Commentary

The History Behind the Forgotten Founding Father

hmi-slide-1When the United States of America was beginning, there were many influential men that helped get our country on its feet. Our founding fathers have been commemorated throughout the years with monuments, buildings, and other memorials. Schoolchildren learn the importance of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and the others. However, one such influential figure has been seemingly forgotten by history. Alexander Hamilton, the father of our modern financial system who helped fight for our constitution and promote the values held by our first president, is often overlooked. Many people mistake him for a president or they don’t even know who he is. Why is it that one of the men who played a larger role than almost anyone in making our nation what it is today has been forgotten?

Born in 1755 in the British West Indies, Alexander Hamilton immigrated to the colonies at age 14 after being orphaned at a young age. At age 15, he enrolled in King’s College (Columbia University) with money raised by people who had seen the potential in the future founding father without a father. He quickly realized the power of writing and used his skills to write political essays for the stirring revolution as well as begin a career in law. He eventually joined the fight as an artillery captain and in 1777, he joined General George Washington’s staff. In 1780, he was married to Elizabeth Schuyler, which secured his social standing.

During the 1780’s the Constitution was written and many were against it. Hamilton saw the importance of it and set out with John Jay and James Madison to write the Federalist papers. He wrote the majority of them and much of the reason the Constitution is still upheld is because of his efforts. When George Washington was elected as the first president, he nominated Alexander Hamilton as Secretary of Treasury opposite his longtime opponent Thomas Jefferson as Secretary of State who worked against Hamilton’s Federalist Party. Together they balanced Washington’s cabinet.

Throughout his law and political career, Hamilton had a rivalry with eventual Vice President Aaron Burr. In 1804, when running for a second term, Burr’s honor was attacked by Hamilton and he in turn challenged Hamilton to a duel. At this point, Hamilton’s career had taken several hits. He had gone public with a torrid extra-marital affair and had been accused of being a “traitor to the nation” (Warren, par. 6) possibly because of many people’s false perception that he had used government funds to pay for his affair. On the day of the duel, the two parties met in Weehawken, New Jersey. There are conflicting accounts as to what happened next, according to an article on History.com  “Hamilton’s second, and witness said, ‘Hamilton decided the duel was morally wrong and deliberately fired into the air’. Burr’s second and witness claimed that, ‘Hamilton fired at Burr and missed’” whatever happened, “Hamilton was shot in the stomach, the bullet lodged in his spine and he died the next day” (Aaron Burr Acquitted, par. 5 & 6). Few duels held in those days actually resulted in death and in result, it lead to a murder charge for Aaron Burr. He was later acquitted on a technicality.

Alexander Hamilton was only 49 when he was killed and in nearly half a century achieved more than most people do in a whole lifetime. He created our financial system, got the Constitution ratified, fought against slavery, created the coast guard and the New York Post, and kept our government out of the hands of power hungry individuals. Yet, even with all these accomplishments it took nearly 200 years for an official monument to be put in place to honor him. Until then, Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton was the only person who fought to keep his legacy alive.

Elizabeth founded the first private orphanage in New York City in his honor since he had been an orphan himself. He is also on the $10 bill, but in 2015 it was announced that he would be removed and replaced with a woman. While it is time for a woman to receive a place on currency, why remove the father of the financial system? Currency is one of the best ways to honor him and this is just another prime example of history attempting to forget him. Thankfully, History has begun to see the importance of this great man, and, in April 2016, it was announced that Hamilton would remain on the ten dollar bill, “thanks largely to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s runaway smash musical Hamilton” (Nguyen, par. 7). Speaking of the musical, it is perhaps the best example of someone preserving the memory of Alexander Hamilton.

The musical Hamilton is told in the historical context as far as costumes and plot is concerned, but through a modern narrative. In an interview, Miranda explains why he chose to tell the story of Hamilton through Hip Hop and R&B saying, “ I also believe it is uniquely suited to tell Hamilton’s story. Because it has more words per measure than any other musical genre. It has rhythm and it has density. And if Hamilton had anything in his writings it was this density” (qtd. 60 Minutes). This musical has become one of the best grossing shows in Broadway history and has brought Hamilton back into the public eye.

Maybe it’s the accusations of treason, maybe it’s the affair, and maybe it’s still people who are against the former Federalist party and the ratification of the Constitution, but, for whatever reason, Alexander Hamilton has been pushed aside for far too long. This man may have never become president, but he had a “bigger impact than many who did” (Rose, par. 16). In the past he may have simply been remembered as a man with an uncontrollable temper; however, today I choose to remember him for his accomplishments. Lin Manuel Miranda refers to Hamilton as the man who, “wrote like he was running out of time” (Hamilton: An American Musical) and it is true. Somehow he knew his life would be short and that he needed to accomplish as much as he could in the time he had left. He had his faults, but don’t we all? He was definitely not the only founding father to ever make a mistake. He should not be forgotten or remembered as a traitor. He should be remembered for the legacy he has left and for the inspiration he continues to be.

 

Works Cited

Chernow, Ron. “Alexander Hamilton” Penguin Press, 2004. Print.“Elizabeth Hamilton (1757-1854)” PBS. People and Events, 8 May 2007. web. 7 February 2016.

Hamilton: An American Musical.” Miranda, Lin-Manuel. comp. Original Broadway Cast. perf. Atlantic Records, 2015. Cd.

“Hamilton.” 60 Minutes. CBS. 8 Nov. 2015. Television

History.com Staff. “Aaron Burr Acquitted” History.com. A+E Networks., 2010. web. 7 February 2016.

History.com Staff. “Alexander Hamilton” History.com. A+E Networks., 2009. web. 7 February 2016

Maranzani, Barbara. “5 Things you Didn’t Know About Alexander Hamilton” History.com. A+E Networks., 2012. web. 7 February 2016

Nguyen, Tina, and Vanity Fair Magazine. “”Hamilton” Fans, Rejoice: Founding Father to Stay on the $10 Bill.” Vanity Fair. Vanity Fair, 20 Apr. 2016. Web. 25 Apr. 2016.

Rose, Charlie. “Hamilton” CBS.com. CBS., 8 Nov. 2015. Web. 7 February 2016

 

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