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States: General History and Description >> Revolution to Civil War, 1775/1783-1861 >> Individual Biography, A-Z
co-author of The Federalist and first Secretary of the Treasury
Alexander Hamilton was born on the island of Nevis in the British West Indies, on January 11, 1755/57 (evidence exists to support both years as the year of his birth). He came to the American mainland in 1772 to finish his education, studying at a grammar school in Elizabethtown, New Jersey, and then King's College (now Columbia University).
Prior to the Revolutionary War, Hamilton anonymously published two pamphlets supporting the revolutionary cause. During the war he fought in the Long Island and New Jersey campaigns of 1776 and 1777, and became secretary to General George Washington in March 1777.
After the war, Hamilton was admitted to law practice after only three months of intensive study. He represented New York in Congress in 1782 and 1783, and was a delegate to the Annapolis Convention of September 1786. It was Hamilton who drew up the proposal calling for a convention of the states to draw up a Constitution, and he was a strong advocate for a strong national government in the subsequent Constitutional Convention of 1787. His papers supporting the Constitution, published in The Federalist, and his speeches in the New York convention, were strong influences in getting the Constitution adopted.
President George Washington chose Hamilton as the first Secretary of the Treasury, a position he held from 1789 to 1795. In that capacity Hamilton persuaded Congress to pay at full face value all public debts incurred during the Revolutionary War, including those by Congress and by individual states. Under his guidance a system of taxes and duties on imports was created to provide money to pay the debts and to run the government. To help the government's operations and American business, Hamilton proposed a bank supported by the federal government. Although he met with stiff opposition, especially from Thomas Jefferson, who believed such a bank to be unconstitutional, Hamilton convinced Congress of the needs and merits of a national bank, and the first Bank of the United States was established in 1789. The first political parties in the United States -- the Federalist and the Democratic-Republican -- grew out of the dispute over the bank.
Hamilton retired from government in January 1795, but his influence never waned. He helped George Washington write his Farewell Address, and headed a wing of the Federalist Party that opposed some of President John Adams' policies.
In 1804, a long-simmering political dispute with Aaron Burr, then Vice-President, came to a boil. Burr challenged Hamilton to a duel, and the two men met at Weehawken, New Jersey, on July 11. Hamilton was wounded in the duel, and died the next day.
This page was last updated on January 10, 2017.