Hamilton, Morris and a Wager

George Washington, although he could relax with friends, always had a very dignified, almost rigid, public persona.  This is understandable since almost his entire adult life he was looked to for leadership by increasingly larger groups:  Virginia, the Continental Army and then the entire nation.  He wanted to make sure that no casual remark he made would cause complications for him as a leader.  Alexander Hamilton, who had a puckish sense of humor, knew this aspect of Washington well, having served as Washington’s secretary during the war.  Gouverneur Morris did not. (more…)

Published in: on May 12, 2022 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Hamilton, Morris and a Wager  
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Awful Foreshadowing

Events in history sometimes seem as if they were written by a novelist, or should I say Novelist.  Such was the sad case of Philip Hamilton.  Eldest son of Alexander Hamilton and Elizabeth Hamilton, Hamilton graduated at the age of 19 from Columbia, a brilliant student like his father.  It was at a Fourth of July celebration at Columbia that he heard George I. Eacker, a 27 year old lawyer and a political supporter of Aaron Burr, give a speech attacking his father.  Hamilton and his friend Richard Price called Eacker out in a Manhattan theater on November 21, 1801.  Eacker called them damned rascals and they responded by challenging Eacker to duels.  Eacker fought a duel the next day with Richard Price in which neither of the participants was injured, although shots were exchanged.

On November 22, 1801 in Weehawken, New Jersey, the same place where his father would receive his fatal wound from Aaron Burr, Hamilton and Eacker faced each other.  Apparently they faced each other about a minute without raising their pistols, and one wishes that reason had prevailed.  Eacker finally fired, hitting Hamilton in his right hip and left arm.  Hamilton also fired, but this may have been merely an involuntary reaction to the force of the shot that hit him.  Some sources say that Alexander Hamilton had counseled his son to fire in the air before his opponent fired, so that the matter could be settled honorably without blood shed. (more…)

Published in: on July 19, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Awful Foreshadowing  
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Election of 1800 Aftermath

I hope the aftermath of the current presidential election is not as chaotic as the outcome of the election of 1800.  Initially the outcome of the election was clear-cut enough.  Jefferson defeated Adams, garnering 73 electoral votes to 67 for Adams.  Then the circus began.  When the electoral college met, the Republicans planned that their electors would cast 73 votes for Jefferson and 72 for Aaron Burr.  The reason for this was that under the Constitution as originally drafted, the candidate who received the highest number of electoral votes would be president, and the candidate who came in second would be vice-president.  Each elector could vote for two candidates.  The Republicans bungled the vote, and Burr and Jefferson each received 73 votes!  With a tie the election would be decided in the House of Representatives.


Burr, without a doubt the most unscrupulous major political figure in American history, seized the opportunity to attempt to become president instead of Jefferson.  From February 11-17, 1801 the House cast 35 ballots and seemed deadlocked.  Almost all Federalists supported Burr.    Jefferson received the support of 8 states, by majority vote of each state delegation, one state short of the necessary majority.  The stalemate seemed destined to stretch on indefinitely until Alexander Hamilton stepped in.  Hamilton had no love for Jefferson, but he truly despised Burr, his arch rival in New York politics, who he regarded as a dangerous demagogue.  Hamilton convinced enough Federalists to switch their support for Jefferson, with Jefferson becoming president with the votes of ten state delegations, one more than necessary. (more…)

Published in: on November 12, 2020 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Election of 1800 Aftermath  
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Hamilton: Art Fails as Politics

(I originally posted this at The American Catholic and I thought the culture Mavens of Almost Chosen People might find it interesting.)


The United States have already felt the evils of incorporating a large number of foreigners into their national mass; by promoting in different classes different predilections in favor of particular foreign nations, and antipathies against others, it has served very much to divide the community and to distract our councils. It has been often likely to compromise the interests of our own country in favor of another. The permanent effect of such a policy will be, that in times of great public danger there will be always a numerous body of men, of whom there may be just grounds of distrust; the suspicion alone will weaken the strength of the nation, but their force may be actually employed in assisting an invader.

Alexander Hamilton, “Examination of Jefferson’s Message to Congress of December 7, 1801” (1802)

I have rather liked the musical Hamilton, although I have understood that it bore only an accidental relationship to the history it purported to represent.  However, at Reason Nicholas Pell has a scathing review of Hamilton, and he makes some good points:

Some are irritated about the people who aren’t white playing white people, but I’m not. The whole production plays so fast and loose with the truth that it’s hard to pick any particular piece to criticize, there’s a reality correlation approximating that of the Weekly World News. At the top of the list, though, has to be casting Alexander Hamilton as some sort of proto-multicultural progressive. That’s either stupidity or mendacity, take your pick. Hamilton was, if anything, the most aristocratic of the Founding Fathers, the closest thing to a Colonial Tory. You know that electoral college you’ve been gnashing your teeth over for the last couple months? Guess whose idea that was? (more…)

Published in: on March 6, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Hamilton: Art Fails as Politics  
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Alexander Hamilton and Mrs. Reynolds

One of the more brilliant of the Founding Fathers, and imagine what it meant to stand out in that august assemblage, Alexander Hamilton’s life in some ways resembled a Greek tragedy where a gifted hero fails due to flaws of character.  The most notable example of this in Hamilton’s life was his affair with beautiful 23 year old Mrs. Maria Reynolds.  Reynolds’ husband was an abusive cad who made a dishonest living by swindling veterans out of their land grants for a fraction of their value.  In 1791 Reynolds presented herself as a damsel in distress fleeing from her abusive spouse.  This was the classic Badger con by which married men are placed in compromising positions, thus exposing themselves to blackmail.  Like many brilliant individuals, Hamilton could be surprisingly gullible at times.  Swallowing her story, Hamilton helped her monetarily, swiftly succumbed to her abundant charms, and she became his mistress. (more…)

Published in: on May 10, 2012 at 5:30 am  Comments (4)  
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The Rise of Alexander Hamilton

Of all the Founding Fathers, none had a swifter rise from obscurity than Alexander Hamilton.  Coming into this world in 1755 or 1757, he was born the illegitimate son of James Hamilton and Rachel Fawcett Lavien.  His education was very brief and he began working as a clerk at 11 or 13 at Saint Croix.  He came to America in 1772 to obtain a higher education, enrolling in King’s College in New York City.  He quickly became a dedicated patriot, achieving local notoreity by authoring two pro-patriot pamphlets.

With the coming of the Revolution he was commissioned a captain in the New York Company of Artillery.  His good service during the retreat of the Continental Army from New York into Pennsylvania and his outstanding service commanding artillery pieces during the Trenton-Princeton campaign came to the attention of General Washington.  In March 1776 Washington offered the post of his aide to Hamilton with a promotion to Lieutenant Colonel.  Hamilton accepted and never looked back.  Not bad for a penniless immigrant who was then either 19 or 21.

Published in: on October 4, 2011 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on The Rise of Alexander Hamilton  
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Alexander Hamilton and the National Debt

This country was blessed at its founding to have on the scene a member of the Founding Fathers, Alexander Hamilton, who was a financial genius.  His idea to have the Federal government adopt the Revolutionary War debts of the states in order to establish the credit of the new Federal government was a policy of genius.  At a stroke he restored the credit of the country as a whole, made certain the debt would be paid, made America attractive to foreign investors and laid the basis of future American prosperity.  His ideas on the subject were set forth in his first report to Congress on  public credit, 1789, and which may be read here. (more…)

Published in: on July 19, 2011 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Alexander Hamilton and the National Debt  
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Federalist 36 – Hamilton

We have finally reached the end of the first part of the Federalist Papers. Alexander Hamilton winds down a rather long discourse on the taxing powers in Federalist 36, while also laying down his ideas on what kinds of representatives the new republic will elect.  Generally speaking, he envisions a representative class consisting of “proprietors of land, of merchants, and of members of the learned professions.”  Alas, if he has simply said “lawyers” he’d capture a good chunk of the modern representative class.  He also elaborates on why there is no need to have an overly large number of representatives.

What greater affinity or relation of interest can be conceived between the carpenter and blacksmith, and the linen manufacturer or stocking weaver, than between the merchant and either of them? It is notorious that there are often as great rivalships between different branches of the mechanic or manufacturing arts as there are between any of the departments of labor and industry; so that, unless the representative body were to be far more numerous than would be consistent with any idea of regularity or wisdom in its deliberations, it is impossible that what seems to be the spirit of the objection we have been considering should ever be realized in practice. (more…)

Published in: on August 9, 2010 at 3:01 pm  Comments Off on Federalist 36 – Hamilton  
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Federalist 35 – Hamilton

We have finally almost reached the end of the first part of the Federalist Papers.  There are two more essays that deal with the issue of taxation, and in number 35 Hamilton describes how placing a limitation on the federal government’s taxing power would lead to great abuse of that power.

if the jurisdiction of the national government, in the article of revenue, should be restricted to particular objects, it would naturally occasion an undue proportion of the public burdens to fall upon those objects. Two evils would spring from this source: the oppression of particular branches of industry; and an unequal distribution of the taxes, as well among the several States as among the citizens of the same State.

Suppose, as has been contended for, the federal power of taxation were to be confined to duties on imports, it is evident that the government, for want of being able to command other resources, would frequently be tempted to extend these duties to an injurious excess.

If you confine the government’s sources of revenue, then the government will bleed that particular industry dry.  This will lead to the development of a black market, thus only exacerbating the problems.  It is better, therefore, to permit a broader range of tax powers so that the government doesn’t focus its attention too greedily on any one industry.  Perhaps Hamilton did not countenance the government attempting to suck everyone dry. (more…)

Published in: on July 20, 2010 at 2:37 pm  Comments Off on Federalist 35 – Hamilton  
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Federalist 34 – Hamilton

Alexander Hamilton continues his long train of articles on the subject of taxation in Federalist 34.  He trods much of the same ground that he covered earlier, again defending the idea that the states and the federal government have concurrent taxing powers.  He uses an example from Roman times to justify the idea that such a concurrent power can truly exist.

There is one element of this paper that deserves close attention.  An underlying theme of this particular number is the idea that the Constitution is meant to endure.  This is not an inconsequential notion.  There were those – Thomas Jefferson, for instance – who posited that constitutions should be re-formed and redone frequently.   I think that Hamilton’s words merit great attention, because they demonstrate that the Framers did believe that they were penning a constitution meant to endure for quite a long period of time.

Here is the key passage:


Published in: on July 16, 2010 at 1:21 pm  Comments Off on Federalist 34 – Hamilton  
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