… was born in the British West Indies on this date in 1757 (or possibly in 1755).
He grew up on the tiny island of Nevis, where his father abandoned the family and his mother died when he was just a boy. He was taken in by a local merchant who gave him a job at a general store. He turned out to be quite good at accounting, so when he was thirteen, his boss took a trip to Europe and left young Alexander in charge of the store. He started writing on the side, and an article about a recent hurricane so impressed the adults around him that they all pitched in to pay for his passage to New York, where he could attend school.
He arrived in America just as rebellion against Great Britain was brewing, and he immediately began to write for New York newspapers in support of the colonies’ rights. He impressed George Washington so much that he became Washington’s right hand man when he was barely twenty-years old. After the revolution, when many American politicians believed that the colonies should remain mostly independent of each other, Hamilton was one of the earliest supporters of a strong central government.
In just three years, between 1787 and 1790, he served on the constitutional convention, wrote the majority of the Federalist Papers, which helped garner support for the new constitution, became the first secretary of the treasury, and set up the U.S. National Bank.
While serving on Washington’s cabinet, Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson became bitter enemies, and set out to undermine each other with gossip about each other’s scandalous private lives. Hamilton was having an affair at the time, and there were rumors that Jefferson had had children with one of his slaves. But despite their bitter rivalry, Hamilton later spoke in favor of Jefferson as president over Aaron Burr, whom he considered a scoundrel.
Four years later, Burr challenged him to a duel. They met at sunrise in a wooded area of Weehawken, New Jersey, above the Hudson River. Hamilton showed up for the duel to prove his courage, but he purposely fired his gun straight up into the air. Burr aimed at him anyway, and Hamilton was mortally wounded and died the next day.
He hasn’t been as well remembered as Washington or Jefferson, but by setting up the national treasury, the national bank, the first budgetary and tax systems, and most of all by helping gather support for the U.S. constitution, he did more to design the system of government we now live under than almost any other man.
The columnist George F. Will said, “We honor Jefferson, but live in Hamilton’s country.”