Alexander Hamilton was born January 11 in either 1755 or 1757 – the exact year is uncertain. An orphan from the Caribbean island of Nevis, he rose with astounding speed to become an aide-de-camp to George Washington, a hero of the Revolutionary War, and a member of the Constitutional Convention. As the first secretary of the treasury, he helped build the new nation’s financial systems. As a leader of the Federalist Party, he helped create our political system. He was never president of the United States, but he shaped the new American nation as few other Founding Fathers did.
Because he argued for a strong central government, Hamilton is often seen as an anti-democratic figure. But he could write as memorably of natural law and human rights as any of the Founders. “The sacred rights of mankind are not to be rummaged for among old parchments or musty records,” he wrote. “They are written, as with a sunbeam, in the whole volume of human nature, by the hand of the Divinity itself and can never be erased or obscured by mortal power.”
One of Hamilton’s greatest contributions was to help persuade Americans to accept the Constitution. With James Madison and John Jay, he wrote The Federalist Papers, a series of brilliant newspaper essays urging the Constitution’s ratification. Many people predicted that the new plan for government would not work. But Hamilton believed his countrymen should put aside their differences and give it a try. “The system, though it may not be perfect in every part, is, upon the whole, a good one,” he reminded them. “I never expect to see a perfect work from imperfect man.” If not for Hamilton’s brilliant arguments and efforts, the thirteen former colonies might have gone their separate ways.