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.