What You Should Know About Alexander Hamilton

28 05 2012

I am an admitted history geek.  I have also loved studying the past, but only after becoming a homeschooling mom, did I realize how insufficient my knowledge of historical events was – in particular the story of our country.  I am embarrassed to admit how little I knew.  My kiddos and I have just finished studying the events of the Revolution, and in the midst I that I have read Washington, A Life and Alexander Hamilton both by Ron Chernow.  They have helped open my eyes to a lot of things, but most notably what I didn’t know about the life of Alexander Hamilton.  And I’m guessing many others are in the same boat as me….

Here’s what I knew about A.H. before reading these books:

  • Alexander Hamilton was killed in a duel with Aaron Burr (didn’t even realize Burr was VP at the time.)
  • He was a co-author of the Federalist Papers.
  • He is on the $10 bill.

Yup, that’s it.  Any other tidbits were lost or never emphasized.  So here is a list of things that you should know about Alexander Hamilton, but probably don’t.

  • He was born in the West Indies – his parents were not married to one another and he grew up in poverty.
  • He came to the US in his teens under patronage and studied at Kings College (now Columbia).
  • He was a soldier in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War achieving the rank of Colonial.  He served as aide de camp for Washington, basically running his staff, and led the charge of redoubt #9 during the siege of Yorktown.
  • He was close friends with Lafayette.
  • After the war, he got his law degree in about 18 months and begin practicing in NY.  He had married Elizabeth Shuyler and they started their family.  He also served in the Continental Congress that prepared and signed the Constitution.
  • Wrote the Federalist Papers with John Jay and James Madison encouraging states to ratify the Constitution.
  • After Washington was named President, Hamilton became the first Treasury Secretary and is basically “The Father of our Financial Systems and Government.”  He believed in a strong executive branch and was instrumental is helping Washington to define the role of President.
  • Despite claims of corruption, Hamilton was cleared of all charges.  He even insisted that Congress go through all papers and records to make sure his political record was clean.
  • Was a founder of the now defunct Federalist Party.
  • He wrote hundreds of newspaper columns and pamphlets supporting his political views.
  • He was part of the legal community that first explored the idea of libel law due to the many slanders in the newspapers at the time.
  • In New York City, the public outpouring of grief upon his death was almost greater than that of Washington.

We owe a lot of what our country is today to him.  But it wasn’t all sunshine and roses for him, he was deeply flawed like the rest of us, and had his many imperfections.

  • He had an affair with a married woman (Maria Reynolds) and was later blackmailed by her husband – it was from this extortion that “corruption” charges arose.
  • He fought with Jefferson, Madison, and Adams.  All who had come to despise him by the end of his life.
  • He sometimes was a little more verbose than necessary especially when it came to matters of his own reputation.
  • He did make several errs in judgement and lost the favor of the Federalist Party by the end of his life.

Hamilton is a complex character – educated (despite his upbringing), passionate and extremely intelligent.  We owe much of we have today to him and his mind and persistence.  Am I saying that you should read Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow?  If you love history, and exploring the truth than by all means read it!  I will warn that it is a challenging read.  Chernow leaves no stone unturned and the life of Hamilton is rich with details and happenings.  I am unsure of how he managed to accomplish so much in such a short life time.  If nothing else, explore him on your own, discover the truths.  You won’t be disappointed.  The truth will set you free.

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