Alexander Hamilton

by Ron Chernow

Troy Shu
Troy Shu
Updated at: March 04, 2024
Alexander Hamilton
Alexander Hamilton

What are the big ideas? 1. Hamilton's political maneuverings and duel with Burr were pivotal moments in early American politics that showcased the intense passions

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What are the big ideas?

  1. Hamilton's political maneuverings and duel with Burr were pivotal moments in early American politics that showcased the intense passions and personal animosities that could arise between political adversaries. The book sheds light on how these events contributed to a defining moment in American history, shaping the trajectory of political discourse and establishing precedents for future duels and political conflicts.
  2. The book offers insight into the complex relationship between Hamilton and Burr, exploring their deep-seated animosity that was fueled by their differing political beliefs and personal animosities. Through meticulously researched details, the author reveals how this longstanding feud culminated in a tragic and fateful duel, forever altering the course of American history.
  3. The book also highlights the role of religion and faith in Hamilton's life, showcasing how his deep-rooted beliefs influenced his political decisions and personal relationships. By exploring this aspect of Hamilton's character, the author reveals a more nuanced portrayal of the man behind the legend, offering a unique perspective on the intersection of politics and faith in early America.
  4. The book provides an intriguing look into the lives of key figures in American history, including Aaron Burr and Eliza Schuyler Hamilton, who have often been overlooked or misunderstood. By delving deep into their personal histories, motivations, and actions, the author sheds new light on these fascinating characters and their roles in shaping American politics and society.
  5. The book's vivid storytelling style brings to life the passionate and dramatic events of early American history, making it an engaging and captivating read for anyone interested in the origins of American democracy and the men and women who shaped its course. Through richly detailed narrative arcs, the author masterfully weaves together the complex threads of biography, politics, and history to create a compelling and unforgettable tale of ambition, power, and sacrifice.


PROLOGUE: The Oldest Revolutionary War Widow


  • Eliza Hamilton was a widow who outlived her husband, Alexander Hamilton, by half a century and dedicated her life to preserving his historical reputation.
  • Hamilton was a controversial figure in American history, with some seeing him as an "American Mephistopheles" and others as a brilliant statesman.
  • Hamilton was the foremost political figure in American history who never became president but had a deep impact on the country.
  • He was a thinker and doer, a theoretician and executive, and the prime mover behind the Constitutional Convention and The Federalist.
  • As the first treasury secretary, Hamilton implemented constitutional principles and created institutions like a budget system, tax system, central bank, and coast guard.
  • Hamilton's life was tumultuous, from his illegitimate birth to his duel with Aaron Burr.
  • He embodied the archetype of the obscure immigrant who succeeds in America despite lacking proper birth and breeding.
  • Hamilton's private life was kept hidden, especially his squalid Caribbean boyhood.
  • He was a complex figure, charming and impetuous, romantic and witty, dashing and headstrong, with a touchy ego and a tendency for egregious failures of judgment.
  • Hamilton served as catalyst for the emergence of political parties and defined much of America's political agenda during the Washington and Adams administrations.
  • Recent scholarly work has uncovered new information about Hamilton's life, offering a fresh perspective on this influential figure.


“It was, Eliza Hamilton Holly noted pointedly, the imperative duty that Eliza had bequeathed to all her children: Justice shall be done to the memory of my Hamilton.”

“Noah Webster contended that Hamilton’s “ambition, pride, and overbearing temper” had destined him “to be the evil genius of this country.”

“If Jefferson provided the essential poetry of American political discourse, Hamilton established the prose of American statecraft.”

“We have left behind the rosy agrarian rhetoric and slaveholding reality of Jeffersonian democracy and reside in the bustling world of trade, industry, stock markets, and banks that Hamilton envisioned. (Hamilton’s staunch abolitionism formed an integral feature of this economic vision.) He has also emerged as the uncontested visionary in anticipating the shape and powers of the federal government. At a time when Jefferson and Madison celebrated legislative power as the purest expression of the popular will, Hamilton argued for a dynamic executive branch and an independent judiciary, along with a professional military, a central bank, and an advanced financial system. Today, we are indisputably the heirs to Hamilton’s America, and to repudiate his legacy is, in many ways, to repudiate the modern world.”

ONE: The Castaways


  • Alexander Hamilton was born out of wedlock on January 11, 1755 or 1757 in Charleston, Nevis, in the British West Indies. His father, James Hamilton, abandoned the family a few years after his birth, leaving mother Rachel Faucette and two young sons.
  • In 1768, Rachel moved to Christiansted on St. Croix with her children. She died there in February 1769, leaving her sons orphaned.
  • After their mother's death, Alexander, aged 14, began clerking for the mercantile house of Beekman and Cruger. His brother, James, was apprenticed to a carpenter.
  • A year later, they were placed under the guardianship of their first cousin Peter Lytton. In July 1769, Lytton committed suicide, leaving no provision for his nephews in his will.
  • After Lytton's death, Alexander continued working for Beekman and Cruger while James was apprenticed to an elderly carpenter, Thomas McNobeny.
  • Alexander formed a close friendship with Edward Stevens, the eldest son of Thomas Stevens, a respected merchant in Christiansted. The two shared similar personalities and physical resemblance, leading some to speculate that Hamilton might be Stevens' illegitimate son. However, there is no conclusive evidence to support this theory.

TWO: Hurricane


  • Alexander Hamilton spent most of his early childhood in St. Croix, a Danish island in the Caribbean. His father, James Hamilton, was a Scottish soldier who had been stationed there and later married Rachel Faucette Lavien, a French-speaking Creole woman.
  • James and Rachel had two children together: Alexander and Edward. However, their marriage was troubled, and Rachel left James and took the boys with her to live in Christiansted, the capital of St. Croix.
  • Rachel's husband, Johann Michael Lavien, disapproved of her relationship with James and tried to take custody of the boys. He also demanded that Rachel pay him large sums of money for their support.
  • To escape Lavien's harassment, Rachel sent Alexander to live with her sister Ann Lytton Venton in New York when he was ten years old. Hamilton never returned to St. Croix and had no further contact with his father.
  • Hamilton's life on St. Croix was marked by poverty, instability, and the harsh realities of colonial life. He witnessed natural disasters, including a hurricane that devastated the island in 1772.
  • Rachel Faucette Lavien died in 1768, and her estate was divided among her children and her creditors. Hamilton later felt a deep sense of obligation to his cousin Ann Lytton Venton, who had helped him financially during his early years in America.

THREE: The Collegian


  • Alexander Hamilton was a West Indian immigrant who arrived in New York City in 1773 with no money or connections but an insatiable thirst for knowledge and a burning ambition.
  • He quickly became involved in the political debates of the day, publishing two pamphlets under the pseudonym "Caesar" to defend colonial rights against British encroachment.
  • Hamilton's essays were influential in galvanizing support for American resistance to British taxation and demonstrating his formidable writing skills and intellectual acumen.
  • He was a strong advocate for limited monarchy and natural rights, and believed that the colonies owed their allegiance to the British king rather than Parliament.
  • Hamilton predicted that France and Spain would aid the American cause and advocated a guerrilla war strategy to exhaust British troops.
  • His essays were initially attributed to other authors, but his identity was eventually revealed, earning him recognition as an influential colonial pamphleteer and a key figure in the early history of American political thought.


“This thirty-five-page essay had been written in two or three weeks by Hamilton, as he entered the fray with all the grandiloquence and learning at his disposal. He showed himself proficient at elegant insults, an essential literary talent at the time, and possessing a precocious knowledge of history, philosophy, politics, economics, and law. In retrospect, it was clear that he had found his calling as a fearless, swashbuckling intellectual warrior who excelled in bare-knuckled controversy.”

“In one glowing passage, Hamilton invoked the colonists’ natural rights: “The sacred rights of mankind are not to be rummaged for among old parchments or musty records. They are written, as with a sunbeam, in the whole volume of human nature by the hand of the divinity itself and can never be erased or obscured by mortal power.”

“The task of government was not to stop selfish striving—a hopeless task—but to harness it for the public good.”

FOUR: The Pen and the Sword


  • Alexander Hamilton was present during the Battle of Brooklyn and commanded a post on Bunker Hill near New York, fighting with the rear of the American army.
  • The British captured New York City after a series of defeats for the Continental Army.
  • Washington recognized Hamilton's military talent and placed him in charge of building an earthwork at Harlem Heights.
  • Hamilton fought alongside Washington at White Plains, where the Americans suffered a bruising defeat but inflicted heavier losses on the British than they received.
  • The surrender of Fort Washington and Fort Lee dealt devastating blows to the morale of the Continental Army, and Washington was widely criticized for his failure to protect these fortifications.


“The American Revolution was to succeed because it was undertaken by skeptical men who knew that the same passions that toppled tyrannies could be applied to destructive ends.”

“In times of such commotion as the present, while the passions of men are worked up to an uncommon pitch, there is great danger of fatal extremes. The same state of the passions which fits the multitude, who have not a sufficient stock of reason and knowledge to guide them, for opposition to tyranny and oppression, very naturally leads them to a contempt and disregard of all authority. The due medium is hardly to be found among the more intelligent. It is almost impossible among the unthinking populace. When the minds of these are loosened from their attachment to ancient establishments and courses, they seem to grow giddy and are apt more or less to run into anarchy.”

“it is a melancholy truth that the behaviour of many among us might serve as the severest satire upon the [human] species. It has been a compound of inconsistency, falsehood, cowardice, selfishness and dissimulation.”

“Finally, he flung his hat on the ground in disgust and fumed, “Are these the men with whom I am to defend America?”

FIVE: The Little Lion


  • In late October 1777, Hamilton was sent by Washington on a mission to persuade General Horatio Gates and General Israel Putnam to send reinforcements to him in New Jersey.
  • Hamilton's journey was arduous and involved meeting with both generals and negotiating for the needed troops. He faced resistance from both Gates and Putnam, who kept back some of their forces due to concerns about British troop movements in New York.
  • Hamilton's actions were criticized by Horatio Gates and led to the "Conway Cabal," where some officers conspired to replace Washington with Gates as commander-in-chief. However, the cabal was eventually exposed and foiled, and Washington's popularity remained strong.
  • The episode demonstrated Hamilton's diplomatic skills, bravery, and determination in carrying out his mission for Washington despite various obstacles. It also showcased the political intrigue and infighting that occurred within the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War.


“Early disappointments with people left Washington with a residual cynicism that was to jibe well with Hamilton’s views.”

“Washington had several surrogate sons during the Revolution, most notably the marquis de Lafayette, and he often referred to Hamilton as “my boy.”

“With a ready tongue and rapier wit, Hamilton could wound people more than he realized, and he was so nimble in debate that even bright people sometimes felt embarrassingly tongue-tied in his presence.”

“Because Conway persisted in maligning Washington, he was summoned to the dueling ground by General John Cadwalader, who fired a ball through Conway’s mouth that came out the back of his head. Cadwalader showed no regret. “I have stopped the damned rascal’s lying tongue at any rate,” he observed as his opponent lay in agony on the ground.”

SIX: A Frenzy of Valor


  • In July 1779, Laurens proposed creating black battalions as a means of reducing the need for white soldiers in the Continental Army and freeing them for other military duties. The proposal was based on the belief that many slaves would prefer fighting for their freedom to remaining in bondage.
  • Hamilton wholeheartedly supported the plan but recognized that it was politically impossible at the time due to deep-rooted prejudice against African Americans and fear of slave insurrections.
  • After Laurens' departure, Hamilton grew increasingly despondent over the lack of progress on this and other issues. He wrote to Laurens expressing his love and admiration for him, but also his frustration with the short-sightedness and corruption of Congress.
  • In July 1779, rumors began circulating that Hamilton had made derogatory comments about Congress and called for its overthrow. These rumors were likely fueled by Hamilton's outspoken criticism of Congress' financial policies and his support for a national bank.
  • Hamilton denied making these statements and traced the rumor back to a Congregational minister named William Gordon. He engaged in a lengthy correspondence with Gordon, demanding a retraction or the identification of his source.
  • Hamilton grew increasingly disillusioned with America and its people, expressing doubts about their capacity for virtue and self-sacrifice. He continued to support the cause of independence, but did so with growing reservations and a sense of unease.


“Unlike Jefferson, Hamilton never saw the creation of America as a magical leap across a chasm to an entirely new landscape, and he always thought the New World had much to learn from the Old.”

“For anyone studying Hamilton’s pay book, it would come as no surprise that he would someday emerge as a first-rate constitutional scholar, an unsurpassed treasury secretary, and the protagonist of the first great sex scandal in American political history.”

“I think that we Americans, at least in the Southern col[onie]s, cannot contend with a good grace for liberty until we shall have enfranchised our slaves,” Laurens told a friend right before the signing of the Declaration of Independence.”

“Prejudice and private interest will be antagonists too powerful for public spirit and public good.”

“You know the opinion I entertain of mankind and how much it is my desire to preserve myself free from particular attachments and to keep my happiness independent of the caprice of others. You s[hould] not have taken advantage of my sensibility to ste[al] into my affections without my consent.”

SEVEN: The Lovesick Colonel


  • Alexander Hamilton resigned from his position as Washington's aide-de-camp after a heated argument in February 1781.
  • Hamilton felt that Washington had treated him disrespectfully and believed that their dispositions were opposites.
  • Washington attempted to make amends, but Hamilton was determined to teach the commander in chief a lesson.
  • Despite their disagreements, both men recognized the importance of their roles in the Revolution and shared a vision for America's future.
  • The rupture between Hamilton and Washington underscores Hamilton's egotism, pride, and quick temper but also his belief that he had been asked to sacrifice his military ambitions for too long.


“The truth is I am an unlucky honest man that speaks my sentiments to all and with emphasis.”

EIGHT: Glory


  • Alexander Hamilton participated in the Battle of Yorktown, which was a turning point in the American Revolution and led to the surrender of British General Cornwallis's army.
  • Hamilton distinguished himself during the battle by capturing Redoubt Ten with his light infantry, using the password "Rochambeau."
  • After the victory at Yorktown, Hamilton retired from the military and returned to Albany to be reunited with his wife Eliza and their newborn son Philip.
  • Hamilton's heroism during the battle of Yorktown helped establish his reputation as a brave and capable soldier and contributed to his future political success.
  • The American Revolution provided opportunities for individuals to bring their talents and virtues to light, even if it came with hardships and struggles.


“If Washington expected relief from Hamilton badgering him for an appointment, he soon learned otherwise. Hamilton was fully prepared to become a pest.”

“As too much power leads to despotism, too little leads to anarchy, and both eventually to the ruin of the people.”

“Since both Eliza and Angelica were pregnant, sister Peggy crept downstairs to retrieve the endangered child. The leader of the raiding party barred her way with a musket. “Wench, wench! Where is your master?” he demanded. “Gone to alarm the town,” the coolheaded Peggy said. The intruder, fearing that Schuyler would return with troops, fled in alarm.”

“Cornwallis had grown so desperate that he infected blacks with smallpox and forced them to wander toward enemy lines in an attempt to sicken the opposing forces.”

NINE: Ragine Billows


  • Alexander Hamilton served in the Continental Army for eight years, during which time he gained valuable experience and made important connections.
  • Hamilton was a strong advocate for a centralized federal government and believed that the Articles of Confederation were insufficient for governing the United States effectively.
  • In 1783, the Pennsylvania Mutiny occurred when state militiamen refused to disband and instead marched on Philadelphia to force Congress to move their capital to Lancaster. Hamilton believed this incident showed the weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation and advocated for a constitutional convention to revise them.
  • The war ended with Britain's defeat, leading to the evacuation of British troops from New York City in November 1783. This marked the end of British rule in America.
  • After the war, Hamilton returned to New York City and settled down with his wife Eliza and their son Philip. He opted to invest in upstate land rather than Manhattan real estate, which proved to be a missed opportunity.
  • Hamilton began practicing law in New York and focused on defending Tories who were being persecuted after the war. He also advocated against punitive measures taken against them.
  • Despite his vision for New York City's future greatness, Hamilton's investment decision was one of his few conspicuous failures of economic judgment.


“After the death of John Laurens, Hamilton shut off some compartment of his emotions and never reopened it.”

“Washington must have seen that Hamilton, for all his brains and daring, sometimes lacked judgment and had to be supervised carefully.”

TEN: A Grave, Silent, Strange Sort of Animal


  • In 1784, Alexander Hamilton defended Robert Waddington in Rutgers v. Waddington, a landmark case that upheld the law of nations and established the principle of judicial review.
  • The same year, Hamilton helped establish New York's first bank, the Bank of New York, which faced opposition from those who wanted a "land bank" and from rural interests.
  • The bank was chartered in 1787 after much controversy, and it provided order to the chaotic American currency system by issuing its own notes and listing exchange rates for various currencies.
  • Hamilton's role in the Bank of New York brought him into contact with a diverse group of people, including radicals and Loyalists, who were otherwise at odds with each other in city politics.
  • The bank marked a significant moment in New York's rise as a world financial center and demonstrated Hamilton's ability to bridge political divisions through economic initiatives.


“Robert Troup said that Hamilton rejected fees if they were larger than he thought warranted and generally favored arbitration or amicable settlements in lieu of lawsuits.”

“The law is whatever is successfully argued and plausibly maintained,”

“He thought America’s character would be defined by how it treated its vanquished enemies, and he wanted to graduate from bitter wartime grievances to the forgiving posture of peace.”

“McDougall was a certified revolutionary hero, while the Scottish-born cashier, the punctilious and corpulent William Seton, was a Loyalist who had spent the war in the city. In a striking show of bipartisan unity, the most vociferous Sons of Liberty—Marinus Willett, Isaac Sears, and John Lamb—appended their names to the bank’s petition for a state charter. As a triple power at the new bank—a director, the author of its constitution, and its attorney—Hamilton straddled a critical nexus of economic power. One of Hamilton’s motivations in backing the bank was to introduce order into the manic universe of American currency. By the end of the Revolution, it took $167 in continental dollars to buy one dollar’s worth of gold and silver. This worthless currency had been superseded by new paper currency, but the states also issued bills, and large batches of New Jersey and Pennsylvania paper swamped Manhattan. Shopkeepers had to be veritable mathematical wizards to figure out the fluctuating values of the varied bills and coins in circulation. Congress adopted the dollar as the official monetary unit in 1785, but for many years New York shopkeepers still quoted prices in pounds, shillings, and pence. The city was awash with strange foreign coins bearing exotic names: Spanish doubloons, British and French guineas, Prussian carolines, Portuguese moidores. To make matters worse, exchange rates differed from state to state. Hamilton hoped that the Bank of New York would counter all this chaos by issuing its own notes and also listing the current exchange rates for the miscellaneous currencies. Many Americans still regarded banking as a black, unfathomable art, and it was anathema to upstate populists. The Bank of New York was denounced by some as the cat’s-paw of British capitalists. Hamilton’s petition to the state legislature for a bank charter was denied for seven years, as Governor George Clinton succumbed to the prejudices of his agricultural constituents who thought the bank would give preferential treatment to merchants and shut out farmers. Clinton distrusted corporations as shady plots against the populace, foreshadowing the Jeffersonian revulsion against Hamilton’s economic programs. The upshot was that in June 1784 the Bank of New York opened as a private bank without a charter. It occupied the Walton mansion on St. George’s Square (now Pearl Street), a three-story building of yellow brick and brown trim, and three years later it relocated to Hanover Square. It was to house the personal bank accounts of both Alexander Hamilton and John Jay and prove one of Hamilton’s most durable monuments, becoming the oldest stock traded on the New York Stock Exchange.”

ELEVEN: Ghosts


  • Alexander Hamilton became involved in the New York Manumission Society, an organization dedicated to the gradual emancipation of slaves, in 1784.
  • He served on various committees and advocated for immediate emancipation for some slaves, which was rejected by the society.
  • In 1783, Hamilton became active in the Society of the Cincinnati, a fraternal organization for officers who had served in the Revolutionary War.
  • The society faced criticism due to its hereditary nature and potential for creating a military aristocracy.
  • Hamilton defended the society and argued that it was essential for preserving bonds of friendship and supporting fallen comrades' families.
  • He proposed changes to the society, including allowing nonhereditary members but maintaining the essence of the organization. However, these changes were not adopted.
  • Hamilton's involvement in both organizations showcases his political beliefs and connections during this period. The Manumission Society reflected his humanitarian concerns, while the Society of the Cincinnati demonstrated his focus on preserving the union and military camaraderie.


“By no means confined to the south, slavery was well entrenched in much of the north. By 1784, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Connecticut had outlawed slavery or passed laws for its gradual extinction—at the very least, New England’s soil did not lend itself to large plantations—but New York and New Jersey retained significant slave populations. New York City, in particular, was identified with slavery: it still held slave auctions in the 1750s and was also linked through its sugar refineries to the West Indies. Even in the 1790s, one in five New York City households kept domestic slaves, a practice ubiquitous among well-to-do merchants who wanted cooks, maids, and butlers and regarded slaves as status symbols. (After”

“The most damning and hypocritical critiques of his allegedly aristocratic economic system emanated from the most aristocratic southern slaveholders, who deflected attention from their own nefarious deeds by posing as populist champions and assailing the northern financial and mercantile interests aligned with Hamilton. As will be seen, the national consensus that the slavery issue should be tabled to preserve the union meant that the southern plantation economy was effectively ruled off-limits to political discussion, while Hamilton’s system, by default, underwent the most searching scrutiny.”

“This fierce defender of private property—this man for whom contracts were to be sacred covenants—expressly denied the sanctity of any agreement that stripped people of their freedom.”

“Burr, “His manner was patronizing. . . . As he revealed himself to my moral sense, I saw he was destitute of any fixed principles.”

“avowed preference for an elite based on merit was misconstrued by enemies into a secret adoration of aristocracy.”

TWELVE: August and Respectable Assembly


  • Hamilton returned to Philadelphia on August 13, 1787, after a brief absence due to a dueling incident involving a friend.
  • Hamilton's statement on immigration in the Philadelphia convention argued for equal representation of free and enslaved people for apportioning House seats and electoral votes. However, delegates rejected his proposal and adopted a compromise that counted three enslaved persons as equivalent to two free persons.
  • The slavery issue was a major point of contention at the convention, with southern states seeking protection for their slave-holding interests.
  • After the September 8 adoption of the Constitution's final draft, Hamilton joined the Committee of Style and Arrangement.
  • Gouverneur Morris, a member of this committee, was responsible for writing the preamble's opening phrase, "We the People of the United States," which became a powerful symbol of American democracy.
  • The convention ended on September 17 when thirty-nine delegates signed the Constitution. Hamilton was the only New York delegate to sign it, and he publicly expressed his support for its ratification.


“Hamilton’s besetting fear was that American democracy would be spoiled by demagogues who would mouth populist shibboleths to conceal their despotism.”

“Of all the founders, Hamilton probably had the gravest doubts about the wisdom of the masses and wanted elected leaders who would guide them. This was the great paradox of his career: his optimistic view of America’s potential coexisted with an essentially pessimistic view of human nature. His faith in Americans never quite matched his faith in America itself.”

“One story, perhaps apocryphal, claims that when Hamilton was asked why the framers omitted the word God from the Constitution, he replied, “We forgot.”

“This, I confess, hurts my feelings, and if it obtains credit will require a contradiction,”



  • In June 1788, delegates from New York met at Poughkeepsie to decide whether or not to ratify the newly proposed United States Constitution.
  • Alexander Hamilton, a leading Federalist, made impassioned speeches in favor of adoption, while Governor George Clinton and other Antifederalists argued for the inclusion of a bill of rights and other amendments.
  • The convention was deadlocked until Melancton Smith changed his vote on July 26, giving the Federalists a narrow victory with a vote of thirty to twenty-seven.
  • In celebration of New York's ratification, a massive parade took place in New York City three days earlier, featuring floats and displays that depicted the benefits of union and paid tribute to Hamilton.
  • The ratification of the Constitution marked the zenith of the Federalist alliance with city artisans, but Hamilton would never again enjoy their favor to this extent.


“Since critics found it hard to defeat him on intellectual grounds, they stooped to personal attacks.”

“His eloquence . . . seemed to require opposition to give it its full force.”

“Americans often wonder how this moment could have spawned such extraordinary men as Hamilton and Madison. Part of the answer is that the Revolution produced an insatiable need for thinkers who could generate ideas and wordsmiths who could lucidly expound them. The immediate utility of ideas was an incalculable tonic for the founding generation. The fate of the democratic experiment depended upon political intellectuals who might have been marginalized at other periods.”

“a dangerous ambition more often lurks behind the specious mask of zeal for the rights of the people than under the forbidding appearance of zeal for the firmness and efficiency of government.”

“George Washington noted the hypocrisy of the many slaveholding antifederalists: “It is a little strange that the men of large property in the South should be more afraid that the Constitution will produce an aristocracy or a monarchy than the genuine, democratical people of the East.”

FOURTEEN: Putting the Machine in Motion


  • Alexander Hamilton played a crucial role in securing New York's ratification of the U.S. Constitution by forging alliances with influential figures like Philip Schuyler and Rufus King, despite his earlier political differences with some of them.
  • Hamilton's ambition to become a powerful figure in government led him to push for the creation of a strong federal government, which put him at odds with those who advocated for states' rights and limited federal power.
  • Hamilton's appointment as the first Secretary of the Treasury marked the beginning of his influential tenure in Washington's administration, during which he implemented policies aimed at strengthening the federal government, improving the U.S. economy, and fostering American manufacturing.
  • Hamilton and President George Washington had complementary talents and worked well together due to their shared vision for a strong and respected American nation. Their partnership laid the foundation for many of the key institutions and principles that defined early American politics.


“Both as a matter of temperament and policy, Washington was taciturn, once advising his adopted grandson, “It is best to be silent, for there is nothing more certain than that it is at all times more easy to make enemies than friends.”

FIFTEEN: Villainous Business


  • Thomas Jefferson and James Madison diverted attention from southern slavery by casting a lurid spotlight on Hamilton's financial system as the paramount embodiment of evil.
  • Southern legislators, led by Aedanus Burke, opposed Hamilton's assumption program due to fears that it would strengthen the federal government's power over slavery and undermine states' rights.
  • In March 1790, Burke launched a personal attack on Hamilton during a House debate, branding him a liar. This was an affront to Hamilton's honor and potentially set the stage for a duel.
  • The dispute ended with both parties issuing letters of explanation and apology. However, the episode damaged Burke's political standing and underscored Hamilton's sensitivity about his reputation.
  • The affair demonstrated that beneath Hamilton's invincible facade, he was still the hypersensitive boy from the West Indies, with deep and often ungovernable emotions.


“This falling-out was to be more than personal, for the rift between Hamilton and Madison precipitated the start of the two-party system in America. The funding debate shattered the short-lived political consensus that had ushered in the new government. For the next five years, the political spectrum in America was defined by whether people endorsed or opposed Alexander Hamilton’s programs.”

SIXTEEN: Dr. Pangloss


  • In May 1790, Congress was deadlocked over Hamilton's funding plan due to opposition from southern states on the assumption component.
  • Jefferson, Madison, and Hamilton met for a dinner at Jefferson's residence in Philadelphia on June 20, 1790. During this meeting, they reached a compromise: Philadelphia would be the temporary capital for ten years, followed by a permanent move to a Potomac site. In exchange, southern delegates agreed to support assumption.
  • The deal was significant because it secured passage of Hamilton's funding plan, which established a strong federal government with the power to assume state debts and tax revenues. This foundation would prove crucial in shaping American political parties in the future.
  • The compromise was controversial at the time as many saw it as a corrupt backdoor deal. However, retrospectively, it was an essential moment for the young republic that averted disintegration of the union.
  • Jefferson later downplayed his role in passing assumption and scapegoated Hamilton for using 'duped' in their conversation at dinner. This was an attempt by Jefferson to explain away his involvement in a politically divisive compromise.


“Whoever considers the nature of our government with discernment will see that though obstacles and delays will frequently stand in the way of the adoption of good measures, yet when once adopted, they are likely to be stable and permanent. It will be far more difficult to undo than to do.”

SEVENTEEN: The First Town in America


  • Alexander Hamilton assumed office as the first U.S. Secretary of the Treasury on September 13, 1789.
  • He moved to Philadelphia and set up temporary offices in a two-story brick building on Third Street.
  • The Treasury Department was vastly larger than other government departments at the time, with over five hundred employees under Hamilton's leadership.
  • Hamilton oversaw the creation of the Customs Service, which accounted for 90% of federal revenues and employed numerous collectors and inspectors. He also created the U.S. Coast Guard to patrol waters and intercept contraband.
  • The Treasury Department handled a significant portion of government finances, including the collection of taxes and the assumption of state debts.
  • Hamilton sought to diversify revenue sources by proposing an excise tax on domestically produced whiskey and other spirits. This was met with resistance in rural areas, particularly western Pennsylvania, where moonshine production was common.
  • Hamilton believed that the federal government needed a strong revenue base to assert its authority over the states and promote economic growth. He was prepared to enforce unpopular taxes and policies to achieve this goal.


“Abigail Adams, who did not set sail until November, seemed miffed by the enforced southward shift, swearing that she would try to enjoy Philadelphia but that “when all is done it will not be Broadway.”

“In constructing the Coast Guard, Hamilton insisted on rigorous professionalism and irreproachable conduct. He knew that if revenue-cutter captains searched vessels in an overbearing fashion, this high-handed behavior might sap public support, so he urged firmness tempered with restraint. He reminded skippers to “always keep in mind that their countrymen are free men and as such are impatient of everything that bears the least mark of a domineering spirit. [You] will therefore refrain . . . from whatever has the semblance of haughtiness, rudeness, or insult.” So masterly was Hamilton’s directive about boarding foreign vessels that it was still being applied during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis.”

“In December 1790, with other options foreclosed, Hamilton revived a proposal he had floated in his Report on Public Credit: an excise tax on whiskey and other domestic spirits. He knew the measure would be loathed in rural areas that thrived on moonshine, but he thought this might be more palatable to farmers than a land tax. Hamilton confessed to Washington an ulterior political motive for this liquor tax: he wanted to lay “hold of so valuable a resource of revenue before it was generally preoccupied by the state governments.” As with assumption, he wanted to starve the states of revenue and shore up the federal government. Jefferson did not exaggerate Hamilton’s canny capacity to clothe political objectives in technical garb. There were hidden agendas buried inside Hamilton’s economic program, agendas that he tended to share with high-level colleagues but not always with the public.”

EIGHTEEN: Of Avarice and Enterprise


  • In 1790 and 1791, there was a speculative bubble in bank shares due to Hamilton's financial policies.
  • The public subscription for Bank of the United States stocks took place on July 4, 1791. It sold out within an hour, leaving many investors empty-handed.
  • Speculators drove up the price of bank shares, creating a frenzy known as "scrippomania." Many Americans believed that this was part of a northern plot to enrich the northeast at the expense of the south.
  • Hamilton attempted to prevent the bubble from bursting by buying government securities and publicly stating that the price of bank shares was too high. He also warned William Duer, a speculator and former assistant treasury secretary, to be cautious in his trading activities.
  • In August 1791, the bubble burst, causing significant losses for many speculators. The financial turmoil heightened southern fears of northern dominance and led some, like Jefferson, to criticize Hamilton's policies more fiercely.


“Hamilton was not the master builder of the Constitution: the laurels surely go to James Madison. He was, however, its foremost interpreter, starting with The Federalist and continuing with his Treasury tenure, when he had to expound constitutional doctrines to accomplish his goals. He lived, in theory and practice, every syllable of the Constitution. For that reason, historian Clinton Rossiter insisted that Hamilton’s “works and words have been more consequential than those of any other American in shaping the Constitution under which we live.”

NINETEEN: City of the Future


  • The financial panic of 1792, also known as the "Buttonwood Agreement Panic," occurred due to excessive speculation in government securities and was fueled by the misconception that Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton had profited from the crisis.
  • The panic severely affected the Society for Establishing Useful Manufactures (SEUM), which was already struggling with financial difficulties due to the actions of William Duer, one of its prominent members and largest shareholders.
  • The SEUM, founded in 1791 to promote manufacturing in the United States, suffered a major setback as a result of the financial panic and the subsequent revelations about Duer's misappropriation of funds. This, in turn, hindered Hamilton's efforts to establish a robust manufacturing sector in the country.
  • The panic also highlighted a limitation in Hamilton's political vision: the potential for individuals, even those from the wealthy class, to act against the national interest.
  • Duer remained incarcerated until his death in 1799, and Hamilton continued to offer him financial assistance during this time. Their correspondence reveals a deep affection and a sense of shared history between the two men.


“As often is the case with addictions, the fanciful notion of a gradual discontinuance only provided a comforting pretext for more sustained indulgence.”

“It is easy to snicker at such deceit and conclude that Hamilton faked all emotion for his wife, but this would belie the otherwise exemplary nature of their marriage. Eliza Hamilton never expressed anything less than a worshipful attitude toward her husband. His love for her, in turn, was deep and constant if highly imperfect. The problem was that no single woman could seem to satisfy all the needs of this complex man with his checkered childhood. As mirrored in his earliest adolescent poems, Hamilton seemed to need two distinct types of love: love of the faithful, domestic kind and love of the more forbidden, exotic variety. In”

“Around this time, a young man named Samuel Slater slipped through the tight protective net thrown by British authorities around their textile business. As a former apprentice to Sir Richard Arkwright, Slater had sworn that he would never reveal his boss’s trade secrets. Flouting this pledge, he sailed to New York and made contact with Moses Brown, a Rhode Island Quaker. Under Slater’s supervision, Brown financed a spinning mill in Rhode Island that replicated Arkwright’s mill. Hamilton received detailed reports of this triumph, and pretty soon milldams proliferated on New England’s rivers. With patriotic pride, Brown predicted to Hamilton that “mills and machines may be erected in different places, in one year, to make all the cotton yarn that may be wanted in the United States.” 29 Hamilton”

“Perseverance in almost any plan is better than fickleness and fluctuation. (Alexander Hamilton, July 1792)”

TWENTY: Corrupt Squadrons


  • In September 1792, Jefferson and Hamilton engaged in a bitter public feud over political issues, which included accusations of monarchical tendencies, opposition to the Constitution, and personal attacks.
  • Both men published anonymous articles in newspapers under pseudonyms, attacking each other's character and political beliefs.
  • Washington attempted to mediate the dispute but was unsuccessful. He urged both men to refrain from further public attacks for the sake of unity within his administration and the country as a whole.
  • Despite Washington's request, Hamilton continued his attacks on Jefferson through publications in various newspapers, even after Jefferson's resignation from the State Department in March 1793.
  • The feud between Hamilton and Jefferson highlighted the growing political divisions within the Federalist and Democratic-Republican parties, setting the stage for future conflicts during the early years of the United States.


“The suspect nature of these stories can be seen in the anecdote Jefferson told of Hamilton visiting his lodging in 1792 and inquiring about three portraits on the wall. “They are my trinity of the three greatest men the world has ever produced,” Jefferson replied: “Sir Francis Bacon, Sir Isaac Newton, and John Locke.” Hamilton supposedly replied, “The greatest man that ever lived was Julius Casar.”

“If he had wanted to impose a monarchy upon America, Hamilton said, he would follow the classic path of a populist demagogue: “I would mount the hobbyhorse of popularity, I would cry out usurpation, danger to liberty etc. etc. I would endeavour to prostrate the national government, raise a ferment, and then ride in the whirlwind and direct the storm.”

“In fact, no immigrant in American history has ever made a larger contribution than Alexander Hamilton.”

“Again and again in his career, Hamilton committed the same political error: he never knew when to stop, and the resulting excesses led him into irremediable indiscretions.”

TWENTY-ONE: Exposure


  • Alexander Hamilton had an affair with Maria Reynolds while serving as Secretary of the Treasury.
  • The affair came to light when James Reynolds, in financial trouble and seeking blackmail money from Hamilton, was exposed for his own infidelity.
  • Hamilton admitted the affair to three Republican legislators, Muhlenberg, Monroe, and Venable, who had come to question him about alleged government corruption.
  • The legislators initially believed that Hamilton was involved in a corrupt deal with Reynolds, but after hearing Hamilton's account of the affair, they were satisfied that it was a private matter and dropped their investigation.
  • However, Monroe shared the documents related to the affair with Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, who used them to attack Hamilton's character and integrity.
  • The marriage between Alexander and Eliza Hamilton survived the affair.
  • Maria Reynolds divorced her husband James in May 1793 and married Jacob Clingman.
  • In an unpublished essay on American neutrality, Hamilton wrote about the importance of marital fidelity and criticized those who prioritize foreign affairs over their own country.

TWENTY-TWO: Stabbed in the Dark


  • In late February 1793, William Branch Giles introduced nine censure resolutions against Alexander Hamilton in the House of Representatives based on a draft provided by Thomas Jefferson.
  • The resolutions accused Hamilton of improperly mixing foreign and domestic loans and maladministration in the duties of his office. They demanded that Hamilton be removed from office by the president.
  • The House roundly voted down all nine resolutions on March 1, 1793.
  • Republicans continued to seek information about Hamilton, focusing on a disgruntled former Treasury Department clerk named Andrew Fraunces and his allegations of financial ties between Hamilton and Robert Morris and William Duer.
  • In May 1793, Fraunces met with Jacob Clingman, who was trying to prove that Hamilton had conspired with Duer in rigging the market in government securities.
  • John Beckley, a close confidant of Jefferson, gathered information from Clingman and Fraunces and relayed it to Jefferson.
  • In early July 1793, Hamilton invited Jacob Clingman to his office and tried to draw him out about his dealings with Fraunces and John Beckley.
  • In late August 1793, Fraunces published a pamphlet of his correspondence with Hamilton and Washington.
  • Hamilton responded by placing notices in two New York newspapers denying any wrongdoing and accusing Fraunces of being a "despicable calumniator."
  • Fraunces continued to make allegations against Hamilton, who defended himself through affidavits from prominent people.
  • In February 1794, Congress passed two resolutions rejecting Fraunces' claims and commending Hamilton's honorable handling of the matter.


“Hamilton’s critics seriously underrated his superhuman stamina. He enjoyed beating his enemies at their own game, and the resolutions roused his fighting spirit. By February 19, in a staggering display of diligence, he delivered to the House several copious reports, garlanded with tables, lists, and statistics that gave a comprehensive overview of his work as treasury secretary. In the finale of one twenty-thousand-word report, Hamilton intimated that he had risked a physical breakdown to complete this heroic labor: “It is certain that I have made every exertion in my power, at the hazard of my health, to comply with the requisitions of the House as early as possible.”

TWENTY-THREE: Citizen Genêt


  • In the summer of 1793, tensions between Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson and Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton reached a boiling point over the handling of Citizen Genêt, the French minister to the United States.
  • Jefferson accused Hamilton of being pro-British and sought to limit his power by splitting the Treasury Department into two separate entities and severing ties between the Bank of the United States and the government.
  • Hamilton, in turn, accused Jefferson of harboring monarchist sympathies and called for transparency regarding Genêt's threatening behavior towards President Washington.
  • In August 1793, Washington grew increasingly frustrated with the infighting within his cabinet and the widespread criticism from the press, particularly the National Gazette. He threatened to resign if Jefferson did not dismiss its editor, Philip Freneau.
  • Jefferson refused to comply, arguing that the freedom of the press was essential to the American republic.
  • In late September 1793, Washington agreed to recall Citizen Genêt, and Jefferson drafted a letter asking for his removal. The eventual downfall of the Girondists in France made it easier for Washington to act against Genêt without appearing to have bowed to Hamilton's pressure.
  • Jefferson resigned from the cabinet at the end of 1793, citing his disillusionment with Washington's inner circle and his opposition to Hamilton's policies.
  • The Genêt affair highlighted the growing rift between Jefferson and Hamilton, which would come to a head during the Quasi-War with France in the late 1790s.


“Hamilton, the human word machine,”

TWENTY-FOUR: A Disagreeable Trade


  • Alexander Hamilton faced numerous investigations into his conduct as treasury secretary, including the Giles inquiry and a select committee investigation in 1793-1794
  • Hamilton was accused of misusing public funds and transferring money abroad without proper authorization, but the investigations found no wrongdoing on his part
  • The Republicans, led by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, relentlessly attacked Hamilton's character and motives in the media, trying to damage his reputation
  • Hamilton felt vindicated after the investigations cleared him of any wrongdoing but was frustrated that his opponents still repeated false accusations against him
  • Hamilton grew tired of public life and wrote to Angelica Church about the difficulties and disappointments of being a statesman.


“He had learned a lesson about propaganda in politics and mused wearily that “no character, however upright, is a match for constantly reiterated attacks, however false.” If a charge was made often enough, people assumed in the end “that a person so often accused cannot be entirely innocent.”

TWENTY-FIVE: Seas of Blood


  • Alexander Hamilton met with George Hammond, Britain's minister to the United States, twice before Jay's departure for England to express his concerns about British cruisers and demand compensation for American vessels captured.
  • Talleyrand, a French diplomat, arrived in Philadelphia in April 1794 and was welcomed by Angelica Church. Despite Talleyrand's condemnation in France, Hamilton managed to meet with him privately, and they developed a mutual fascination.
  • Talleyrand held Hamilton in high regard, considering him one of the three greatest men of their epoch. He admired Hamilton's realistic approach to politics and his foresight regarding America's economic future.
  • Angelica Church expressed her deep affection for Hamilton in a letter to Eliza, expressing her hopes that he would attain great glory and wishing that she could join him for conversations.


“Where Jefferson dismissed these wholesale killings as regrettable but necessary sacrifices to freedom, Hamilton was traumatized by them. The burgeoning atheism of the French Revolution reawakened in him religious feelings that had lain dormant since King’s College days.”

TWENTY-SIX: The Wicked Insurgents of the West


  • Alexander Hamilton resigned as secretary of the treasury in January 1795 due to exhaustion and a miscarriage experienced by his wife Eliza.
  • Washington praised Hamilton's service, acknowledging his contributions to the financial system and expressing confidence in his integrity.
  • Hamilton's departure from office marked the end of an era for the young American republic. He had laid the groundwork for both liberal democracy and capitalism, transforming the role of the president from passive administrator to active policy maker.
  • His financial system, which operated like "enchantment" for the restoration of public credit, had made the United States creditworthy in just a few short years.
  • Hamilton had also defended Washington's administration more brilliantly than anyone else, articulating its constitutional underpinnings and enunciating key tenets of foreign policy.
  • Hamilton left Philadelphia feeling accomplished, having successfully navigated challenges such as the Whiskey Rebellion, the investigation into his personal affairs, and the implementation of his financial plans. However, he was also plagued by feelings of discontent and alienation, believing that the country had let him down in some way.


“He wondered why he cared so desperately about the fate of his adopted country and others seemingly so little.

"To see the character of the government and the country so sported with, exposed to so indelible a blot, puts my heart to the torture. Am I then more of an American than those who drew their first breath on American ground? Or what is it that thus torments me at a circumstance so calmly viewed by almost everybody else? Am I a fool, a romantic Quixote, or is there a constitutional defect in the American mind? Were it not for yourself and a few others, I . . . would say . . . there is something in our climate which belittles every animal, human or brute. . . . I disclose to you without reserve the state of my mind. It is discontented and gloomy in the extreme. I consider the cause of good government as having been put to an issue and the verdict against it.”

“Bankrupt when Hamilton took office, the United States now enjoyed a credit rating equal to that of any European nation. He had laid the groundwork for both liberal democracy and capitalism and helped to transform the role of the president from passive administrator to active policy maker, creating the institutional scaffolding for America’s future emergence as a great power. He had demonstrated the creative uses of government and helped to weld the states irreversibly into one nation. He had also defended Washington’s administration more brilliantly than anyone else, articulating its constitutional underpinnings and enunciating key tenets of foreign policy. “We look in vain for a man who, in an equal space of time, has produced such direct and lasting effects upon our institutions and history,” Henry Cabot Lodge was to contend. 62 Hamilton’s achievements were never matched because he was present at the government’s inception, when he could draw freely on a blank slate. If Washington was the father of the country and Madison the father of the Constitution, then Alexander Hamilton was surely the father of the American government.”

TWENTY-SEVEN: Sugar Plums and Toys


  • In early 1795, Jay negotiated a treaty with Great Britain to address lingering issues from the Revolutionary War, including maritime rights and financial claims.
  • The Jay Treaty was controversial in the United States due to concerns over potential British influence and the perceived abandonment of French support.
  • The Federalist Party, led by Alexander Hamilton, strongly supported the treaty as essential for national security and economic prosperity.
  • The Republican Party, led by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, opposed the treaty due to fears of British influence and a desire to maintain relations with France.
  • A fierce political battle ensued over the ratification of the Jay Treaty, with both sides employing passionate rhetoric and tactics such as public protests, congressional maneuvers, and influential speeches.
  • George Washington's position on the treaty was crucial, as his support could sway public opinion. Hamilton played a significant role in advising Washington and defending the treaty through powerful essays known as "The Defence."
  • The House of Representatives eventually passed appropriations to implement the Jay Treaty in April 1796, despite Republican opposition.
  • The Jay Treaty represented a major victory for the Federalist Party and established executive-branch leadership in foreign policy.
  • The political conflict over the treaty strained relationships between key figures, including Washington, Jefferson, and Madison.


“Jay was attacked with peculiar venom. Near his New York home, the walls of a building were defaced with the gigantic words, 'Damn John Jay. Damn everyone that won’t damn John Jay. Damn everyone that won’t put up lights in the windows and sit up all night damning John Jay.”

“Washington quibbled with Hamilton on one or two points but otherwise stood in perfect agreement. His letter to Hamilton again corroborates what the Jeffersonians found difficult to credit: that Washington never shied away from differing with the redoubtable Hamilton but agreed with him on the vast majority of issues.”

“Over a period of nearly six months, he published twenty-eight glittering essays, strengthening his claim as arguably the foremost political pamphleteer in American history. As with The Federalist Papers, “The Defence” spilled out at a torrid pace, sometimes two or three essays per week. In all, Hamilton poured forth nearly one hundred thousand words even as he kept up a full-time legal practice. This compilation, dashed off in the heat of controversy, was to stand as yet another magnum opus in his canon.”

“The prolific Hamilton was now writing pseudonymous commentaries on his own pseudonymous essays.”

TWENTY-EIGHT: Spare Cassius


  • In the 1796 presidential election, Hamilton worked behind the scenes to elect Thomas Pinckney over John Adams. He believed that Pinckney would be more pliant to his influence.
  • Hamilton's efforts were uncovered by John Adams after the election, causing a deep rift between the two men.
  • Hamilton was critical of Jefferson in the "Phocion" essays, which appeared in the Gazette of the United States during the campaign. He accused Jefferson of being a hypocritical slaveholder and mocked his supposed moral philosophy.
  • Hamilton attempted to use the slavery issue to turn southern slaveholders against Jefferson, hoping they would instead support Pinckney. However, this strategy did not work as planned, and Adams won the election with a slim margin.
  • Adams was hostile toward Hamilton for his role in the election, and he sought to punish him. Despite their estrangement, Jefferson hoped that Adams would turn against Hamilton and tried to ingratiate himself with the president.
  • Republicans preferred Adams to Washington because of his distance from Hamilton. They saw Adams as a barrier against Hamilton's influence.
  • Jefferson believed that the moment was not auspicious for a Republican president and was content to let Adams bear the burden of dealing with France. He counseled patience to Madison.


“Washington’s decision to forgo a third term was momentous. He wasn’t bound by term limits, and many Americans expected him to serve for life. He surrendered power in a world where leaders had always grabbed for more. Stepping down was the most majestic democratic response he could have flung at his Republican critics. Toward the end of his first term, he had asked James Madison to draft a farewell address and then stashed it away when he decided on a second term. Now, in the spring of 1796, he unearthed that draft. As at the close of the American Revolution, Washington wanted to make a valedictory statement that would codify some enduring principles in American political life. To update Madison’s draft, he turned to Hamilton. Washington no longer felt obliged to restrain his affection for his protégé and now sent Hamilton handwritten notes marked “Private.” He increasingly treated him as a peer and warm friend, and Hamilton responded with gratitude.”

“In theory, Jefferson could have fathered all of Sally Hemings’s children. Fawn M. Brodie has written, “Jefferson was not only not ‘distant’ from Sally Hemings but in the same house nine months before the births of each of her seven children and she conceived no children when he was not there.”54 Jefferson freed only two slaves in his lifetime and another five in his will, and all belonged to the Hemings family, though he excluded Sally. On her deathbed, Sally Hemings told her son Madison that he and his siblings were Jefferson’s children. In 1998, DNA tests confirmed that Jefferson (or some male in his family) had likely fathered at least one of Sally Hemings’s children, Eston. Reading between the lines of “Phocion,” one surmises that Hamilton knew all about Sally Hemings, quite possibly from Angelica Church.”

TWENTY-NINE: The Man in the Glass Bubble


  • John Adams assumed the presidency in March 1797, following George Washington's retirement.
  • Adams was a shy and intellectual man who disliked the trappings of power and political parties. He preferred to be a nonpartisan president.
  • Adams faced several challenges as president: he had never held executive power at the state or federal level, and he feared civil war, despotism, and foreign intrigue.
  • To allay fears of an orderly succession and placate the Federalists, Adams retained Washington's cabinet: Timothy Pickering at State, Oliver Wolcott, Jr., at Treasury, and James McHenry at War.
  • Hamilton, who had long exerted significant influence over Washington, continued to advise the cabinet members despite Adams' objections.
  • Adams claimed that he was unaware of Hamilton's influence until the end of his presidency but later acknowledged that he had known all along.
  • Adams and Hamilton clashed frequently due to their differing leadership styles: Adams preferred to consult with Abigail and trusted friends, while Hamilton wanted to be the one-man brain trust and maintain his intellectual preeminence.
  • Adams spent a significant amount of time away from Philadelphia, which contributed to his loss of control over his cabinet and allowed his enemies to chuckle at what they perceived as a weak presidency.
  • The Federalist Party was fracturing under the leadership of Adams and Hamilton, who detested each other. Both were hasty, erratic, impulsive men with blazing gifts for invective, which they eventually turned against each other.

THIRTY: Flying Too Near the Sun


  • Alexander Hamilton and Eliza Schuyler were deeply in love and married on December 14, 1780. They had eight children together.
  • In July 1797, the newspaper "Callender's Virginia Herald" published a series of articles accusing Hamilton of having an affair with a woman named Maria Reynolds and of blackmailing her husband for financial gain.
  • Hamilton responded by writing and publishing his own pamphlet, "A Full Vindication," in which he admitted to the affair but denied the allegations of blackmail.
  • Eliza was devastated by the scandal and the exposure of her husband's infidelity. She remained loyal to him and continued to love and support him throughout his life.
  • Hamilton showed great concern for Eliza during this time, especially when she had a baby in Albany and their eldest son, Philip, fell ill with a severe fever.
  • The scandal may have contributed to the death of Eliza's mother-in-law, Rachel Faucette Lavien Hamilton, who died in October 1797.
  • Hamilton's behavior during this period highlights his dedication to his family and his tendency toward impulsiveness and secrecy.
  • The scandal also illustrates the role of the press in shaping public opinion and the importance of reputation in eighteenth-century America.


“The mystery of why Callender and his cronies disclosed the Reynolds scandal that summer is a tantalizing one. Callender mentioned the recall of James Monroe, but there were other reasons as well. The infamous exposé might never have been published if Washington had still been in office. For Republican pamphleteers, it was now open season on the Federalists. Callender wanted to prevent Hamilton from exercising the same influence over Adams that he’d had over Washington. He also wanted to besmirch Washington’s reputation by demonstrating that he had been a puppet mouthing words scripted by Hamilton.”

THIRTY-ONE: An Instrument of Hell


  • Alexander Hamilton's tenure as inspector general of the army from 1798 to 1800 was marked by his efforts to modernize and expand the U.S. military, in response to the perceived threat of a French invasion.
  • Hamilton advocated for a permanent military establishment and lobbied for the creation of a military academy at West Point.
  • He also proposed the idea of invading Spanish America with British assistance, which was met with skepticism from President John Adams and other political leaders.
  • Hamilton's plans for expanding the army and his involvement in the Miranda conspiracy were criticized by Republicans as evidence of his desire to establish a monarchy in the United States.
  • The inspector general position also allowed Hamilton to interfere in the War Department, leading to tension with Secretary of War James McHenry and President Adams.

THIRTY-TWO: Reign of Witches


  • The Alien and Sedition Acts were a set of four laws passed by the Federalist-controlled Congress in 1798, designed to silence critics of the Adams administration and strengthen the government's ability to deal with foreigners deemed dangerous or undesirable.
  • The Alien Act allowed the president to deport aliens considered "dangerous to the peace and safety" of the United States, while the Sedition Act made it a crime to publish "false, scandalous, and malicious writing" against the government or its officials.
  • Hamilton was a staunch defender of the Federalist regime and saw the Alien and Sedition Acts as necessary for maintaining order in the face of perceived threats from France and domestic dissenters. He believed that the laws were essential to protect the reputation of the president and the integrity of the government.
  • The Sedition Act was used to prosecute several Republican newspapers, including The Argus of New York, which had published articles critical of the Adams administration and Hamilton personally. Hamilton himself instigated a libel suit against The Argus for an article that suggested he had offered to buy the paper in order to suppress it.
  • Republicans saw the Alien and Sedition Acts as a blatant attack on freedom of speech and press, and they responded with the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions, which asserted states' rights and declared the acts unconstitutional.
  • Hamilton was also concerned about potential domestic disturbances and advocated for a stronger federal military to deal with any threats. He saw the possibility of armed rebellion in Virginia and believed that a strong national army would be more effective than state militias in suppressing such uprisings.
  • The lack of clear presidential leadership during Fries's Rebellion, an anti-tax protest in eastern Pennsylvania, led to confusion and indecision among federal authorities. Hamilton, as the de facto commander of the army, assembled a force to put down the rebellion but was hampered by the absence of strong presidential guidance.
  • President Adams ultimately pardoned the leaders of Fries's Rebellion, which angered Hamilton and other Federalists who believed that the rebels should have been tried and punished for treason.
  • The Alien and Sedition Acts expired in 1801, and the Sedition Act was never reenacted. However, they left a lasting impact on American political discourse and set the stage for future debates over freedom of speech, press, and government power.

THIRTY-THREE: Works Godly and Ungodly


  • Aaron Burr proposed a water company to the Common Council in New York in 1798, but his real intention was to establish a bank under the guise of a water company.
  • Burr enlisted Hamilton, a Federalist, and other influential figures to sponsor his proposal for a private water company in the state legislature.
  • The legislature granted a charter for the Manhattan Company on April 2, 1799, but with a loophole that allowed the company to use "surplus capital" in any monied transactions or operations.
  • Burr used this provision to open a bank under the name of the Manhattan Company, which posed a competitive threat to the Bank of New York.
  • In 1799, Aaron Burr and John Barker Church, a director of the Manhattan Company, engaged in a duel over allegations that Burr had been bribed for his influence in passing a law beneficial to the Holland Company. The duel was a political move on Burr's part to restore his reputation after the controversy surrounding the Manhattan Company.
  • Unlike the later Hamilton-Burr duel, this encounter was not fought with deadly intent and was quickly ended when Church apologized for his indiscreet comments.

THIRTY-FOUR: In an Evil Hour


  • In 1798, President John Adams signed into law the Alien and Sedition Acts, which were intended to quell anti-Federalist sentiment and secure Federalist control of the government.
  • Alexander Hamilton, a leading Federalist, initially supported the new laws but soon came to regret them. He believed they infringed on free speech and threatened to divide the country.
  • In 1799, President Adams sent a diplomatic mission to France to negotiate a peace treaty and avoid war with Napoleon Bonaparte's regime. Hamilton saw this as a dangerous move and feared that it would weaken America's military preparedness.
  • Hamilton believed that the French Revolution was not yet over and that a resurgent France would pose a threat to American security. He advocated for a strong military to counter this perceived threat, but his plans were met with resistance from President Adams and opposition from anti-Federalist forces.
  • In late 1799, George Washington died unexpectedly, leaving a power vacuum in the Federalist party. Hamilton saw this as an opportunity to assert his leadership and take control of the military. However, his plans were thwarted when Congress halted enlistments for the new army and disbanded most of the troops under Hamilton's command.
  • Hamilton was deeply disappointed by these developments and felt that his military career had come to an end. He continued to advocate for a military academy and other military initiatives but was ultimately unsuccessful in realizing his vision.
  • Hamilton's disappointment over the failure of his military plans, combined with his bitterness towards President Adams, left him feeling gloomy and despondent in his final years.


“Washington departed the planet as admirably as he had inhabited it. He had long hated slavery, even though he had profited from it. Now, in his will, he stipulated that his slaves should be emancipated after Martha’s death, and he set aside funds for slaves who would be either too young or too old to care for themselves. Of the nine American presidents who owned slaves—a list that includes his fellow Virginians Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe—only Washington set free all of his slaves.”

THIRTY-FIVE: Gusts of Passion


  • Hamilton's visit to New England as part of an electioneering campaign for Charles Cotesworth Pinckney was met with resistance, particularly in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, where many voters saw it as a threat to John Adams' presidency.
  • Hamilton and the Federalists believed that John Adams had acted unconstitutionally by dismissing Timothy Pickering and Henry Dearborn from their positions without Congress' approval, and that he was attempting to create a standing army in violation of the Peace Establishment Act.
  • Hamilton's tour through New England was fueled by his belief that John Adams was unfit for office due to his actions regarding McHenry, Pickering, and the army, and that Jefferson would be a more suitable president.
  • Abigail Adams saw Hamilton as an upstart next to her husband, and she and John Adams viewed him and his supporters as part of an Essex Junto conspiracy attempting to install Pinckney as president.
  • Hamilton's efforts to elect Pinckney were met with resistance from many Federalists who felt that Adams was the better candidate and that Hamilton's actions were motivated by personal pique rather than a genuine concern for the country.


“If we must have an enemy at the head of government, let it be one whom we can oppose, and for whom we are not responsible.”

THIRTY-SIX: In a Very Belligerent Humor


  • The election of 1800 was a closely contested race between Thomas Jefferson, Aaron Burr, John Adams, and Charles C. Pinckney.
  • Alexander Hamilton played a role in the election through his anonymous publication of "A Letter from Lulubelle to her Friend Polly," which attacked John Adams's character and accused him of treasonous dealings with France during the Quasi-War.
  • The pamphlet was widely circulated and is believed to have influenced voters in New York, which cast all of its electoral votes for Jefferson and Burr, giving them a decisive victory over Adams and Pinckney.
  • The election marked the end of the Federalist Party as a major political force and the ascendancy of the Republican Party, which was dominated by slaveholding southern elites.
  • Hamilton's involvement in the election contributed to his falling out with John Adams and the end of his political career.
  • Jefferson's victory marked the beginning of a period of democratic rule in the United States, but it also perpetuated the constitutional bias towards slavery and southern power.


“Fisher Ames observed of Hamilton that the common people don’t want leaders “whom they see elevated by nature and education so far above their heads.”

“The intellectual spoilsport among the founding fathers, Hamilton never believed in the perfectibility of human nature and regularly violated what became the first commandment of American politics: thou shalt always be optimistic when addressing the electorate. He shrank from the campaign rhetoric that flattered Americans as the most wonderful, enlightened people on earth and denied that they had anything to learn from European societies. He was incapable of the resolutely uplifting themes that were to become mandatory in American politics. The first great skeptic of American exceptionalism, he refused to believe that the country was exempt from the sober lessons of history.”

“Both Hamilton and Jefferson believed in democracy, but Hamilton tended to be more suspicious of the governed and Jefferson of the governors.”

“The three terms of Federalist rule had been full of dazzling accomplishments that Republicans, with their extreme apprehension of federal power, could never have achieved. Under the tutelage of Washington, Adams, and Hamilton, the Federalists had bequeathed to American history a sound federal government with a central bank, a funded debt, a high credit rating, a tax system, a customs service, a coast guard, a navy, and many other institutions that would guarantee the strength to preserve liberty. They activated critical constitutional doctrines that gave the American charter flexibility, forged the bonds of nationhood, and lent an energetic tone to the executive branch in foreign and domestic policy. Hamilton, in particular, bound the nation through his fiscal programs in a way that no Republican could have matched. He helped to establish the rule of law and the culture of capitalism at a time when a revolutionary utopianism and a flirtation with the French Revolution still prevailed among too many Jeffersonians. With their reverence for states’ rights, abhorrence of central authority, and cramped interpretation of the Constitution, Republicans would have found it difficult, if not impossible, to achieve these historic feats. Hamilton”

“Many of these slaveholding populists were celebrated by posterity as tribunes of the common people. Meanwhile, the self-made Hamilton, a fervent abolitionist and a staunch believer in meritocracy, was villainized in American history textbooks as an apologist of privilege and wealth.”



  • The election of 1800 was a contentious contest between Jefferson and Burr, both of whom received identical numbers of electoral votes.
  • The House of Representatives had to break the deadlock by choosing between the two candidates.
  • Hamilton used his influence to prevent Burr's election and promote a deal between Federalists and Republicans.
  • Jefferson, who denied making any deals, won the presidency after thirty-six ballots in the House.
  • John Adams, the incumbent president, boycotted Jefferson's inauguration out of bitterness over his defeat.
  • The election established a precedent for peaceful transfers of power and confirmed the importance of the electoral college.
  • Jefferson's conciliatory inaugural address set a tone of bipartisanship that would not last long.

THIRTY-EIGHT: A World Full of Folly


  • Philip Hamilton was involved in a duel on July 11, 1802, which resulted in his death from a gunshot wound received from George Eacker.
  • Alexander Hamilton tried to prevent the duel from taking place and encouraged Philip to throw away his shot on the field of honor.
  • The duel occurred despite efforts to avoid it, and both men fired their weapons but neither were injured. However, during negotiations to call off further duels, Eacker challenged Philip to a duel over an incident at the theater.
  • Philip agreed to the duel and was killed by Eacker on July 11, 1802. Alexander Hamilton was deeply affected by his son's death and fell into a deep depression.
  • The episode had parallels to Hamilton's later confrontation with Aaron Burr, with accusations of who fired first and who was the aggressor being contested.
  • Philip's sister Angelica also suffered a mental breakdown as a result of her brother's death and lived out her life in a state of near-permanent confusion.


“[Philip's death was] beyond comparison the most afflicting of my life.... He was truly a fine youth. But why should I repine? It was the will of heaven and he is now out of the reach of the seductions and calamities of a world full of folly, full of vice, full of danger, of least value in proportion as it is best known. I firmly trust also that he has safely reached the haven of eternal repose and felicity. (Alexander Hamilton letter to Benjamin Rush about the death of his 19-year old son from mortal wounds inflicted from a duel.)”

THIRTY-NINE: Pamphlet Wars


  • In his final years, Alexander Hamilton showed renewed religious fervor and expressed a desire to build a chapel for his children in the woods near his home.
  • Aaron Burr's isolation from power grew during the Jefferson administration as he sought alliances with both Federalists and Republicans in an attempt to regain influence.
  • Newspapers published scandalous stories about Hamilton and Burr, including allegations of sexual improprieties, electoral deceit, and financial misconduct.
  • The Pamphlet Wars escalated into physical violence, with duels becoming a favored method for settling political disputes.
  • James T. Callender, a former Republican journalist who had turned against the party, published scandalous stories about both Hamilton and President Jefferson, including allegations of extramarital affairs and children born out of wedlock.
  • The Federalist and Republican press engaged in a bitter campaign of recriminations, with each side accusing the other of libel and character assassination.
  • Callender died under mysterious circumstances in 1803, and his death was followed by accusations that Jeffersonians had been involved in his demise.

FORTY: The Price of Truth


  • Aaron Burr ran for governor of New York in 1804, challenging incumbent Morgan Lewis, who was backed by both the Federalist and Republican parties.
  • Burr's campaign was marred by vicious personal attacks in the press, which accused him of sexual misconduct and treasonous activities.
  • Alexander Hamilton played no direct role in these attacks but was rumored to be behind them due to his long-standing enmity with Burr.
  • Hamilton privately expressed disappointment in the outcome of the election, but there is no evidence that he had a significant impact on its result.
  • Federalists were divided over the issue of secession from the Union, and some were advocating for a northern confederacy to counteract what they saw as southern dominance and expansion of slavery.
  • Hamilton strongly opposed any such movement and viewed it with horror, believing that the Union must be preserved at all costs.
  • The duel between Hamilton and Burr took place on July 11, 1804, less than a year after the gubernatorial election. There is no evidence to suggest that the campaign played a role in their decision to duel.

FORTY-ONE: A Despicable Opinion


  • Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr had a long history of political conflict, dating back to the 1790s.
  • In the early 1800s, their animosity intensified as both men vied for influence in New York State politics and federal government.
  • Burr challenged Hamilton to a duel over unclear reasons, possibly related to political maneuvering or personal slights.
  • Hamilton was conflicted about the duel but ultimately decided to participate to maintain his honor and political standing.
  • Hamilton wrote a farewell statement justifying his actions and expressing concern for his family's future.
  • The duel took place on July 11, 1804, in Weehawken, New Jersey. Hamilton threw away his first shot, but Burr did not reciprocate. Hamilton was mortally wounded by Burr's second shot.
  • Hamilton died the following day at the age of 57. His death was a shock to the nation and marked the end of an influential political career.


“A prudent silence will frequently be taken for wisdom and a sentence or two cautiously thrown in will sometimes gain the palm of knowledge, while a man well informed but indiscreet and unreserved will not uncommonly talk himself out of all consideration and weight. (Alexander Hamilton's 'thesis on discretion' written to his son James shortly before his fatal duel with Burr.)”

“He saw that while he had much to lose by refraining from the duel, he had precious little to gain by facing it: “I shall hazard much and can possibly gain nothing by the issue of the interview.” 72 Why then did he fight? To maintain his sense of honor and capacity for leadership, he argued, he had to bow to the public’s belief in dueling: “The ability to be in future useful, whether in resisting mischief or effecting good, in those crises of our public affairs which seem likely to happen would probably be inseparable from a conformity with public prejudice in this particular.” 73 In other words, he had to safeguard his career to safeguard the country. His self-interest and America’s were indistinguishable.”

FORTY-TWO: Fatal Errand


  • Alexander Hamilton died on July 12, 1804, one day after being fatally wounded in a duel with Aaron Burr.
  • Hamilton's death was a deeply felt loss for his family and friends. His wife, Eliza, was devastated, as were many prominent Americans.
  • In the days leading up to his death, Hamilton expressed his deep regret over the duel and his love for his family and his faith in God.
  • Hamilton's last words to Eliza were written in a letter that she found after his death. In it, he urged her to turn to their shared faith for comfort and assured her of his love for her and their children.
  • Hamilton's death marked the end of an extraordinary life filled with passion, drama, and achievement. He left behind a complex legacy that continues to be debated and celebrated in American history.


“This letter, my very dear Eliza, will not be delivered to you unless I shall first have terminated my earthly career to begin, as I humbly hope from redeeming grace and divine mercy, a happy immortality. If it had been possible for me to have avoided the interview, my love for you and my precious children would have been alone a decisive motive. But it was not possible without sacrifices which would have rendered me unworthy of your esteem. I need not tell you of the pangs I feel from the idea of quitting you and exposing you to the anguish which I know you would feel. Nor could I dwell on the topic lest it should unman me. The consolations of religion, my beloved, can alone support you and these you have a right to enjoy. Fly to the bosom of your God and be comforted. With my last idea, I shall cherish the sweet hope of meeting you in a better world. Adieu best of wives and best of women. Embrace all my darling children for me. Ever yours A H72”

FORTY-THREE: The Melting Scene


  • Aaron Burr was born on February 6, 1756, in Newark, New Jersey.
  • He attended King's College (now Columbia University) and studied law under William Livingston.
  • Burr served as a delegate to the Continental Congress from New York from 1789 to 1791.
  • In 1791, he was elected the third vice president of the United States under Thomas Jefferson.
  • Burr became embroiled in a bitter feud with Alexander Hamilton and challenged him to a duel on July 11, 1804, which resulted in Hamilton's death.
  • After leaving the vice presidency, Burr faced numerous allegations of treason, including an attempt to seize territory west of the Appalachians.
  • He was arrested for treason in 1807 but was acquitted by Chief Justice John Marshall.
  • Burr spent several years in Europe and returned to the United States in 1812.
  • He died on September 14, 1836, at age seventy-seven.

Burr's duel with Hamilton was a turning point in his life and had far-reaching consequences for American politics. It led to his political exile and ended his hopes of a distinguished career. Despite this, Burr remained defiant and unrepentant, often making light of the incident. He is remembered today as an enigmatic figure who embodied the turbulent spirit of early America.

Burr's life was marked by controversy, intrigue, and scandal. He was a master of intrigue and manipulation, using his charm and wit to navigate the treacherous waters of early American politics. However, his actions often had unintended consequences, and he left a trail of broken relationships in his wake. Despite these flaws, Burr remains an important figure in American history, a symbol of the passion, ambition, and political instability that defined the young republic.


“Hamilton’s relatively short life robbed him not only of any chance for further accomplishment but of the opportunity to mold his historical image.”

“Thus, Hamilton triumphed posthumously over Burr, converting the latter’s victory at Weehawken into his political coup de grâce. Burr’s reputation perished along with Hamilton, exactly as Hamilton had anticipated.”



  • Eliza Schuyler Hamilton was a woman of great strength and integrity who dedicated much of her extended widowhood to serving widows, orphans, and poor children.
  • She co-founded the New York Orphan Asylum Society in 1806 and served as its first directress for twenty-seven years.
  • Eliza was a committed abolitionist who cherished her status as a relic of the American Revolution.
  • She remained sharp and alert until the end, entertaining visitors at her home near the White House and raising funds to construct the Washington Monument.
  • Eliza believed that all children should be literate in order to study the Bible and established the Hamilton Free School in 1818.
  • She was a devout woman who never lost her faith that she and Alexander Hamilton would be gloriously reunited in the afterlife.


“The decades that she devoted to conserving her husband’s legacy made Eliza only more militantly loyal to his memory, and there was one injury she could never forget: the exposure of the Maria Reynolds affair, for which she squarely blamed James Monroe. In the 1820s, after Monroe had completed two terms as president, he called upon Eliza in Washington, D.C., hoping to thaw the frost between them. Eliza was then about seventy and staying at her daughter’s home. She was sitting in the backyard with her fifteen-year-old nephew when a maid emerged and presented the ex-president’s card. Far from being flattered by this distinguished visitor, Eliza was taken aback. “She read the name and stood holding the card, much perturbed,” said her nephew. “Her voice sank and she spoke very low, as she always did when she was angry. ‘What has that man come to see me for?’” The nephew said that Monroe must have stopped by to pay his respects. She wavered. “I will see him,” she finally agreed. So the small woman with the upright carriage and the sturdy, determined step marched stiffly into the house. When she entered the parlor, Monroe rose to greet her. Eliza then did something out of character and socially unthinkable: she stood facing the ex-president but did not invite him to sit down. With a bow, Monroe began what sounded like a well-rehearsed speech, stating “that it was many years since they had met, that the lapse of time brought its softening influences, that they both were nearing the grave, when past differences could be forgiven and forgotten.” Eliza saw that Monroe was trying to draw a moral equation between them and apportion blame equally for the long rupture in their relationship. Even at this late date, thirty years after the fact, she was not in a forgiving mood. “Mr. Monroe,” she told him, “if you have come to tell me that you repent, that you are sorry, very sorry, for the misrepresentations and the slanders and the stories you circulated against my dear husband, if you have come to say this, I understand it. But otherwise, no lapse of time, no nearness to the grave, makes any difference.” Monroe took in this rebuke without comment. Stunned by the fiery words delivered by the elderly little woman in widow’s weeds, the ex-president picked up his hat, bid Eliza good day, and left the house, never to return.”


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