History of Alexander Hamilton for Kids

On July 3, 2020, to the great excitement of its fans Disney Plus released the musical film, Hamilton. After its release it became one of the most-streamed films of that year. The film was based on the 2015 Broadway musical of the same name.

The Hamilton musical was created by Lin-Manuel Miranda and inspired by the biography he read by Ron Chernow. The musical was first done as a show at Vassar College in 2013, then as an Off-Broadway show in 2015. On August 6, 2015, it had its Broadway premiere at the Richard Rodgers Theatre in New York City. 

As of 2021 over 2.6 million people have watched the live performance of Hamilton, its album has been played on Spotify more than 145 million times, and over 2.7 million people have watched the movie on Disney Plus. Needless to say, Hamilton has been one of the most popular musicals of all time. Whether you’ve seen the musical or not, today we’re going to learn more about the life of Alexander Hamilton, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. 

Alexander was born on January 11, 1755, on the Island of Nevis, which at the time was part of the British West Indies. Actually, there is some doubt about whether his birth actually occurred in 1755 or in 1757. At 13, his father had left and his mother passed away from yellow fever, and Alexander and his brother found themselves as orphans.  

But Alexander kept going and took on his first job at an early age. He became  a clerk at a local import-export firm that traded with New York and New England. In 1969, Alexander and his brother James ahd to split up. James studied with a local carpenter while merchant Thomas Stevens gave Alexander a home. 

Even though Alexander was only a teenager, he  proved capable enough as a trader. He was left in charge of the business  for five months in 1771 while the owner was at sea. He read everything he could  and later developed an interest in writing. As he read and learned about the larger world, he wanted to leave the island where he grew up. 

In October 1772 Hamilton arrived by ship in Boston and traveled from there to New York City. He lived with Hercules Mulligan who helped Alexander sell cargo. This job helped pay for his education and living expenses.

In 1773, to prepare for college, Alexander filled gaps in his education at the Elizabethtown Academy prep school in New Jersey. It was there that he started learning from William Livingston.

Alexander entered King’s College (now known as Columbia University) in New York City in the fall of 1773 as a private student. They officially admitted him as a full student the next year. His college roommate Robert Troup spoke highly of Alexander’s intelligence. He also admired his ability to speak clearly and lead others.

Once the American Revolution began and After the first battle between American troops and the British in 1775, Alexander and other King’s College students joined a New York volunteer militia, the Hearts of Oak. A military is a small army. Hamilton studied military tactics on his own and was soon recommended for promotion. During a battle , he led a successful raid for British cannons while being fired on. Once they captured the cannons, his militia, the Hearts of Oak, became an artillery company.

On January 3, 1777, Alexander took part in the Battle of Princeton. George Washington rallied the American troops and led them in a successful charge against the British forces. After making a brief stand, the British fell back, some leaving Princeton and others taking up refuge in Nassau Hall. 

Alexander brought three cannons up and had them fire on the building. Then some Americans rushed to the front door and broke it down. The British quickly put a white flag outside one window. 194 British soldiers walked out of the building and laid down their weapons, ending the battle with an American victory.

In 1780 Alexander married Elizabeth Schuyler. Together they had eight children. Alexander eventually graduated from college in 1782. His education had been slowed down by the revolution. Later that same year he became licensed as a lawyer to argue cases before the Supreme Court of the State of New York. They appointed Alexander in July 1782 to the Congress of the Confederation as a New York representative.

Alexander quit Congress in 1783 when the British left New York. He practiced law there in partnership with Richard Harison. He specialized in defending Tories and British subjects. In 1784, he founded the Bank of New York, one of the oldest still-existing banks in America. Alexander helped restore and reopen King’s College as Columbia College. The school had been closed since 1776 and was damaged during the war. 

In 1786, at the Annapolis Convention Alexander drafted a resolution for the constitutional convention. In doing so he was one step closer to realizing his longtime desire to have a more effective, more financially independent federal government.

In 1787, while serving as a New York delegate, he met in Philadelphia with other delegates to discuss how to fix the Articles of Confederation, which were so weak that they could not keep  the Union together. During the meeting, Hamilton argued that the country would need plenty of money if it wanted to have a strong, central government that wouldn’t fall apart. 

While Alexander didn’t play a huge part in actually writing the Constitution, he is to thank for making it happen. Alexander wrote 51 of 85 essays that became known as the Federalist papers. It was these papers and Alexander’s powerful voice supporting the Constitution that helped ensure that the constitution was written in 1788.

When George Washington was elected President of the United States in 1789, he appointed Alexander as the first secretary of the treasury. The nation was facing great foreign and domestic debt because of expenses incurred during the American Revolution. Debt is when a country or individual owes someone else money.

In 1791  Alexander played a huge role in establishing the basis for the U.S. Mint. The Mint is where coins would be created for people to use. They created the Mint in Philadelphia in 1792. The Mint issued its first coins in 1795. There was a ten-dollar Gold Eagle coin, a silver dollar, and fractional money ranging from one-half to fifty cents. 

Alexander stepped down from his position as secretary of the treasury in 1795, leaving behind a far more secure U.S. economy to back a strengthened federal government. Having a strong financial system, which included its own coinage and enough money to spend was very important to the success of the new nation.

During the 1800 presidential elections, Thomas Jefferson, Democratic-Republican, and John Adams, a Federalist, were running for President after George Washington stepped down. . Presidents and vice presidents were voted for separately, and Aaron Burr, intended to be Jefferson’s vice president on the Democratic-Republican ticket, actually tied Thomas Jefferson for the presidency.

Alexander didn’t love either candidate, but went with Thomas Jefferson and this led to him beating Aaron Burr as the candidate for the Democratic-Republican Party. As a result, Aaron Burr would be vice president.

During his first term, Thomas Jefferson often left Aaron Burr out of discussions on party decisions. When Thomas Jefferson ran for re-election in 1804, he removed Aaron Burr from his ticket. Aaron Burr then decided to run for governor of New York but lost. 

Frustrated and feeling left out, Aaron Burr became very angry  when he read in a newspaper that Hamilton had called him “the most unfit and dangerous man of the community.” Aaron Burr was convinced Alexander had ruined yet another election for him and demanded an explanation. 

When Alexander refused, Aaron Burr, even angrier, challenged him to a duel. Alexander accepted, though not happy about it, because he believed that in doing so he would assure his “ability to be in the future more useful.”

Alexander met Aaron Burr at the duel which began at dawn on July 11, 1804, in New Jersey. When both men drew their guns and shot, Alexander was severely wounded, but his bullet missed Aaron Burr. 

Alexander, injured, was brought back to New York City, where he died the next day, on July 12, 1804. His grave is in the cemetery of Trinity Church in downtown Manhattan, New York City. His wife, Elizabeth, went on to survive him by 50 years and spent much of her time researching his life and writing about his legacy to share with others. She also founded an orphanage in memory of Alexander who was an orphan himself.

Alexander’s life didn’t start off easy at all. As an orphan in the West Indies, he often had to fend for himself. But instead of giving up, he found work and learned a new trade and did what he could to stay alive. He also found that by reading he could become smarter and figure out ways to solve his problems. Like Alexander, sometimes life throws challenges at us, and we can learn from his example by instead of giving up and shutting down, by stepping back and looking at our problem, learning something new, and then taking action to make our life better. 

Alexander was also always looking at ways he could improve the world around him. During the revolution he saw that America could become something better than it was. He fought in the war and then using everything he had read began to research ways to make the new country stronger. By reading we can better understand the world around us. Alexander wanted more than anything a better future for his children and the people of the new nation. Think about your community and what you might do to make it a better place.

Finally, Alexander will be remembered for the ideas he wrote in the Federalist Papers, which people all over the world have read in designing their own governments. If you get a chance, read some of the ideas he shared there. 

Thanks for listening to this episode about Alexander Hamilton and be sure to tune in next Monday for an episode about the creator of the musical, Lin Manuel Miranda.

History of Benjamin Franklin for Kids

Have you heard of a Founding Father before? A Founding Father is someone who helped start the United States of America. Benjamin Franklin was a Founding Father. Some have also called him the First American, because he had so many of the traits that would become known as American, such as hard work and independence. Independence is when you do something for yourself. 

Ben Franklin was born in Boston Massachusetts to a very large family. He had 17 brothers and sisters! His family didn’t have very much money so he only went to school for 2 years. But he did spend a lot of time reading on his own. He also learned to write and enjoyed doing it.

When he was young he worked for his older brother who was a printer. A printer would print newspapers and books for other people. Printing was important, because it was the best way to share an idea at that time. Printers would use little metal letters and build entire pages of words and sentences, then use black ink to make copies of the metal letters. Because Ben was working for his older brother he was called an “apprentice.” An apprentice is someone who is learning to become a master at a certain skill like printing. 

While Ben was working as a printer he also liked to write for the newspaper. He would use a fake name Silence Dogood to write in the newspaper. He pretended to be an old lady and wrote funny jokes. Many people in the town thought this was very funny and didn’t know it was Ben writing the jokes. 

After a few years Ben left his brother’s shop and started working for a new printer. His job was to set the metal letters in the big printing machine. He was also a clerk, a shopkeeper and a bookkeeper. He liked to stay busy and to learn all he could while he was working.

Around this time, when he was 20 years old, Ben formed a group including other Americans who also liked to read. Books cost a lot of money to buy, and there were no libraries, so Ben and his friends started their own library. They shared the books they read and met together to talk about what they read. Later in his life Ben would help start some of the first libraries in America because he knew reading and learning were so important.

After working for other printers for many years, Ben started his own printing shop. He wrote about his own ideas and used parts of the paper to talk about good morals. Morals are the things that are good to do in life — like being honest, being kind, not stealing and working hard. Ben made lists of what he wanted to do better each day then at the end of the day checked the boxes on what he did good at and made note of what he needed to do better. He believed improving each day was very important.

Ben was very interested in science and invention. He studied electricity. At the time no one had electricity, which means they had no lights or electronics like we do today. Ben saw lightning during a storm and guessed that it must be electricity. Sometimes when lightning hit tall buildings it started fires. Ben had the idea to put a metal pole on the top of buildings, so when the lightning struck the pole it would go into the ground instead of start fires. This invention was called a lightning rod. Many people think that Ben used a kite to discover lightning was electricity, but he really just wrote about the idea and someone else tried it.

Ben also invented a certain type of eye glasses called bifocals, which allowed someone to see differently depending on the part of the glasses they were looking through.

Ben also liked to play chess. He also created the first Fire Department and helped start some of the first universities in the United States.

Because of his newspapers and his inventions and other achievements Ben Franklin became very well known in America and across the ocean in Europe. When many Americans disagreed with England about taxes, Ben was on the side of the Americans who wanted change. He wrote about his ideas and even helped Thomas Jefferson write the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration of Independence was a paper they wrote to tell England they wanted to be their own country and to be free.

A war began between America and England, so Ben took a ship across the ocean to ask for France’s help. The French people loved Ben Franklin. He liked to wear a fur hat and talk about science and his inventions. They thought he was interesting and fun to talk to. France ended up helping America fight and later win the war against England. 

In his new country, Ben helped put together the first Constitution. The Constitution was a list of laws to help the country stay together and work well. To the end of his life Ben did all he could to help make America a strong country. 

Earlier we talked about some of the morals, good things we should do, that Ben wrote about in his paper. Ben wasn’t a perfect person, like all of us, but he wanted to do good things. 

He wrote about temperance. Temperance is not doing too much of something such as eating. We need good food for our bodies, but too much of it isn’t always a good thing. We can usually tell by how our stomachs feel when we are eating.

He also taught about silence. Sometimes it’s good to speak up, but other times it’s better to listen and think about what we should say. If we don’t think before we speak, we often say things we don’t really mean.

Order means to think about what we are doing and have a plan. We shouldn’t spend all our time doing the same thing, but giving the right amount of time to each good thing.

Frugality means to be careful with the money that you have. It’s easy to want to spend all of your money, but it’s better to spend money on what you need and to save some. It’s ok to spend some of your money on fun things, but not all of it.

Industry means to stay busy doing useful things. Each day we can make a plan of what we want to do and then get to work. Having fun is good in its own time, but we should also spend time learning, helping others, and getting chores and other things done.

Justice means treating others well and doing our best to make things fair.

Cleanliness means we should take care of our bodies by keeping them cleaning, bathing each day, and brushing our teeth.

Like Ben, we can do our best to live by these teachings each day. You could even keep track of your goals like Ben did in his journals and checklists. You can also read and learn and come up with new ideas that will help other people like Ben’s lightning rod. You can also be courageous and stand up for good things like Ben did during the Revolution. 

Marquis de Lafayette For Kids

Our story begins on September 6, 1757 when a young boy was born to the Lafayette Family in Chavaniac (Shevinyik), France. His parents named him Marie-Joseph-Paul-Roch-Gilbert du Motier! Can you imagine having a name that long! Not only did he start off with a big name, but also a very big fortune. He was born into a long line of French nobles, which means the people who ruled France and were very wealthy. He even inherited a castle at birth! The Lafayette Family had lived in France for many years and had distinguished themselves as brave soldiers. One of his ancestors fought alongside the brave woman soldier, Joan of Arc. Another ancestor traveled East and fought during the Crusades. His grandfather was a famed Musketeer and one of King Louis XV’s bodyguards. Also, when Lafayette was very young, he lost his father in a battle. So not only did he inherit much wealth and property, but also a famous name to live up to.

Although he had a long name he later became known as Lafayette, so we’ll use this name for the rest of our story. After losing his father, Lafayette’s mother moved to Paris and left him to be raised by his grandmother. Later, when he was 11, he moved to Paris with his mother to attend school. There he decided to be a soldier like his father and the many generations of Lafayette’s before him. He attended a school to learn to be a Musketeer, one of the king’s famous bodyguards. He graduated and did this for a time while still in school. 

When Lafayette was 14, his family introduced him to a young woman named Adrienne Marie Francois. She was only 12, but they spent time with each other and eventually fell in love. Later, they were married when Lafayette was 16 and she was 14. They ended up being a good match and stayed together for the rest of their lives.

By 1775, Lafayette was a Luitenant in the French Army and watched with interest what was going on across the ocean in the American Colonies. There, the British ruled the colonies but many of the Americans wanted to break free and become their own country. This struggle and war later became known as the American Revolution. Lafayette was French and the French didn’t get along with the British. They had fought against each other in many wars, include the Seven Years War or French and Indian War in America. Lafayette began to think about how he might help the American’s fight for liberty and get back at his enemies, the British. His father had also died in a battle against the British. 

In 1776 the French decided to help the Americans fight the British by sending soldiers and weapons. Lafayette volunteered to go with them. He was only 18 at the time, but his heart was set on going. When the British heard the French decided to help, they threatened to declare war against France, too. This caused France to change its position, but Lafayette had already made up his mind to go. His father-in-law, who was also his commanding officer, threatened to arrest him if he tried to leave to America. Lafayette hid from him and decided to find a way to escape to America, anyway. He was determined to join their cause and nothing would stop him. 

Lafayette’s first problem was America was across the ocean and he didn’t have a ship. He decided to use his great wealth to buy one. Then, he and the his friends boarded his ship and sailed for 2 months to America.

In Philadephia, Lafayette met General George Washington of America’s Continental Army. They ate dinner together and became good friends right away. Lafayette joined George Washington’s staff and in many ways became the father he never had. 

In September 1777, Lafayette fought in his first battle, The Battle of Brandywine. While rallying the troops to attack, he was hit in the leg and wounded, but continued to rally the soldiers to hold off the British advances.

Later that year after he recovered, he fought in another battle and defeated the British in Gloucester. During that same winter, he stayed with George Washington at Valley Forge. At Valley Forge they waited out a very harsh winter. Many soldiers suffered and were lost, but Washington and Lafayette and others were able to encourage the troops and keep them from leaving to continue the fight against the British.

Lafayette next fought in battles at Barren Hill, Monmouth, and Rhode Island, and was successful in his attacks and given a sword for his bravery and skill in battle. By this time, the French government now planned to help the Americans and Lafayette sailed a ship back to France to help get more soldiers and weapons to help.

In France, Lafayette was praised as a hero for fighting in America. He was also happy to see his wife and children again. While he was there she gave birth to a boy. They named him George Washington Lafayette! There, Lafayette also met Benjamin Franklin and worked with him and the French army to find enough soldiers and weapons to take back to America. Then, he sailed back to America to continue the fight.

In America, he found George Washington and the Continental Army struggling. They had lost battles and were worried they wouldn’t win the war. Washington was happy to see Lafayette and gave him command over troops as they continued the fight. Battles were won and lost and Lafayette continued to write letters to France urging them to send more soldiers and weapons. 

The Battle of Yorktown was one of the major battles in the American war for Independence. There, Lafayette and Alexander Hamilton and their troops faced off against the British general Cornwallis. Ships and soldiers from France also joined the battle. Muskets and cannons were fired from both sides. Smoke and gunfire filled the air. The battle was very intense and many soldiers were lost. In the final moments of the battle, Lafayette and Hamilton charged the British defenses and fought with swords in hand-to-hand combat until the Americans won the battle and General Cornwallis surrendered. The war wasn’t completely over yet, but the final major land battle had been won and America was on its way to freedom as a nation. 

After the war, the Marquis de Lafayette returned to France and was welcomed as a hero for his bravery. There, he joined the abolitionists in their struggle against slavery. He believed all people should be treated equal, regardless of the color of their skin. Lafayette even wrote a letter to George Washington, encouraging him to liberate his slaves.

Lafeyette spent the rest of his life in France dealing with its own revolution, but being an noble, he worked to find ways that the common people and the monarchy, the king, could work toward a better country. He lived through the French Revolution and later the rule of the general and dictator, Napoleon Bonaparte. He spent the later part of his life running his farm, far away from city and government life, much like his hero and father figure, George Washington. 

When Lafeyette was 67, he made his final visit to the United States. There he visited the grave of George Washington and spent time with Thomas Jefferson who was now 81, near the end of his life. His spoke to congress and once again toured the states where he was welcome as a hero. While at Bunker Hill, one of the battle sites of the War of Independence, he asked his son to gather up a scoop of dirt. 

After returning to France, in 1834, Lafayette passed away and was buried using some of the dirt he had collected at Bunker Hill.

Spend some time thinking about what it might have been like to be Lafayette. He was born with much wealth and privilege. He could have just stayed in France and enjoyed is money, but during the War for Independence, he went against the wishes of his family and government and used his own money to travel to the colonies and help in their fight for freedom. Think about what it means to be brave? Can you think of a time when you had to be brave? It’s not always easy. But often when we take the leap and do something that’s not easy, we grow and become stronger. That’s one of the only ways to become stronger, to do hard things that require bravery. I believe you can do hard things! I believe that you can be brave!