Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics
STEPS TO FAME
 ALEXANDER HAMILTON was born in 1757 on the little
island of Nevis in the West Indies, and there he spent his
childhood. He was left motherless when he was very
young, and was brought up by relatives. The future
could not have seemed particularly bright for this lonely
little boy. Yet he grew to be one of the greatest men of
While still a lad, he was employed as clerk in a store;
and he showed such ability and industry that soon he
had almost complete charge of the business. But the
life of a West Indian merchant was not to his taste, and
his relatives were induced to send him to New York to
continue his studies. He was now fifteen years old.
Hamilton wanted to enter Princeton and to get his
college education as rapidly as possible, without regard to
classes. However, the rules of Princeton did not permit
of this; so Hamilton entered King's College, now Columbia
At this time the colonies were on the eve of their
struggle for liberty. Young as well as old were interested.
Large numbers of the most able, upright, and
conscientious men were opposed to the idea of separation from
the mother country. They argued that the wrongs
complained of could and would be settled peaceably. These
 men came to be called Tories or Loyalists. On the other
hand, many patriotic young men in the different colonies
formed themselves into bands called "Sons of Liberty."
They stood for the rights of the colonists; and in their
enthusiasm they raised liberty poles, around which they
held their meetings.
One of these liberty poles was put up in New York
City. But in January, 1770, some of the English soldiers
in New York took down the pole and cut it up. This
caused great excitement among the patriots and led to a
fight between the citizens and the soldiers. In this battle
of Golden Hill, as it is called, the first blood of the
Revolution was shed, five years before the battle of Lexington.
However, it was little more than a street brawl, not an
heroic fight, and no one was severely hurt.
THE BATTLE OF GOLDEN HILL.
The Sons of Liberty also took an active part in New
 York's "Tea Party" which, although not so celebrated as
the one in Boston, seems to have been just as effective
When the ship Nancy arrived with a cargo of tea, early in
1771, she was stopped at Sandy Hook. Her captain was
brought to the city and told that he could not land his tea.
He was then escorted by a large procession to the pilot
boat, and carried out to his ship, which was compelled to
turn back to England. About the sane time the tea from
another vessel was emptied into the harbor.
It was in the midst of such exciting; scenes that
Hamilton entered college. On July 6, 1774, he was present at
a great meeting held by the patriots in New York to
favor the First Continental Congress. Young, impulsive,
thoroughly interested, he listened to the cautious luke-warm
speeches. Finally he could stand it no longer and,
stepping to the platform, began to address the meeting
himself. The impression made by this boy orator of
seventeen was great, and deep. His eloquence struck his
hearers with surprise, and from that hour he was important
to the cause of liberty.
In the fall of 1775 the patriots in New York removed
some of the guns that were located on the Battery. They
were discovered at work, and were fired upon by the
English war ship Asia. The crowd grew excited, enraged,
and sought to avenge themselves by injuring some of tho
Loyalists. They marched to King's College, whose
president, Dr. Cooper, was unpopular because of his English
sympathies. Hamilton, always ready to help the weak
and unprotected, leaped to the steps of the building and
began to harangue the mob, thus giving the good doctor
time to escape. As the story is told, at first the doctor
did not understand what was going on. Looking out of
his window and seeing, as he supposed, one of his students
urging on the crowd, he called to them not to listen to the
 young rascal. Before many minutes, however, he was
glad to get away under cover of the young man's
Once aroused, Hamilton's keen interest in the fight for
liberty never lagged. During the campaign around New
York he acted as captain of a
company of artillery, which
he had trained so well that it
attracted general notice. He
had a share in the victories
of Trenton and Princeton,
although by that time his
company was reduced to a
mere handful of men. And at
Yorktown he headed the assault on one of the British
outworks, which he gallantly
Early in the war, Washington was attracted by the
young soldier: and in March,
1777, he appointed Hamilton
his aide, with the rank of lieutenant colonel. His duties
as aide were to take charge of the correspondence of the
Commander-in-chief, to prepare and draw up his orders,
proclamations, and other important papers.
There can be no doubt that this discipline was of
immense value to Hamilton. It developed him and gave
him a grasp of national affairs. And best of all, for four
years it kept him in intimate touch with Washington and
cemented the friendship between them.
DEPRECIATION OF THE CURRENCY
 THE affairs of the Government, after the close of the
war, were in a disheartening condition. The soldiers were
unpaid. Congress had no power to raise money by
taxation; had not even the power to protect the lives and
property of the citizens. Commerce was at a low ebb.
The states, jealous of each other, fell to quarreling and
New York and Virginia said that they owned most of
the western land claimed by Massachusetts and Connecticut.
Peeling ran high. Finally New York ceded all of
her western claims to the Government. Connecticut,
Massachusetts, and Virginia did the same. In this way a
great national domain was created, and one of the
interstate disputes was settled.
It was not so simple to solve the country's financial
difficulties. The only way in which Congress was allowed
to raise money for its many debts was by making requisitions
on the states. These requisitions were paid
grudgingly by some of the states; by others not at all. And
Congress had no power to enforce payment.
The distress of the country was great. Almost
everyone was in debt. Between 1775 and 1780 the Continental
Congress had issued paper money to the amount of about
$200,000,000. But it is not enough merely to print paper
and call it money. People will not accept it as money at
its face value, unless it represents gold or silver—something
of value which can be had in exchange for this printed
paper. Because tbere was no gold or silver behind the
paper money of Congress, it rapidly fell in value until, in
1780, a man had to pay forty dollars in paper money
for what would cost one dollar in gold or silver. And later
in the South it cost one thousand of Congress's paper
 dollars to buy one gold dollar's worth of goods. This
depreciated paper Money gave rise to the expression
"not worth a continental."
PAPER MONEY USED DURING THE REVOLUTION.
Besides the worthless paper money issued by Congress,
there was also the paper money issued by most of the
states. This added to the confusion. As there was no
Government mint, practically the only coins in use, besides
a few pennies, were foreign coins. It was not always easy
to be sure what these foreign coins were worth, and any
moderately cautious man had to keep at hand a small pair
of scales with which to weigh the gold or silver.
Therefore much of the trading was done by exchange.
That is to say, if a farmer bought a suit of clothes, he would
probably pay for it in flour or some other product of his
farm. Thus we read of an editor of a paper offering to
take subscriptions for his paper in salt pork.
With all these complications, the country was rapidly
going from bad to worse. So a convention was called at
Annapolis, in 1786, to consider the question of setting up
a uniform financial system. Alexander Hamilton was
sent to represent New York. The convention did little.
 But from it originated the idea of calling all the states
together in another convention to reorganize the
government of the country.
THE NEW CONSTITUTION AND FINANCIAL REFORM
NEW YORK appointed as her delegates to the proposed
Federal Convention, John Lansing, Robert Yates, and
Alexander Hamilton. The first two were bitterly opposed
to the idea of giving great power to a National governing
body. They feared that the importance of tire State of
New York might be lessened. Hamilton, with a broader
view, was earnestly in favor of any movement to strengthen
the Central Government.
The convention met at Philadelphia in May, 1787.
Hamilton did his utmost to show up the dangers of the
system of government under which they were living, and
used his influence to have measures adopted that would
remedy these evils. To his delight it was decided to draw
up a new Constitution which would give greater power to
Congress, would regulate the rights of the states, and
would provide a president to see that the laws were carried
out. The various articles of the Constitution were finally
agreed upon and were signed by the majority of the
delegates, ready for the states to ratify. During the fall of
1787 and the first months of 1788 the fight between the
friends and enemies of the new Constitution waxed hot
Hamilton suggested the writing of a series of essays
explaining the advantages of the Constitution, and the
reasons why it should be adopted. This suggestion was
acted upon; and from time to time arguments appeared
in the newspapers of New York, which did much to remove
the prejudices and fears of those opposed to the
Con-  stitution. Later these essays were collected and
published under the name of The Federalist. The Federalist
is one of the most famous books ever published in America.
Of its eighty-five essays fifty-one were written by Hamilton.
When the New York convention met to decide whether
that state should accept the Constitution, Hamilton was
put to his wits' ends. Forty-six of the delegates out of
sixty-five were bitterly opposed to the ratification. But
by arguments so strong that they convinced enough of
his opponents, he won a majority, and the ratification was
approved. It was a great triumph for Hamilton. Eleven
states having accepted the Constitution, it went into effect
Washington was unanimously elected to act as the
first President under the new Constitution. His
inauguration was to be held in New York, and great preparations
 for the event were made in that city. Washington reached
New York from Mount Vernon on April 23rd. On his
journey he received a constant ovation from a loyal and
enthusiastic people. From New Jersey he was rowed to
New York in a gorgeous barge, manned by thirteen masters
of vessels, dressed in white uniforms. Every vessel in the
harbor was gay in holiday attire. On April 30, 1789, at the
old Federal Building in Wall Street, George Washington took
the oath of office as the first President oft he United States.
AT THE BATTERY, NEW YORK CITY.
THE PRESIDENTIAL COACH DRAWING UP IN FRONT
OF FEDERAL HALL IN WALL STREET.
When President Washington chose his cabinet he
made Hamilton his Secretary of the Treasury. With the
country deeply in debt, with no money in the treasury,
and with the endless number of important questions that
must be decided before the new government could be
placed on a sound financial basis, Hamilton had a
stupend-  ous task before him. He bent all his great ability to the
straightening out of America's tangled financial condition.
Where others would have ended with dismal failure,
As the result of his work he brought out a series of
financial pleasures which quickly and firmly established the
credit of the country. He advocated the payment in full
with interest of the enormous National debt and the debts
of the states. He established methods of taxation by
imposts and excises; he provided for the establishment of a
National Bank and a Mint. All of these measures and
many more besides, under his leadership, were adopted by
Congress, though not without bitter controversies.
After Hamilton had rendered this valuable service to
the country he retired from public office, and again took up
the practice of law which he had begun years before.
This was in 1795.
THE DUEL AND HAMILTON'S DEATH
HAMILTON was worshiped by his friends and hated
by his enemies. He never ceased to take an active
interest in the politics of the time; and it was largely through
his efforts that Thomas Jefferson, and not Aaron Burr,
was elected President in 1800. Then four years later,
Hamilton prevented Burr from being elected governor of
New York. Whereupon Burr became Hamilton's bitter
enemy, and determined to kill him. So, claiming that
Hamilton had defamed him, he picked a quarrel with the
New York lawyer and challenged him to a duel.
According to the code of honor of those days, Hamilton
could not well refuse to accept the challenge, although he
did not believe in dueling. Weehawken, in New Jersey,
was chosen as the place for the fight. Arrangements were
 made; and on the morning of July 11, 1804, the two
statesmen and their seconds were rowed to the Jersey
shore. Pistols were to be the weapons. The principals
took their places. The signal to fire was given. Hamilton
did not even attempt to shoot Burr. But, in his hatred,
Burr took calm and deliberate aim. His bullet struck
Hamilton in the body, and he fell. He had received a
fatal wound; and although he lived to be taken home,
before many hours he died. He had barely passed the
prime of life, for he was but forty-seven years old.
The grief for his loss was deep. Burr was indicted for
murder and was compelled to flee. The misfortunes that
came to him in his after life must have seemed sufficient
penalty for his revenge. Disliked, suspected, with the
stain of Hamilton's death on his reputation, this brilliant
man died in misery and poverty thirty-two years later.
Hamilton was buried in New York in Trinity churchyard,
at the head of Wall Street. His tomb of white
marble, now yellow with age, is surrounded by stately
buildings. He lies near one of the great financial centers
of the world—a center which his genius did much to
Perhaps the love and admiration of his countrymen is
best told in the epitaph on his tomb. It reads in part:
The PATRIOT of incorruptible INTEGRITY
The SOLDIER of approved VALOUR
The STATESMAN of consummate WISDOM
Whose TALENTS and VIRTUES will be admired
Long after this MARBLE shall have mouldered into DUST.