was an aide to Washington
during the Revolutionary War
, the main author of the Federalist papers
, and a chief proponent of a strong federal government
in the newly established United States
Hamilton was born January 11, 1755 in Nevis, British West Indies. His father abandoned the family in 1765 and at age eleven Hamilton went to work in a countinghouse owned by two New York merchants who had recently set up shop in St. Croix. When his mother died three years later his mother's relatives took custody of him and by 1772 he had become the manager of the countinghouse. Friends of the family sent him to a preparatory school in New Jersey and in 1773 he entered King's College (now known as Columbia University). He became a serious and intensly driven student, but his studies were interrupted by the brewing revolution. In 1774-75 he anonymously authored three anti-British pamphlets. One of these pamphlets was assumed to be written by John Adams and John Jay, which showed Hamilton's prowess as a propagandist.
In a letter to a friend in 1769, Hamilton said "I wish there was a war." His wish came true when armed fighting broke out at Lexington and Concord in April of 1775. After some vigorous study of the science of artillery, Hamilton responded to a call for recruits, and was appointed Captain of the Provincial Company of Artillery. Hamilton was a strict leader, but at the same time he wanted the best for them, fighting with the New York Assembly in an attempt to obtain supplies and decent pay for his men, and he even spent all of his savings on uniforms for his men. Hamilton and the New York artillery company impressed many officers in the Continental Army, including Henry Knox, the Continental Army artillery commander. Washington and Hamilton fought along side eachother at Long Island in 1776, and later took part in the Delaware River crossing to fight the battle of Trenton, which was an amazing success. While with Hamilton in 1776, Washington realized that he would make a fine officer. Washington offered Hamilton the position of aide-de-camp along with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. According to Washington, the primary qualifications of this position were to "think for me, as well as execute orders." Washington believed that Hamilton was the man for the job. Hamilton had already turned down similar offers from Nathaniel Greene and Henry Knox, preferring the relative independence of his own command, but he could not refuse such a generous offer from the commander-in-chief of the Continental forces. Hamilton started work at the headquarters in 1777.
On September 18, 1777 Hamilton led a small rebel force to destroy a flour warehouse before the advancing British troops could capture it. His horse was killed when British scouts opened fire on his party and he had the swim across the Schuylkill river to avoid being captured or killed. He quickly sent out a letter advising the Continental Congress to abandon the capitol, which the promptly did.
Unoposed, the British entered Philadelphia on September 26, 1777. Washington's army was again defeated at Germantown in October. During the month of October, General Horatio Gates accepted the surrender of General Burgoyne's entire army at Saratoga, which was an amazing victory for the Americans. Many people believed that Gates should take over Washington's post as Commander-In-Chief. Washington was in need of Gates' assistance to defend Philadelphia, and Washington sent Hamilton to meet with Gates. Gates attempted to swindle Washington by sending his most ill-prepared brigade, but Hamilton, being wise beyond his years, noticed what Gates was attempting to do and firmly demanded that General Gates supply Washington with a better brigade.
Hamilton's experience at Valley Forge during the Winter of 1777-1778 definetly shaped his political views. While Washington's men went cold and hungry, the only aide that congress supplied was the advice to scavenge the countryside for whatever they needed. Hamilton came the conclusion that the Continental Congress was spending too much time thinking about sate interests to function efficiently, and Hamilton realized that the solution to this problem was a strong central government. He also thought that the ineptitude of the government in dealing with monetary matters would make the entire country look bad, and an undesirable partner in an alliance. He feared that France, who the United States was currently negotiating a treaty with, would view the country as a waste of military resources. Hamilton began to formulate his plan of an ideal central government, which he felt was necessary for the survival of the new nation.
The United States was very optimisic about the war effort in the beginning of 1778, and rightfully so. France now recognized them as an independent nation, and promised military support. This was good for Hamilton, who was fluent in French, a talent he acquired from his mother at an early age. Washington appointed him official interpreter between himself and Admiral D'Estaing as the Franco-American campaign was planned.
Baron von Steuben came on to the Revolutionary War scene during Washington's army's wintering at Valley Forge. Even though they were tired, cold and hungry, von Steuben managed to inspire him with his cunning wit, and get them into shape for the coming summer campaign. Von Steuben spoke no English, but instead communicated in French to Hamilton, who then translated it to the troops. Von Steuben and Hamilton remained good friends throughout the war.
Hamilton came under personal attack in the summer of 1779. A rumor was spread that he was raising a force to oust congress and make Washington the king of the United States. His colleagues generally disregarded these rumors, because they seemed completely out of character for Hamilton, who had consistently expressed his desire for congress of have more power, not less. Hamilton investigated the source of these rumors, and eventually discovered that a troublemaking Boston clergyman was the originator. Hamilton and this clergyman exchanged angry letters, but eventually the matter was forgotten. This rumor had a devestating mental toll on Hamilton.
The reason for these attacks on Hamilton were quite apparent. Hamilton bascially came out of no where to become Washington's right hand man. He was a dashing, brilliant man who won the respect of everyone who met him. Even the mighty Jefferson was amazed by Hamilton's intensity and intellect. Those who did not like Hamilton were usually jealous of his sucess. Congress saw him as a shady figure with influence over Washington. They also distrusted him because he did not come from a respected American family, nor was he American by birth.
Hamilton fell in love with and married Elizabeth Schuyler in 1780. The Schuylers were a prominent aristocratic Dutch family from New York, and Hamilton knew Elizabeth's father, Major General Philip Schuyler, who although Hamilton had no possesions to bring to the family, was delighted by the marriage.
The American military campaign of 1780 included important victories and defeats. On land, Clinton captured Charleston and Cornwallis defated General Gates at Camden which was a devestating defeat for the Americans. John Paul Jones won a few sea battles over the British though. Rochambeau's army arrived in July, which provided some hope for the Americans. Little did the Americans know that the cause would soon be shaken up by a legendary event.
Washington and Hamilton stopped at West Point on their way back to headquarters from a meeting with the newly arrived French commanders. When the arrived, they discovered that Major General Benedict Arnold had defected to the British and had attempted to give West Point to the British commander in the area, Clinton. Fortunately, Clinton's agent, Major John Andre, was intercepted by American troops on his way to West Point. Although the British plot had been foiled, the moral damage to the army had already happened. Arnold was a war hero, legendary for his bravery at Saratoga and Ridgefield. Washington himself had put him in command of West Point, after he had been severly wounded at Saratoga. Washington did not know who he could trust anymore, and became infuriated with the entire situation. Although Arnold had escaped, Washington did have Andre in custody and decided to take out his anger on him. Washington gave the order to have Andre hung, even though he was an officer and was entitled to the proper execution (firing squad). Hamilton met with Andre several times, and Hamilton was impressed by the young officers "elegance of mind and mannners." Hamilton attempted to talk some sense into Washington and make him understand that Andre deserved proper respect in accordance with the rules of war, but Washington refused to change his mind and Andrew was hung on October 2, 1780.
Hamilton was disillusioned by this incident. He attempted to obtain a field command in order to get away from Washington and improve his military reputation. Washington did not want one of his most valuable people out in the field, for fear that he might be killed or captured. Hamilton had the Marquis de Lafayette make an appeal to Washington that Hamilton should get a field command, but Washington still kept Hamilton at headquarters. Hamilton finally accepted that he was needed at headquarters and settled in until a turning point on February, 1781.
The tension between Hamilton and Washington had been building. Washington requested that Hamilton meet with him immediately, and Hamilton proceeded to meet Washington, but had to deliver a message to another aide on the way and also stopped to have a conversation with Lafayette, who he saw on the way. When he finally met Washington, they exchanged the following words (from a letter to his father-in-law):
" 'Lt. Colonel 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 thougt it necessary to tell me so we part.' 'Very well Sir (said he) if it be your choice.' "
Although it seems a mild exchange of words, this was actually a very tense situation pushing the limits of eighteenth century restraint and manners. Hamilton angrily left headquarters, and Lafayette, who felt that he may have been somewhat responsible for this exchange, immediately attempted to repair the rift forming between Washington and Hamilton. Washington swallowed his pride and made attempts to reconcile with Hamilton, but Hamilton essentially ignored him and handed in his official resignation as aide-de-camp on April 30, 1781.
Hamilton went on to co-author the Federalist Papers and became the first Secretary of the Treasury of the United States. His government financial ideas were excellent, and helped make America what it is today. Although he despised the concept of political parties (just as Washington did), Hamilton became the leader of the Federalist Party. This founding father of America died in a duel with his political rival, Aaron Burr.
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