Alexander Hamilton (January 11, 1755 or 1757—July 12, 1804) was an Army officer, lawyer, Founding Father, American politician, leading statesman, financier and political theorist. One of America's first constitutional lawyers, he was a leader in calling the Philadelphia Convention in 1787; he was one of the two chief authors of the anonymous Federalist Papers, the most cited contemporary interpretation of intent for the United States Constitution.
During the Revolutionary War, Hamilton served as an artillery captain, was an aide-de-camp to General George Washington, and led three battalions at the Battle of Yorktown. Under President Washington, Hamilton became the first Secretary of the Treasury. As Secretary of the Treasury and confidant of Washington, Hamilton had wide-reaching influence over the direction of policy during the formative years of the government. Hamilton believed in the importance of a strong central government, and convinced Congress to use an elastic interpretation of the Constitution to pass far-reaching laws. They included: the funding of the national debt; federal assumption of the state debts; creation of a national bank; and a system of taxes through a tariff on imports and a tax on whiskey that would help pay for it. He admired the success of the British system—particularly its strong financial and trade networks—and opposed what he saw as the excesses of the French Revolution.
He was one of the creators of the Federalist party, the first American political party, which he built up using Treasury department patronage, networks of elite leaders, and aggressive newspaper editors he subsidized both through Treasury patronage and by loans from his own pocket. His great political adversary was Thomas Jefferson who, with James Madison, created the opposition party (of several names, now known as the Democratic-Republican Party). They opposed Hamilton's urban, financial, industrial goals for the United States, and his promotion of extensive trade and friendly relations with Britain. Hamilton retired from the Treasury in 1795 to practice law in New York City, but during the Quasi-War with France he served as organizer and de facto commander of a national army beginning in December, 1798; if full scale war broke out with France, the army was intended to conquer the North American colonies of France's ally, Spain. He worked to defeat both John Adams and Jefferson in the election of 1800; but when the House of Representatives deadlocked, he helped secure the election of Jefferson over Hamilton's long-time political enemy, Aaron Burr.
Hamilton's nationalist and industrializing vision fell out of favor after the election of rival Thomas Jefferson to the presidency in 1800. However, after the War of 1812 showed the need for strong national institutions, his former opponents—including Madison and Albert Gallatin—adopted some of his program as they too set up a national bank, tariffs, a national infrastructure, and a standing army and navy. The later Whig, Republican and Democratic political parties adopted many of Hamilton's ideas regarding the flexible interpretation of the Constitution and using the federal government to build a strong economy and military. His reputation has varied: both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson viewed him as unprincipled and dangerously aristocratic. Herbert Croly, Henry Cabot Lodge, and Theodore Roosevelt directed attention to him at the end of the nineteenth century, largely in the interest of an active federal government, whether or not supported by tariffs. Several twentieth-century Republican politicians advanced their careers by writing biographies of Hamilton.