Alexander Hamilton: The Man Behind The Musical

Today, one of the world’s most popular musicals is “Hamilton” but who was Alexander Hamilton?  Well, he was born on January 11, 1757 in Charlestown, Nevis, British West Indies and was a Founding Father of The United States of America.

He was the 1st United States Secretary of the Treasury. He held that role from 1789 – 1795. Before that he was Delegate to the Congress of the Confederation from New York and held the position from 1782 – 1783 and then again in 1788 -1789. He later became Senior Officer of The Army in 1799 and held the position until 1800.

Hamilton was also a promoter of the US Constitution as well as the founder of the nations financial system. But, he founded other things such as The Federalist Party, The United States Coast Guard and The New York Post Newspaper.

Serving under President Washington, Hamilton was the main author of the economic policies of The George Washington Administration as well as taking lead in the funding of the states’ by the federal government and the establishment of a National Bank, a system of tariffs and friendly trade relations with Britain.

Hamilton was an illegitimate son of a Scottish immigrant father and a West Indian mother. Like most people in the world, Hamilton probably lied about his age. according to Hamilton himself, he was born in the year 1757 but there are official documents from Nevis that list that he was born in 1755. For over two centuries debate of this discrepancy has continued . But most modern scholars agree that Hamilton changed his birth year intentionally. Shortly after he was born, Hamilton’s father abandoned the family in fear that the mother of his child would be charged with bigamy and by the time Hamilton was likely 13 years old, his mother died. Leaving Hamilton and orphan.

What most people probably don’t realise is that Hamilton was the subject of one of America’s first highly publicized sex scandals. In 1791 Hamilton (who was married at the time) met a woman from Philadelphia, named Maria Reynolds. Maria claimed she needed cash because her husband had left her with a small daughter to support. Because Hamilton was also an orphan, Hamilton was quick to agree to support her financially but it quickly turned into an affair that would last more than 3 years.

As it turns out, Maria lied about the whole thing and was no desperate housewife at all. She and her husband, James had carefully planned the affair in an attempt to export even larger amounts of money from Hamilton who was Secretary at the time and it worked.

But it didn’t stop there. After getting what he wanted, James Reynolds informed a group of investigators that Hamilton had used Government Funds as “hush money”. When the group of investigators confronted Hamilton about this, he admitted to having an affair with Maria Reynolds but denied he used Government Funds to cover it up and said he used his own personal funds to hush it up. Hamilton had love letters from Maria as proof. The group of investigators were satisfied that the affair was a private matter and chose not to expose Hamilton.

However, one of the investigators passed the love letters to Thomas Jefferson who was one of Hamilton’s enemies and Jefferson had the letters published in an article written by James Callender.

Hamilton argued that  “a regular Military Academy” ought to be established. George Washington then sent Hamilton a letter (the last letter Washington ever wrote) saying that it would be an importance to the country.

Hamilton was active during the Revolution in trying to raise black troops for the army, with the promise of freedom. He believed that slavery was wrong and said that “their natural faculties are as good as ours.”

During the 1800 Presidential Election, Hamilton worked to defeat the rival Democratic-Republican candidates as well as his party’s own nominee, John Adams. The New York Daily Advertiser reprinted an article  saying that Hamilton had attempted to purchase the Philadelphia Aurora  and close it down, Hamilton had the publisher prosecuted for seditious libel, and the prosecution compelled the owner to close the paper.

When Aaron Burr won New York for Thomas Jefferson, Hamilton proposed a rerun of the election under different rules. but none of it mattered as Jefferson beat Adams. However, although Jefferson and Hamilton were enemies, Hamilton saw Jefferson as the lesser of two evils.

Hamilton believed that Jefferson was “by far not a dangerous man” but referred to Burr as a  “mischievous enemy”. Jefferson made Burr his Vice President but Jefferson soon after expressed his own concerns about Burr. Burr later ran for Governor of New York, but was quickly defeated by forces including Alexander Hamilton.

By 1804 Albany Register published Charles D. Cooper’s letters, citing Hamilton’s opposition to Burr.  and alleging that Hamilton had expressed “a still more despicable opinion” of the Vice President at an upstate New York dinner party. 

Burr wrote a letter demanding an apology from Hamilton for insulting him. But, Hamilton  ultimately refused because he could not recall the instance of insulting Burr. After a series of attempts to reconcile were to no avail, a duel was arranged through liaisons on June 27, 1804

In the run up to the duel, Hamilton tried his very best to avoid dueling with Burr. He had a wife and kids to think about and didn’t want to put his family status in jeopardy. He later tried to avoid it by expressing his religious beliefs. But Hamilton soon realised that he would have to duel.

The duel took place at dawn on June 11, 1804 along the west bank of the Hudson river. When the two done their paces and counted the seconds,  Hamilton raised his pistol “as if to try the light” and had to wear his spectacles to prevent his vision from being obscured, according to both Burr and William P. Van Ness. Burr shot Hamilton, leaving him with a fatal wound, while Hamilton’s shot broke a tree branch above Burr’s head.

It couldn’t be determined who fired first, as Van Ness and Pendleton claimed that each man fired first. Burr’s bullet hit Hamilton in the lower abdomen above the right hip. The bullet ricocheted off Hamilton’s second or third false rib, fracturing it and causing considerable damage to his internal organs, particularly his liver and diaphragm , before becoming lodged in his first or second lumber vertebra.

Ron Chernow, who was a biographer suggested that Hamilton shot first after after considering the circumstances, while another biographer by the name of James Ernest Cooke that Burr fired first, after he aimed carefully and Hamilton fired while falling after being hit by Burr’s bullet.

Hamilton was paralyzed after the shooting and died the next day on June 12, 1804 at Bayard’s Home. Governor Morris gave the eulogy at Hamilton’s funeral and also started a secret fund to help his widow and children.

Hamilton was buried in the Trinity Churchyard Cemetery in Manhattan.

 

 

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