Alexander Hamilton (January 11, 1755 or 1757 – July 12, 1804) was an American statesman and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. He was an influential interpreter and promoter of the U.S. Constitution, as well as the founder of the nation's financial system, the Federalist Party, the United States Coast Guard, and The New York Post newspaper. As the first Secretary of the Treasury, Hamilton was the main author of the economic policies of the George Washington administration. He took the lead in the funding of the states' debts by the Federal government, as well as the establishment of a national bank, a system of tariffs, and friendly trade relations with Britain. His vision included a strong central government led by a vigorous executive branch,:3–4 a strong commercial economy, with a national bank and support for manufacturing, plus a strong military. This was challenged by Virginia agrarians Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, who formed a rival party, the Democratic-Republican Party. They favored strong states based in rural America and protected by state militias as opposed to a strong national army and navy. They denounced Hamilton as too friendly toward Britain and toward monarchy in general, and too oriented toward cities, business and banking.
Hamilton was born out of wedlock in Charlestown, Nevis. His Scottish-born father, James A. Hamilton, was the fourth son of Alexander Hamilton, laird of Grange, Ayrshire. His mother, born Rachel Faucette, was half-British and half-French Huguenot.:8 Orphaned as a child by his mother's death and his father's abandonment, Hamilton was taken in by an older cousin and later by a prosperous merchant family. He was recognized for his intelligence and talent, and sponsored by a group of wealthy local men to travel to New York City to pursue his education. Hamilton attended King's College (now Columbia University), choosing to stay in the Thirteen Colonies to seek his fortune.
Discontinuing his studies before graduating when the college closed its doors during British occupation of the city, Hamilton played a major role in the American Revolutionary War. At the start of the war in 1775, he joined a militia company. In early 1776, he raised a provincial artillery company, to which he was appointed captain. He soon became the senior aide to General Washington, the American forces' commander-in-chief. Hamilton was dispatched by Washington on numerous missions to convey plans to his generals. After the war, Hamilton was elected as a representative to the Congress of the Confederation from New York. He resigned to practice law, and founded the Bank of New York.
Hamilton was among those dissatisfied with the weak national government. He led the Annapolis Convention, which successfully influenced Congress to issue a call for the Philadelphia Convention in order to create a new constitution. He was an active participant at Philadelphia, and he helped achieve ratification by writing 51 of the 85 installments of The Federalist Papers which, to this day, are the single most important reference for Constitutional interpretation.
Hamilton became the leading cabinet member in the new government under President Washington. He was a nationalist who emphasized strong central government and successfully argued that the implied powers of the Constitution provided the legal authority to fund the national debt, assume states' debts, and create the government-backed Bank of the United States. These programs were funded primarily by a tariff on imports, and later also by a highly controversial tax on whiskey. To overcome localism, Hamilton mobilized a nationwide network of friends of the government, especially bankers and businessmen, which became the Federalist Party. A major issue in the emergence of the American two-party system was the Jay Treaty, largely designed by Hamilton in 1794. It established friendly trade relations with Britain, to the chagrin of France and the supporters of the French Revolution. Hamilton played a central role in the Federalist party, which dominated national and state politics until it lost the election of 1800 to Jefferson's Democratic-Republican Party.
In 1795, he returned to the practice of law in New York. He tried to control the policies of President Adams (1797–1801). In 1798–99, Hamilton called for mobilization against France after the XYZ Affair and became commander of a new army, which he readied for war. However, the Quasi-War was never officially declared and did not involve army action, though it was hard-fought at sea. In the end, President Adams found a diplomatic solution that avoided a war with France. Hamilton's opposition to Adams' re-election helped cause his defeat in the 1800 election. Jefferson and Aaron Burr tied for the presidency in the electoral college in 1801, and Hamilton helped to defeat Burr, whom he found unprincipled, and to elect Jefferson despite philosophical differences.
Hamilton continued his legal and business activities in New York City, and was active in ending the legality of the international slave trade. Vice President Burr ran for governor of New York State in 1804, and Hamilton crusaded against him as unworthy. Burr took offense and challenged him to a duel. Burr mortally wounded Hamilton, who died the next day.