Alexander Hamilton (January 11, 1755 or 1757 – July 12, 1804) was the first United States Secretary of the Treasury, a Founding Father, economist, and political philosopher.
Aide-de-camp to General George Washington during the American Revolutionary War, he was a leader of American nationalists calling for a new Constitution and has been lauded as "more than any other designed the Government of the United States": he was one of America's first constitutional lawyers, and wrote most of the Federalist Papers, a primary source for Constitutional interpretation. Hamilton was the primary author of the economic policies of the George Washington Administration, especially the funding of the state debts by the Federal government, the establishment of a national bank, a system of tariffs, and friendly trade relations with Britain. He became the leader of the Federalist Party, created largely in support of his views, and was opposed by Democratic-Republican Party, led by James Madison and Thomas Jefferson.
A believer in a militarily strong national government, Hamilton helped defeat the tax revolt of western farmers in 1794, and built a new army to oppose France in the Quasi War of 1798, but Federalist President John Adams found a diplomatic solution that avoided war. Hamilton opposed Adams, as well as the opposition candidates Jefferson and Aaron Burr, in the election of 1800; he supported Jefferson over Burr when the House of Representatives had to choose in an electoral tie between them.
Born and raised in the Caribbean, Hamilton attended King's College (now Columbia University) in New York. At the start of the American Revolutionary War, he organized an artillery company and was chosen as its captain. Hamilton became the senior aide-de-camp and confidant to General George Washington, the American commander-in-chief. After the war, Hamilton was elected to the Continental Congress from New York, but he resigned to practice law and found the Bank of New York. He served in the New York Legislature, and he was the only New Yorker who signed the U.S. Constitution. He wrote about half the Federalist Papers, which helped to secure ratification of the Constitution by New York and remain the single most important interpretation of the Constitution. In the new government under President Washington he became Secretary of the Treasury. An admirer of British political systems, Hamilton was a nationalist who emphasized strong central government and successfully argued that the implied powers of the Constitution could be used to fund the national debt, assume state debts, and create the government-owned Bank of the United States. These programs were funded primarily by a tariff on imports and a highly controversial excise tax on whiskey.
Embarrassed by a blackmail affair that became public, Hamilton resigned from office in 1795 and returned to the practice of law in New York. He kept his hand in politics and was a powerful influence on the cabinet of President Adams (1797-1801). In 1798, Hamilton called for mobilization against France after the XYZ Affair. The Quasi-War was never officially declared, but it was hard-fought at sea. To prepare for a war on land Hamilton secured control of a new army, which he trained, but no war took place when Adams found a peaceful solution.
Hamilton's opposition to John Adams helped cause Adams' defeat in the 1800 elections. When Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr tied in the electoral college, Hamilton helped defeat his bitter personal enemy Burr and elect Jefferson as president. He had opposed, in that election, Burr, Jefferson, and Adams, the candidate of his own party; he was left with few political friends. In 1804, as the next presidential election approached, he insulted Burr, who challenged him to a duel; Hamilton declined to fire, and was mortally wounded.