The Life and Legacy of Alexander Hamilton

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Part 3: Bigger and Better Things

Hamilton pursued a different campaign in 1780, after meeting Elizabeth Schuyler. He pursued her and won her hand in marriage, gaining for himself wealth and standing that he himself had lacked because of his impoverished background. In the next few years, Hamilton would make allies among some of New York's most powerful and important men, sharing with them his ideas for a new form of government that he hoped the country would implement once a military victory was assured. Among these ideas were several that saw the light of day under the new Constitutional government, including loans from other countries, the creation of national currency made of paper (paper money), and the importance of a national bank.

Washington and Hamilton, once the best of friends and strong allies in the fight for independence, nonetheless found much to dislike in each other when British victories began to pile up in late 1780 and early 1781. After one particular spat, Hamilton quit.

Now out of the army, Hamilton returned to thinking about and trying to change the system of government in America (which at that time was the weak-central-government form stipulated by the Articles of Confederation). He returned to writing and published a six-part series of essays titled The Continentalist, in which he set out many of his views on the viability of the Articles. These essays were published in well-known New York newspapers, and Hamilton kept his name in the public eye.

Even though he was quite content with his life in Albany—including the impending birth of his first child—Hamilton couldn't shake the desire to be on the battlefield. He patched things up with Washington and asked for a field command, which the general finally granted. Hamilton was given the command of a battalion in time for the final battle, at Yorktown. Hamilton took part in the surrender ceremonies that followed the decisive American victory. Satisfied, he returned to his wife and was home in time to see his child born. A few weeks later, he resigned from Army, this time for good.

Hamilton next studied law and was admitted to the New York bar in 1782, after completing a three-year course of studies in just six months. He was also named a New York delegate to the Second Continental Congress. Among the people he met and formed a philosophical bond with was James Madison of Virginia.

One of the things that Hamilton did next, which made many people angry, was represent in courts of law several Loyalists who were prosecuted under a newly passed New York law that violated a provision of the Treaty of Paris. The Treaty had guaranteed that Americans who had supported Great Britain during the way would not face prosecution for that support once the war had ended. But New York soon passed anti-Loyalist laws and began charging Loyalists with doing just that. Hamilton made a name for himself among the Loyalists by defending them and an enemy of many Americans who had supported the revolution. One of the main results of the nearly 70 such cases was a big victory in 1784 that enforced the idea that the federal government (in this case the Treaty of Paris) was superior to state governments (in this case the New York anti-Loyalist laws).

In that same year, Hamilton refused for a second time a call to serve in the state Assembly. Instead, he wrote the charter for and became a founding member of the Bank of New York. He also formed a society to end slavery; the co-founder of this society was John Jay, a fellow New Yorker and good friend.

Next page > Making a New Country > Page 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9

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David White