Col. Hamilton is deservedly celebrated for his talents. He is a practitioner of the Law, and reputed to be a finished Scholar. To a clear and strong judgment he unites the ornaments of fancy, and whilst he is able, convincing, and engaging in his eloquence the Heart and Head sympathize in approving him. Yet there is something too feeble in his voice to be equal to the strains of oratory; -it is my opinion that he is rather a convincing Speaker, than a blazing Orator. Colo. Hamilton requires time to think, -he enquires into every part of his subject with the searchings of philosophy, and when he comes forward he comes highly charged with interesting matter, there is no skimming over the surface of a subject with him, he must sink to the bottom to see what foundation it rests on…He is about 33 years old, of small stature, and lean. His manners are tinctured with stiffness, and sometimes with a degree of vanity that is highly disagreeable.
William L. Pierce, eyewitness
Alexander Hamilton was born in 1757 on the island of Nevis, in the British
West Indies. He was the illegitimate son of a common-law marriage between a poor
itinerant Scottish merchant of aristocratic descent and an English-French
Huguenot mother who was a planter's daughter. In 1766, after the father had
moved his family elsewhere in the Leewards to St. Croix in the Danish (now
United States) Virgin Islands, he returned to St. Kitts while his wife and two
sons remained on St. Croix.
The mother, who opened a small store to make ends meet, and a Presbyterian
clergyman provided Hamilton with a basic education, and he learned to speak
fluent French. About the time of his mother's death in 1768, he became an
apprentice clerk for a merchant company, whose owners became his patrons.
Recognizing his ambition and superior intelligence, they raised a fund for his
In 1772, bearing letters of introduction, Hamilton traveled to New York City.
Friends he met there arranged for him to attend Barber's Academy at
Elizabethtown (present Elizabeth), NJ. During this time, he met and stayed for a
while at the home of William Livingston, who would one day be a fellow signer of
the Constitution. Late the next year, 1773, Hamilton entered King's College
(later Columbia College and University) in New York City, but the Revolution
interrupted his studies.
Although not yet 20 years of age, in 1774-75 Hamilton wrote several widely
read pro-Whig pamphlets. Right after the war broke out, he accepted an artillery
captaincy and fought in the principal campaigns of 1776-77. In the latter year,
winning the rank of lieutenant colonel, he joined the staff of General
Washington as secretary and aide-de-camp and soon became his close confidant as
In 1780 Hamilton wed New Yorker Elizabeth Schuyler, whose family was rich and
politically powerful; they were to have eight children. In 1781, after some
disagreements with Washington, he took a command position under Lafayette in the
Yorktown, Virginia, campaign (1781).
Hamilton then studied law at Albany and quickly entered practice, but public
service soon attracted him. He was elected to the Continental Congress in
1782-83. In the latter year, he established a law office in New York City.
Because of his interest in strengthening the central government, he represented
his state at the Annapolis Convention in 1786, where he urged the calling of the
In 1787 Hamilton served in the legislature, which appointed him as a delegate to the convention. He played a surprisingly small part in the debates, apparently because he was frequently absent on legal business. He did, however, sit on the Committee of Style, and he was the only one of the three delegates from his state who signed the finished document. Against determined opposition, he waged a strenuous and successful campaign to gain support for ratification of the Constitution, including collaboration with John Jay and James Madison in writing The Federalist.
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