Alexander Hamilton may have lost the most famous duel in American history but at least he showed up for it. That’s got to count for something.
But then whatever else Hamilton was short of, guts would not make the list. Unlike modern politicians who get caught in compromising positions with women, Hamilton, unlike fellow New Yorker Eliot Spitzer, did not use his wife as a human shield. He stood alone and admitted what he’d done, albeit in uncomfortable and inappropriate detail.
Of all the Founders, Hamilton may have traveled the furthest to reach the pinnacle of success. Illegitimately born and on his own from age 11, young Hamilton’s sheer brilliance made others believe in him and invest in his future.
While at King’s College, Hamilton published articles in favor of the Revolution, and then quit to join the militia. He quickly rose through the ranks and eventually became part of George Washington’s staff. Though he was involved in everything from diplomacy to espionage to strategic planning, Hamilton badgered Washington throughout the war for the chance to return to a battlefield command. His mentor finally relented near the war’s end, and Hamilton again served with distinction.
Between serving in the war, and joining Washinton’s cabinet, Hamilton founded the Bank of New York. He was the first secretary of the treasury, and fought the likes of Thomas Jefferson in establishing a true national economy — particularly nationalizing the debt incurred by states in the Revolutionary War.
He founded the United States Mint, the Coast Guard, and took effective command of, and developed, the U.S. Army during the quasi-war with France.
Unfortunately, even with all of that, the man considered the most dashing of the Founders still found time to have a scandalous affair with Maria Reynolds that ended his public life for awhile.
Never a uniting figure, Hamilton’s legacy is still fiercely debated, with some sure we would be living in a libertarian paradise today, if not for his evil centralized bank; while Pat Buchanan types are equally sure if we had taken his theories on tariffs and protectionism more seriously, we would be manufacturing the bulk of the world’s goods today.
If any Founder followed the motto “Go big or go home,” it was Alexander Hamilton. If only he had been a better shot…