Hamilton, Alexander

Hamilton, Alexander

biographical name


Alexander Hamilton, detail of an oil painting by John Trumbull; in the National Gallery of Art, …—Courtesy of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., Andrew Mellon Collection

(born Jan. 11, 1755/57, Nevis, British West Indies—died July 12, 1804, New York, N.Y., U.S.) U.S. statesman. He first came to the U.S. in 1772, arriving in New Jersey. In the American Revolution he joined the Continental Army and showed conspicuous bravery at the Battle of Trenton (see Battles of Trenton and Princeton). He served as aide-de-camp to Gen. George Washington (1777–81); fluent in French, he became a liaison with French commanders. After the war he practiced law in New York. At the Continental Congress, he argued for a strong central government. As a delegate to the Annapolis Convention in 1786, he drafted the address that led to the Constitutional Convention. With James Madison and John Jay, he wrote an influential series of essays, later known as the Federalist papers, in defense of the new Constitution and republican government. Appointed the first secretary of the treasury (1789), Hamilton developed fiscal policies designed to strengthen the national government at the expense of the states. His proposal for a Bank of the United States was opposed by Thomas Jefferson but adopted by Congress in 1791. Differences between Hamilton and Jefferson over the powers of the national government and the country's foreign policy led to the rise of political parties; Hamilton became leader of the Federalist Party, and Madison and Jefferson created the Democratic-Republican Party. Hamilton favoured friendship with Britain and influenced Washington to take a neutral stand toward the French Revolution. In 1796 he caused a rift in the Federalist Party by opposing its nomination of John Adams for president. In 1800 he tried to prevent Adams's reelection, circulating a private attack that Aaron Burr, long at odds with Hamilton, obtained and published. When Jefferson and Burr both defeated Adams but received an equal number of electoral votes, Hamilton helped persuade the Federalists in the House of Representatives to choose Jefferson. In 1804 he opposed Burr's candidacy for governor of New York. This affront, coupled with alleged remarks questioning Burr's character, led Burr to challenge Hamilton to a duel, in which Hamilton was mortally wounded.

This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise.
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