Lin Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton has taken Broadway by storm. Currently the number one show on Broadway, the show is a summary of the “ten dollar founding father without a father” Alexander Hamilton’s life in hip-hop form. I had the privilege of seeing it during previews with my sister at Richard Rogers. The show, based on facts from Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton, brings new awareness to an otherwise underrated and under-appreciated key figure in the early stages of the U.S.
Alexander Hamilton was born in the Virgin Islands. There, he proved his value to peers who crowd funded his migration to New York City. Through raw talent and intellect, he found himself at the right hand of General of the Continental Army, George Washington. But his real value came after the Revolution. Although James Madison usually takes most of the credit for writing The Federalist Papers because he is responsible for the two most cited issues, No. 10 and 51, it’s Alexander Hamilton who actually wrote the majority of the papers. Hamilton was a driving force behind the ratification of the Constitution. He then became a member of his friend George Washington’s cabinet as the first Secretary of the Treasury. Under Washington, Hamilton was granted power that no other secretary of the Treasury has been granted since. With the post of White House Chief of Staff not existing until 1946, Hamilton took on this role as a power behind the throne and acted as the brains behind Washington. Hamilton then laid the foundation for the precursor of the Federal Reserve, saving the young nation from early economic disaster.
Under Washington, Hamilton and his Federalists often clashed with Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, a figure that is widely recognized amongst the American public and is known as an ancestor to the modern day Democratic Party. However, many of the ideals that Hamilton fought for and embodied are fought for now by progressives, whereas Jefferson fought for many conservative values. Hamilton battled for a strong central government, implied powers provided to Congress by the Constitution, and economic controls over businesses. Hamilton envisioned America as an industrial powerhouse, while Jefferson envisioned America to remain an agricultural state. Hamilton was also an avid abolitionist, after witnessing the horrors of slavery in the Virgin Islands. His conflict with Jefferson was the precursor to the conflict between Northern and Southern interests in the Civil War. In many ways, Hamilton pushed for liberal ideals, with his spiritual successor being Abraham Lincoln.
Despite all of this, Alexander Hamilton remains relatively unknown to the American public. Most don’t even recognize his face on the ten dollar bill compared to Lincoln on the five and Washington on the one. According to this poll on Rasmussen, less than 3% of Americans view Hamilton as the greatest founding father. However, Hamilton’s legacy thrives today as it is his vision of America that exists now, not Jefferson’s. A stronger central government with a Federal Reserve, along with almost a century of being the world’s top economic power can be attributed to Alexander Hamilton.