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Historically Speaking

Historically Speaking: The Man on the Ten-Dollar Bill

By Tom Morrow

One of the most controversial, yet revered of our so-called “Founding Fathers” had to be Alexander Hamilton whose portrait graces our present-day ten-dollar bill.

Why controversial? As much a part as he played in the founding and organizing our federal government, there was a darker and down-right mean side to Hamilton – so-much so that he lost his life in a duel with a sitting Vice President.

Hamilton was born out of wedlock on Jan. 11, 1757. He was a Founding Father of the United States, chief aide to General George Washington, one of the most influential interpreters and promoters of the U.S. Constitution, the founder of the nation’s financial system, and the Federalist Party. He created the world’s first voter-based political party; is credited as the Father of the United States Coast Guard, and the founder of The New York Post newspaper. hamilton

As the first Secretary of the Treasury, Hamilton took the lead in the funding of the states’ debts by the Federal government, the establishment of a national bank, a system of tariffs, and friendly trade relations with Britain. He led the Federalist Party, created largely in support of his views; he was opposed by the Democratic-Republican Party, led by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, which despised Britain and feared that Hamilton’s policies of a strong central government would weaken the American commitment to Republicanism.

Born and raised in the West Indies, and orphaned as a child, Hamilton pursued a college education through the help of local wealthy men. Recognized for his abilities and talent, he was sent to King’s College (now Columbia University) in New York City. Hamilton played a major role in the American Revolutionary War. At the start of the war in 1775, he joined a militia and in early 1776, raised a provincial artillery company, to which he was appointed captain. Hamilton soon became the senior aide to General Washington, who sent him on numerous important missions to tell other generals what Washington wanted. After the war, Hamilton was elected to the Congress of the Confederation from New York. He resigned, to practice law, and founded the Bank of New York. Hamilton was among those dissatisfied with the weak national government.

He was a leader to create a new Constitution by writing 51 of the 85 installments of The Federalist Papers, which are the most important reference for Constitutional interpretation.

Hamilton became the leading cabinet member in the new government under President Washington. He emphasized strong central government and successfully argued the implied powers of the Constitution, which provided the legal authority to fund the national debt, assume states’ debts, and create the government-backed Bank of the United States.

Facing well-organized opposition from Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, Hamilton mobilized a nationwide network of friends of the government, especially bankers and businessmen. It became the Federalist Party. Hamilton played a central role in the Federalist Party, which dominated national and state politics until it lost the election of 1800.

In 1795, he returned to the practice of law in New York. He tried to control the policies of President John Adams (1797–1801). In 1798 and 99, Hamilton called for mobilization against France after the XYZ Affair and became commander of a new army, which he readied for war. However, the Quasi-War, while hard-fought at sea, was never officially declared and did not involve army action.
In 1801, when Jefferson and Aaron Burr tied for the presidency in the electoral college , Hamilton manuvered to defeat Burr and elect Jefferson.

Hamilton continued his legal and business activities in New York City, but lost much of his national prominence within the Federalist party. When Vice President Burr ran for governor of New York state in 1804, Hamilton crusaded against him as unworthy. Hamilton perpetuated a number of scandalous rumors and newspaper articles, including one that suggested Burr committed incest with his daughter.

Taking extreme offense to Hamilton’s insinuations, Burr challenged him to a duel and on July 11, 1804, in Weehawken, N.J., the Vice President mortally wounded Hamilton, who died the next day.

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