The American Revolution resulted in the creation of a new nation. The first generation of American statesmen—among them Alexander Hamilton—took on the responsibility of building the institutional foundations of the United States.
January 11, 1755
ALEXANDER HAMILTON IS BORN
The illegitimate son of James Hamilton, a Scottish immigrant and unsuccessful businessman, and Rachel Faucette, an already married woman of French Huguenot descent, Alexander Hamilton was born on the Caribbean island of Nevis. Historians debate whether he was born in 1757, as Hamilton claimed, or 1755, the date suggested in documents from the Caribbean. The stigma of being born out of wedlock would follow Hamilton all his life.
September 6, 1772
After a devastating hurricane hit St. Croix in August 1772, Hamilton wrote an eloquent letter to his father describing the event, reflecting on human nature and the wrath of God. Hamilton's "Hurricane Letter" impressed local clergyman Hugh Knox, who had it published in the Royal Danish-American Gazette.
HAMILTON GOES TO NEW YORK
Impressed with Alexander's intelligence and ambition, Nicholas Cruger and Hugh Knox took up a collection to send Hamilton to the American colonies to be educated. Funded by this scholarship, Hamilton eventually enrolled at King's College (now Columbia University) in New York. He never returned to the Caribbean.
December 15, 1774
A FULL VINDICATION OF THE MEASURES OF CONGRESS
As a student, Hamilton published "A Full Vindication of the Measures of Congress" defending the actions of the First Continental Congress at Philadelphia against the aspersions of loyalist Samuel Seabury, known by his pen name of "A. W. Farmer." Hamilton signed himself "A Friend to America."
February 23, 1775
THE FARMER REFUTED
Continuing his war of words with Samuel Seabury, Hamilton wrote another pamphlet, once again refuting Seabury's claim that the First Continental Congress should be condemned.
March 14, 1779
HAMILTON ENDORSES ARMING AND FREEING SLAVES
In a letter to John Jay, president of the Continental Congress, Hamilton argued that blacks have the same natural abilities as whites. He promoted a plan put forward by his friend John Laurens to recruit slaves as soldiers in Georgia and South Carolina and "give them their freedom with their muskets."
December 14, 1780
HAMILTON MARRIES ELIZABETH SCHUYLER
Hamilton married Elizabeth Schuyler, who belonged to a prominent and wealthy New York family. With his marriage to Elizabeth, Hamilton solidified his social and economic status within New York society. Read a love letter from Hamilton to Elizabeth.
HAMILTON RESIGNS FROM WASHINGTON'S STAFF
Hamilton's time with Washington would prove valuable to him—he developed leadership skills, matured in his political beliefs, and solidified a lifelong relationship with the nation's future president. Although Hamilton was a dutiful and faithful aide-de-camp to Washington, he longed to return to combat. In February 1781, Hamilton and Washington had a tense exchange that resulted in a parting of the ways. Despite his separation from Washington, Hamilton continued to press for a field command.
September 28-October 19, 1781
HAMILTON AT YORKTOWN
In July 1781, Washington gave Hamilton command of a New York light infantry battalion that was heading to Yorktown, Virginia. Hamilton led a decisive infantry charge on October 14 at the Battle of Yorktown against a British redoubt. Five days later, the British surrendered, effectively ending the Revolutionary War.
HAMILTON ELECTED TO CONFEDERATION CONGRESS
In 1782, Hamilton became a father, "read the law" at Albany, passed the bar, and was licensed as an attorney. The members of the New York legislature were so impressed with Hamilton that they sent him as a delegate to the Congress of the Confederation (still referred to by many contemporaries as the Continental Congress).
March 15, 1784
HAMILTON CO-FOUNDS THE BANK OF NEW YORK
New York’s first bank, the Bank of New York, was founded under articles drawn up by Alexander Hamilton. Suspicions over a money-based bank, versus a land-based bank, fired controversy, and the bank was unable to secure a charter from the state legislature for seven years. Read the Constitution of the Bank of New York.
June 29, 1784
RUTGERS V. WADDINGTON
Hamilton argued Rutgers v. Waddington, a landmark case on the rights of former loyalists, based on the provisions of the peace treaty, and the principle of judicial review. Read a summary of the case.
NEW-YORK MANUMISSION SOCIETY
Hamilton was a founding member of the New-York Manumission Society, established to protect black New Yorkers from being kidnapped and enslaved, to educate black children, and to support gradual emancipation. Some members were slaveholders, and Hamilton’s proposal that members be required to emancipate their slaves was rejected by the society. Hamilton himself had married into a slaveholding family, although he and Elizabeth did not own slaves.
September 11-14, 1786
The Articles of Confederation proved to be insufficient to govern the new nation. At the Annapolis Convention, Hamilton was among twelve delegates from five states who gathered to address the weaknesses of the government. The delegates drafted a recommendation to Congress that a broader convention should be held to amend the Articles of Confederation.
May 14, 1787
CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION CALLED IN PHILADELPHIA
The Congress of the Confederation agreed to convene a meeting to discuss amendments to the Articles of Confederation. Alexander Hamilton was one of three delegates from New York State to attend this Constitutional Convention.
October 27, 1787
FEDERALIST PAPERS PUBLISHED
The first of the Federalist Papers—a series of essays written by Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison supporting the Constitution—was published in October 1787. The three Federalists attempted to explain the meaning of each clause in the Constitution and how it would be implemented.
September 11, 1789
HAMILTON APPOINTED FIRST SECRETARY OF THE TREASURY
President George Washington established the presidential cabinet as a small group of trusted advisors. Hamilton was appointed the nation's first Secretary of the Treasury. He was joined by three other men—Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, Secretary of War Henry Knox, and Attorney General Edmund Randolph.
HAMILTON ESTABLISHES FOUNDATION FOR THE US ECONOMY
Hamilton's vision for the economic foundation of the United States included: 1) federal assumption of state debts, 2) creation of a Bank of the United States, and 3) support for the new nation's emerging industries. His revolutionary reports to Congress on public credit, a national bank, and manufactures were controversial, but were based on deep research into international economics and practical experience as a merchant's clerk, military administrator, lawyer, legislator, and bank founder.
April 22, 1793
HAMILTON DEFENDS WASHINGTON'S PROCLAMATION OF NEUTRALITY
Washington issued a formal announcement declaring the US neutral in the conflict between France and Great Britain. Hamilton agreed that neutrality was essential and defended Washington in the face of opponents such as Thomas Jefferson. Washington and Hamilton agreed that the nation was too young and its military was too small to risk foreign engagement.
THE WHISKEY REBELLION
In 1791, the government imposed a tax on distilled spirits such as whiskey to help offset the national debt. The farmers of western Pennsylvania, many of whom distilled whiskey, rebelled. President Washington sent in troops under the command of Alexander Hamilton to quell the revolt. Although the rebellion ultimately collapsed on its own, Hamilton (backed by Washington) proved that the government was willing and able to use military force to keep order.
January 31, 1795
HAMILTON RESIGNS AS TREASURY SECRETARY
Hamilton felt he had accomplished as much as he could as Treasury Secretary in the face of increasing Republican opposition. He also needed to earn more money to support his growing family. Therefore he resigned his post to return to his legal practice in New York City. In New York, he continued to publish political essays and keep in touch with Washington and others still in government.
HAMILTON'S DRAFT OF WASHINGTON'S FAREWELL ADDRESS
Hamilton helped edit Washington's Farewell Address. Although the language of the Address follows Hamilton's style, there is little doubt that the core ideas were not only endorsed by Washington but were beliefs that he and Hamilton had developed together. A plea for national unity against partisan and sectional divisions, the Address called on the United States to avoid getting entangled in foreign alliances.
OBSERVATIONS ON CERTAIN DOCUMENTS
In 1791, Hamilton began an affair with Maria Reynolds. She and her husband, James, extorted money from Hamilton to keep the affair secret. Accused publicly in the summer of 1797 of improperly using government funds in a scheme with James Reynolds, Hamilton decided to reveal the affair to prove that he was not guily of corruption. He published his confessions in detail in Observations on Certain Documents, often called "The Reynolds Pamphlet." The disclosure of his affair with Maria Reynolds severely damaged his reputation. Read the pamphlet .
July 1798-July 1800
MAJOR GENERAL HAMILTON
With war threatening to break out between the US and France, Hamilton was appointed a major general, second in command of the US Army under Washington. Two years later, as the result of a secret peace mission to France launched by President John Adams, Congress directed Hamilton to disband the army. His military service officially concluded in July 1800.
LETTER CONCERNING THE PUBLIC CONDUCT AND CHARACTER OF JOHN ADAMS
Angered by repeated accusations of monarchism and corruption directed at him from the Adams administration, Hamilton wrote a Letter Concerning the Public Conduct and Character of John Adams, Esq, an attack on the President intended for private distribution to select Federalists. Enemies of Hamilton, possibly Aaron Burr, discovered the letter and published portions of it. Hamilton then felt compelled to publish the entire letter as a pamphlet so readers would understand the passages in context. The letter divided the loyalties of the Federalists between their two major leaders—Hamilton and Adams—and further damaged Hamilton's reputation.
November 16, 1801
HAMILTON FOUNDS THE NEW-YORK EVENING POST
Hamilton raised funds from prominent Federalists to establish a daily newspaper, the New-York Evening Post, which he hoped would be a vehicle to communicate Federalist ideals and policies. Hamilton chose New Englander William Coleman to be the newspaper's first editor-in-chief. Now called the New York Post, it is New York's oldest continuously running daily newspaper.
February 13, 1804
PEOPLE V. CROSWELL
In People v. Croswell, Hamilton defended the press against seditious libel. Jefferson had urged enforcement of the Sedition Act to stop the press from printing anti-administration articles. In defending a newspaper editor, Hamilton argued that if an article was true, it could not be considered libel. Read a summary of the case.
July 11, 1804
AARON BURR KILLS ALEXANDER HAMILTON
Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, vice president of the United States, had feuded publicly for years. Their long-standing enmity came to a head in the spring of 1804. In July, they met in Weehawken, New Jersey, where Burr shot and wounded Hamilton in a duel. Within hours of the duel, Angelica Schuyler Church, Elizabeth Hamilton’s sister, wrote this letter to her brother Philip Schuyler to break the news: Hamilton "was this morning woun[d]ed by that wretch Burr." Hamilton died the next day.
Developed by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.