Many people will automatically throw out names like George Washington, the first U.S. president; Thomas Jefferson, who most know as the author of the Declaration of Independence; and Benjamin Franklin, renowned for his long hair, bifocals, and myriad inventions.
But few people know much about Alexander Hamilton beyond the fact that he appears on the $10 bill, if that.
To be honest, I knew little of Hamilton until reading a special issue of TIME magazine titled "Alexander Hamilton: A Founding Father's Visionary Genius -- and His Tragic Fate." I finished it just this morning and gained invaluable insight into the fascinating life of this underrated figure in American history.
In this post, I'd like to share a few interesting facts I learned about Hamilton:
- You might assume that, because Hamilton is a Founding Father, he had to have been born in America. Actually, Hamilton was born in and spent part of his childhood in Charlestown, the capital of the island of Nevis, in the Leeward Islands.
- Hamilton was born out of wedlock to Rachel Faucette, a married woman of partial French Huguenot descent, and James A. Hamilton, the fourth son of the Scottish laird Alexander Hamilton of Grange. Both his parents had died by the time he was 13.
- He served as a chief staff aide to General George Washington during the Revolutionary War.
- Hamilton was a prolific writer, churning out hundreds of letters throughout his life. His best-known work is arguably The Federalist (which he wrote with James Madison and John Jay), a collection of articles and essays promoting the ratification of the U.S. Constitution.
- As a member of the Federalist party, Hamilton called for a strong national government that promoted economic growth and fostered friendly relationships with Great Britain. He argued that the government should assume all state debt that remained from the Revolution. The party controlled the federal government until 1801, when the Democratic Republican party, founded by newly-elected president Thomas Jefferson, rose to power.
- Hamilton, the country's first Secretary of the Treasury, established the first financial system in America. The one we have in place today -- where banks are run by the private sector but regulated by the government -- was largely Hamilton's brainchild.
- He and his wife, Elizabeth Schulyer, had eight children.
- Hamilton attended what is now Columbia University. (In his day, it was known as Kings College.)
- Hamilton was embroiled in what many say was the first sex scandal in American history. He had a three-year affair with a woman named Maria Reynolds while paying her husband James Reynolds money to keep his mouth shut. Hamilton was forced to admit the affair after James Reynolds threatened to implicate him in Reynolds' own scheme involving speculation on unpaid back wages intended for Revolutionary War veterans. In a 95-page pamphlet called Observations on Certain Documents, Hamilton denied all charges of corruption, but did not deny his relationship with Maria Reynolds. Instead, he openly admitted it and apologized for it. The affair severely damaged his reputation.
- Hamilton founded The New York Post in 1801.
- He advocated the abolition of slavery.
- Hamilton was involved in several duels throughout his life. In a duel with Vice President Aaron Burr in 1804, he was shot in the lower abdomen and died the next day. Hamilton's reputation soared to new heights after his death.
- Interestingly, even though Hamilton was one of Jefferson's biggest foes, the latter acquired a bust of himself and a copy of Hamilton's and placed them, facing each other, in the entrance hall of Monticello, the main house of his plantation in Charlottesville, Virginia.
- His days on the $10 bill are numbered. On June 17, 2015, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew announced that a woman's portrait would be featured on a redesigned ten-dollar bill by 2020. Harriet Tubman and Eleanor Roosevelt are among the women being considered to the grace the bill.