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portrait image of Alexander Hamilton
Photograph of Alexander Hamilton's portrait by John Trumbull (Detroit Publishing Co.)

“My Name is Alexander Hamilton. And there’s a million things I haven’t done”

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The musical Hamilton  may not necessarily be the first stage production where Alexander Hamilton makes an appearance, but it has made him all the rage lately and has even garnered him a number of blog posts at the Library.  The musical was based on Ron Chernow’s book Alexander Hamilton and has racked up many accolades, including 11 Tony awards.

It may be a bit of a puzzle as to why Lin Manuel Miranda wrote a musical about a Secretary of the Treasury, but it may be a little more obvious why a Business librarian would write blog post about him — the first Secretary of the Treasury had a profound impact on the country and the economy then and now.

I am not throwing away my shot!

Without writing an overly detailed history — there are many biographies out there as well as the webcast of Ron Chernow talking about his book from the 2004 Book Festival -– a brief recounting of Hamilton’s life should put the man in perspective.  Alexander Hamilton was born in Nevis and moved to the colonies in North America in 1772/73 where he attended Kings College (now Columbia).  He joined the New York militia in 1775 and eventually became an aide to General George Washington.  In December of 1780 he married Elizabeth Schuyler, the daughter of a general who was from a very prominent New York family.  After the war, he was appointed to the Congress of the Confederation (read about the Articles of the Confederation) but later resigned and practiced law in New York.  In 1784 he founded the Bank of New York and several years later he was chosen as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention which drafted the new U.S. Constitution.

John Jay got sick after writing five. James Madison wrote twenty-nine. Hamilton wrote the other fifty-one.

Since the new Constitution was not an easy sell, Hamilton, along with John Jay and James Madison, wrote a series of articles and essays defending the proposed Constitution, which became known as the Federalist Papers.  When George Washington was elected president, he chose Hamilton to be the first Secretary of the Treasury, a position he held until 1795. It is while he was Secretary that he wrote several influential works, including the Report on Public Credit, Report on a National Bank, and his Report on Manufactures.

Photograph of Alexander Hamilton's portrait by John Trumbull. //
Photograph of Alexander Hamilton’s portrait by John Trumbull. //

I wrote financial systems into existence.

As Secretary of the Treasury, Hamilton was in large part responsible for setting up our modern banking system, establishing the federal budget process, and establishing the Bank of the United States.  At the time, there were five securities traded on Wall Street -–  one was the stock of the Bank of the United States, one was for the stock of the Bank of New York, and three were U.S. government securities –all of which had Hamilton’s fingerprints on them.

He took our country from bankruptcy to prosperity.  I hate to admit it, but he doesn’t get enough credit for all the credit he gave us.

When Thomas Jefferson was elected president in 1800, Aaron Burr became vice-president.  But Burr wasn’t on the ballot for a second term. Instead he ran for governor of New York.  Hamilton seems to have wanted to thwart Burr, so he and his political allies worked together to defeat him.  When Burr lost the race, he felt dishonored by all of the political machinations and blamed Hamilton. Burr challenged Hamilton to a duel, and as a result, Hamilton was killed on July 12, 1804. He wasn’t even 50 years old.

How do you write ev’ry second you’re alive?

Alexander Hamilton’s impact on the United States endures and people are still interested in what he thought. He is a boon to scholars, as he was a prolific writer — even using pseudonyms.  The Library has a large collection of Hamilton’s papers, as well as a Resource Guide on Hamilton linking researchers to material from the Library’s collections.   Here are few more items of interest among the Library’s collections:

Advertisement by Thomas Dobson selling a Letter from Alexander Hamilton concerning the public conduct and character of John Adams Esquire President of the United States for the price half a dollar
Advertisement from the Gazette of the United States, & Daily Advertiser, October 29, 1800.

I wrote my way out

Of course, information about Alexander Hamilton and his time can be found in many other sources, including in the papers of his contemporaries and other topical collections.

To borrow from the lyrics one last time, Alexander Hamilton…

History has its eyes on you.

Note: The title of this post and quotes in the post are pulled from the lyrics of the musical and can be found at Atlantic Records page devoted to the musical.

Update: The Alexander Hamilton Papers have now been digitized and are available on the Library’s website. Read about the history of the papers and the digitization in the Library of Congress Magazine.

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