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date: 12 July 2020

HAMILTON, Alexander

Dictionary of Early American Philosophers
Rick Kennedy

HAMILTON, Alexander (1757–1804) 

Alexander Hamilton was born on 11 January 1757 in Nevis, British West Indies. He entered King’s College (later Columbia University) in New York in 1773. There years later he joined the American Revolution and was active as a lawyer and politician until mortally wounded in a duel with Vice-President Aaron Burr, dying in New York City on 12 July 1804.

Most famous as President George Washington’s Secretary of the Treasury from 1789 to 1795, Hamilton submitted to Congress a Report on the Public Credit (1790), a plan to establish the credit of the new United States. Hamilton was not ideological in his economic thought. He instead mined the writings of Adam Smith and Jacques Necker while eclectically drawing from previous government fiscal policies in England, France and the Netherlands. A vigorous and brilliant leader, Hamilton fostered an economy of competition – a balance of agriculture and manufacturing – that rewarded talent and risk against Thomas JEFFERSON’S more static and physiocratic emphasis in the 1780s and 1790s on landholding.

Aside from his economic philosophy, Hamilton is also important, along with James MADISON, as the most influential apologists for the Constitution of the United States in The Federalist (1788). Hamilton contributed fifty-six of its essays, alongside those of Madison and John JAY. Hamilton’s and Madison’s essays still stand at the core of the institutionalized political philosophy of the United States. Hamilton acknowledged that he drew his political philosophy primarily from David Hume and quoted the ‘solid’, ‘ingenious’ and ‘judicious’ Hume in the conclusion of The Federalist on the impossibility of balancing a government with general laws and the inevitability of imperfection, trail and experiments.

For the most part, Hamilton distrusted theories and speculative thinking. The main tenets of his contributions to the theory of federalism were rooted in his experience that humans were governed more by passion and prejudice than by reason; and good government required strong central authority balanced by flexibility, and powerful elites balanced by accountability.


A Full Vindication of the Measures of the Congress, from the Calumnies of their Enemies; In Answer to A Letter, Under the Signature of A. W. Farmer (New York, 1774).Find this resource:

The Farmer Refuted: or, A more impartial and comprehensive View of the Dispute between Great-Britain and the Colonies, intended as a Further Vindication of the Congress: In Answer to a Letter from A. W. Farmer (New York, 1775).Find this resource:

A Letter from Phocion to the Considerate Citizens of New-York, On the Politicks of the Day (New York, 1784).Find this resource:

A Second Letter from Phocion to the Considerate Citizens of New-York. Containing Remarks on Mentor’s Reply (New York, 1784).Find this resource:

With James Madison and John Jay. The Federalist: A Collection of Essays, Written in Favour of the New Constitution, as agreed upon by the Federal Convention, September 17, 1787, 2 vols. (New York, 1788; revised edn, New York, 1802).Find this resource:

Report of the Secretary of the Treasury to the House of Representatives, Relative to a Provision for the Support of the Public Credit of the United States (New York, 1790).Find this resource:

With John Jay and Rufus King. A Defence of the Treaty of Amity, Commerce, and Navigation, Entered into between The United States of America & Great Britain, as it has appeared in the papers under the Signature of Camillus (New York, 1795).Find this resource:

Letters of Pacificus: Written in Justification of the President’s Proclamation of Neutrality (Philadelphia, 1796).Find this resource:

Observations on Certain Documents Contained in No. V & VI of “The History of the United States for the Year 1796,” in which the Charge of Speculation against Alexander Hamilton, Late Secretary of the Treasury, is Fully Refuted. Written by himself (Philadelphia, 1797).Find this resource:

Letter from Alexander Hamilton, Concerning the Public Conduct and Character of John Adams, Esq., President of the United States (New York, 1800).Find this resource:

An Address, to the Electors of the State of New York (Albany, N.Y., 1801). Composed by Hamilton and signed by others.Find this resource:

The Examination of the President’s Message, at the Opening of Congress December 7, 1801 (New York, 1802).Find this resource:

Propositions of Col. Hamilton, of New York, In Convention for Establishing a Constitutional Government for the United States (Pittsfield, Mass., 1802).Find this resource:

Other Relevant Works

Hamilton’s papers are mostly at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., the New-York Historical Society, and Columbia University in New York City.Find this resource:

The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, 27 vols., ed. Harold C. Syrett and Jacob E. Cooke (New York, 1961–78).Find this resource:

The Law Practice of Alexander Hamilton, 2 vols., ed. Julius Goebel (New York, 1964, 1969).Find this resource:

Alexander Hamilton, Writings (New York, 2001).Find this resource:

The Revolutionary Writings of Alexander Hamilton, ed. Richard B. Vernier (Indianapolis, Indiana, 2008).Find this resource:

Further Reading

Amer Nat Bio, Appleton’s Cycl Amer Bio, Cambridge Dict Amer Bio, Dict Amer Bio, Dict Lit Bio, Nat Cycl Amer Bio, WWWHVFind this resource:

Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton (New York, 2004).Find this resource:

Cooke, Jacob E. Alexander Hamilton: A Biography (New York, 1982).Find this resource:

Epstein, David F. The Political Theory of the Federalist (Chicago, 1984).Find this resource:

Lycan, Gilbert L. Alexander Hamilton and American Foreign Policy: A Design for Greatness (Norman, Okla., 1970).Find this resource:

McDonald, Forrest. Alexander Hamilton: A Biography (New York, 1979).Find this resource:

Mitchell, Broadus. Alexander Hamilton, 2 vols. (New York, 1957, 1962).Find this resource:

Miller, John C. Alexander Hamilton: Portrait in Paradox (New York, 1959).Find this resource:

Morris, Richard B. Witnesses at the Creation: Hamilton, Madison, Jay and the Constitution (New York, 1985).Find this resource:

Rossiter, Clinton L. Alexander Hamilton and the Constitution (New York, 1964).Find this resource:

Stourzh, Gerald. Alexander Hamilton and the Idea of Republican Government (Stanford, Cal., 1970).Find this resource:

Swanson, Donald. The Origins of Hamilton’s Fiscal Politics (Gainesville, Florida, 1963).Find this resource:

Rick Kennedy