Hamilton was born on January 11, in either 1755 or 1757, on the island of Nevis in the British West Indies. His father was from Scotland; his mother from Nevis. Hamilton left the region as a teenager to live in North America.
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Hamilton’s skills as a writer let him leave the Caribbean
In August 1772, Hamilton’s letter to his father about a hurricane that struck Saint Croix was reprinted in a newspaper, the Royal Danish American Gazette. The locals were so impressed that they took up a collection to send Hamilton to a college in the British North American colonies. Princeton rejected Hamilton, but King’s College (later known as Columbia) accepted him.
Hamilton fought with honor in the Revolutionary War
Through his efforts as a volunteer, young Hamilton became General George Washington’s aide de camp, or his right-hand man. Hamilton also personally led an attack and charge at the Battle of Yorktown on a British redoubt.
Hamilton was a mostly self-taught lawyer
After resigning his military commission, Hamilton was able to study the law and pass a legal examination within six months in 1782. He had been reading the law on his own in Nevis and at King’s College.
He helped promote the Constitutional Convention of 1787
Hamilton was agitated with the weak Confederation Congress and the Articles of Confederation, so he worked with James Madison and other Founders to hold the Annapolis Convention in September 1786. There, Hamilton introduced a resolution for more delegates “to meet at Philadelphia on the second Monday in May next, to take into consideration the situation of the United States.”
Hamilton’s constitutional legacy was the Federalist Papers
Hamilton played a big role in helping secure the Constitution’s ratification as one of the three authors of The Federalist Papers, along with Madison and Jay. Hamilton wrote roughly 51 of the 85 essays, which are still consulted today by scholars and the Supreme Court.
Hamilton founded the Treasury Department and strengthened the banking system
President Washington appointed Hamilton as the first Secretary of the Treasury, when the new nation was facing a steep financial crisis. Hamilton brokered a solution to paying off the former colonies’ war debt, and then organized the Treasury Department as a powerful unit. Hamilton also formed the First Bank of the United States and convinced other nations that the United States was financially sound.
Hamilton inspired the first American political party
Hamilton’s moves as Treasury Secretary and as a proponent of a strong central government led to the unofficial formation of the Federalist Party by 1791. In response, leaders like James Madison and Thomas Jefferson formed a political faction known as the Democratic Republicans that directly objected to Hamilton and his ideas. The clashes between the two groups would persist until Hamilton’s death.
Hamilton helped his own political enemy become President
In the deadlocked 1800 presidential election, a House of Representatives controlled by the Federalists had two Republican candidates to choose from: Jefferson and Aaron Burr. Hamilton wrote a private letter to a House member urging that Jefferson, Hamilton’s political enemy, become the next President. Hamilton wrote. “In a choice of Evils, let them take the least—Jefferson is in my view less dangerous than Burr.”
The never-ending duel controversy
The deadly duel between Hamilton and Burr in July 1804 was years in the making. After Hamilton wouldn’t retract an insult, the two men and their seconds met in Weehawken, New Jersey, with Burr shooting Hamilton, and Hamilton dying the next day. But what happened during the duel? Did Hamilton deliberately misfire? Or did someone introduce a hair-triggered pistol into the mix? Was Burr obligated under the dueling code to not shoot Hamilton? The only witnesses were the men’s seconds, with the witnesses disagreeing on who shot when.