Today, July 12, marks the death anniversary of one of our greatest Founding Fathers- Alexander Hamilton also known as Publius stemming from the duel with hated rival Aaron Burr. Alexander Hamilton played an integral role in our nation’s founding. He is an American icon and his legacy should be cherished for all the great things he did for the founding of our nation.
He was born in the Caribbean island of Nevia. He had a difficult upbringing as his mother had him with his father while technically being married to another man. His mother’s marriage was one that was steeped in confrontation as her husband had treated her very poorly, spending her fortune and imprisoning her for alleged but unfounded revelations of adultery. From the onset, her mother was the driving factor behind the marriage as the husband had presented himself in a deceiving manner. When she had the chance to escape, she did and met Alexander Hamilton’s father, James Hamilton. In addition to Alexander, she also had another son before him, named James Jr. At a young age, however, Hamilton’s father departed and his mother was left to care for him and his brother. She worked very hard to raise them with working a small business, but sadly succumbed to an illness two years after his father’s departure. The young Alexander Hamilton then took up work in a trading company where he was able to showcase his intellect and learn invaluable business skills that he would later use when being at the forefront of establishing our nation’s economic system. He left a strong impression on his employers and had a promising future ahead. In the Caribbean, the slave trade was active and the young Hamilton was a witness to the several atrocities it entailed with dehumanizing Africans that were imported. This left such a strong impression on him, he would later find himself as one of the Founding Fathers more open about his abolitionist leanings.
When a hurricane hit the island, he penned a letter to his estranged father that got the attention of the locals and was showcased in the local publication. He wrote so well, that he continued to gain support from several people on the island for his description of the hurricane. Many saw in him a bright future and helped him organize funds to study in America. It was believed that after he received his education, he would return and bring back his knowledge. During his time of study at King’s College in New York (what is now Columbia University), he continued writing on issues as the colonies were preparing for revolution. He eventually fought for the colonies when the war began and began to rise up the ranks, to eventually being one of George Washington’s most loyal military leaders.
After the war was over, he continued his studies and eventually was admitted to the New York bar and practiced for a time as an attorney. From his impressive connections he made during the Revolution with Washington among other Founding Fathers, he was tasked with helping to organize plans for the new government to be formed. He was a part of the Constitution ratification process. Among his notable contributions was his work as being one of the “Publius” writers for the Federalist Papers which defended the principles of the Constitution and provided a new vision for this new government.
The mission of our blog is found in Federalist 78 when he eloquently articulated the role of the judiciary. It is a timeless message:
“It may truly be said to have neither FORCE nor WILL, but merely judgment.”
When looking closely at Hamilton’s words here, we can contemplate that the tendency to exert “force” or “will” often occurs when judges move away from the Constitution and create their own biases on what the law should be rather than what the law is. By working within the Constitution and its boundaries judgment rather than will is exercised under an objective standard which is what Hamilton and the framers intended.
This is not the entirety of Hamilton’s contributions; however, he was also named George Washington’s First Secretary of the Treasury. He was responsible for helping create our economic and early banking system. The First Bank of the U.S. was established and created the early foundations for a stable economic and banking system. There were rivalries with other framers, however, as to the direction of the country. For example, Thomas Jefferson wanted more power given to state governments and a very weak federal government. Hamilton wanted a stronger federal government and sought a balance with manufacturing and industry rather than an agricultural concentration that Jefferson envisioned. While allowing the states to maintain their liberties and power was important, at this early stage there also needed to be a centralized federal government to help ensure the stability of the nation. This would allow the nation to collect revenue and maintain a solid national defense force.
On a more local note, Alexander Hamilton is buried at Trinity Church in downtown Manhattan. Tourists flock there often to pay respect to one of our greatest Founding Fathers. He also was instrumental in recognizing the advantage of the Great Falls in Paterson, New Jersey as providing a great advantage in developing industry. Textile mills and the cotton industry would soon begin to develop there. It is a National Historic Park and is a reminder of his great legacy.
Overall, the foresight of Hamilton was unparalleled. He was a brilliant intellectual and Founding Father. During the adversity of his early years, he certainly developed the skills to become one of the great American icons. This included working in the trading company to develop his economic skills and his love of books as a youth that helped make him a great writer and intellectual. He also dealt with tragedy that helped him forge the strength to persevere through the rigors of the Revolution. Hamilton embodied the mission that every American should hold dear today. No matter your origins, if you work hard you can make it here in some way, some form.
We owe Alexander Hamilton a debt of gratitude and encourage more Americans to be educated on his great legacy. He is more than just a figure on the $10 bill, he played a leading role in developing the system to provide us that $10 bill.
Let us not exile Publius, but rather celebrate his legacy and contributions to the nation we hold dear today………