and often conducted lengthy fact-finding missions before he came to any major decisions. Among the revolutionary pamphletists he read with ardor was John Adams, who was to become one of his most bitter political opponents.

Hamilton's adopted state of New York was traditionally the most independent of the colonies, and there was a strong opposition to the revolt. Arguments pro and con raged in the newspapers, and it was not long until Hamilton added his opinion to the fray. In response to a loyalist pamphletist who criticized the actions of the continental congress, Hamilton wrote A Full Vindication of the Measures of Congress, which gained the young revolutionary much notoriety among rebels and loyalists alike. The pamphlet was Hamilton's first foray into local and national politics, and his impressive beginning as a courageous debater and master propagandist.

Hamilton's wistful words in a letter to a friend in 1769 seem in retrospect an invocation. What better way was there for a young man to change his station in life than in war, where ultimately, it is one's abilities rather than one's background that determines success or failure?

When armed hostilities broke out at Lexington and Concord in April of 1775, Hamilton and some of his college friends formed a drilling company. In the summer of 1776, as the British fleet sailed toward New York harbor, Hamilton responded to a call for recruits, and after assiduously studying the science of artillery, was appointed Captain of the Provincial Company of Artillery. Hamilton was a strict disciplinarian but just as fiercely fought with the New York assembly for decent pay and supplies for his men, and even exhausted his own savings to pay for their uniforms.

The professionalism of the New York artillery company and its commander impressed all the senior officers who had dealings with it, including Henry Knox, artillery commander of the Continental army. Hamilton and his company fought with Washington's army at Long Island in August of 1776, followed him on campaign to White Plains, and took part in the Delaware river crossing to participate in the victories at Trenton and Princeton that closed out the heady year of 1776.

All the while that the little New York artillery company was with Washington, Hamilton was making an indelible impression on the General. His efficiency, intelligence, and natural air of authority made him a prime candidate for staff officer. Washington, who was building up his personal staff as administrative details became ever more cumbersome, offered Hamilton the position of aide-de-camp with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. The primary qualification, as Washington himself explained, was to be able to "think for me, as well as execute orders." Hamilton, he felt, fit the description perfectly. Hamilton had earlier refused similar positions with Knox and General Nathaniel Greene, preferring the independence of his own command. However, he could not turn down such a prestigious position with the commander-in-chief. Hamilton accepted Washington's offer, and took his place at headquarters in early March, 1777.

As Hamilton was settling in at headquarters in New Jersey in the early spring of 1777, Washington was resisting General William Howe's attempts to engage his forces in open battle. Washington moved his headquarters numerous times around New York State and Pennsylvania, trying to second-guess Howe's next move, which was to be on Philadelphia rather than New York as he had anticipated. After parrying with Howe most of the summer, Washington engaged him, and was defeated, at Brandywine Creek in September.

On September 18, Hamilton led a small force to destroy a flour warehouse before the advancing British troops could confiscate it, and was almost killed when British scouts fired on his party. His horse was shot, and Hamilton was forced to swim across the Schuylkill river to safety. He then dashed off a note to the Continental Congress advising them to abandon the capitol, which they did. The British marched into Philadelphia on September 26 unopposed, and Washington's army was defeated again at Germantown in early October.

That same month, General Horatio Gates, who led the American forces in the north, accepted the surrender of General Burgoyne's entire army at Saratoga in a brilliant and morale-boosting victory. Gates was hailed as the hero of the revolution, and there were grumblings among the troops, and in congress, that Gates should take Washington's place as Commander-in-Chief. Gates himself challenged Washington's position by sending notification of his victory directly to Congress, rather than through Washington as was proper protocol.

More hurt than indignant, Washington found himself in the embarrassing position of needing Gates' assistance. With the northern positions secure, he needed extra troops to defend the area around Philadelphia. Knowing the delicacy of the mission, the General sent Hamilton to request the troops from Gates.

Although feigning cheerful compliance with the order delivered by the young aide (Hamilton was twenty-two at the time), Gates apparently tried to take advantage of Hamilton's youth by passing off his smallest and weakest brigade. Hamilton, wise beyond his years, was not so easily fooled. He demanded that Gates hand over better men:

"When I preferred your opinion to other considerations, I did not imagine you would pitch upon a brigade little more than half as large as the others; and finding this to be the case I indispensibly owe it to my duty, to desire in His Excellency's name, that another brigade may go instead of the one intended."

Perhaps nothing contributed more to the formation of Hamilton's political outlook than his experience at Valley Forge. While General Howe and his army were living large in Philadelphia, Washington's forces wintered at the desolate but easily defendable encampment. Appeals sent by Washington to congress for supplies for the 9000 or so hungry and thinly clothed troops yielded little more than suggestions that they scavenge the countryside for what they needed.

While he helplessly watched soldiers starve, and while the miseries of Valley Forge increased by talk of a conspiracy against Washington by Gates -- a conspiracy which was eventually rooted out and crushed by a solid core of Washington supporters -- Hamilton did some hard thinking about the American political situation. He came to the conclusion that congress was too preoccupied with state interests to function properly, and began forming his opinions on strong central government. He wrote to Governor George Clinton of New York:

"Men have been fonder of the emoluments and conveniences, of being employed at home, and local attachment, falsely operating, has made them more provident for the particular interests of the states to which they belonged, than for the common interests of the confederacy."

As will become characteristic of all Hamilton's political considerations, he questioned the effects of congress's inefficiency on America's national reputation:

"How can we hope for success in our European negociations, if the nations of Europe have no confidence in the wisdom and vigor, of the great Continental Government?"

Headquarters was swimming with foreign mercenaries who would likely share the shameful situation at Valley Forge with their countrymen. The United States would be a laughing stock, Hamilton worried, which no other country, especially France with whom they were negotiating an alliance, would want to waste resources to help militarily or monetarily. If congress was powerless to raise and appropriate money to supply its own army, what was it good for? Not content to simply ask questions, Hamilton began formulating a plan of what needed to be done to improve the working of the central government, and thus preserve the nation.

As the terrible winter at Valley Forge drew to a close, Hamilton found himself at an uncomfortable juncture. The exhilaration of being at the center of the action was quickly dissolving into mountains of paperwork and long days of what he termed "scribbling." As the action for the 1778 campaign got underway, Hamilton pined for battle. He wanted to be in the fray, not behind a desk.

Other developments pointed to a much more successful year of war. The French had officially recognized the United States as an independent nation, and pledged military support. As Hamilton was fluent in French, probably learned from his mother very early in life, Washington entrusted him as interpreter between himself and Admiral D'Estaing as they planned the Franco-American campaign.

Baron von Steuben also stepped into the picture. A bogus German nobleman who, like many European mercenaries with questionable titles, joined the war in America for some excitement and military glory. Von Steuben became drill master at Valley Forge, and managed to inspire the weather-worn troops with his randy wit, and to whip them into some semblance of order for the summer campaign. Von Steuben could speak no English, but communicated to the troops in his heavily German-accented French, which was then translated by Hamilton. The experience bonded them, and von Steuben later became a permanent member of Hamilton's family.

In June of 1778, Washington's strategy of harassment strikes on the British eventually brought both armies into battle at Monmouth courthouse. Hamilton rode with Washington into battle, and was present when the furious General gave the indecisive General Charles Lee his famous dressing-down. Monmouth was a much needed victory for Washington, and raised the morale of his troops who were still reeling from their experience at Valley Forge.

Hamilton was to have his first taste of American prejudice during the summer of 1779. In July, he received a letter from a friend who reported that a most dangerous rumor was being spread about him among congressmen: that he was fomenting an army uprising to overthrow congress and install Washington as dictator. The correspondent, Colonel John Brooks, added that the speaker "further observed, that Mr. Hamilton could be no ways interested in the defence of this country; and therefore, was most likely to pursue such a line of conduct as his great ambition dictated."

Not surprisingly, Hamilton was outraged. Although he had made no secret of his frustrations with congress, he had consistently called for more power for congress, never for its ousting. In addition, Hamilton had long demonstrated a distaste for mob violence and uprisings. It would have been completely out of character for him to have uttered such sentiments, and Hamilton's colleagues knew this.

Hamilton had become a marked man because of his quick ascent out of nowhere to become Washington's closest and most trusted assistant. Most of Washington's communications were written in Hamilton's hand; and when someone wanted to get to Washington, they knew their best route was through Hamilton. A dashing, elegant blonde, who was also brilliant and witty, Hamilton won the hearts of both men and women with his social charm, and was highly respected for his intellect and intensity at work. Everyone who came in contact with him considered him extraordinary. Alexander Hamilton was a standout. Even the formidable Jefferson was awed, as he revealed to James Madison in 1795, "Hamilton is really a colossus . . . without numbers, he is a host within himself."

When Hamilton did not inspire affection, he often incited fierce jealousy. Congress, always wary of plots and already fearful of Washington's growing power and popularity as the war dragged on, began to focus on Hamilton, whom they saw as a shadowy figure with enough influence to sway the incorruptible Washington to fulfill whatever equally shadowy agenda they ascribed to him. When they began inquiring into Hamilton's background, they found out that he was not from a respected American family, nor even an American by birth. Hamilton was understandably vague about his origins, which was just as damning as if he had advertised them.

Hamilton rigorously investigated, and found the originator of the rumor was an erratic Massachusetts clergyman who, another friend from Boston assured Hamilton, was normally quarrelsome and at one point "proved a liar in the public street." An angry exchange of letters between the clergyman and Hamilton ensued, and Hamilton stopped just short of challenging the reverend to a duel. The matter was eventually forgotten -- few had taken the allegations seriously -- but the attack on his personal honor left Hamilton shaken and depressed.

Not only did the inference underscore his rootlessness, the rumor was also a painfully defining moment in Hamilton's life and career. His motives as a public servant would be forever questioned because he was viewed as an outsider, an alien. After being denied by congress a diplomatic assignment to France, most likely on the advice of Washington who desperately needed him at headquarters, Hamilton hit rock bottom. He wrote of his severe unhappiness to his best friend John Laurens:

"In short Laurens I am disgusted with every thing in this world . . . and I have no other wish than as soon as possible to make a brilliant exit. "Tis a weakness; but I feel I am not fit for this terrestreal Country."

Some happy new events would have Hamilton singing a different tune in 1780. During winter camp at Morristown, Hamilton met and fell in love with Elizabeth Schuyler, whom he would marry at the end of the year. The Schyuler family was one of the wealthy Dutch dynasties of New York. Elizabeth's father, Major General Philip Schuyler [Saratoga], was acquainted with Hamilton and was delighted with the match, despite the fact that Hamilton was penniless and propertyless. Not inconsiderable was the fact that the marriage would be a mutually beneficial arrangement. Schuyler had a feeling that Hamilton would go far and was willing to give him a push if necessary; although it turned out that Hamilton ended up doing most of the pushing. In "Betsy" Hamilton found a loving and adoring wife, who proved a steadfast companion even in his darkest moments.

When not busy with correspondence or courting his wife-to-be, Hamilton turned back to the business of building a better nation. During his tenure as aide-de-camp, Hamilton had formed important ties among New York politicians with whom he regularly corresponded. On the request of congressman James Duane, Hamilton wrote a lengthy missive on his "ideas of the defects of our present system, and the changes necessary to save us from ruin." Hamilton then enumerated the weaknesses of the current government, and offered a very forward-thinking solution: ". . .by calling immediately a convention of all the states with full authority to conclude finally upon a general confederation." The Philadelphia convention was still seven years away.

The rest of the letter reveals a great chunk of what was to become Hamilton's official policies. Indeed, a study of his unofficial political musings prior to his taking office as Secretary to the Treasury show the unfolding of a consistent political plan for America based upon his experiences with the government of a weak confederation. Congress's inability to provide even the most basic of the army's needs proved the dire necessity for a more powerful government. The army, Hamilton observes "is now a mob . . . without clothing, without pay, without provision, without morals, without discipline. We begin to hate the country for its neglect of us; the country begins to hate us for our oppressions of them." The poor state of the army comprises "three fourths of our civil embarrassments." Once again, he casts the eyes of the world on the doings of the American government.

Hamilton then goes on to detail a financial plan for the country. Had his future political rivals read this letter, none of Hamilton's fiscal policies would have taken them by surprise. He suggests revenue sources -- securing a foreign loan, a money tax on business, and a tax in kind on farmers. He expounds upon turning the public debt to the nation's advantage; creating an economy based on paper money; and dwells at length on the founding of a national bank which would be established by the investments of "monied men of influence" who would "relish the project and make it a business."

Knowing full well how his plan would be received by the bulk of Americans, Hamilton opines: "There are epochs in human affairs, when novelty even is useful."

The military campaign of 1780 brought victories at sea for John Paul Jones, but saw defeats on land as General Sir Henry Clinton captured Charleston, and General Charles Cornwallis got the better of Horatio Gates at Camden in a devastating defeat for the American army. Although the arrival of Rochambeau's army in July brought hope for the beleaguered army, one event was to dangerously shake the foundations of the American cause and bring the already tense relationship between Hamilton and Washington to the breaking point.

On the way back to headquarters from meetings with the French commanders, Washington and Hamilton were due to stop at West Point, commanded by major general Benedict Arnold. They found upon arrival at the commander's headquarters that Arnold had defected to the British after having agreed to turn over West Point, one of the most important American fortifications, to Sir Henry Clinton.

Fortunately, resourceful American soldiers routed Clinton's agent, Major John Andre, on his way to deliver the plans. However, the damage had been done within the army. Arnold had been a respected commander under Gates, whose bravery in the battles of Ridgefield and Saratoga made him a hero. Severely wounded at Saratoga, Washington had put him in command at West Point. Washington, now uncertain of whom he could trust, dissolved into one of his infamous towering rages. Unable to get his hands on Arnold, he exorcised his anger on those around him, and especially Andre, who was in American custody.

Washington decided that Andre was to be hung as a spy, despite the fact that he was an officer and as such should be given the "gentleman's" execution by shooting.

Andre's dying wish was to be shot. Hamilton, who had met with Andre several times, and like many of the Americans was impressed with the young British officer's "elegance of mind and manners," appealed to Washington on Andre's behalf. Washington was unmoved. Andre had been apprehended in civilian dress and would be hung as a spy. Discussion over. Andre was hung on October 2, 1780.

Disillusioned with Washington, and doubly determined to get away from headquarters and improve upon his "military reputation," Hamilton began in earnest his own campaign to acquire a field command. If anyone could pull the General's heartstrings, Hamilton knew it was Lafayette [Marquis de], so he enlisted the Frenchman to appeal on his behalf. But even the Marquis' intervention did nothing to sway the General, who maintained rightly that elevating Hamilton over higher ranking officers might arouse resentments; and "if an accident should happen to me, in the present state of your family, you would be embarrassed for the necessary assistance." The General was fearful that his most valuable assistant would get killed.

On the sympathetic advice of Lafayette, ("I know the general's friendship and gratitude for you, My Dear Hamilton, both are greater than you perhaps imagine"), Hamilton acquiesced and remained at headquarters scratching out reams of official correspondence, countenancing the ever-stressed Washington's increasingly snappish ways, and letting his dissatisfaction simmer until it reached the boiling point in February of 1781.

The quarrel with Washington (February 16, 1781)

It took all of a few seconds for Washington and Hamilton to split. On one busy winter day Hamilton, harried as usual with multiple tasks, met his General at the top of the stairs at headquarters in New Windsor, NY. As he explained to his father-in-law two days later:

"[Washington] told me he wanted to speak to me. I answered that I would wait upon him immediately." Hamilton delivered a letter to another aide, but allowed himself a few brief words with Lafayette, whom he ran into on the way. While rushing back to the General he found him fuming at the top of the stairs. "Col. Hamilton (said he), you have kept me waiting at the head of the stairs these ten minutes. I must tell you Sir you treat me with disrespect." I replied without petulancy, but with decision "I am not conscious of it Sir, but since you have thought it necessary to tell me so we part." "Very well Sir (said he) if it be your choice."

It seems a mild exchange as told by Hamilton, but it was in actuality a very terse one pushing the bounds of eighteenth century restraint. Hamilton had told his boss to go fly a kite.

Hamilton stormed out of headquarters, complaining angrily to Lafayette, who, horrified that he might have been the cause of the quarrel, immediately tried to repair the breach. Washington swallowed his pride and made overtures to Hamilton, but Hamilton remained impervious. He stayed at headquarters until April, but lived in a separate building. He and Washington dealt with business by dashing off icy letters to each other. Oddly, Hamilton made one more request for a command at the end of April. That rebuffed, he handed in his official resignation as aide-de-camp on April 30.

Yorktown Interlude (July-October 1781)

Hamilton stayed with his wife at the Schuyler family residence in Albany after leaving headquarters. There he most likely contemplated his future, which now included a wife and the prospect of a family. The affairs of nation building were never far from his mind, however, and he returned to his musings on financial reform in a letter to Robert Morris, who had just been appointed Superintendent of Finance under the recently ratified Articles of Confederation.

Hamilton wrote to Morris in support of a strong "executive ministry," which would provide much-needed decisiveness in the governing body: "I am persuaded now it is the only resource we have to exricate ourselves from the distresses, which threaten the subversion of our cause." He pointed out the domestic and international implications of the official but still impotent congress, -- "the people have lost all confidence . . . our friends in Europe are in the same disposition," -- and, working out a favorite theme, ended his letter with a detailed plan for a national bank.

Then, no longer content to keep his ideas in the private realm, he began writing his first formal essays on American government. The Continentalist, as he named his six-part series, was published in the New York Packet and the American Advertiser, and treated the public to their first taste of Hamiltonian politics.

While his essays were in process, Hamilton was in transit. Washington and Rochambeau were planning a decisive strike on the British; and Hamilton, ever hopeful of seeing action, rode off to Dobbs Ferry NY to rejoin the army. This time, Washington gave Hamilton his long-awaited command, that of the New York and Connecticut light infantry battalion, with orders to lead an assault on British redoubt number 10 at Yorktown. On October 14, Hamilton and his battalion did just that. The redoubts were taken, and Cornwallis surrendered his forces to Washington on October 19, 1781.

Hamilton took part in the surrender ceremonies, and then departed for Albany to rejoin his wife, who was due to have their first child, Philip, in January. On March 1, 1782, Hamilton resigned from active military duty.

Citizen Hamilton (1782-1789)

Hamilton's letter to Robert Morris had not been a wasted effort. Upon hearing of Hamilton's recent availability, Morris appointed him Continental receiver of taxes for the state of New York in April of 1782. Hamilton also began studying law in Albany in May, and within six months had completed a three year course of studies, passed his examinations, and was admitted to the New York bar. If he did not have a full enough plate already, Hamilton was appointed a delegate to the Continental Congress. With tongue in cheek, Hamilton summarized his activities in a letter to Lafayette, then in Paris:

"I have been employed for the last ten months in rocking the cradle and studying the art of fleecing my neighbours. I am now a Grave Counsellor at law, and shall soon be a grand member of Congress. The Legislature at their last session took it into their heads to name me pretty unanimously one of their delegates."

Hamilton went to Philadelphia in November of 1782 with the pocketful of reforms he had collected while in the army and during his recent stint as Continental tax receiver with no authority to collect the money due him, and only excuses forthcoming from state collection agents. Happily, Hamilton found that he was not the only disgruntled representative in congress; he soon found a kindred spirit in fellow delegate James Madison.

On the table were urgent issues to discuss. Rhode Island's resistance of the impost, which was preventing the passage of the law; and an army petition for back pay and half-pay pensions. Committees were created to deal with these problems, and Hamilton was appointed to both.

The impost was crushed when Virginia withdrew its support; and meanwhile the army situation reached crisis proportions. While congress debated the terms of payment -- whether the states should pay their armies, or whether Congress should pay with continental securities -- mutinies began to spring up around the country in early 1783, and by June, General Anthony Wayne's mutinying troops were knocking on congress's door. The delegates moved their operation to Princeton New Jersey.

Hamilton, who shared the army's frustrations, decided to leave congress. Before he returned to New York, he penned a document enumerating the inefficiencies of the confederation government, once again calling for a convention to amend the Articles of Confederation. It probably came as no surprise to Hamilton that his suggestions were not considered by his fellow congressmen. He noted on his copy of the resolution, "abandoned for want of support."

Atty. Alexander Hamilton, Esq.

As soon as the British evacuated New York City, Hamilton moved his wife and baby Philip to a house on 57 Wall St., and began his law practice in an office next door.

Hamilton was soon busy representing loyalists under the Trespass and Confiscation Acts, which, respectively, enabled patriots who fled the city to sue loyalists who had occupied their property in the interim for rent and damages, and refused loyalists the return of property confiscated during the war. Hamilton's reasons for defending loyalists were many, and consistent with his vision for the future of the United States.

One of the provisions of the Treaty of Paris was a pact that neither the United States nor Britain would persecute citizens who had taken the opposite side in the war. So, clearly, New York's anti-loyalist laws were a flagrant violation of an international treaty. Hamilton understood that continuing enforcement of the acts might precipitate a reaction by England, whose troops still occupied some outposts in western New York. In addition, he considered the implications on national character: "Do we think national character so light a thing as to be willing to sacrifice the public faith to individual animosity?" He asked Governor Clinton [no relation to General Clinton]. Is restoration of property and protection of all citizens equally too much to ask considering the concessions given by Great Britain?

Hamilton was coming under fire for his defense of Tories. To further explain his position, and to conjure compliance with the treaty, Hamilton published his "Letters from Phocion." In the first letter, he exhorted the people of New York to build, not waste their time venting their resentments: "Instead of wholesome regulations for the improvement of our polity and commerce; we are labouring to contrive methods to mortify and punish Tories and to explain away treaties." To conclude his second letter, Hamilton eloquently reminded his readers of the scope of their responsibility as citizens of a new nation:

"The world has its eye upon America. The noble struggle we have made in the cause of liberty, has occasioned a kind of revolution in human sentiment. The influence of our example has penetrated the gloomy regions of despotism . . . If the consequences prove, that we really have asserted the cause of human happiness, what may not be expected from so illustrious an example? In a greater or less degree, the world will bless and imitate!"

In addition to treaty considerations, Hamilton decried the mass exodus of loyalists from the United States. Along with them, many of whom were merchants, went their much needed capital.

Hamilton tried upwards of seventy cases under the New York anti-loyalist laws, the most famous being the landmark Rutgers vs. Waddington case, which brought him an important victory introducing the supremacy of federal laws and treaties over state laws. Hamilton's efforts in support of loyalists' rights gained him a reputation as a resourceful yet controversial attorney.

Hamilton's return

In the midst of the flurry of anti-loyalist litigation, Hamilton twice refused the nomination for the state assembly, claiming that he was through with political office. He instead engaged in a variety of other activities. In February of 1784, he wrote the charter for and became a founding member of the Bank of New York, the state's first bank. He also founded with John Jay, his good friend and future "Federalist" collaborator, the Society for Promoting the Manumission of Slaves, whose primary purpose was to propose a "line of conduct" with respect to humane treatment of slaves, and to create a register of freed slaves to ensure that they were not deprived of their liberty. The following year, the society petitioned the state legislature to put an end the slave trade, "a commerce . . . repugnant to humanity."

Despite the fact that he attempted to stay out of the political arena, Hamilton was propelled back by a series of events in which states attempted to assert their sovereignty over federal law. The first was Pennsylvania's repeal of the charter of the Bank of North America. Although chartered by congress as well, the state's repeal endangered the existence of the bank. Several friends of Hamilton who owned shares in the bank, enlisted his advice on how to handle the situation.

The impost was also reemerging as an issue, this time in New York, which was now the lone holdout against the tax. Hamilton wrote to the assembly urging compliance. In May of 1786 he was elected to the state assembly, and this time he accepted. Shortly thereafter, he was appointed as a delegate to the Annapolis Convention in Maryland, a convention called to discuss interstate trade and other issues not dealt with in the Articles of Confederation.

The Annapolis Convention was somewhat of a non-event -- only five states were represented -- however, Hamilton and his fellow delegates agreed that something more needed to be done. Hamilton spoke out once again for a convention, called by Congress, to revise the Articles of Confederation. His fellow delegates were of the same mind, and they drafted a proposal for a new convention to be attended by all states the following May in Philadelphia.

The Annapolis Convention was significant to Hamilton in another respect: he was reunited with James Madison who was engaged in his own furtive efforts to press his state toward nationalism, and just as disillusioned about the prospects as Hamilton. They rekindled their enthusiasm for national politics, and soon found themselves leading the fight for their mutual passion: a strong federal government.

Constitutional Convention (May-September 1787)

In 1787, a group of armed farmers, some 800 in number, marched on the state supreme court in Springfield, Massachusetts after a lengthy rampage across the western part of the state. The farmers were protesting heavy land taxes and other fiscal policies which threatened to bankrupt them, many of whom were revolutionary war veterans like their leader, Daniel Shays. Although the protest was eventually quelled by military force, it sent shockwaves throughout the nation. Shays' Rebellion prompted fears of similar uprisings in other states, and citizens and congress alike warmed up to the Annapolis proposal. Though the idea of a closed-door convention to decide the fate of the nation was cause for widespread unease, vehement opposition was tempered by the fact that it would be attended by the country's most beloved political luminaries. The presences of Benjamin Franklin and George Washington alone gave the project legitimacy; add to that a host of local political giants, men who assuredly would not sell the good of the people down the river.

And then there was the delegation from New York.
Hamilton had quite deftly painted himself into a corner. George Clinton, the perpetual governor and proud patriarch of the state, was becoming increasingly alarmed by the nationalist tendencies of his erstwhile protegee. A stronger federal union promised to encroach upon his kingdom, and he was reluctant to relinquish any of it. Hamilton, who enjoyed a warm relationship with Clinton since the early days of the war, had corresponded regularly and candidly with him, baring his federalist soul, and never dreaming that he would one day end up at loggerheads with the state's supreme power broker. When that day came, few knew Hamilton's political mindset better than governor Clinton; and Hamilton must have realized with chagrin the advantage he had so freely given his enemy.

The state assembly granted Hamilton the five man delegation he requested, which he had planned to fill out with other federally-minded men. The Clinton faction in the senate foiled the plan by appointing a delegation of three: Hamilton, and two ardent Clintonians handpicked to keep the young firebrand in check, John Lansing and Robert Yates.

The convention opened with three major presentations: The Virginia Plan, which favored larger states by calling for representation by population; the New Jersey Plan, containing provisions for smaller states; and the Hamilton Plan, presented by its thirty-two year old author in a five hour speech, the longest of the convention.

The fight for ratification (September 1787-July 1788)

Hamilton returned to the convention twice--in August after Lansing and Yates left in disgust, and again in September as the proceedings were winding down to a vote. Many delegates, like Lansing and Yates, had abandoned the project. Hamilton was skeptical about the results himself, preferring a much stronger executive and less in terms of state sovereignty, but he felt that the benefits outweighed the alternative. In his last remarks to the convention, Hamilton urged everyone assembled to sign it. "No man's ideas were more remote from the plan than his were known to be; but is it possible to deliberate between anarchy and Convulsion on one side, and the chance of good to be expected from the plan on the other." For Hamilton, it was better than nothing.

In written musings to himself, Hamilton remarked positively that the constitution had potential because of its backing by Washington and by "men of property." If the constitution were not adopted, Hamilton saw civil war in the future; if it were, he presaged that Washington would be president.

Hamilton signed the constitution of the United States on September 17, 1787. His solitary signature after the entry "New York," is a visual statement of the struggle that would follow. Hamilton returned alone to his state to build a coalition for the fight for ratification.

The war of words: the Federalist Papers (October 27, 1787-May 28, 1788)

As early as July, Governor Clinton had been building a coalition of his own to oppose whatever came out of Philadelphia. When Hamilton returned to New York, an fervent anti-constitution movement was operating, fueled by Lansing's and Yates' alarmist stories from the convention. Local papers vehemently denounced the convention's plan, some of which included snide personal attacks on Hamilton. The pro-constitution rebuttals were scattershot and inadequate in Hamilton's view, so he wrote a defense of his own. While commuting up the Hudson on a boat, he began writing, under the pseudonym of Publius, a systematic, objective analysis of the constitution which was to become the first in a monumental series of essays he entitled the Federalist. The name of the collection of essays was also to become the name of the pro-consitution movement, and later, Hamilton's political party.

The project was necessary to Hamilton for many reasons. At bottom, it was simply his problem solving style to devise reasoned solutions and deliver them to an audience; he had been doing that publicly and privately since his "Vindication" essays of 1774. Hamilton had always held onto the faith that logical, dispassionate arguments would win people over, despite the middling success of his own efforts throughout his career.

He also knew that it was desperately important for New York to ratify the constitution. Even if every other state in the union ratified, New York's refusal to do so, because of its size, economic strength, and geographical position, would derail the union. The Clintonian/Antifederalists knew this, and the fact buoyed their efforts; they had a clear majority over the Federalists in all parts of the state except Manhattan, Hamilton's district.

James Madison was aware of the importance of New York as well. Leaving Virginia in the capable hands of Washington, he sped off to New York at Hamilton's request for help. (John Jay, with whom Hamilton initially collaborated, became ill and withdrew from the project after four essays.) Hamilton knew that, of all the constitutional convention delegates, Madison's ideas on the subject were the closest to his own. In a pairing of two of the most powerful minds of the age, Hamilton and Madison turned out the first and most enduring American political masterwork.

The war of words: ratifying Convention (Summer 1788)

Less than three weeks after Hamilton pounded out the last number of the Federalist, he attended the New York ratifying convention in Poughkeepsie. The pro-constitution, or Federalist, attendees were outnumbered two to one by Clinton's minions, indicating that Publius was largely ineffective in turning the political tide in New York. In truth, the Federalist essays were considered too high-brow for the common reader. Considering their density and detail, it is hard to imagine that many people rushed to the newsstand for the next Federalist installment. People were less interested in reading scientific political analyses than measuring the immediate impact of change on their lives, and the latter was emphasized by the Antifederalist press. Hamilton noted this in a letter to Madison in May of 1788:

"As Clinton is truly the leader of his party, and is inflexibly obstinate I count little on overcoming opposition by reason."

Locking horns with the Clinton faction at the convention, Hamilton rehashed those arguments he had just recently put forth in the Federalist: the "evils" of state autonomy, the benefits of union, the importance of national reputation, the basic principles and goals of the federal constitution. John Lansing pulled out his notes on Hamilton's speeches from the Philadelphia convention, and accused Hamilton of advocating the destruction of the states by reducing them to "mere corporations." Hamilton, after rebuking Lansing for the indiscretion of airing confidential material, wielded a familiar argument. He pointed out that "corporation" is an indefinite term not indicative of levels of power. He then adopted his finest courtroom panache, and cleverly cross-examined his opponent into refuting his own assertions.

A newspaper account of one of Hamilton's speeches in the ratifying convention gives great insight into his style as an orator:

"He described in a delicate but most affecting manner the various ungenerous attempts to prejudice the minds of the convention against him. ...He called on the world to point out an instance in which he had ever deviated from the line of public or private duty. The pathetic appeal fixed the silent sympathetic gaze of the spectators, and made them all his own."

Keenly aware of his own personal appeal and having no compunction about using it, Hamilton drew the audience into the man as well as the message. That is what made Hamilton's power of persuasion so effectual, himself so attractive, even in so thoroughly hostile an environment as the ratifying convention.

Hamilton's political and courtroom oratory were nothing short of drama. Acknowledged as a master of both elements of presentation, Hamilton perfectly synthesized them; but he never substituted style for substance. James Kent, a fellow New York lawyer, described Hamilton's superiority in the courtroom:

"The mighty mind of Hamilton would at times bear down all opposition by its comprehensive grasp and the strength of his reasoning powers."

Regardless of Hamilton's Herculean efforts of oratory, New York held out until the bitter end, stalling with proposals for amendments and conditional acceptances. As Hamilton had predicted early on, it was only when Virginia ratified that the New York resistance began to crack. On July 27, 1788, the state of New York ratified the constitution and joined the United States.

Hamilton's contributions to the future of state and country did not go unacknowledged. On July 23 New York City held an Independence Day parade whose main attraction was a float in the shape of a ship. Named after the state's favorite son the "Good Ship Hamilton" was met with the proud cheers of onlookers. Hamilton had reached the zenith of his political celebrity. The public would not gather to honor him again until his funeral procession almost precisely sixteen years later.

II. The precipice of power

Origins of a system

. . .this I can venture to advance from a thorough knowledge of him, that there are few men to be found, of his age, who has a more general knowledge than he possesses, and none whose Soul is more firmly engaged in the cause, or who exceeds him in probity and Sterling virtue.

George Washington on Alexander Hamilton (1781)

There was no question in Washington's mind as he took the presidential seat in the national capitol of New York City in the spring of 1789, that Alexander Hamilton was the best man to be the nation's first Secretary of the Treasury. The position was critical. The incumbent had the daunting task of putting the national wheels in motion after over a decade of crippling ineptitude. During Hamilton's tenure as Secretary of the Treasury, that position would be the most powerful in the government. This was due in part to Hamilton's own interpretation of his duties, and to the all-encompassing nature of total financial reconstruction. Hamilton was often mistaken as Washington's prime minister by foreign visitors; in fact, because of his close advisory position to the President, he in essence was.

Hamilton's appointment was approved by the senate on September 11, 1789. Two days later, the thirty-four year old statesman was hard at work organizing the fiscal future of the United States.

Although the administrative quagmire facing Hamilton as he stepped into office on a late summer Sunday would have daunted the most able, he was driven by a boundless confidence in himself and guided by a clear vision of what needed to be done and the principles behind that plan. Revenue, the most important issue, was to be generated primarily through a tax on imports, and an excise. In order to gauge the most efficient methods of collection, Hamilton sent out a request to his revenue agents, merchants, and financiers around the country, asking for statistics and general information, giving him a clear picture of what was happening on the ground -- another of Hamilton's prodigious fact-finding enterprises.

While responses began dribbling into the treasury office, Hamilton got to work drawing up reports, requested by congress, detailing this plan of action. As we have seen, Hamilton spent the better part of his American career puzzling out these issues. Hamilton was greatly influenced by the great 18th century Scottish economists, primarily David Hume, who considered the consequences and possibilities of the merger of their comparatively backwards, agrarian country with Britain, whose economy was largely mercantile. Britain's fiscal underpinnings were comprised of a funded national debt, a large base of paper capital, and a national bank which issued a circulating currency, and regulated fiscal policy and interest rates. The situation of the early 18th century Scots was quite similar to that faced by Hamilton, who needed to plan for the future of a young, underdeveloped country as a competitor in the world market.

Hume in particular was cautionary about the British system, but pointed out some advantages to a credit-based economy. Securities, Hume observed, provide ready capital with the value and function of specie, the availability of which enables merchants to engage in more extensive trade enterprises, which in turn makes commodities cheaper and easier to procure, and thus helps spread "arts and industry throughout the whole society." Landed wealth, Hume contended, makes "country gentlemen" out of wealthy merchants; whereas paper capital fosters a more international mentality, and a more diverse economy.

However, Hume emphasized the many evils of a credit-based economy, warning that a funded debt necessitates oppressive taxes to pay the interest, creates dangerous disparities in wealth, indebts the nation to foreign powers, and renders the stock holders largely idle and useless for everything but playing the market. Hume felt that the evils greatly outweighed the advantages.

Hamilton dismissed Hume's warnings and instead focused on the positive aspects of national credit; the continuing vitality of the British economy was enough to prove the efficacy of their system. Hamilton based his program primarily on the British model, with variations more suited to the United States' unique characteristics. Public credit was to become the pillar of Hamilton's fiscal reform package, the "invigorating principle" which would infuse the United States with the energy and international respectability he had envisioned.

In order to stimulate the economy, Hamilton needed big investors. The support and capital of the nation's wealthiest citizens would provide the foundation and security of his system. He wrote in 1780:

"The only plan that can preserve the currency is one that will make it to the immediate interest of the monied men to cooperate with the government in its support. ...No plan could succeed which does not unite the interest and credit of rich individuals with that of the state."

This was Hamilton's most controversial position about which he was quite frank, and which would incite fierce protest on the part of those who feared that Hamilton aimed to create an aristocracy. Hamilton was, as usual, simply drawing on realities that he felt, although not necessarily equitable, would benefit the nation as a whole in the long run. Securing the support of the wealthy was only a first step in his complete economic picture. The accumulation of wealth was not Hamilton's goal; he wanted to encourage the use of private wealth for beneficial enterprises. Hamilton envisioned a strong economy in which everyone could participate and profit. Landed wealth, represented by the Virginia opposition, was limiting and limited; whereas paper wealth was fluid, and opened up wider vistas in international trade and domestic industrialization. Industry would diversify labor, thus creating more jobs and income sources for a burgeoning population. Hamilton's vision was dynamic and made use of all the possibilities of a young nation with unlimited resources and boundless potential. His reports were the culmination of the vision he had cultivated during his fifteen years as an American, but which he soon found was not shared by all.

The Reports on Public Credit I

Report Relative to a Provision for the Support of Public Credit
(Submitted to Congress on January 9, 1790)

In this massive and detailed report which would determine the permanent financial foundation of the United States, Hamilton began by humbly stating the overwhelming nature of the task he had tackled and the underlying principle of his plan:

"In the discharge of this duty, he has felt, in no small degree, the anxieties which naturally flow from a just estimate of the difficulty of the task, from a well-founded diffidence of his own qualifications for executing it with success, and from a deep and solemn conviction of the momentous nature of the truth contained in the resolution under which his investigations have been conducted . . . 'That an adequate provision for the support of the Public Credit is a matter of high importance to the honor and prosperity of the United States.'"

The debt would be funded; that is, the federal government would convert its debts into interest bearing bonds which would mature after an assigned period of time. A sinking fund of revenue from the post office would be established for the payment of the principal of the debt.

The plan contained three basic provisions for the handling of the debt:

  • As mandated by the constitution, the foreign debt and interest would be paid in full according to the terms initially agreed to.
  • The principal of the domestic debt would be paid at par (with 4 percent interest on long-term, and 6 percent on short-term bonds -- slightly less than the interest promised by the Confederation government) to current bearers.
  • State debts would be assumed by the federal government with interest payments deferred until 1792.

Federal stocks would circulate as money, thus making capital more plentiful and readily available. Large reserves of capital would encourage commerce, as well as agriculture and manufactures. The availability of cash, and its rapid circulation would lower interest rates, making it "easier and cheaper" for individuals and smaller businesses to secure loans for their enterprises.

Hamilton's plan for revenue was based upon an import tariff and an excise. To soften the blow of such a tax plan, Hamilton painted the items to be taxed as darkly as possible: "They are all of them, in reality -- luxuries -- the greatest part of them foreign luxuries... pernicious luxuries..." Spirits, which because of their "cheapness" are imbibed to an extreme, "which is truly to be regretted, as well in regard to the health and the morals, as to the economy of the community..."

The Opposition - Funding

If asked how he came to his conclusions on the funding of the public debt, Hamilton might have answered in a Sherlock Holmes deadpan, "why, it's elementary." It was not so evident to congress. It took some time for congress to digest the report, but when they did, a bitter controversy ensued. Hamilton obviously had expected some objections to his plan, but he had not bargained for the extent of the outcry, nor for the direction from which it came.

The voice of the opposition came from James Madison, whom Hamilton considered a friend and ardent fellow Federalist. He had depended upon Madison's support for his plans, and his former collaborator's opposition was to Hamilton a shocking blow both personally and politically.

Madison and the opposition did not object to the funding of the debt, rather they disagreed as to who should be paid and how much. During the course of the war and afterward, many holders of continental bonds, often veterans and farmers who had contributed goods and services to the war effort, sold their certificates at depreciated prices for much needed cash. Now that provisions had been made to fund the certificates, those who had bought bargain certificates would reap monstrous profits, leaving nothing for the original bearers.

Madison argued that this was unfair, and only served to further enrich an already wealthy class of merchants and "stock-jobbers" at the expense of farmers, soldiers, and backwoodsmen. Madison favored a plan of discrimination, paying the original bearers the nominal value of the certificates they once held, while paying the current bearer the highest market value plus interest. Granting benefits to both types of investors, in Madison's view, would be more just.

The Opposition - Assumption

The plan for assumption of states' debts was also seen as unfair in that it favored states that still retained large wartime debts. Some states, such as Virginia, had already paid much of their debt and would not benefit as much as states who had been less assiduous about paying their bills. Indeed, the Virginians asserted that, given the opportunity to balance their accounts with the federal government, they would be owed some three million dollars. The opposition called for the balancing of accounts between individual states and the government before making a decision on assumption. The decision, of course, would be based on whatever was more profitable to the states.

Hamilton's Justification

Although he had briefly toyed with the idea of discrimination, Hamilton eventually rejected it on a number of grounds. At the very base, it would be an administrative nightmare to track down the original bearers and verify claims. More far-reaching problems were inherent in Madison's plan, however. Hamilton understood that the foundation of any financial system was faith. Investors needed faith in the strength of the system and the prospect of dividends before risking capital on an enterprise. It would be a breach of that faith if holders of public securities marked "payable to the bearer" were not given their due return. The United States needed to be consistent in its policies, and to uphold basic tenets of good faith from the outset in order to generate confidence with investors at home and abroad. In fact, the original bearers had already engaged in a speculation of their own. The current bearers, who had gambled on the certificates themselves, should not be penalized.

Hamilton did not deny that the funding plan would ultimately concentrate large amounts of capital in select hands; but this was part of his larger plan. Those in possession of large bankrolls would reinvest their capital in the government and in enterprise which would benefit the economy as a whole. Underlying Hamilton's reasoning, as always, was the intention of strengthening the union and diminishing as much as possible the strength of the states. Fusing the interests of the public creditors to the central government was a necessary step in that direction.

The Deal

The report was fiercely debated in congress throughout the spring. Hamilton waited anxiously, and monitored the proceedings with mounting anguish as his former ally denounced his work and endeavored to defeat it. If that was not enough, he also had to endure cruel personal attacks in the press. One such diatribe which appeared in papers in both Virginia and New York indicates that details of Hamilton's background were circulating and being used as cheap ammunition against him and his policies. It described the assumption plan as a "bastard of eastern speculators," delivered through the midwifery of the Secretary of the Treasury, and baptized "Alex--der Assumption."

With defeat of the entire plan imminent, Hamilton appealed to Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson to help him win over the largely Virginian-led opposition. Jefferson invited Madison and Hamilton to dinner, and offered to cut a deal. Jefferson proposed to Hamilton that he and Madison would conjure the extra votes needed to pass his plan if it were tied in with a bill to place the national capitol on the Potomac -- near Virginia, and more accessible to the south as a whole. An interim location in Philadelphia would placate those politicians who had favored that city as the capitol; and the fact that it would be far removed from Hamilton's power base of Manhattan was probably significant to the Virginians as well.

Hamilton agreed, and as promised, the Virginians brokered the two extra votes needed to pass the funding and assumption in the House. Hamilton had triumphed; and the entire central government packed their bags for Philadelphia.

The Reports on Public Credit II

The Second Report on the Further Provision Necessary for Establishing Public Credit
(Submitted to Congress on December 13, 1790)

In this report, Hamilton argued the necessity of a national bank, and raised yet another host of issues.

The bank proposed by Hamilton would be a national institution run by a private board of directors. Private ownership, Hamilton reasoned, would prevent the corruption which might result if the bank were run by government officials as was the Bank of England. He explained:

"The keen, steady, and, as it were, magnetic sense, of their own interest, as proprietors, in the Directors of a Bank, pointing invariably to its true pole, the prosperity of the institution . . ."

Hamilton explained that a national bank would provide a safe depository for government funds, regulate banking practices around the country, provide a uniform currency, provide capital for investments and industry, and loan the government money in times of emergency. Hamilton saw it as no less than an engine of national prosperity and a necessary ancillary to his overall plan.

The Opposition

Banks had long been controversial, and were commonly associated with mercantile countries such as England and Holland. Madison, again leading the opposition along with a majority of southerners, raised the familiar point that the bank was another policy which would only benefit merchants and speculators, not the planters and yeomanry of which the country was largely comprised.

Madison challenged the bank proposal by claiming that it was unconstitutional. Arguing for strict construction of the constitution, he stated that since the constitution did not explicitly sanction such action, the United States government had no power to create a bank or any other type of corporation.

The plan for the bank was passed by congress under circumstances that would become increasingly alarming: the vote was split between the north and south -- the southerners being uniformly opposed to the bank, the north, which held the majority of mercantile interest, in favor.

When the bill hit Washington's desk, the President was already harboring strong doubts about the constitutionality of the bank. Washington was poised to veto the bill, but first asked both Attorney General Edmund Randolph and Jefferson for their opinions. Both wrote in support of a veto on constitutional grounds. Washington forwarded their responses to Hamilton informing him that if he did not provide a convincing response, he would have to veto the bank plan. Hamilton did not disappoint. Within a few days, Hamilton handed back his now famous Opinion on the Constitutionality of the Bank. His lengthy response was no less than an exhaustive treatise on implied powers of the constitution. Interestingly, the basic argument he used was originated by Madison himself in the Federalist, (no. 44) that "wherever the end is required, the means are authorized; wherever a general power to do a thing is given, every particular power necessary for doing it is included."

Realizing that the statement in itself would surely give rise to moral objections, Hamilton issued a qualified version:

"[the government has] a right to employ all the means requisite, and fairly applicable to the attainment of the ends of such power; and which are not precluded by restrictions & exceptions specified in the constitution; or not immoral, or not contrary to the essential ends of political society."

The argument swayed Washington, who passed the bank bill in February of 1791.

Jefferson and Madison create a party (summer 1791)

The passage of the bank plan immediately set off alarm bells in the Madison/Jefferson opposition camp. The scope of power inherent in the position of Treasury Secretary had begun to hit home, as well as how much the vision and predilections of the officeholder influenced the country's future, financial and otherwise.

Madison and Jefferson began increasingly to see Hamilton's victories as serious losses for themselves and the interests of their constituents, the southern planter class. They viewed the Secretary of the Treasury as an uncontrolled force with the backing of powerful, monied men from the northeast. Cries of a monarchical conspiracy by Hamilton were heard and most likely originated from anti-Hamiltonians, like Madison, who were present for Hamilton's speech at the constitutional convention. They determined that emergency measures needed to be taken to prevent Hamilton and his "monarchists" from taking over.

For statesmen of the eighteenth century, political parties were anathema. They were seen as unruly bodies of men run by demagogues, reeking of excess and eventual tyranny. However, parties were acceptable in the face of a demonstrable crisis, and, in the summer of 1791, Hamilton and his policies were considered by Jefferson and Madison as a threat to liberty of crisis proportion warranting an organized resistance.

In the summer of 1791, under the ruse of taking a botanical study trip, Madison and Jefferson traveled to New England and New York to rally support for their anti-Hamilton cause. They returned with a party -- which would shortly become the Republican party -- complete with a national network of supporters and functionaries, including a journalist named Philip Freneau, recruited from New York to begin publishing the official party newspaper. Jefferson and Madison had properly girded themselves to battle the "colossus" when congress reconvened in the fall.

Hamilton and Madison: the Partnership that Never Was (1783-1789)

The Federalist Papers, considered a political classic and the definitive statement on the principles underlying the United States constitution, appear on the surface the product of two minds in complete concord about the subject at hand. Indeed, the ratification of the constitution was a goal of absolute importance to both authors, which is why Hamilton called for Madison's help on the project; and why Madison agreed to do it. Both ambitious and brilliant, equally knowledgeable on a wide variety of subjects, Hamilton and Madison sparked immediately when they met in the continental congress in 1783. They agreed that the confederation government was ineffective and were dedicated to creating a system which would solidify the union and make the United States a viable and great nation. On an intellectual level they were perfectly matched; politically, however, they were diametrically opposed. The issue on which they differed was to become the most divisive in American politics: states' rights.

Their disagreement was a matter of experience. Hamilton, the immigrant with no grounding in a particular state, understood only the destructiveness of localist politics from his time as a staff officer in the war, and during his tenure as a government employee and congressional delegate. He felt that, at most, states could be helpful in the administration of federal objectives on the local level, but state sovereignty had long been an absurdity to him.

Madison, on the other hand, was from the proud landed gentry of Virginia. Virginians were notorious for their loyalty to their state -- even Washington had referred to it as his "country" -- and Madison felt likewise. Madison and other Virginians saw their state as a model for the planter/yeoman society, insular and self-reliant, which they projected upon the whole of the country. In contrast, Hamilton was from a cosmopolitan background, having been an insider to the international trade community during his time in St. Croix, and choosing to settle in the commercial metropolis of New York City when he came to America. The wealthy, slave-owning planter community, among which he lived in the West Indies and with whom his own impoverished situation direly contrasted, had no attraction to him, and no particular virtues that he could see.

Madison's intrinsic disagreement with Hamilton's ideas can be seen emerging as early as the Constitutional Convention where he registered his opposition to Hamilton's plan of government by countering with a speech of his own emphatically endorsing state' rights. During the course of the Federalist project, Hamilton sent a letter to Madison, then back in Virginia, which indicates Madison's concerns about certain aspects of states' rights. Hamilton offers a conciliatory response assuring Madison that "The states retain all the authorities they were before possessed of . . . but this does not include cases which are the creatures of the New Constitution." Madison's letter is not extant, but it can be reasonably assumed that he had conveyed his Virginian colleagues' concerns about states' rights. Eventually, the states' rights question congealed into the north/south debate, which made Virginia's concerns tantamount to the moral and economic concerns of the south as a whole. Although Madison was committed to a strong union with authority over the individual states, he came under increasing pressure to protect the planter society of the south. That pressure, coupled with his own deeply entrenched Southern mores caused his initial wariness to transform into outward and vehement opposition to Hamilton and his policies.

The two also differed immensely in their personal styles which likely had an abrasive effect. Hamilton was naturally passionate, emotive; Madison tended to be shy and reserved. Hamilton was opinionated. He was a stranger to subtlety, and much to his misfortune later on. As he admitted to his friend John Laurens in 1780: "The truth is I am an unlucky, honest man, that speak my sentiments to all and with emphasis." Hamilton depended upon what he perceived to be the truth and rightness of his opinions to sway others. To a seasoned Virginia politician and backroom insider like James Madison, such straightforwardness was as distasteful as it was imprudent. Madison's involvement in the Federalist project was to him a political expedient, a necessary project to generate the support needed to ratify the constitution in a critical state. He dealt with Hamilton only as much as he had to; the rest of the time he put as much distance, physically and ideologically, between himself and Hamilton as was possible.

That Hamilton did not perceive these differences early on is puzzling and probably due to a combination of his own self-absorption and Madison's characteristic evasiveness. Finding what he considered Madison's change of opinion unfathomable, Hamilton blamed Jefferson for stealing Madison away from him. He explained his theory to a friend in 1792:

"I cannot persuade myself that Mr. Madison and I, whose politics had formerly so much the same point of departure, should now diverge so widely . . . Mr. Madison had always entertained an exalted opinion of . . . Mr. Jefferson. A close correspondence subsisted between them during the time of Mr. Jefferson's absence from this country. A close intimacy arose upon his return."

Report on Manufactures - submitted to Congress December 5, 1791

During the summer and fall of 1791, while Madison and Jefferson were building up the Republican resistance, Hamilton was hard at work in Philadelphia on a number of projects, the most absorbing of which was his Report on Manufactures. Considered his most innovative report, it provides detailed insight into Hamilton's vision for the United States and its future.

Hamilton's Report on Manufactures went further than any other report in projecting the future of the United States and its place in the world economy. Hamilton urged congress to promote manufacturing so that the United States could be "independent on foreign nations for military and other essential supplies." In addition to national independence, manufacturing would provide a path to equality in the global market. Currently, Hamilton observed, the United States was pretty much precluded from "foreign Commerce." The country "cannot exchange with Europe on equal terms; and the want of reciprocity would render them the victim of a system which should induce them to confine their views to Agriculture and refrain from Manufactures." Government subsidies to manufacturing in Europe rendered it difficult for American manufacturers to compete in the market. The situation could be remedied if the United States government followed the European lead.

Hamilton's special interest in promoting manufacturing has been held up as evidence that he disregarded the importance of agriculture, however, nothing could have been further from his intentions. His report is more concerned with the interdependence of the two economic systems than the ascendancy of one over the other. He agreed that agriculture "has intrinsically a strong claim to pre-eminence over every other kind of industry. But that is has a title to any thing like an exclusive predilection . . . ought to be admitted with great caution." Hamilton foresaw mass immigration into the United States and a domestic population explosion, and understood that the diverse population of the future had the best chance of widespread prosperity through a diversification of labor.

The growth of manufacturing in the United States, in Hamilton's view, would parallel the growth of great population centers, thus creating more of a market for the produce of farms. Again, Hamilton sees things not in simple terms of evils and goods, but in terms of relationships and dynamics. He did not advocate one economic system, but saw an opportunity for greater benefits through providing a variety of options. By dismissing manufacturing, the nation was limiting its potential, and neglecting to tap into its most valuable, yet dormant, resources.

He recommended specific policies to encourage manufactures; among them protective duties and prohibitions on rival imports, exemption of domestic manufactures from duties, and encouragement of "new inventions... particularly those, which relate to machinery."

To Hamilton the absence of substantial manufacturing in the United States was a gaping hole of opportunity that desperately needed to be filled. Congress was not as enthusiastic. The report was never put up to a vote.

As a sort of supplement to his plan for manufactures, Hamilton and his former Treasury Department assistant, William Duer, founded the "Society for the Establishment of Useful Manufactures." Supported by private investors, it was an eighteenth century industrial park to be built in Passaic, New Jersey, complete with a snappy acronym: S.U.M. Through the S.U.M., Hamilton hoped to demonstrate the ability of the United States to be successful in manufacturing, and make proper use of its plentiful raw materials and its people's special aptitude for technological pursuits. It would be a microcosm of the industrial America of the future.

Stock Market Mania Summer 1791 - Spring 1792

The summer of 1791 had its headaches as well. Irresponsible speculation on the stock market led primarily, to Hamilton's dismay, by William Duer, caused stock prices to skyrocket dangerously. The stock purchases were largely made through bank loans, despite Hamilton's severe injunction against such loans by banks. National bank branch offices, of which Hamilton also disapproved but was unable to prevent, made loans to speculators easier to procure. Foreseeing a crash, Hamilton sent a thinly veiled warning to Duer ("I had serious fears for you -- for your purse and for your reputation..."), but Duer and friends continued to play the market extravagantly, borrowing from banks and individuals, buying up government securities and bank stock, and hatching schemes to sell at a profit to foreign investors.

The market finally crashed in February of 1792, sending Duer and other speculators into bankruptcy (and into prison), and severely devaluing government securities. In order to avoid a complete disaster, Hamilton ordered the Sinking Fund Commission to purchase government stocks, and advised banks to pool their resources in the face of expected runs on deposits. A recently secured Dutch loan also helped soften the blow of the crash. The damage had been done, however. The spectacle helped fuel Republican opposition to Hamilton and his policies. And for his part, Hamilton had a horrifying taste of the extreme behavior of which unethical "stock-jobbers" were capable.

The Foreign Policy of Finance

Hamilton had never made a secret of the fact that he admired the government and fiscal policies of Great Britain. Indeed, his own fiscal plan -- a funded debt and national bank -- were textbook English policies with Hamiltonian modifications to suit the special circumstances of the United States. The fact that there had been an acrimonious break and a lengthy war with Great Britain left no residue of animosity with Hamilton. To him it was a simple matter of fact that Great Britain was the most politically and economically stable kingdom on the globe, and that it would be eminently prudent to pursue good relations with her. Just as important to Hamilton in the forging of a strong relationship were the cultural similarities between the two countries: "We think in English," he told George Beckwith, the unofficial British envoy, "and have a similarity of prejudices, and of predilections."

James Madison did, however, reserve special animosity toward Great Britain. To him, England represented all that was corrupt in the world -- the greed of a mercantile economy, the prejudice of a one-church state, the threat of a monarchical government. During the first session of congress in 1789, Madison had advocated a discriminatory tonnage duty against countries lacking commercial treaties with the United States, which was primarily aimed at Britain in retaliation for Britain's restrictions on American commerce in the West Indies, and her refusal to relinquish western posts. The tariff achieved some of Madison's wider objectives as well, including limiting the number of credit purchases of luxuries from Britain, which made Americans the more beholden to their former mother country. Madison favored instead a stronger alliance with Britain's antagonist, France, and Secretary of State Jefferson felt much the same way about foreign relations.

In Hamilton's view, a Franco-American alliance at the expense of relations with Britain would be a disaster to his economic plan. Hamilton would have agreed with Madison that, since Americans were the leading consumers of British goods, impaired commerce between Britain and the United States would be more harmful to the former -- he had used that argument when supporting the measures of the Continental Congress in 1774. On the other hand, Hamilton saw that Madison's strategy would do great harm to his short-term goals by reducing revenues from the impost and excise taxes upon which his system depended.

Fearing the consequences of a trade war with Britain, Hamilton communicated to Beckwith, in a series of meetings, his wish to see improved relations and a commercial treaty between the United States and Britain.

The propriety of Hamilton's meetings with Beckwith, and later with official British minister, George Hammond, has been a matter of intense debate among historians. The conferences took place covertly, and without the knowledge of the Secretary of State (although the early Hamilton/Beckwith meetings occurred before Jefferson accepted his appointment); however, the talks themselves were never understood by either party as official or binding, and besides, Hamilton was culling information from the British agents for Washington on the latter's request. Hamilton's efforts to secure an alliance with Great Britain were suppressed by Washington in 1792, and relations between the two countries continued to sour. Hamilton continued to advocate better relations, and eventually achieved his aim with the controversial Jay Treaty of 1795.

Strained loyalties: the French Revolution 1789-1799

Hamilton's reservations about an alliance with France were only intensified by the French Revolution, which was met with sweeping adulation throughout the United States. To the people who had carried out a model revolution, France's efforts to do the same were watched with a maternal eye. Lafayette, of course, was close to the hearts and minds of the Americans as he acted out his role as an early arbiter of reason. Jefferson, who had been in Paris during the outbreak of the revolution, saw it as a manifestation of the "revolution in human sentiment" begun by America, and another reason that the United States should support the movement by aiding France as she had aided the United States' efforts.

At the outset, Hamilton was almost alone in his disapproval of the events in France. As news of excesses reached American shores, the Secretary of the Treasury began expressing his doubts about the revolution's outcome. The unfolding events, he wrote to Washington in 1790, "[do] not prognosticate much order or vigour in the affairs of that country for a considerable period to come." In France he saw none of the bedrock of reason and moderation that governed the American Revolution and its aftermath.

That Hamilton's concerns were well founded became clear as France fluctuated from constitutional monarchy, to a republic after the flight of the King, to the reign of terror under Robespierre's Committee of Public Safety all within a few years. The revolution-related events of early 1793 quickly made the French crisis an American one. The news that King Louis XVI had been guillotined reached the United States in March; and soon after that, the French declared war on Britain, Holland, and Spain.

Those in the majority, like Jefferson, who continued to support France believed that the excesses of the revolution would end at some point, and a republic would rise out of the chaos. They applauded France's declaration of war against Britain and viewed it as yet another blow to monarchy and tyranny.

Hamilton, on the other hand, saw devastating consequences to supporting France. In November of 1792, after he had learned that the King had been deposed, Hamilton suspended payments on the debt to France on the grounds that, if the monarchy were restored, any payments made to the interim regime would likely not be credited as such.

Even more pressing were considerations of war. The United States had signed a treaty of alliance with France in 1778, but any support of France during its current war might drag the United States into a conflict in which it could ill afford, monetarily or otherwise, to participate. Hamilton advocated a strict neutrality for the United States; a neutrality vehemently opposed by the Republicans on the basis that, as France had helped the United States win her independence, it was incumbent upon the United States to reciprocate. With the impending arrival of French minister Edmund Genet, these issues reached new urgency. Washington posed the question to his cabinet members: should the United States issue a proclamation of neutrality? Should they receive Genet without qualification as a representative of the legitimate government of France? Should they continue to honor the treaties signed with the monarchy, and if they did, would it be a violation of neutrality?

In his written response, Hamilton showed after a typical lengthy argument citing experts in international law that treaties are made with specific governments on the basis of the government's character, energy, and trustworthiness. That nations had the right to change their governments Hamilton did not deny, but if those changes in government "render treaties that before subsisted between it and another nation useless or dangerous or hurtful to that other nation, it is a plain dictate of reason, that the latter will have a right to renounce those treaties . . . to take care of its own happiness." Nations in turmoil, in other words, have no right to drag other nations into their wars. Receive the minister, Hamilton advised, but make it clear that the act of reception does not indicate an alliance.

Jefferson rejected Hamilton's arguments entirely, and the cabinet was split down the middle; the Virginians, Jefferson and Attorney General Randolph, in favor of upholding the treaty of alliance; Hamilton and Secretary of War Knox in agreement to void it. Washington, who had already decided upon his course of action, issued a proclamation of neutrality which included a prohibition against private citizens engaging in actions that violated the neutrality. He did, however, take Jefferson's advice not to suspend the entire treaty of alliance with France, and to receive Genet without qualification, while at the same time making it clear that no new treaties would be entered into until a stable government were installed. The Genet Mission turned out to be the United States' first major foreign relations crisis.

The Genet Mission and the Neutrality Controversy (April 1793-January 1794)

"Citizen" Edmund Genet, appointed under the Girondins as the French republic's minister to the United States, landed at Charleston on April 9, 1793. Instead of immediately traveling to Philadelphia and presenting his credentials as was diplomatic protocol, Genet tarried in the south, enjoying a warm reception and drumming up support for the French cause. Handsome, flamboyant, and charismatic, Genet was celebrated wherever he stopped, and was soon convinced he had won the hearts of the American people. Little did he know that his visit was to create a firestorm of controversy. It was during this time that the already steaming Federalist and Republican press hostilities boiled over, galvanizing the intensity of feelings within each party, and animosity within the Washington cabinet. Not knowing, nor caring to find out, the official position of the United States on France's war with the rest of Europe, Genet immediately began engaging in actions hostile to Britain, and which were soon to violate the Neutrality Proclamation. He commissioned privateers which brought their prizes into American ports and hired on American citizens, and he authorized expeditions against the Spanish territories. Genet had, in essence, instituted his own war office on American soil. George Hammond, the British minister, protested Genet's activities, and demanded compensation for the prizes seized by his privateers.

While Genet was making his whirlwind tour of the south, Washington and his cabinet were engaging in a series of tense and often hostile meetings to decide their policy. It was during these meetings that the rift between Jefferson and Hamilton, who seldom masked their contempt for each others' opinions on foreign policy issues and whose face-to-face bickerings were stoked by the tandem newspaper war, became shockingly apparent to Washington, who soon dispaired of reconciling their differences.

While Jefferson patently disagreed with Hamilton's efforts to pursue a policy which would not offend the British, Hamilton used every bit of influence he could muster to bring Washington to his side of the controversy. Jefferson's press accused Hamilton and the Federalists of monarchical designs; Hamilton's press contended that the Republicans were bent on dragging the United States into war with Britain.

In addition, Washington was coming under fire for the Neutrality Proclamation, especially its injunction against citizens' involvement in privateering activities. When two citizens were arrested for that offense, the anti-administration outcry reached fever pitch. Washington, who had until then been an untouchable icon, was incensed by the hostile criticism.

In the Federalist press, Hamilton ardently defended the President's constitutional right to issue the Neutrality Proclamation. The opposition claimed that the President had no power under the constitution to issue a proclamation nullifying treaties or parts of treaties without the approbation of the senate. In his "Pacificus" letters, Hamilton once again broadly interpreted the constitution by invoking executive power and that office's express power to execute laws to prove that the President was within his rights to issue the proclamation. He also objected to the claim that the United States should support France out of gratitude, stating in Pacificus #4 that alliances are formed on the basis of "mutual interest and reciprocal advantage." As gratitude can be inimical to interest and advantage, it cannot be used as a reasonable basis for an alliance between nations. Justice and good faith, rather, are the sound bases for such agreements.

Genet continued his highly inappropriate behavior, and even Jefferson, who was at the beginning indulgent, was becoming concerned that Genet's actions would eventually do more harm than good to the pro-French cause. Jefferson's requests of Genet to cease his privateering activities were rebuffed by the obnoxious minister, who was engaged in his own bizarre efforts to secure the support of the American people for his cause, and spurred by the shrill pro-French/ anti-administration press, to oppose the policies of the Washington administration "in the interest of liberty." Hamilton advised refusing debt payments that Genet had demanded and Jefferson agreed to that course of action, although with a mildly worded letter of rejection as opposed to the rebuke Hamilton wanted to issue.

Completely exasperated with Genet, Washington decided to request the minister's recall. Again, Hamilton and Jefferson agreed on the principle but not on the manner in which it was to be carried out. Hamilton preferred immediate suspension, while Jefferson advised a less inflammatory recall. Jefferson, who was disillusioned by the French minister's continual disregard of his advice, and equally tired of having to contend with Hamilton on issues of foreign policy, handed his recommendations to Washington along with his resignation. Washington knew he could ill afford to lose his Secretary of State during such a crucial time, and persuaded Jefferson into delaying his departure by agreeing to a friendly request for Genet's recall. In January 1794, Washington delivered a conciliatory address to his countrymen, explaining the principles behind American neutrality and the reasons for Genet's recall, and asking for their support in the time of crisis.

It turned out that Edmund Genet remained in the United States after his recall. Having heard that the Jacobins were as displeased with his behavior as the Washington administration, he decided that Washington's republic was preferable to an almost certain appointment with the guillotine in his own. Genet married Cornelia Clinton, daughter of Governor George Clinton of New York, and settled down to a quiet and comparatively obscure life on a farm; but the foreign relations crisis his visit engendered would not soon be forgotten.

Jefferson's crusade May 1792 - December 1793

Following the stock market panic of early 1792, Hamilton found himself increasingly under attack by the Republican opposition led by his cabinet-mate Jefferson, and what started out as an annoyance soon made his working conditions close to unbearable. Jefferson's primary mouthpiece was Philip Freneau's National Gazette, which published anti- administration pieces, including ones penned by Madison and Jefferson. Freneau, recruited to the Republican party cause during Jefferson's and Madison's "botany tour," was also employed by Jefferson as a translator for the state department. Hamilton established a Federalist publication -- John Fenno's Gazette of the United States -- and the newspaper wars commenced.

In addition to his activities in print, Jefferson began a campaign within the government to have Hamilton removed from office. His attacks were unrelenting, and were designed to weaken Hamilton by keeping him continually on the defensive. Jefferson's first attempt to oust the Secretary of the Treasury came in the form of 21 objections he sent to Washington in May of 1792.

Jefferson's 21 Objections (May 1792)

Jefferson confronted Washington with a list of 21 objections to Hamiltonian policies, which Washington forwarded to Hamilton for response. The complaints included concern over the size of the public debt, moral concerns over speculation ("it nourishes in our citizens vice & idleness instead of industry & morality"), the geographical inequities of the funding system, and a monarchical conspiracy "contemplated in the Convention" whose adherents were overrunning the government.

Hamilton responded at length and competently as usual, but protested to Washington: "I have not fortitude enough always to hear with calmness, calumnies, which necessarily include me, as a principal Agent . . . I feel, that I merit them in no degree; and expressions of indignation sometimes escape me, in spite of every effort to suppress them."

In his "objections and answers" to Jefferson's complaints (Washington had not revealed their author to Hamilton), Hamilton began by pointing out that the debt was incurred by the revolution, and not by any actions of the present administration. Taking Great Britain's example, Hamilton stated that their funding system clearly benefits all parts of the economy. Had the United States only made provisions to retire the debt as opposed to funding it, "Our Debt would still have gone from us & with it our reputation & credit."

As to corruption among those who deal in funds, Hamilton's response highlights the difference between his and Jefferson's moral worlds. Whereas Jefferson considered "stock-jobbers" and speculators to be the lowest form of humanity, Hamilton stated, "It is a strange perversion of ideas, and as novel as it is extraordinary, that men should be deemed corrupt & criminal for becoming proprietors in the funds of their Country." Although Hamilton conceded that "jobbing in the funds . . . diverts a certain number of individuals from other pursuits," he points out that, overall, stock acting as capital and properly used serves to promote "industry by furnishing a larger field of employment." Besides, Hamilton continued, "The Debt existed. It was to be provided for. In whatever shape the provision was made . . ." speculation would have occurred regardless.

In response to the sectional inequities of the funding system, Hamilton responded that the owners of the debt come from all states, not just the north. Granted, the majority of the wealth devolved upon the north, however, that is because the greater part of the war was fought in the north, thus the heavier concentration of bonds in the hands of northern creditors. As far as southerners parting with their bonds prior to the funding provision, Hamilton pointed out that they unloaded their property voluntarily "upon fair terms, without surprize or deception." Furthermore, many southern bond holders parted with their assets during the fight for the funding measure because of their confidence that the plan would be defeated. "'Tis their own fault," Hamilton sniffed, "if the purchase money has not been beneficial to them."

Hamilton addressed charges of monarchical conspiracy as a misrepresentation of the many theoretical discussions at the convention favorable to the British constitution. To the accusation that monarchists are overrunning the government, Hamilton sharply replied that, of the current legislators who had attended the constitutional convention "none can be considered as influential but Mr. Madison and Mr. Gerry. Are they monarchy men?"

Closely following his receipt of the 21 objections, Hamilton lashed out at Jefferson in a series of editorials he signed "An American." In the editorials, Hamilton made public the fact that Freneau was on the government payroll: "an experiment somewhat new in the history of political manoevres in this country; a news paper instituted by a public officer [Jefferson], and the Editor of it regularly pensioned with the public money." Strange, Hamilton commented, how this can be done with impunity by a public official. Stranger still that Jefferson, a high government official, would subsidize with department funds a newspaper dedicated to opposing government policies.

Throughout the summer, Hamilton and Jefferson continued their sniper war. Jefferson adamantly contending that Hamilton was promoting monarchy; Hamilton hitting back with increasing venom against Madison and Jefferson, his resentment intensifying as the Republican press impugned his reputation and criticized his work. The hostility in the press was strong enough to alarm even Washington, who wrote to both Jefferson and Hamilton admonishing them to put an end to the "wounding suspicions, and irritating charges" that were splashed across the newspapers. The venerated chief worried that he was losing control of the government, and admitted to Hamilton, "I do not see how the Reins of Government are to be managed, or how the Union of the States can be much longer preserved."

Although both Hamilton and Jefferson professed their deepest commitment to the union in their responses to Washington's entreaties, it did nothing to end the war of words. They were at it again shortly thereafter. Jefferson's response to Washington reveals the depth of his snobbish contempt for Hamilton, which was founded more upon his rival's origins than his political policies:

"I will not suffer my retirement to be clouded by the slanders of a man whose history, from the moment at which history can stoop to notice him, is a tissue of machinations against the liberty of the country which has not only received him and given him bread, but heaped its honors on his head."

Jefferson's statement was at the same time an undisguised jab at Washington, who was the one who had done the greater part of the "heaping."

Cruel winter I - the Reynolds Affair uncovered December 1792

At the same time the trouble with France was beginning to brew, Hamilton's personal and professional lives were beginning to collapse.

On December 15, 1792, three congressmen, James Monroe, Abraham Venable, and Frederick Muhlenberg, confronted Hamilton in his Treasury Department office with charges of shady dealings with one James Reynolds, currently in jail. Reynolds claimed that Hamilton had given him treasury funds to play the stock market, and further, that he possessed evidence that the money had changed hands. Monroe and his partners went to Hamilton's office expecting to transcribe his confession of official corruption. What they ended up with was something quite different, and was to become one of the more bizarre incidents in American political history.

Yes, Hamilton admitted, he had given James Reynolds money, but it was his own, not treasury funds; and, no, the money was not for speculation, but to pay him off following an affair Hamilton had with Reynolds' wife, Maria, during the summer of 1791. At some point, Reynolds found out about their affair, and confronted Hamilton, requesting "satisfaction" for the wrong done to him. Hamilton neither admitted nor denied Reynolds' accusation, but pressed him to name the terms of his "satisfaction." Reynolds terms, in lieu of a treasury department position, which Hamilton refused to grant him, were a thousand dollars and the obligation to continue the affair with Maria -- for additional payments. In short, Mr. Reynolds was a clever pimp who was now harboring some very destructive information on one of the highest officials in the country. Hamilton went along with the plan, continuing to pay Reynolds to bed his wife until he found a way to extricate himself as quietly as possible from the whole messy affair.

The discomfort of all participants in the unusual little conference was palpable. It was probably the first time a gathering had seen the unflappable Hamilton visibly agitated. So embarrassed by his admissions were the inquisitors, that they told Hamilton there was no need for him to tell the whole story. But Hamilton insisted upon telling them the whole sordid episode, perhaps fearing that a partial admission would only give rise to further suspicions in the future. Hamilton preferred to relate the details of his humiliating affair than foster the belief that he was officially corrupt.

After Hamilton had completed his tale, Monroe, Venable, and Muhlenberg declared the incident a closed book. According to Hamilton, they departed with "expressions of regret at the trouble and embarrassment which had been occasioned to me." Hamilton must have been quite aware, however, that his affair had turned out to be a fatal mistake. It happened that his inquisitors were Republicans; Republicans who were now in possession of information -- facts admitted by Hamilton himself -- that could be pulled out and used at any time to destroy him personally and professionally. And despite assurances from the three that Hamilton's secret was safe with them, it was only a matter of time until the Reynolds affair came back to haunt him.

The experience deeply disturbed Hamilton, whose self-confidence was already slowly wearing away. He wrote to John Jay a few days after the incident that he had neglected their correspondence because he had been preoccupied with "malicious intrigues to stab me in the dark . . . that distract and harrass me to a point, which [renders] my situation scarcely tolerable . . ."

Cruel winter II - Impeachment proceedings January - March 1793

Jefferson's next move following his 21 objections was to mount a two-pronged attack to try to unseat Hamilton on corruption charges. Through his spokesman in the House, William Branch Giles, the Secretary of State introduced a series of resolutions which called into question Hamilton's appropriations of foreign loan funds and demanded a concise accounting of his handling of such funds. At the same time the senate drafted its own similar resolutions. Both sets of resolutions were issued on January 23, 1793. The date was carefully chosen by the Republicans who were confident that Hamilton would have no time to respond before congress adjourned in early March. Even if Hamilton were to hand over spotless books when congress reconvened after the summer, they could contend that Hamilton had used the time to sanitize his records.

Hamilton knew full well the game congress was playing, and, as usual, executed an impressive check-mate. Working himself to exhaustion, he stunned his opposition by handing over more than 200 pages of spotless records and reports in less than a month. Stymied, Jefferson tried again, this time drafting for Giles a series of resolutions explicitly accusing Hamilton of violating numerous laws. The final resolution read:

That the Secretary of the Treasury has been guilty of maladministration in the duties of his office, and should, in the opinion of Congress, be removed from his office by the President of the United States."

Nothing would have been more satisfying to Jefferson at that point than to have seen Hamilton unseated in disgrace. The second set of resolutions was set before the House on February 27, but was soundly defeated. One of the only five Republicans who voted in favor of the resolutions was James Madison.

The Jay Mission March-April 1794

At the beginning of 1794, the landscape had changed somewhat in the administration. Jefferson had resigned at the end of the previous year, leaving Hamilton without opposition in the cabinet. (Former Attorney General Edmund Randolph, took Jefferson's post.) Washington was ensconced, albeit reluctantly, in his second term as President, after having been cajoled into running again by Hamilton and several others. Hamilton, equally disenchanted with his cabinet position, had planned to resign at the same time as Jefferson, however he decided to stay on another year to tie up some loose ends, and experience some relative administrative freedom out from under Jefferson's thumb. During this last year in Washington's cabinet, Hamilton reached the pinnacle of his power and influence, advising on and directing a wide range of foreign and domestic policy. However, Madison and the Republicans were as strong as ever in congress, and they were now challenging Hamilton's authority to deposit foreign loan funds in the Bank of the United States. While Hamilton was attempting to fight off the new charges of maladministration (of which he would eventually be completely exonerated by a select committee) he was at the same time concerning himself with the steadily declining state of affairs between the United States and Britain.

In March, the British passed an ordinance authorizing the capture of neutral ships trading with French territories, and began seizing American merchantmen. Congress pressed for anti-British commercial policies, and Washington responded by signing a thirty-day embargo on all foreign shipping. Hamilton supported the program, but went one step further, recommending national preparedness for war by building fortifications and warships, and enlarging the army. At the same time, however, he also recommended a special mission to Britain to work out differences and avoid what would undoubtedly be a disastrous war.

After refusing the appointment as special envoy himself -- perhaps anticipating that a firestorm of opposition would ensue if he took the position -- he recommended Chief Justice John Jay.

Jay's objectives were devised largely by Hamilton. He was to require of Britain compliance with the parts of the Treaty of Paris which were as yet unfulfilled, primarily the evacuation the Northwest posts, and remuneration of wartime damages. Jay was to ask for restitution for ships and cargoes seized under the recent British ordinance, and secure a commercial treaty which would neither interfere with American commerce with France, nor impede trade in the British West Indies. Hamilton hoped that the Jay mission would culminate in the alliance he considered so important for the future of the United States.

The Whiskey Rebellion August 1794

While John Jay journeyed to Britain, trouble was brewing in western Pennsylvania. Heated opposition to the excise tax on distilled liquors which had been simmering as long as the tax had been in effect, broke out into open insurrection after tax collectors were attacked by an angry mob. After various efforts on the part of government officials to hold talks with the insurgents, Washington decided that military force was needed to quash the rebellion, which was rumored to have grown to a band of five thousand armed men.

Hamilton was particularly strident in his support of the use of military force against the insurgents, whom he termed "traitors." He requested that Washington allow him to accompany the military, because, he told the General, it would be good public relations for the originator of the objectionable policy to put himself in harm's way for the sake of upholding the policy. Of course, Hamilton's presence in uniform at Washington's side as they rode out to engage the "traitors," had little but the opposite effect.

When the militia, with Washington and Hamilton at its head, reached western Pennsylvania, it became clear that there would be no armed resistance. Representatives of the insurgents asked for clemency, and Washington granted it with the stipulation that they comply with federal laws thereafter. Washington returned to Philadelphia, leaving Virginia governor Henry Lee in charge of the federal troops. Despite the fact that no shots were fired, Hamilton immediately drafted instructions calling for the rooting out and imprisoning of dissidents, of whom over 100 were arrested.

Upon his return, Hamilton was castigated by the press. His actions provided undeniable proof to Republicans that Hamilton was a monster who would stop at nothing to defend his corrupt policies, a budding Caesar bent on establishing a monarchy. For his part, Hamilton dismissed the criticism: "It is long since I have learnt to hold popular opinion of no value . . ."

But what was at the root of Hamilton's extreme reaction to the Whiskey Rebellion? Hamilton was, after all, much too astute politically to believe his official reasoning that his involvement would have a positive effect. Nothing was more basic to Hamilton's personality than a love of military command and all the danger and glory it afforded; and the opportunity to once again ride out in uniform with Washington must have been irresistible to him. There was also the lingering influence of Genet, who during his short tenure as France's representative on American shores had helped stir up much opposition to government policies. At the time of the Whiskey Rebellion, the reign of terror was well underway in France. The Whiskey Rebellion brought shades of France's anarchy and violence to the American republic, and the fear of similar mob rule on the part of the administration and its supporters cannot be underestimated.

In addition, and probably more importantly, Hamilton was planning to leave his position at the end of the year. It was therefore crucial to him to entrench as deeply as possible the policies he had put into place. For the remainder of his life Hamilton worried that his work would be destroyed, his system dismantled, under the opposition. His almost irrational reaction to the Whiskey Rebellion was the first of many desperate attempts Hamilton would make at the end of his career to keep the United States on the track on which he had set it.

Unfinished business: last report on public credit January 1795

Hamilton resigned from the Treasury on January 31, 1795, but not without one final exhortation to the government and the people to support his fiscal plan. In what was described by Madison as his "valedictory," Hamilton issued his -- Report on a Plan for the Further Support of Public Credit -- to congress. His objective, in addition to defending his program thus far, was a plan "for the Redemption of the public debt," to complete and stabilize the current system of funding, and to "prevent that progressive accumulation of Debt which must ultimately endanger all Government." Hamilton outlined the current system by enumerating existing sources of revenue, provisions for funding the debt and its interest, and provisions for extinguishing the debt completely. In essence, the plan addressed the fears of the Republicans that the debt would become unmanageable in the future.

In the report, he reminds congress that the United States is still quite young, and needs to maintain its vitality and energy through the "invigorating principle" of credit:

"It is impossible for a Country to contend on equal terms, or to be secure against the enterprises of other nations without being able equally with them to avail itself of [credit]. And to a young Country with moderate pecuniary Capital and not a very various industry, it is still more necessary than to Countries, more advanced in both."

In addition to external benefits, Hamilton states that private credit is equally necessary in a developing country for people of all occupations to begin their endeavors: "lt is a matter of daily experience . . . One man wishes to take up and Cultivate a piece of land -- he purchases upon Credit, and in time pays the purchase money out of the produce of the soil improved by his labour." And so it is with trades people and mechanics, all can benefit equally from access to credit. Always cognizant of system, Hamilton ties together his program in its entirety, explaining that each part of his program is carefully crafted to work as a whole. "Credit is an intire thing. Every part of it has the nicest sympathy with every other part."

He adds a warning to those who would upset the delicate balance: "Wound one limb, and the whole Tree shrinks and decays. The security of each Creditor is inseparable from the security of all Creditors."

The Jay Treaty Controversy April - August 1795

Hamilton moved his family back to New York City and immediately began to rebuild his private law practice. Soon he was among the most sought-after attorneys in the city, taking on mostly complicated financial and commercial cases and retaining many large companies as clients. One of the cases he handled, LeGuen vs. Gouverneur and Kemble garnered the largest settlement in American legal history to that date. Hamilton won for Louis LeGuen, his client, a settlement of $120,000. Despite a steadily growing caseload, Hamilton's political career was far from over.

When the provisions of Jay's Treaty were made public in April of 1795, the public uproar was deafening. It seemed that Jay had not accomplished anything he had set out to do, and instead handed over what amounted to an affront to the national dignity. There were no provisions for compensation for wartime damages, illegal captures of ships and impressment of American sailors, or for the protracted Indian wars caused by the British occupation of the western posts. The British agreed to abandon the posts, but only after eighteen months. Especially insulting to the American people was a seventy ton limit on American ships trading in the British West Indies, effectively locking Americans out of the lucrative lumber trade.

Such was the public rage that Jay was burned in effigy, and Hamilton was pelted with stones when he tried to speak in favor of the treaty outside of City Hall in New York. Although the senate approved the treaty, Washington was hesitant to sign it, and asked Hamilton for his opinion. Hamilton responded with an article by article defense of the treaty. Consistent with his general philosophy of treaties, Hamilton pointed out that signing would be in the interest of the United States by preventing a war which would "give a serious wound to our growth and prosperity." The contested points aside, Jay's treaty "closes and upon the whole as reasonably as could have been expected the controverted points between the two Countries," and signing the treaty, Hamilton added, would not be contrary to the national honor.

Hamilton understood that the Jay Treaty was the best a new nation could expect from a world power, which was not obligated in the least to even consider its trading rights let alone treat with it like an equal. Hamilton's defense did not work its usual immediate magic: Washington thought on it for several weeks before signing the document and putting into effect what was essentially Hamilton's treaty.

George Washington -- Farewell Address May-September 1796

Having weathered two stormy terms in the presidential chair, George Washington looked forward to retirement much as the seasick view terra firma. Before he left, however, it was important to Washington to bestow some parting words on congress and the American people making it clear that he had no intention of running for another term. He had collaborated with James Madison on a draft "farewell address" at the end of his first term, prior to his decision to serve a second. Washington sent that draft to Hamilton, asking him to flesh it out. Eventually, Washington settled on a new draft penned by Hamilton, and together they worked it into a document which, in Hamilton's words, would be "importantly and lastingly useful . . . to embrace such reflections and sentiments as will wear well, progress in approbation with time, & redound to future reputation."

The address was a positive but cautionary appeal to the United States by "an old and affectionate friend" to remain united in the common cause of liberty. Hamilton's draft admonished the American people dedicate themselves to the union in spite of certain differences: "You have with slight shades of difference the same religion manners habits & political institutions & principles. You have in common cause fought and triumphed together." On an eerily prescient note, he warned against the "danger to be aprehended from founding our parties on Geographical discriminations." Another theme, close to both Hamilton's and Washington's hearts was the avoidance of foreign "intanglements," to have "as little political connection with them as possible," and to pursue the unique national course America's distance from Europe allows.

Washington edited and embellished Hamilton's draft, but kept the spirit intact. He delivered the address on September 19, 1796 when congress reconvened. It was the capstone of the Washington/Hamilton political collaboration, and the concluding statement on how their shared experiences evolved into a political system for the nation they had fought for and helped to solidify under the new constitution, and which they administered so capably in its first heady years of existence.

More trouble with France: the Quasi War 1798-1800

While Washington was thankfully packing himself off to Mt. Vernon, Hamilton's involvement with the government was far from over. He continued on as a back-door advisor to the Adams cabinet, mostly through the Secretary of War James McHenry, who regularly asked Hamilton for his advice on policy. McHenry submitted a recommendation, which unbeknown to Adams had been written by Hamilton, calling for a special mission to France which had become increasingly hostile since the passage of the Jay Treaty.

The special envoys, John Marshall, Elbridge Gerry, and Charles Pinckney, were dispatched; and once in Paris, were compelled to deal with secret agents identified by the letters X, Y, and Z, who made it known that negotiations could commence only after paying a hefty bribe. Adams, who flew into a seething rage when he heard of the indignities heaped on the American envoys, immediately recalled them, and made preparations for war.

During this time of near national hysteria, a series of controversial laws, the Alien and Sedition Acts, were passed by the Federalist congress in order to prevent subversive activities and disloyalty to the government. In short, the Alien Acts called for the deportation of "alien enemies" in time of war; and the Sedition Act included provisions to punish anyone who wrote or printed defamatory materials against the government. For obvious reasons, these acts were decried by the Republicans as tyrannical.

Hamilton was skeptical of the laws, and feared the outcome of enforcement: "Energy is a very different thing from violence." Despite the Republican outcry, Jefferson would shortly find the Sedition Act handy in his efforts to suppress criticism of his administration; and Hamilton would find himself battling Jefferson once again, leading the fight to defend the freedom of the press in the groundbreaking People vs Croswell case.

The Quasi-War was a roughly two-year period of severe friction between France and the United States during which war seemed inevitable. Internal frictions were rife as well. President Adams called Washington out of retirement to act as commander-in-chief for raising the forces requisite for the war with France. Washington wearily agreed, and when asked to name his officers, appointed Hamilton as Inspector General with a rank of major-general. The Adams administration was reluctant to give too many resources or too much power to the army while peace was still possible, thus hindering Hamilton's efforts to raise sufficient troops for his plans to fortify the borders of the United States.

The Quasi War with Adams 1789-1800

Meanwhile, Adams was nourishing a healthy dislike for Hamilton. It seemed that everywhere Adams turned, the Federalist party leader was behind the scenes undercutting his political ambitions. Hamilton, to whom Adams contemptuously referred as "his puppyhood," had maneuvered electoral votes in the 1789 election so that Adams would not accidentally become president over Washington, a position which Adams had felt himself equally deserving. In the election of 1796, knowing Adams' unpopularity and the need for a southern Federalist on the ticket, Hamilton had preferred Charles Pinckney as the party candidate. As votes were not at that time distinguished between presidential and vice presidential candidates, electors' votes had to be cast strategically to ensure that the right man got the top spot. Hamilton had directed Federalist electors to vote equally for Adams and the southerner, which could easily have derailed Adams' bid for the executive. Hamilton's strategy was not directly aimed against Adams at that point, but was calculated to win southern support for the Federalists, and to lessen Jefferson's chances for the presidency. Nevertheless, Adams deeply resented Hamilton's meddlings in his political career, and was equally incensed when, after the finally ascended to the presidency, Hamilton sent him unsolicited recommendations on foreign policy issues.

As inspector general, Hamilton found himself in a disappointingly familiar position having to plead and prod the government into providing for a neglected army: "Symptoms bordering on mutiny for the want of pay have been reported to me . . . And discontents less turbulent have been communicated from several other quarters."

Subsequent events soon ended the annoyance. In February of 1799, Adams abruptly decided to send a peace emissary to Paris, canceling out his earlier pledge not to send another minister to France after the indignities of the XYZ affair. Before the mission got underway, word of the overthrow of the Directory by Napoleon reached American shores. Hamilton, Pinckney, and other Federalists advised Adams to delay the mission until further reports of the situation in France were heard.

Adams, who had begun to suspect a "plot" involving Hamilton and his supporters to influence negotiations with France, dismissed McHenry in a rage, and resolved to send the peace envoy regardless of the opinions of other Federalists. Adams' decision dealt a blow to party unity -- the chief executive was now at odds with the rest of the Federalists. With the peace mission underway, the Quasi War with France diminished, soon thereafter, Adams ordered the army disbanded; and Hamilton resigned as inspector general in July of 1800.

People vs Croswell (February 1804)

When he ascended to the presidency, it was Thomas Jefferson's turn to feel the sting of printed venom. In 1803, rankled by attacks in Federalist newspapers, Jefferson decided to make use of the Sedition Act to "restore the integrity of the press." Toward that end, he wrote to Republican governors instructing them to initiate selective prosecutions of Federalist newspaper publishers who were printing anti-administration pieces.

Harry Croswell of Hudson New York, the publisher of a small paper called The Wasp, was one of Jefferson's victims. Croswell was indicted for seditious libel against president Thomas Jefferson after running a story reporting that Jefferson had paid newspaper publisher James Callender to run pieces hostile to the Washington administration. After a request to introduce the truth of the story as a defense was denied, Croswell was found guilty by the New York Court of General Sessions.

Croswell appealed to the New York Supreme Court, and enlisted the help of attorney extraordinaire Alexander Hamilton, who, overwhelmed with other cases, had been unable to take the Croswell case the first time around. Hamilton at first tried to chase down James Callender to appear as a witness for the defense, but Callender was found face down in a puddle, suspiciously dead.

People vs Croswell, considered among Hamilton's finest courtroom performances, played to a standing room only crowd. It was a precedent-setting case having the possibility of changing New York law to allow truth as a defense against libel charges. In a six-hour closing argument, Hamilton passionately defended the freedom of the press, likening the current trial to cases brought by the infamous British Star Chamber, which body was "cruel" and "tyrannical," and robbed the people of their liberty. Liberty of the press must be defended, Hamilton argued, when the truth is reported with good motives, regardless of the target.

After the trial the attorney for the prosecution, Ambrose Spencer, said of Hamilton: "In power of reasoning, Hamilton was the equal of Webster; and more than this can be said of no man." In spite of his stellar performance, however, Hamilton was not able to overturn the initial verdict. The defeat was extremely disappointing to him. Unfortunately, Hamilton did not live long enough to see his arguments revived and transformed into a law in 1805 permitting truth to be used as a defense in cases of libel. The law was further enshrined as an article in the New York state constitution sixteen years later.

Decline: The death of a cultivated reputation -- and an aegis

As Hamilton probably suspected -- and dreaded -- after the bleak winter night when he confessed his affair with Maria Reynolds to the trio of investigators, the whole thing came back to haunt him in July 1797. The affair reappeared in the form of a pamphlet entitled History of the United States for 1796, in which the author repeated James Reynolds' charges that Hamilton had skimmed funds from the Treasury to engage in joint speculative ventures.

It was a story that Hamilton could have easily and with dignity ignored, having left office after the most rigorous inquisitions into his conduct and coming out blameless. But Hamilton was not one to leave well enough alone. Always hyper-sensitive to charges of public corruption, Hamilton became frantic when he found out about the pamphlet. Equally troubling to him was the realization that one or more of the three congressmen who had initially confronted him with Reynolds' charges apparently broke their gentleman's agreement that they were satisfied with Hamilton's explanation and that his secret was safe. Hamilton requested and received statements from Venable and Muhlenberg that they had believed Hamilton's explanation of his dealings with Reynolds, but he was unable to get a satisfactory statement from James Monroe, indicating to Hamilton that Monroe had never believed him, and worse, had been the source of the leak. Infuriated, Hamilton goaded the future president until a duel seemed imminent. Monroe offered to issue a statement in defense of Hamilton's position, a lackluster one to be sure, but one which would certainly allay any doubts about Hamilton's official uprightness.

Obviously not satisfied with that, in a rash and blatantly foolish decision -- the reasoning behind which continues to mystify historians -- Hamilton published his own refutation: a 97 page pamphlet containing, among other things, a confession of his adulterous affair in embarrassing detail, complete with citations from letters from both James and Maria Reynolds.

So important was his public image, his need for a spotless official reputation, that Hamilton was willing to risk destroying his marriage and humiliating his colleagues by publicly admitting marital infidelity. Hamilton's actions baffled his friends, and caused more than a little concern about his mental stability. The general reaction of his friends was to shake their heads and hold their breath until the whole thing blew over. Hamilton himself seemed impervious to the consequences, going about his business as if nothing had happened; but he never completely regained his standing and respect afterwards. His enemies found unlimited opportunity for ridicule, and the Republican press was still making jokes about "Mrs. Reynolds' gallant" in 1804.

What Elizabeth thought is anyone's guess--she destroyed all her correspondence following her husband's death, and so is silent to history. For Hamilton, who had been harboring the possibility of such a disclosure, not to mention the attendant guilt, for the previous four years, the Reynolds pamphlet was probably both a necessary release, and an assurance that the affair could never again be used against him.

The Death of Washington December 14, 1799

Perhaps most symbolic of the disappointments and decline Alexander Hamilton would face in the new century was the death of George Washington on December 14, 1799. More than anyone else, George Washington understood Hamilton's unique abilities, and put him in situations where his talents could be developed and used. Landed aristocrat though he was, Washington never allowed prejudice to cloud his confidence or his trust in the brilliant West Indian. Hamilton repaid by reserving his best efforts for Washington, and the President was well aware of the fact, as he wrote to Hamilton when he resigned from the Treasury:

"In every relation, which you have borne to me, I have found that my confidence in your talents, exertions and integrity, has been well placed. I the more freely render this testimony of my approbation because I speak from opportunities of information w[hi]ch cannot deceive me, and which furnish satisfactory proof of your title to public regard."

In Hamilton's eyes, no higher tribute could be bestowed upon him. Washington had enabled him to shine, and now that Washington's sun had set, Hamilton found himself facing the twilight. "He was an Aegis very essential to me," Hamilton lamented.

Indeed, his protector was gone, and Hamilton was a leader now -- of a frayed political party which he would shortly tear asunder.

Identity and Honor: Republicans ascendant

In spite of his own personal turmoil, Hamilton spent his final years ever more obsessed with keeping the nation he had helped to build in the hands of the right men -- men of character, trustworthy men who would not send the nation into ruin. Such was his personal identification with the administration that even the slightest changes in his policies pushed him close to the emotional edge. As the senate debated Hamilton's recommendations for paying the unsubscribed debt in 1795, Hamilton wrote to his congressional supporters of being "tortured." "Every moment's reflection increases my chagrin and disgust," he wrote to one friend; to another, he called the senate's rejection of his policy an "unnecessary capricious & abominable assassination of the National honor," that "haunts me every step I take, and afflicts me more than I can express."

Hamilton's reluctance to relinquish control emotionally to the government mirrored his inability to separate the national honor from his own. In many ways it can be said that the honor of the United States was all Hamilton possessed in terms of identity. He had no family identity he wished to claim, and so built one around his work and accomplishments. Throughout the war and during the post-war struggles, Hamilton had frequently admitted to personal mortification at the country's stumblings and failures. The creation of the great nation and the great statesman were tandem and tightly connected events. Despite the fact that his political dealings yielded him no personal satisfaction, and only entrenched him a world of unhappiness from which he regularly pledged to escape, Hamilton could not extricate himself from his party dealings. To Hamilton, "assassination of the National honor," the breakdown of the Federalist system, was synonymous with his own assassination. He needed to save the nation from destruction in order to save himself from a similar fate.

As the leader of the Federalists during the election season of 1800, Hamilton headed a party in crisis. Aaron Burr, the leader of the Republicans in New York, managed to organize a party majority in that state's congressional elections. Hamilton feared that this turn of events would bring his nemesis Jefferson to the presidency.

In addition to his committed stance against a Jefferson presidency, Hamilton was just as opposed to a second Adams term. Adams had made Hamilton's job as inspector general after the death of Washington almost impossible, and the president, who had never made a secret of his hatred for Hamilton, was becoming increasingly outspoken about it. The final straw for Hamilton was most likely when James McHenry sent him a report on a meeting at which Adams had called him a foreigner and a bastard. Indeed, Adams, in addition to perpetuating the myth that Hamilton was the head of a "British faction," made generous use of cruel epithets to belittle him: "Creole bastard," "bastard brat of a Scotch peddlar," were two he was known to have used. Such dredgings of his past -- a past he was not responsible for, and which he felt he had redeemed himself -- stung Hamilton deeply. Never one to let an insult go by unrevenged, Hamilton resolved to destroy the career of John Adams.

Hamilton revived his proposal from the previous election: that Federalist electors vote equally for Pinckney and Adams. If the tie he expected ensued, Hamilton planned to use his influence in the House to garner the presidency for Pinckney. To ensure Federalist opposition to Adams, Hamilton engaged in some creative character assassination by issuing a confidential circular entitled "Letter from Alexander Hamilton concerning the Public Conduct and Character of John Adams, Esq.," which contained an unbridled, vitriolic attack on the character and political shortcomings of the president. As many so-called confidential opinions of the time, Hamilton's circular was publicized, and despite the fact that most Federalists were disillusioned with Adams' leadership, they found the attack outrageous and disruptive, and Hamilton's position within the Federalist party was weakened considerably as a result.

The Republicans were as delighted by the circular as the Federalists were disturbed. The furor weakened the Federalists and gave the Republicans enough fuel to win the election. The vote ended in a tie between Jefferson and Burr. Undaunted by his pariah status, Hamilton began advocating Jefferson for the presidency, despite the fact that the Federalist party as a whole preferred Burr. Hamilton had never trusted the enigmatic and politically malleable Burr, and employed his waning influence in an attempt to prevent Burr from ascending to the top office in the nation.

To this end Hamilton began a scorching campaign against Burr. "Burr," he wrote Gouverneur Morris, "has no principle public or private . . . will listen to no monitor but his ambition." Hamilton painted Burr as a nefarious schemer and warmonger. Such was Hamilton's aversion to Burr that, should his party elect him, "I shall be obliged to consider myself an isolated man. It will be impossible for me to reconcile with my notions of honor or policy . . ." The House Federalists balked at voting for Jefferson, but, miraculously, Hamilton managed to convince a few to cast blank ballots. Jefferson, then, won the election.

Anguish November 1801

Following the Jefferson/Burr election, Hamilton turned away from politics momentarily to concentrate on plans for the country house he was having built in upper Manhattan. He decided to name it "the Grange" after the Hamilton family estate in Scotland. Although it was Hamilton's dream to settle his family away from the mean streets of the city, he found out that he could not shield them from the backlash of his political activities.

On November 20, 1801, Hamilton's eldest son, nineteen year-old Philip, was challenged to a duel by a Republican orator, George I. Eacker, following a heated argument at a theater. Philip accepted the challenge, and the event was held at the popular destination for duelers, Weehawken, New Jersey, where dueling was still legal. Philip was mortally wounded, and, after he was brought back to New York, suffered for hours while his frantic parents looked on, helpless, until he died. Hamilton fainted his way to his son's grave, and, according to his friends, the grief and horror of the event was permanently etched into his face thereafter.

That Hamilton blamed himself for his son's death there can be no doubt, because it is equally doubtless that Philip fell defending his father's honor on the dueling ground. Hamilton was inconsolable following Philip's death; and to add to his guilt and anguish, the Hamiltons' oldest daughter, 17 year old Angelica, with whom Philip had been inseparable, descended irretrievably into madness after hearing of her brother's death. Hamilton lost, in the name of Federalist politics, both the son on whom he had showered the fatherly attention and affection he had been denied, and the daughter he called his Angel. Had Hamilton not counted the cost of partisan politics prior to these events, it might have benefited him to do so after. But perhaps he did count the cost, after all.

The Last Campaign 1804

Hamilton began his anti-Burr activities anew in 1804 when Burr returned to New York to run in the gubernatorial elections. Again, the Federalists preferred Burr, who had fallen out of Jefferson's favor, and who had been unceremoniously dumped by the Republicans as a nominee for the next presidential election. Again, Hamilton supported his Republican rival, John Lansing (and later Morgan Lewis when Lansing bowed out), and because of his stance, was all but ostracized by his own party. Even his own newspaper, the New York Evening Post, criticized Hamilton's break from the party mainstream.

Especially disturbing to Hamilton was Burr's association with the Federalist secessionist movement, centered in New England, which bitterly opposed the Louisiana Purchase as a plot to spread slavery and broaden southern political influence. Hamilton was supportive of the Louisiana Purchase for reasons of his own expansionist philosophy, and because the acquisition would eliminate the possibility of costly border wars with the French. He also received no little satisfaction when Jefferson employed his implied powers doctrine to justify the purchase on constitutional grounds.

Northern secession was unthinkable to Hamilton, who had dedicated his political career to creating and strengthening the union. Should Burr ascend to the governer's seat in New York, Hamilton feared that he would use his popularity and the power of that position to lead the secession with a view to becoming the "chief of the Northern portion." Hamilton's last communications with party members were emotional pleas to stop the secessionist movement. Four days before the duel, Hamilton confronted John Trumbull, a New England Federalist with quite possibly his final appeal to the party he founded:

"You are going to Boston. You will see the principal men there. Tell them from me, at my request, for God's sake, to cease these conversations and threatenings about a separation of the Union. It must hang together as long as it can be made to."

Hamilton and Burr: Infinite Shades of Ambition

The Hamilton/Burr rivalry is one of the most famous in American politics, and certainly their duel is the most notorious in history. But what set them on their ultimately fatal collision course? Despite the remarkable parallels in their careers which might normally have attracted them as friends, Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr were at odds almost from the outset.

A year younger than Hamilton, Aaron Burr (1756-1836) was, unlike his rival, born of a respected family, and raised a natural aristocrat. His father was president of Princeton University, where Burr was educated, and his grandfather was the famous fire and brimstone minister Jonathan Edwards. Burr joined the revolutionary army and served as aide-de-camp to one of Washington's rival Generals, Israel Putnam. Resentful of the commander-in-chief for what he considered a belated increase in rank, Burr supported General Horatio Gates in his attempt to oust Washington as commander of the Continental army. There was already no love lost between Washington and Burr, as the latter had sent an openly contemptuous letter to the General regarding his rank in 1777. As Hamilton was Washington's closest aide at the time, it is likely that he was privy to the letter and clued in to Washington's dislike of the young Colonel from the northern army. Since Hamilton was staunchly loyal to the chief, and deeply resented the members of the Gates faction, this was probably Hamilton's first black stroke against Colonel Aaron Burr.

Following the war, both Hamilton and Burr had thriving law practices in New York City, and both were rising stars at the bar. Both were attractive, dynamic individuals who had high-profile careers by day, and were drawing room fixtures by night. Their singularly magnetic personalities would garner each loyal friends and passionate enemies. The differences of the war years seemingly forgotten, Hamilton professed a high opinion of Burr in the mid-1780s, but his doubts would resurface during the fight for ratification of the constitution. Hamilton was later to say that Burr had been "equivocal" on the matter of the new constitution. At a time of passionate debate, when all political beings jumped into the ring to defend their positions, Burr did not commit himself to either side, at least openly. Burr was to remain ambivalent throughout his political career; and that aspect of his personality was puzzling to most, intriguing to some, but it was downright maddening to Hamilton.

Hamilton was one of the few politicians of his day who was an open book. He explained himself to Robert Troupe in 1795: " has been the rule of my life to do nothing for my own emolument under cover. ...I know it is pride. But this pride makes it part of my plan to appear truly what I am." Hamilton hid behind no mask. Burr, on the other hand, was Hamilton's photo negative in that regard. So circumspect was he about his political opinions that to this day one has difficulty pinning down his convictions from his writings or utterances. Burr's silence about his principles indicated to Hamilton that he had none. Hence Hamilton's support of Jefferson over the more Federalist-friendly and easily manipulated Burr: Hamilton at least knew where Jefferson stood. In Hamilton's view, no more dangerous a person could be found for the presidency than Aaron Burr.

Their political rivalry began in early 1791. Burr had ousted Philip Schuyler from his senate seat after agreeing to run as a candidate sponsored by the Schuyler's dynastic rivals, the anti-Federalist Clinton/Livingston faction. This was a blow to Hamilton -- and not a little humiliating on the family front -- who thought that his political influence would ensure his father-in-law's victory. It was a surprise as well because Burr was up until that time considered sympathetic to the Federalists, and was one of the many protean moves Burr would pull which would aggravate Hamilton's suspicions.

What was more, Hamilton received ominous warnings from Robert Troupe in New York that Burr was part of a conspiracy to topple the Secretary of the Treasury and the government. Immediately after the senate elections, Troupe wrote:

"Burr succeeded by a decided majority. ...We are going headlong into the bitterest opposition to the Genl Government. I pity you Most sincerely . . . Delenda est carthago is the maxim applied to your administration."

Five months later, Troupe repeated his warning:

"There was every appearance of a pas[s]ionate courtship between [Livingston], Burr, Jefferson & Madison when the two latter were in Town. Delenda est Carthago I suppose is the Maxim adopted with respect to you. They had better be quiet, for if they suc[c]eed they will tumble the fabric of the government in ruins to the ground."

Hamilton, who was at that time embattled over the bank controversy, was most likely deeply unsettled by Troupe's reports of a total war being planned against him. Burr was opposing Hamilton on two fronts: locally, as an agent of the Clinton/Livingston faction; and nationally as a cohort of the Virginia opposition. Thereafter, Hamilton likely considered Burr his most dangerous enemy.

Their antagonism intensified over the years: Burr regularly supported Clinton in the gubernatorial elections, and suspected that Hamilton blocked his bid to become minister to France in 1794. Hamilton bested Burr in 1797 by finally installing his father-in-law in Burr's senate seat, and, of course, thwarting his bid for the presidency in 1800, and his run for governor of New York in 1804. Burr supposedly had a hand in publicizing Hamilton's attack on Adams in 1800. Yet, as all of these events were happening on the political front, the two collaborated in business ventures, co-counseled legal cases, and maintained a cordial social relationship. The road to Weehawken was a twisted one indeed.

In the end, the Hamilton/Burr duel was more of a sad event than an explosive one. It was the denouement of two political careers already ruined by self-generated scandal. Burr, whose ambitions had been squelched more by his political vacillations than the brickbats of a Federalist has-been, found Hamilton as good a target for his repressed anger as anyone. Hamilton had been spiraling downward for some time, and was quite painfully aware of the fact. Hamilton met Burr's challenge with a puzzling resignation and the intention of holding his fire. Did Hamilton, as some have postulated, voluntarily sacrifice himself knowing that his death on the dueling ground would completely destroy Burr, and with him all of his schemes? Or was Hamilton simply taking advantage of an easy way out -- the "blaze of glory" he had pined for so many years ago? Whatever his temporal goal, what we do know is that Hamilton went to his interview determined that if anyone fell at Weehawken, it was not going to be Aaron Burr.

The Duel July 11, 1804

During the course of the 1804 election season Hamilton had regularly and flagrantly vilified Burr in speeches, some of which were attended by Burr's agents who reported back on their contents. Hamilton covered much the same ground repeatedly: that Burr was an unprincipled schemer, and would, if given the opportunity and power, tear the nation apart. One of Hamilton's talks in particular, given at a private dinner, was attended by a Burr supporter whose synopsis made its way into print. Burr took particular notice of the writer's inflammatory claim that Hamilton had expressed certain "despicable" opinions of him, and that the writer "could detail . . . a still more despicable opinion" that Hamilton had uttered.

Burr, who at the time of the disclosure had been defeated by Hamilton's candidate in the gubernatorial election, wrote an ominous letter to Hamilton demanding an explanation of the "still more despicable opinion." Hamilton was evasive in his reply: ". . . that I have expressed some other still more despicable; without however mentioning to whom, when or where . . . admits of infinite shades . . ." The letters flew back and forth. Soon, "seconds" took over messenger duties -- preliminary steps in the code duello to an eventual interview. Hamilton parried to Burr's thrusts; while Burr demanded an admission that the thing had been said, Hamilton continually pointed to the vagueness of the reporter's assertions, and indignantly objected to Burr's hostile approach. Neither Hamilton nor Burr revealed the nature of the "more despicable opinion;" but both apparently knew to what it referred; and it seems that they will be the only ones who will ever know for sure despite some interesting guesses by historians. Or perhaps neither knew what it was. Hamilton had already covered the spectrum of despicable in his anti-Burr harangues of the past four years, and Burr had found no reason to challenge him. Could the "more despicable opinion" have been the invention of a particularly clever and cruel baiter for whom Burr and Hamilton, both at that point unstable, operating at the very edge of severely frayed nerves, made an easy catch?

Ultimately, Hamilton acquiesced to Burr's demands for satisfaction. It was impossible for him to avoid the duel, he wrote in a summary statement, because "it is not to be denied, that my animadversions on the political principles character and views of Col Burr have been extremely severe . . ." Hamilton added, however, that his statements were not made on "light grounds, or from unworthy inducements." Some of the things he said, admitted Hamilton, might have contained misinformation, but, "It is also my ardent wish that I may have been more mistaken than I think I have been, and that [Burr] by his future conduct may shew himself worthy of all confidence and esteem, and prove an ornament and blessing to his Country."

One can imagine that a grim smile flickered across Hamilton's face as he wrote those last words.

Hamilton busily went about getting his affairs into order, preparing a concise statement on his financial situation, making apologies for his debts while taking solace in the fact that "in all the pecuniary concerns the delicacy, no less than the probity of my conduct in public stations, has been such as to defy even the shadow of a question."

To Elizabeth, he wrote:

"If it had been possible for me to have avoided the interview, my love for you and my precious children would have been alone a decisive motive. But it was not possible, without sacrifices which would have rendered me unworthy of your esteem.
...Adieu best of wives and best of Women."

What comfort Elizabeth Hamilton might have derived from that statement must have been cold indeed.

Burr received satisfaction at Weehawken on July 11, 1804, when he mortally wounded Hamilton on the first shot. Still alive, but paralyzed from the waist down, Hamilton was brought to the home of a friend where he slowly died from internal bleeding, much like Philip had two and a half years earlier. He breathed his last at two o'clock in the afternoon on July 12.

Alexander Hamilton left behind him Elizabeth, their seven children, and a mountain of debts. After all the accusations that he had taken advantage of his own policies for personal profit, Hamilton was close to broke when he died. For propriety's sake, he refused to enrich himself; for propriety's sake, he refused to accept the army pension to which he was unquestionably entitled; for propriety's sake, he regularly undercharged his legal clients. When he could have amassed a fortune he resolved not to, preferring instead to leave a blameless public record:

"Because there must be some public fools who sacrifice private to public interest at the certainty of ingratitude and obloquy--because my vanity whispers I ought to be one of those fools and ought to keep myself in a situation the best calculated to render service -- because I don't want to be rich and if I cannot live in splendor in Town . . . I can at least live in comfort in the country and I am content to do so."

Had contentedness been possible for Hamilton, he probably would have found it in retirement at the Grange surrounded by his family. Ever restless, ever disappointed, he grasped onto the most available means to secure his honor, and find a respite from his struggle.

Some concluding thoughts

The outpouring of public grief at the news of Hamilton's death was immense. Weeping masses crowded the front yard of the house in which he died. A pall fell over the whole city as it forgot Hamilton's errant ways and mourned the loss of an esteemed and beloved citizen. Messages of condolence arrived from all over the country and all over Europe. Hamilton was given a funeral with full military honors, and the greater part of the city turned out to pay their sorrowful respects. Foreign ships docked in the harbor lowered their standards and dressed in mourning.

In the course of his career, Hamilton had been many things to many people, but what mattered most to him, and to history, was what he had been to the United States: The gadfly for a stronger government, the passionate supporter and judicious expounder of the new constitution, the builder of the national infrastructure under that new constitution. While in office, Hamilton understood that his mission stretched far beyond simply paying the war debt. He created a system which would propel an underdeveloped country to predominance on the world stage in an unprecedented and startlingly short period of time. His legacy was national credit and credibility. As an intellectual exercise the Hamiltonian system was formidable; its actualization -- getting legislation passed, coordinating and administering the work of hundreds of employees and agents all over the country, monitoring the flow of revenues and expenditures, and the sheer competency of its execution -- was nearly a superhuman feat. Through his immense foresight and administrative genius Hamilton achieved what he had envisioned almost from the time he stepped onto American soil.

And yet, while the country lamented the architect of their national honor, Gouverneur Morris, who was to deliver his friend's eulogy, mused to himself in his diary about the difficulties in painting an honorable portrait of the statesman:

"The first Point of his Biography is that he was a Stranger of illegitimate Birth. Some mode must be contrived to pass over this handsomely."

And therein lies the contradiction. Hamilton was never allowed to rise above the suspicion and contempt, however concealed, that his origins fostered in his adopted country. His efforts on behalf of the United States, in many ways to him a personal vindication, perhaps even a bid at redemption, he ultimately saw as a failure, as he revealed in a letter to Morris in February of 1802:

"Mine is an odd destiny. Perhaps no man has sacrificed or done more for the present constitution than myself... Yet I have the murmurs of its friends no less than the curses of its foes for my reward. What can I do better than withdraw from the Scene? Every day proves to me more and more that this American world was not made for me."

It is a seemingly incongruous statement by one who helped make America.

When Alexander Hamilton chose to withdraw from the scene, his system was still essentially intact. President Jefferson, in whose America he felt even more a stranger, was committed to promoting commerce as essential to national prosperity, and did not shy away from making use of Hamiltonian policies. Had Hamilton been able to view things more clearly, perhaps he would have understood the enduring nature of his work after all.

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