There are some who might think I’ve spent way too much time writing about Alexander Hamilton. Pick a different Founder, you say. My response is that I will…when I do more learning about them. Or maybe you don’t much like our First Treasury Secretary, believing him to be the first man to really monkey with the Constitution. I would point you to the Federalist and argue that, while Hamilton made moves and created financial structures that were controversial in his time, no one better understood the constructs of the Constitution and the limits it placed on the branches of government.
Still not convinced?
Oh well, that’s what makes history so intriguing. Looking back, studying people and events, attempting to put some context around them, and coming to conclusions. And sometimes, the conclusions we come to are different.
But today is a good day for those of you who are not fans of Alexander Hamilton. Because even though his influence is felt today here (and all over the world), you can take solace in the fact that he was no longer doing anything under the auspices of the United States Government. January 31, 1795 was the end of his tenure.
In December of the previous year, a worn out (and somewhat dejected) Alexander Hamilton had told President Washington that he was leaving office. The reasons were many. Exhaustion played a role, both in his own life and that of his wife, Eliza. Then there was the job itself. Almost since the inception of the Department, Hamilton had battled naysayers. Members of Congress had railed against him. They dug through financial dealings line by line, looking for the smoking gun to throw him from office.
The country’s first Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson, had waged a one-man war against Hamilton. He had hounded the President about him, strategized with James Madison to discredit him, and partially funded a newspaper to sling mud at him. And after more than three years of trying, he simply resigned his office in frustration. We know that Alexander Hamilton was no saint, but in his dealings from the Secretary’s office, there was nothing but honesty, integrity, and sound judgement.
So while sainthood eluded him, his homecoming to New York in February probably felt heaven-sent. He was declared the patron saint of prosperity. He was given a lavish party that overflowed with praise as much as food and drink. The former Secretary received nine cheers that evening (President Washington and Vice President Adams received three each). There was much tongue-wagging and speculation about his future. George Clinton, New York’s governor, had just announced he wasn’t running for reelection, and scuttlebutt said the job was Hamilton’s for the taking. There were even whispers of higher aspirations…some said he would be the second President of the United States.
But Hamilton’s needs were more practical. He needed money. For those who accused Hamilton of skimming money from the Treasury, his heavy debt proved otherwise. Hamilton (like most men who served their country back then) made a meager salary, just $3,500 a year, far less than what he and his large family needed. He had set aside his law practice (which probably would have made him 10 times his Secretary’s salary) to serve, and paid a large financial price for it. He had worked tirelessly to clean up the country’s debt, and it was time to do the same for his own.
Alexander Hamilton was ready for private life and private practice, and he would begin on February 1st. But make no mistake, he would never be far from the public eye and its scrutiny.
Recommended Reading: Alexander Hamilton