Saturday, June 18, 2011
In my house we all have our favorite founding father. For my daughter and husband it is John Adams. My son's favorite is George Washington. But for me, although John Adams runs a very close second, it is Alexander Hamilton. Most find Hamilton an odd choice. He could be.... let's say abrasive, often getting into arguments with not only Thomas Jefferson and his followers, but also fellow Federalists. And of course, most notably, Aaron Burr.
I admire Hamilton for many reason, the main one being that he truly came from nothing. He is an example of living the American Dream, but he lived it before there was an America. Alexander Hamilton was born in 1755 (1757 in some documents) as the illegitimate child of a Scottish trader in the West Indies and was orphaned as an adolescent. In 1773 he was sent to the colonies to pursue a formal education at King's College and almost immediately took up Patriot cause. He joined a militia two years later and by 1777 became George Washington's aide-de-camp. Hamilton wrote most of what we now call the Federalist Papers, in an effort to counter anti-federalist opposition to the ratification of the Constitution. He then went on become the first Secretary of the Treasury and established the First National Bank and the foundations of our modern day banking system. Not bad for a bastard immigrant.
On the other hand, Alexander Hamilton was arrogant, a terrible politician and was obsessed with honor. For these reasons he was disliked and is today lesser known (perhaps unknown) to most Americans. And then there is of course his tragic death in a duel with Aaron Burr. No one is perfect. So next time you take out a ten dollar bill, take a moment to reflect on the accomplishments of Alexander Hamilton and his contributions to our current system of government.
For additional resources on Alexander Hamilton check out this virtual tour of the Hamilton Exhibition, screen the PBS American Experience documentary, or visit Hamilton's grave at Trinity Church on Wall Street in New York City.