Alexander Hamilton was born on January 11, 1757, in Nevis, an island of the West Indies, to a Scotchman dad and Huguenot mom. When Alexander was 11 his father abandoned the family, a year later his mother died. That’s a rough start!
The orphaned boy went to work as a clerk where he began developing his economic skills. One day a horrible storm came through the island leaving death and destruction in its wake. Young Hamilton wrote about the event which was published to everyone’s great delight. Friends, recognizing his potential, funded sending him to New Jersey to further his education. After only one year he was admitted into King’s College, in New York City. At seventeen he was using the eloquence of his pen against British oppression. During the war Hamilton served as a captain of an artillery company where he won great distinction. The year 1777 immortalized Hamilton; that’s when he met George Washington, served on his staff, and from there his name in American History was permanently enshrined.
After the war Hamilton studied law, became a member of Congress, took part in the Constitutional Convention, and at the age of 32 served as Secretary of the Treasury.
Hamiltonian views regarding the role of Government and Central Banking have been controversial since the Washington administration. But there’s an example from Hamilton’s life that teaches us HOW honest people who disagree should engage in debate. Here’s the story:
Hamilton attended the Constitutional Convention. He believed that America should set up a British style Government with a President serving for life – like a Monarch. Hamilton gave an eloquent speech at the convention explaining his views. James Madison said the speech was applauded by all, but approved by none. “No man’s ideas,” said Madison, “were more remote from the plan than his own were known to be.”
Hamilton didn’t get his way at the Convention, but he still asked that his name be on the Constitution, and he strongly encouraged everyone else to sign it. America was in crisis being bitterly divided under the Articles of Confederation and Hamilton wanted to be a team player at a time when unity was essential preferring to support the Constitution rather than plunging the country into anarchy. Hamilton accepted the judgment of others and wanted to cooperate for the good of the country.
What’s even more remarkable is that after the convention Hamilton became the Constitution’s greatest salesman! He wrote many of the famous Federalist Papers which influenced its ratification, and after it went into effect Hamilton worked tirelessly to get the new Federal Government on its feet.
Hamilton’s actions were in keeping with what he wrote in Federalist #1. He pointed out that there are good men on both sides of essential issues, a fact which should teach us to be moderate, honest, kind, and sincere when expressing our opinions – even if convinced we are in the right. Too often we characterize those who oppose us as enemies. This should not be. Hamilton said,
“…in politics, as in religion, it is equally absurd to aim at making proselytes by fire and sword. Heresies in either can rarely be cured by persecution…I frankly acknowledge to you my convictions, and I will freely lay before you the reasons on which they are founded…My arguments will be open to all, and may be judged of by all. They shall at least be offered in a spirit which will not disgrace the cause of truth.”
Major William Pierce, delegate from Georgia, wrote this about Hamilton:
“Colo. Hamilton is deservedly celebrated for his talents…To a clear and strong judgment he unites the ornaments of fancy, and whilst he is able, convincing, and engaging in his eloquence.. the Heart and Head sympathize in approving him…Hamilton requires time to think,-he enquires into every part of his subject with the searchings of philosophy, and when he comes forward he comes highly charged with interesting matter, there is no skimming over the surface of a subject with him, he must sink to the bottom to see what foundation it rests on… His manners are sometimes with a degree of vanity that is highly disagreable.”
When we think of Hamilton, we usually think of “Hamiltonian” economic policies. I want to start a new trend. Let’s also associate the adjective “Hamiltonian” with the noun “Attitudes.”
So whether you agree with Hamiltonian policies or not, let’s all agree on and practice Hamiltonian methods when dealing with those who are on the other side of an argument: wisdom, intelligent conversation based on previous study, and graciousness.