Colonial Hall -- Biographies of America's Founding Fathers

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Alexander Hamilton


   Soon after the capture of Cornwallis, Hamilton sheathed his sword, and being encumbered with a family and destitute of funds, at the age of twenty-five applied to the study of the law. In this profession he soon rose to distinction. But his private pursuits could not detach him from regard to the public welfare. The violence which was meditated against thc property and persons of all who remained in the city during the war, called forth his generous exertions, and by the aid of Governor Clinton the faithless and revengeful scheme was defeated. In a few years a more important affair demanded his talents. After witnessing the debility of the confederation, he was fully impressed with the necessity of an efficient general government, and he was appointed in 1787 a member of the federal convention for New York. He assisted in forming the constitution of our country. It did not indeed completely meet his wishes. He was afraid that it did not contain sufficient means of strength for its own preservation, and that in consequence we should share the fate of many other republics, and pass through anarchy to despotism. He was in favor of a more permanent executive and senate. He wished for a strong government, which would not be shaken by the conflict of different interests through an extensive territory, and which should be adequate to all the forms of national exigency. He was apprehensive that the increased wealth and population of the States would lead to encroachments on the Union, and he anticipated the day, when the general government, unable to support itself, would fall. These were his views and feelings, and he freely expressed them. But the patriotism of Hamilton was not of that kind which yields every thing because it cannot accomplish all that it desires. Believing the constitution to be incomparably superior to the old confederation, he exerted all his talents in its support, though it did not rise to his conception of a perfect system. By his pen in the papers signed Publius, and by his voice in the convention of New York he contributed much to its adoption. When the government was organized in 1789, Washington placed him at the head of the treasury. In the new demands which were now made upon his talents, the resources of his mind did not fail him. In his reports he proposed plans for funding the debt of the Union and for assuming the debts of the respective States, for establishing a bank and mint, and for procuring a revenue. He wished to redeem the reputation of his country by satisfying her creditors, and to combine with thc government such a moneyed interest as might facilitate its operations. But while he opened sources of wealth to thousands by establishing public credit, and thus restoring the public paper to its original value, he did not enrich himself. He did not take advantage of his situation, nor improve the opportunity he enjoyed for acquiring a fortune. Though accused of amassing wealth, he did not vest a dollar in the public funds. He was exquisitely delicate in regard to his official character, being determined if possible to prevent the impeachment of his motives, and preserve his integrity and good name unimpaired.

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Last modified June 4, 2004