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Alexander Hamilton: Documents Decoded
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Introduction Few historical figures have more divergent biographical accounts of their life and influence than Alexander Hamilton. In spite of his status as a controversial figure in early American political life, there is no argument about Hamilton playing a pivotal role in the founding and establishment of the American constitutional system. In recent years, historians and political scientists have taken greater note of Hamilton’s legacy, thereby raising his stature among the leading American founders. Ron Chernow (2004), for example, notes in his esteemed biography of Hamilton that “except for Washington, nobody stood closer to the center of American politics from 1776 to 1800 or cropped up at more turning points” (4). Some might even argue that the American experiment would have never succeeded without Hamilton’s political fore- sight and devotion. Through an exploration of Hamilton’s own writings which are annotated or “decoded,” this volume examines Hamilton’s char- acter, ideals, afflictions, and ultimately his indis- pensable impact on the establishment and early unfolding of the American political order. Section I: Early Life What little is known of Hamilton’s humble birth and childhood in the West Indies makes his remarkable rise and influential role in the nation’s founding even more extraordinary. Hamilton was born on the island of Nevis in the West Indies on January 11, 1757,1 as the illegit- 1 Hamilton’s exact date of birth is uncertain. Some scholars identify his birth year as 1755 and others as 1757. This work will utilize the day Hamilton himself reported as his date of birth, January 11, 1757. imate child of divorcée Rachael Faucett Lavien and Scottish trader James Hamilton. During his childhood, spent on the island of St. Croix, Ham- ilton experienced one tragedy and abandonment after another. His father deserted a young Alex- ander and his older brother James, and his mother died of illness a couple years later. Upon her death, Hamilton’s mother’s modest assets were promptly seized by her estranged former husband, Johann Michael Lavien, for his own son, Hamilton’s half- brother Peter Lavien. Alexander and his brother James were placed under the legal guardianship of one of their few surviving relatives, their elder first cousin Peter Lytton. This arrangement did not last long, however, as Lytton shortly later committed suicide without making any provisions for the two orphans’ care. For reasons unknown, Hamilton was taken into the home of a successful merchant, Thomas Stevens, and his wife, Ann. During this time, Hamilton developed a close friendship with the couple’s son Edward that lasted through his life. In spite of his inauspicious beginnings, Ham- ilton, from an early age, exhibited extraordi- nary talent, drive, and literary ability. Hamilton’s earliest-known writings reveal his embodiment of these qualities and his fierce determination to overcome his current conditions. Section II: Pre-Revolution When Hamilton was nearly sixteen years old, several benefactors noted his burgeoning intellec- tual potential and, in 1772, sponsored his travels to the American colonies and his ensuing edu- cation. After a year of preparatory schooling in 1