Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
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New York: Maynard, Merrill, and Co.
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Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
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HAMILTON, Alexander, was born in the island of Nevis, W. I., Jan. 11, 1757, and died at New York, July 12, 1804. He left King's (now Columbia) college in 1776 to enter the continental army, was Washington's aide, until he returned to New York city to prepare to practice law, was in the continental congress 1782-8, and also in the convention of 1787. He was secretary of the treasury 1789-95, when he returned to New York city to resume the practice of law. He retained his liking for the army, and accepted the real command of the army in 1798, Washington being nominally commander-in-chief. (For his death at the hands of Burr in a duel, in 1804, see BURR, AARON.)


—Few public men have been so bitterly attacked or so warmly defended as Hamilton, and it seems difficult at first sight to estimate correctly his character and services. There are not, however, many points of either really open to doubt. His amiability in private life is witnessed by all the testimony of the times; his wonderful ability as a political and financial writer is evidenced not only by his writings themselves, but by the unanimous testimony of his political enemies; and his exact rectitude of official life, despite some errors of private life, has never been successfully impeached. On these points there is a singular concurrence of all trust-worthy contemporary testimony. There remains but one point in which his political enemies considered him vulnerable, his alleged tendency to anti-republican thought and action.


—There can be no doubt that Hamilton accepted the republican ideal of his time as a fact, but that he accepted it of necessity, not of choice. He represented the force of national law as Jefferson represented that of individual freedom, and neither of the correlative forces understood the other. To Hamilton, Jefferson's idea of liberty was only "that of a bear broke loose from his chains"; and to Jefferson, Hamilton's idea of law was only that of British law, then administered by the few and for the few, with little regard for the happiness or rights of the many. One thing is certain as to Hamilton: there is not in any of his letters or other writings a trace of desire to introduce monarchy or aristocracy into the American political system. The charge of antirepublicanism is, to that extent, unfounded, but it had, in reality, a different basis, which can best be seen by considering Hamilton's political work—When the American revolution was successfully accomplished there was but one field in which Americans had ever enjoyed republican government, the governments of their states, or "republics," as they were then often, and are still sometimes, called. In the government of the British empire they had never shared, and the government of the confederation was a shadow only of republican government. From 1781 until 1789 Hamilton was actively engaged in opening to them a new field for republican government, and from 1789 until 1800 he was as busily engaged in extending that field by establishing a broad construction of the powers of the new federal government. But in both of these endeavors he was really, so far as the experience of his opponents taught them anti-republican in diminishing the powers of the first exponents of republican government; and here lies the real basis of the charge against him. In this respect there is great significance in the change of sentiment toward Hamilton shown by those of his opponents who remained longest in public life and in sympathy with the expansion of the country. Madison, Monroe, Giles and Gallatin grew in respect for him as they grew in experience; Jefferson alone, who remained aloof from public life after 1809, retained his opinion of him unchanged to the end.


—The methods and extent of Hamilton's political work are considered elsewhere. (See CONVENTION OF 1787; FEDERALIST; CONSTRUCTION, III.; FEDERAL PARTY, I.) He was unfortunate, personally, in having a clearer view of the possibilities of the federal government than most of his contemporaries, and many of his theories were built on a scale more suited to the year 1882 than to the year 1791; but his influence upon the development of the theory of American nationality has been permanent. Even in his lifetime it was his privilege to see his opponents, when they had succeeded to the government which he had established, administer it in perfect accordance with his practice. (See JEFFERSON, THOMAS; DEMOCRATIC PARTY, III.)


—Hamilton's Works have been collected in seven volumes. They will also be found in the History of the Republic of the United States, by his son, J. C. Hamilton; but this work is unfortunate in claiming too much for him. A fairer résumé of his work will be found in 1 Curtis' History of the Constitution, 406. See also J. A. Hamilton's Reminiscences; J. C. Hamilton's Life of Hamilton (1840); Renwick's Life of Hamilton (1841); Schmucker's Life and Times of Hamilton (1857); Riethmuller's Hamilton and his Contemporaries (1864); Morse's Life of Hamilton (1876); Shea's Life and Epoch of Hamilton (1879); Coleman's Facts and Documents relative to the Death of Hamilton (1804); 10 New York Historical Magazine. 5; North American Review, July, 1841, 70, April. 1858, 368. January, 1876, 60, and July, 1876, 113; Atlantic Monthly. November, 1865, 625; 24 Nation, 283 The favorable view of Hamilton and his work will generally be found in authorities cited under FEDERAL, PARTY, I.; the unfavorable view in authorities under DEMOCRATIC PARTY, I. - III., and in 9 John Adams' Works, 272. Many of the almost forgotten contemporary attacks upon him, such as Callender's Letters to Alexander Hamilton, King of the Feds, have been republished by the Hamilton club. A history of one of the worst of them will be found in 5 Hildreth's United States, 108.


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