Hamilton Takes Command

In 1775, the 20-year-old Alexander Hamilton took up arms to fight the British. Soon the brash young soldier would display the courage and savvy that would take him to the apex of power in the new U.S. government

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It would prove a profound relationship.

“During a long series of years, in war and in peace, Washington enjoyed the advantages of Hamilton’s eminent talents, integrity and felicity, and these qualities fixed [Hamilton] in [Washington’s] confidence to the last hour of his life,” wrote Massachusetts Senator Timothy Pickering in 1804.Hamilton, the impecunious abandoned son, and Washington, the patriarch without a son, had begun a mutually dependent relationship that would endure for nearly 25 years— years corresponding to the birth, adolescence and coming to maturity of the United States of America.

Hamilton would become inspector general of the U.S. Army and in that capacity founded the U.S. Navy. Along with James Madison and John Jay, he wrote the Federalist Papers, essays that helped gain popular support for the then-proposed Constitution. In 1789, he became the first Secretary of the Treasury, under President Washington and almost single-handedly created the U.S. Mint, the stock and bond markets and the concept of the modern corporation.

After the death of Washington on December 14, 1799, Hamilton worked secretly, though assiduously, to prevent the reelection of John Adams as well as the election of Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr. Burr obtained a copy of a Hamilton letter that branded Adams an “eccentric” lacking in “sound judgment” and got it published in newspapers all over America. In the 1801 election, Jefferson and Burr tied in the Electoral College, and Congress made Jefferson president, with Burr his vice president. Hamilton, his political career in tatters, founded the New York Evening Post newspaper, which he used to attack the new administration. In the 1804 New York gubernatorial election, Hamilton opposed Aaron Burr’s bid to replace Governor George Clinton. With Hamilton’s help, Clinton won.

When he heard that Hamilton had called him “a dangerous man, and one who ought not to be trusted with the reins of government,” Burr demanded a written apology or satisfaction in a duel. On the morning of Thursday, July 11, 1804, on a cliff in Weehawken, New Jersey, Hamilton faced the man who had rescued him 28 years earlier in Manhattan. Hamilton told his second, Nathaniel Pendleton, that he intended to fire into the air so as to end the affair with honor but without bloodshed. Burr made no such promise. Ashot rang out. Burr’s bullet struck Hamilton in the right side, tearing through his liver. Hamilton’s pistol went off a split second later, snapping a twig overhead. Thirty-six hours later, Alexander Hamilton was dead. He was 49 years old.


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