Alexander Hamilton (1757?–1804)
First Secretary of the Treasury, Founding Father
Born in obscurity in the British West Indies and orphaned as a child, Alexander Hamilton made his way to America at age 15 and quickly rose to prominence as one of the most influential of the Founding Fathers through keen intelligence and unflagging dedication to the Revolutionary cause. Hamilton took a commission in the Continental Army in 1776, where he earned the notice and trust of General George Washington, who gave him a position on his staff. During the Revolutionary War, Hamilton put his prodigious talent for writing to use by drafting Washington’s most critical orders and letters to generals and the Continental Congress, and he earned military fame through his victorious charge against British forces at the Battle of Yorktown. Hamilton’s true legacy, however, is his work in building and ensuring the success of the newly independent United States. As a key author of the Federalist Papers arguing in favor of the U.S. Constitution, he was a driving force behind its ratification. As resident Washington’s first treasury secretary, Hamilton advocated for a national banking system, established the U.S. Mint and a system of tariffs and international trade agreements, and crafted monetary policies that assured financial security for the new nation. Hamilton’s political ambitions were cut short by a highly publicized adultery scandal, but he remained active as an influential public figure, helping sway the election of 1800 in favor of Thomas Jefferson over Aaron Burr. Hamilton’s lobbying on behalf of Jefferson, despite their opposing views on the distribution of federal powers, helped inflame an already bitter rivalry with Burr, leading eventually to the fateful 1804 duel between Burr and Hamilton in Weehawken, New Jersey, that ended Hamilton’s life.