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Alexander Hamilton (1755 - 1804)

Hamilton, Alexander

Alexander Hamilton was born in January 11, 1755 on the West Indies island of Nevis (an island held by the British), the illegitimate child of James Hamilton and Rachel Faucett Lavien. Rachel died in 1768. At twelve, Alexander became a clerk and apprentice at a counting house. At fifteen, he was left in charge of the business. The Royal Danish-American Gazette published Hamilton's description of a hurricane on August 30th, 1772, spurring his family and friends to provide the means for Hamilton to be educated. Alexander went to a grammar school in Elizabethtown, New Jersey and then studied at King's College (now Columbia) in 1774, obtaining a Bachelor of Arts degree in only one year.

"A feeble executive implies a feeble execution of the government. A feeble execution is but another phrase for a bad execution; and a government ill executed, whatever may be its theory, must be, in practice, a bad government." (Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 69)

Joining the military during the American Revolution, in 1771 Hamilton became George Washington's secretary, but left Washington's staff in 1781 to pursue active duty. He married Elizabeth Schuyler in 1780. At the age of twenty-five, Hamilton applied to practice law in New York City and was accepted. In 1782-83 and again in 1787, Hamilton was elected to the Continental Congress. In 1788, Hamilton initiated the first of what would become known as The Federalist Papers: a series of eighty-five political essays written by Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay, which illustrated the problems of the Republican government and put forward that federalism would preserve the individual's freedom. This led to the formation of the Federalist Party.

In 1800, Hamilton kept Aaron Burr from winning the Presidency of the United States by exerting his influence over members of the House of Representatives, who had to vote between Burr and another candidate, Thomas Jefferson, and would thus decide who became President and Vice President. In 1804 it happened again: Hamilton kept Aaron Burr from the governorship of New York. Words were exchanged, and Burr challenged Hamilton to a duel. When they met on the morning of July 11th, 1804 at Weehawken Heights, New Jersey, Hamilton was fatally wounded. He died the following day.

Famous quotations by Alexander Hamilton:

  • Justice is the end of government. It is the end of civil society. It ever has been and ever will be pursued until it be obtained, or until liberty be lost in the pursuit. In a society under the forms of which the stronger faction can readily unite and oppress the weaker, anarchy may as truly be said to reign as in a state of nature, where the weaker individual is not secured against the violence of the stronger; and as, in the latter state, even the individuals are prompted, by the uncertainty of their condition, to submit to a government which may protect the weak as well as themselves; so, in the former state, will the more powerful factions or parties be gradually induced, by a like motive to wish for a government which will protect all parties, the weaker as well as the more powerful.

  • When men exercise their reason coolly and freely on a variety of distinct questions, they inevitably fall into different opinions on some of them. When they are governed by a common passion, their opinions, if they are to be called, will be the same.

  • Why has government been instituted at all? Because the passions of men will not conform to the dictates of reason and justice, without constraint.

  • Men often oppose a thing merely because they have had no agency in planning it, or because it may have been planned by those whom they dislike.

  • It has been observed that a pure democracy if it were practicable would be the most perfect government. Experience has proved that no position is more false than this. The ancient democracies in which the people themselves deliberated never possessed one good feature of government. Their very character was tyranny; their figure deformity.

  • Suggested sites for Alexander Hamilton:

    Encyclopedia article about Alexander Hamilton
    Texts by Hamilton
    Federalist Papers Authored by Alexander Hamilton
    A series of articles written to gain support for the Constitution. Contributed to by Hamilton, Jay, and Madison.

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