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richard sylla


The Illustrated Biography

co n t e n t s Introduction: Emerging from the Shadows  000

pa rt o n e : h a m i lt o n i n t h e s u n


i m m i g r a n t   1757–1775  000

[ ii ] [ iii ] [iv] [v] [v i]

s o l d i e r   1775–1781  000 r e f o r m e r   1780–1787  000

l e g i s l at o r   1782–1787  000

c o n s t i t u t i o n a l i s t   1787–1788  000

s e c r e ta ry o f t h e t r e a s u ry   1789–1795  000

[ v ii ] [ v iii ]

a b o l i t i o n i s t   1778–1800  000 m a j o r g e n e r a l   1795–1800  000

[i x]

l a s t y e a r s   1801–1804  000

pa rt t w o : l e g a c i e s


h a m i lt o n a n d t h e de v e l opm e n t o f a m e r i ca   000

[ xi ]

h a m i lt o n ’ s i m pac t o n wo r l d h i s t o ry   000

Epilogue 000  ★  Acknowledgments 000  ★  Notes 000 Bibliography 000  ★  Index 000

 “H is amilton perhaps the least loved founding father.” — da r r en sta lo ff, H a m i lto n, A da m s, J effers o n

{ introduction} Emerging from the Shadows


eldom has popular interest in a historical figure changed as dramatically as it has with Hamilton since Darren Staloff pegged him a decade ago as the least loved of the founders. Hamilton has gone from least loved to, if not most

loved, then certainly most talked about, the founder with the most buzz. The catalyst for the change? Broadway—but not the Manhattan thoroughfare from which you can spy Hamilton’s tomb in the graveyard of Trinity Church. No, Broadway in the theatrical sense: Lin-Manuel M ­ iranda’s smash-hit musical, Hamilton, premiered in 2015 and promises to have a very long run in New York City and elsewhere. Inspired by Ron Chernow’s excellent if weighty biography, Alexander Hamilton, ­Miranda’s musical makes for an innovative work of genius. In that sense, it mirrors its subject. Those who study Hamilton often describe him as a statesman of genius and a financial innovator. But this isn’t the first time or even the second in American history that Hamilton has burst forth from the shadows. In the early 1770s—following an obscure and illegitimate birth in the West Indies and an upbringing marked by tragedies that left him a penniless orphan—Hamilton migrated as a teenager to Britain’s mainland North American colonies. Despite his checkered start, relatives, friends, and employers in the Caribbean noticed his drive, intellect, maturity, gift for writing, and sense of responsibility. He had something special about him. Those who knew young Hamilton in the West Indies had ties to the mainland, and in the fall of 1772 they sponsored his migration there to further his education, providing the teenager with funds and letters of introduction to their friends in New York and New Jersey. Hamilton was just fifteen years old. The young man spent a year in a New Jersey prep school and then entered New York’s King’s College, now Columbia University. In late 1774 and early 1775, halfway

into his second year of college, he produced two lengthy polemical pamphlets espousing the American cause in the colonies’ increasingly heated relationship with Britain. Most readers didn’t realize they came from the pen of an eighteen-year-old. Less than two months later, what had been a war of words and trade embargos became a war of bullets and bayonets. In Massachusetts, colonial militias fought British regulars at Lexington and Concord. The Continental Congress in Philadelphia responded by appointing George Washington commander in chief of its army, sending the Virginian north to take

hamilton at age fifteen.

charge of American forces in Massachusetts. Meanwhile, in New York, Hamilton and his fellow students dropped their studies to begin military drills. Early in 1776, Hamilton’s leadership abilities prompted New York State to appoint him captain of an artillery company. From that moment, Hamilton’s career took off. For the next twenty-eight years—until his untimely death—he played a part in virtually every major event that created America and set the course of its early development. Hamilton became a great modernizer. He made and left his marks on the country’s independence, constitutional government—

He played a part in virtually every major event that created America.

especially the executive and judicial branches—legal traditions, military establishment, and perhaps most important, the economic and financial systems. We live today in a Hamiltonian country. Not all who recognize Hamilton’s great influence liked what he did, however. That’s why he stood, until recently, as the least loved of the founders and probably why he slides into and from the shadows of history that followed his brief life.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

A short history of Hamilton’s career


Hamilton’s artillery company fought in the battles of New York (which the colonies lost in the summer and fall of 1776) and the battles of Trenton and Princeton (Ameri-

a l e x a n de r H a m i lto n

can victories at the end of 1776 and start of 1777). His military prowess and reputation came to the attention of General Washington, who asked him to join his staff as an aide de camp with a jump in rank to lieutenant colonel. Hamilton quickly became the general’s principal aide de camp, drafting many of Washington’s orders, messages, and reports and also taking on important missions. The two men spent much of the next four years together because Washington never went home and Hamilton, unlike the general’s other aides, had no home in America. From this advantageous position, Hamilton became acquainted with many of the


leading figures of the day. In 1780 and 1781, he wrote long letters to some of them that outlined his views on the weakness of America’s national government and the need for financial reform. In 1781 and 1782, newspapers published more popular versions of the views he had shared with national leaders, spreading his thoughts and reputation. Hamilton left Washington’s staff in early 1781. After four years, he had grown tired of serving as a staffer and Washington’s right-hand man—even though that may have been the best use of his talents. Washington certainly thought so. But Hamilton craved a field command to advance his career. He was given charge of a light infantry company, and his wish for glory found fulfillment in his successful bayonet charge to capture a key British fortification at the Battle of Yorktown in October 1781. Hamilton instantly became a military hero. No one knew it at the time, but Yorktown turned out to be the decisive battle of the war. Hamilton seemed to sense, after seven long years of fighting, that the British defeat at Yorktown wouldn’t play well in London and that the British were likely to agree to negotiations to end the war and recognize American independence. Hamilton resigned his commission and returned to New York to join his wife of less than a year, Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton, who was expecting their first child. He also returned to an intensive study of law, his intended career before dropping out of college to become a soldier. By mid-1782, in near-record time, Hamilton qualified as a lawyer. Robert Morris, superintendent of finance for Congress, asked him to become receiver of continental taxes for New York State. Hamilton held that position briefly, relinquishing it when New York appointed him a delegate to the Confederation Congress. Serving as a congressman from late 1782 to mid-1783 proved frustrating to Hamilton and other nationalists, however. Major legislation required the unanimous consent of all thirteen states, and one state or another wouldn’t agree to measures such as a tax on imports to provide revenue. As a result, interest on Congress’s debts went unpaid, as did the officers and soldiers of the Continental Army. The British did agree to a preliminary peace treaty while Hamilton was serving as a congressman, and in that capacity he came to know

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General Washington at the Battle of Princeton, 1777

a number of future leaders, such as James Madison, with whom he worked closely in later years. Returning to New York in 1783, Hamilton resumed his law practice. He participated


in important legal cases that established the legitimacy of the judicial review of legislative measures. New York State had passed laws allowing the confiscation of properties owned by Americans loyal to Britain. Hamilton defended the loyalists against those seizures on the grounds that they violated the peace treaty with Britain and that the terms of the national treaty outranked the laws of an individual state. In 1784, Hamilton cofounded the Bank of New York, New York’s first and Amer­


ica’s second or third modern bank. He wrote the bank’s charter, became a stockholder, and served as one of its directors. The bank tried more than once to obtain a charter of incorporation from New York State but failed. Though common now, corporations looked controversial to eighteenth-century eyes. (Prompted by Hamilton’s actions as secretary of the Treasury, the state relented and granted the bank a corporate charter in 1791.) H amilton during the R evolutionary War . E merging fr o m the S had o ws


Eli z abeth Schuyler H amilton.

{xv i}

a l e x a n d e r H a m i lt o n

On several notable occasions, Hamilton took a stand against slavery. In 1785, he


and others founded the New York Society for Promoting the Manumission of Slaves. His abolitionist sentiments were known, and that knowledge no doubt lurked behind some of the strong opposition he faced from southern slaveholding leaders in Congress when he wielded power as secretary of the Treasury. But like many others of his time, he wanted foremost to hold together the fragile new nation that slavery could so easily split apart—and did in 1861. For the sake of national unity, he didn’t push the abolitionist agenda as he helped form the new nation. The weaknesses of the national government became increasingly apparent in the mid-1780s. Several states continued issuing fiat paper currencies that quickly depreciated, sometimes with the intent of allowing debtors to discharge their financial obligations with cheap money. States also slapped tariffs on imports from other states. These tribulations led to the call for the Annapolis Convention in the fall of 1786 to smooth commercial disputes between states. Hamilton and Madison served as delegates there, but not enough states sent representatives for the convention to take any serious action, so the delegates wrote a report, drafted by

He wanted foremost to hold together the fragile new nation that slavery could so easily split apart.

Washington presides over the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia , 1787.

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{xv ii}

Hamilton, asking Congress to call a convention of all the states to meet at Philadelphia in May 1787 to deal with sorely needed national reforms. Constitutionalist.

The Philadelphia convention, chaired by Washington and with Hamilton, Madison, and others as delegates, drafted a new Constitution over the summer of 1787. To take effect, nine of the thirteen states had to ratify it, and its prospects in New York looked dim. Hamilton seized on a clever idea. He organized a series of newspaper essays to explain and defend the proposed Constitution. He recruited Madison and John Jay to help, and from the fall of 1787 to the spring of 1788 he wrote 51 of the 85 essays, all published under the pseudonym Publius. (Madison contributed 29 and Jay 5.) Gathered and published in book form, The Federalist Papers have become a classic text of political science. Hamilton helped lead pro-Constitution forces at the New York ratifying convention in the summer of 1788. Against long odds, Hamilton’s side prevailed. By that time, enough other states had ratified the document to put it into effect, but it also helped that a rumor—probably hatched by Hamilton—threatened that New York City might secede and join the Union on its own if New York State declined to ratify.

First secretary of the Treasur.y

In 1789, the new government met in New York City with Washington as first president. Shortly after the First Congress created the Treasury Department, Washington nominated Hamilton to become its first secretary. He served in the office from September 1789 to January 1795, and in that time he made the greatest of his many contributions to American nation building. No doubt drawing on his time as Wash-

{xv iii}

a l e x a n d e r H a m i lt o n

ington’s principal aide de camp during the war, Hamilton functioned something like Washington’s prime minister and, more than any other American leader, turned the Constitution’s words into a living, breathing system that modernized and invigorated U.S. political and economic life. Hamilton’s financial reforms created a strong, fiscally sound federal government to replace the weak national government of the Articles of Confederation. They also jolted the American economy by promoting the banks, securities markets, and corporations that propelled economic growth. As Treasury secretary, Hamilton helped launched what has become the world’s most powerful nation and the largest, most dynamic, richest economy the world has seen. Ironically, he almost went broke in the process. His governmental salary of $3,500—as compared to Washington’s presidential $25,000—couldn’t support his growing family, and, unlike many other leaders, he had no outside income from slave-powered plantations or other business ventures. By early 1795, he stepped down as Treasury secretary, probably thinking that he had accomplished most of what he had intended to do. He also knew that he could earn far more money as a lawyer. Hamilton’s post-cabinet career wasn’t uneventful, but it couldn’t match the grand creativity of his years in the Treasury. He remained head of the Federalist Party. He served as an unofficial adviser to Washington and helped the president write his famous farewell address. Washington’s cabinet looked to him for advice, and, when John Adams retained most of them after he succeeded Washington, his counsel continued. But Adams came to see Hamilton as an enemy and flew into a rage when, in 1800, he discovered the depths of Hamilton’s influence on his cabinet. When the French Republic insulted American diplomats and threatened to declare

Major General.

war on America in 1798, Congress called for a military buildup that included a new army. Washington, in retirement at Mount Vernon, agreed to serve as titular head of the army but insisted that Hamilton—younger than other available former army officers—­ receive operational control as a major general and inspector general, akin to today’s army chief of staff. Adams, to his chagrin, had to accede to Washington’s demands rather than buck the revered father of the country. The affair demonstrated the high regard that Washington had for Hamilton’s talents, but war with France never came, and Major General Hamilton had to disband his army in 1800. Hamilton unwisely vented his frustrations with President Adams in a lengthy pamphlet that went public before the 1800 elections. The discord between the two pillars

Leader of the opposition.

of the Federalist Party contributed to Adams’s narrow defeat by the Democratic-­ Republican Party, led by Thomas Jefferson, but the political turmoil didn’t end there. Jefferson and Aaron Burr received the same number of electoral votes. According to the

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Washington resigns from the presidency.

original terms of the Constitution (later corrected by the Twelfth

Hamilton helped launched what has become the world’s most powerful nation and the largest, most dynamic, richest economy the world has seen. Ironically, he almost went broke in the process. {xx}

Amendment), a tie in electoral votes called for a contingent, or runoff, election in the House of Representatives in which each state had one vote. Hamilton frenetically lobbied Federalist congressmen to support Jefferson, and, after 35 tied contingency votes, Jefferson finally secured the presidency. Despite their many clashes, Jefferson kept a bust of Hamilton, which still stands in Monticello. With the election of Jefferson, the Federalist Party fell from power, and so Hamilton receded into the shadows. He returned once again to practicing law and, in a notable case that now separates American law from British common law, he argued that the truth matters in libel cases. He didn’t win, but New York and other states absorbed his elegant, powerful arguments into later legislation. In 1801, Hamilton founded the New-York Evening Post as an outlet for Federalist Party views. Today’s New York Post—not quite the same trumpet of political intellect as when it started—remains

a l e x a n d e r H a m i lt o n

America’s oldest continuously published daily paper. That year Hamilton also began construction on Hamilton Grange, a country house in upper Manhattan and the only house he ever owned. He lived there less than two years. When Burr mortally wounded him in the now-infamous 1804 duel, Hamilton died a relatively poor man. Friends and admirers had to take up a collection to pay his outstanding bills so that Hamilton’s family could remain at the Grange. The man who did the most to make the fortunes of his country

Despite their many clashes, Jefferson kept a bust of Hamilton, which still stands in Monticello.

never had any fortune of his own. He cared little for money or wealth. From life he wanted fame, which, as he described it in Federalist No. 72, was “the ruling passion of the noblest minds, which would prompt a man to plan and undertake extensive and arduous enterprises for the public benefit, requiring considerable time to mature and perfect them.” Fame, in other words, meant immortality. All the great found-

From life he wanted fame.

ers—Franklin, Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Hamilton—craved it. Franklin and Washington both had achieved it by the time they died in the 1790s. Admired by many but hardly revered, Hamilton died shortly thereafter. Adams, Jefferson, and Madison—all political opponents of Hamilton and all presidents—lived for decades longer, shaping future interpretations of their legacies. As a result, Hamilton found the least of the fame that they all desired.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Hamilton spent the next six decades in the shadows. From 1801 to 1861, Jeffer-

Hamilton’s Legacy.

sonian states’ rights trumped a Hamiltonian federal government energetically guiding the nation’s development. Slavery disappeared in the North while expanding in the South. Of the thirteen presidents in those decades, seven owned slaves while in office, one had owned slaves beforehand, and three northerners owed their prominence in the Democratic Party to playing ball with slaveholders. Only John Quincy Adams and Millard Fillmore opposed the Peculiar Institution. It’s not hard to understand why Hamilton—most in favor of federal supremacy, most against slavery, and who didn’t have the chance to shape his legacy—slipped into the shadows.

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November 2016 H H H H

Find out who lived and who died in the incredible story of the founding father who made America modern—and became the toast of Broadway.



his richly illustrated biography portrays Alexander Hamilton’s fascinating life alongside his key contributions to American history, including his unsung role as an early abolitionist. An immigrant from the West Indies, he played a crucial part in the political, legal, and economic development of the new nation: He served as Washington’s righthand man during the Revolutionary War; he helped establish the Constitution; he wrote most of The • National print and online publicity campaigns Federalist Papers; and he modernized America’s • National & local TV and radio show outreach fledgling finances, among other notable achievements. • 40-city national radio tour Noted Hamilton scholar and chairman of the Museum • Digital focus on history blogs and websites of American Finance, Richard Sylla brings the fleshand-blood man—student, soldier, lawyer, political • Trade and consumer advertising campaigns scientist, finance minister, and politician—to life and • Facebook advertising reveals captivating details of his private life as well as Goodreads giveaway his infamous demise at the hands of Vice President • • Holiday gift guides Aaron Burr, expertly telling Hamilton’s incredible story like no other. • Excerpts available

Richard Sylla is a Hamilton scholar, the chairman of the Museum of American Finance, and professor emeritus of economics at New York University’s Stern School of Business, where he served as the Henry Kaufman professor of the history of financial institutions and markets for 25 years. He is a research associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Cliometric Society. He has received the Citibank Award for Excellence in Teaching, the Business History Conference Lifetime Achievement Award, National Science Foundation grants, and an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation grant. He served as president of the Economic History Association and the Business History Conference, and was a national Phi Beta Kappa visiting scholar (2015–16). He lives with his wife in NY and NH.

NOVEMBER 2016 Biography/Autobiography/Historical $35.00 ($39.50 Canada) Hardcover with Jacket 8 ½" × 10" • 304 Pages ISBN 9781454922759

For publicity inquiries, contact Blanca Oliviery at (646) 688-2548 or DISCLAIMER: Reviewers are reminded that changes may be made in this uncorrected proof before books are printed. If any material from the book is to be quoted in a review, the quotation should be checked against the final bound book. Dates, prices, and manufacturing details are subject to change or cancellation without notice.

Alexander Hamilton  

This richly illustrated biography portrays Alexander Hamilton’s fascinating life alongside his key contributions to American history, includ...

Alexander Hamilton  

This richly illustrated biography portrays Alexander Hamilton’s fascinating life alongside his key contributions to American history, includ...