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This Month in Business History

Alexander Hamilton, First Secretary of the Treasury Born

John Trumbull, artist. Alexander Hamilton.1865. Detroit Publishing Company photograph collection . Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.

The musical Hamilton may not necessarily be the first stage production where Alexander Hamilton External makes an appearance, but it has made him all the rage lately and has even garnered him a number of blog posts at the Library. The musical was based on Ron Chernow’s book Alexander Hamilton and has racked up many accolades, including 11 Tony awards.

It may be a bit of a puzzle as to why Lin Manuel Miranda wrote a musical about a Secretary of the Treasury, but it may be a little more obvious why a Business librarian would write blog post about him — the first Secretary of the Treasury had a profound impact on the country and the economy then and now.

I am not throwing away my shot!

Without writing an overly detailed history — there are many biographies out there - but a brief recounting of Hamilton’s life should put the man in perspective. Alexander Hamilton was born in Nevis and moved to the colonies in North America in 1772/73 where he attended Kings College (now Columbia). He joined the New York militia in 1775 and eventually became an aide to General George Washington. In December of 1780 he married Elizabeth Schuyler, the daughter of a general who was from a very prominent New York family. After the war, he was appointed to the Congress of the Confederation (read about the Articles of the Confederation) but later resigned and practiced law in New York. In 1784 he founded the Bank of New York and several years later he was chosen as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention which drafted the new U.S. Constitution.

John Jay got sick after writing five. James Madison wrote twenty-nine. Hamilton wrote the other fifty-one.

Since the new Constitution was not an easy sell, Hamilton, along with John Jay and James Madison, wrote a series of articles and essays defending the proposed Constitution, which became known as the Federalist Papers. When George Washington was elected president, he chose Hamilton to be the first Secretary of the Treasury, a position he held until 1795. It is while he was Secretary that he wrote several influential works, including the Report on Public Credit, Report on a National Bank, and his Report on Manufactures.

I wrote financial systems into existence.

As Secretary of the Treasury, Hamilton was in large part responsible for setting up our modern banking system, establishing the federal budget process, and establishing the Bank of the United States. At the time, there were five securities traded on Wall Street—one was the stock of the Bank of the United States, one was for the stock of the Bank of New York, and three were U.S. government securities—all of which had Hamilton’s fingerprints on them.

He took our country from bankruptcy to prosperity. I hate to admit it, but he doesn’t get enough credit for all the credit he gave us.

When Thomas Jefferson was elected president in 1800, Aaron Burr became vice-president. But Burr wasn’t on the ballot for a second term. Instead he ran for governor of New York. Hamilton seems to have wanted to thwart Burr, so he and his political allies worked together to defeat him. When Burr lost the race, he felt dishonored by all of the political machinations and blamed Hamilton. Burr challenged Hamilton to a duel, and as a result, Hamilton was killed on July 12, 1804. He wasn’t even 50 years old.

How do you write ev’ry second you’re alive?

Alexander Hamilton’s impact on the United States endures and people are still interested in what he thought. He is a boon to scholars, as he was a prolific writer—even using pseudonyms. The Library has a large collection of Hamilton’s papers, as well as a Resource Guide on Hamilton linking researchers to material from the Library’s collections.

If you have any further questions, please Ask A Librarian.


Note: The quotes in the post are pulled from the lyrics of the musical and can be found at Atlantic Records page devoted to the musical.

Featured Event Video

Author Ron Chernow discusses his biography of Alexander Hamilton at the 2004 National Book Festival.

Print Resources

The following materials link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to digital content are provided when available.

Library of Congress Digital Resources

The following resources created or digitized by the Library of Congress can be used to find out more about the man as well as the events of the day.

Internet Resources

These freely available online resources provide additional information on the topic.

Search the Library's Catalog

Additional works on this topic in the Library of Congress may be identified by searching the Online Catalog under appropriate Library of Congress subject headings. Choose the topics you wish to search from the following list of subject headings to link directly to the Catalog and automatically execute a search for the subject selected. Please be aware that during periods of heavy use you may encounter delays in accessing the catalog.

You can also search for additional publications by Alexander Hamilton by searching on him as the author.