The Ten Dollar Founding Father Without a Father

In 2004, Ron Chernow published a great biography, Alexander Hamilton, on a man most people had never heard of. Some may know him from the genius musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton: An American Musical, which premiered on February 17th, eleven years after the biography was published. But for the most part, this Founding Father is not as well-known as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and the others. Born out of wedlock on a tiny Caribbean island and orphaned at a very young age, Hamilton’s childhood was miserable and virtually nonexistent. As a teen, the young genius was sent to New York to pursue his education. He had an important role in the American Revolution and was George Washington’s right hand man in battles, as well as the first Secretary of Treasury of the United States. What most people fail to realize was how influential Hamilton was to the creation of the United States of America. Hamilton was a polymath with a high skill of writing, but he was not just a simple writer who used big words. Alexander Hamilton had many relationships with numerous distinct individuals, including his best friend, John Laurens, his wife, Eliza Hamilton (née Schuyler), and his first friend and eventual killer, Aaron Burr.

John Laurens was Hamilton’s best friend. “Laurens became a passionate convert to abolitionism, which was to create a strong ideological bond with Hamilton.” (94) Because Laurens and Hamilton had very similar interests, they immediately connected and became best of friends. Like Hamilton, Laurens was also desperate to fight in the war and make a change. They became close at the beginning of the revolution. “Lest Laurens experience a jealous pang, Hamilton added a few months later: ‘In spite of Schuyler’s black eyes, I have still a part for the public and another for you,’ and he promised he would be no less devoted to his friend after marriage than before.” (132) Many letters were exchanged between Hamilton and Laurens, and certain historians may even think their intimate friendship as something beyond just friends. “At the very least, we can say Hamilton developed something like an adolescent crush on his friend.” (95) Either way, Hamilton and Laurens were very close even after Hamilton married Elizabeth Schuyler. “After the death of John Laurens, Hamilton shut off some compartment of his emotions and never reopened it.” (173) Unfortunately, Laurens was killed on August 27, 1782, at the Combahee river. Hamilton may only had known Laurens for a small fraction of his life, but their relationship was one of the closest he ever had.

Elizabeth “Eliza” Hamilton (née Schuyler) was Hamilton’s wife and love of his life. “Although a touch absentminded, Hamilton ordinarily had a faultless memory, but, returning from Schuyler one night, he forgot the password and was barred by the sentinel.” (129) Love can cause a person to do many odd things. Hamilton was a smart man with strong beliefs on everything he is passionate in, and could completely drown himself in his essay-writing. But Eliza managed to distract him from that, which was a truly incredible feat. “She is most unmercifully handsome and so perverse that she has none of those pretty affectations which are the prerogatives of beauty.” (130) This line was written in one of his many letters of Eliza. It was easy to see how Hamilton was head-over-heels in love with her. The prodigious writer had used some of his most exquisite words ever written to describe her. “Eliza Hamilton never expressed anything less than a worshipful attitude towards her husband. His love for her, in turn, was deep and constant if highly imperfect.” (367) Eliza had the purest and most good-filled heart of anyone in Hamilton’s life. Unfortunately, Hamilton did not match that kindness. In the summer of 1791, the married and overstressed man had an affair with Maria Reynolds. It was not even just a one-time matter; she even went over to his house frequently while Eliza was away with the children. Eventually, Hamilton published The Reynolds Pamphlet which told the world of his affair. While he overwhelmed the world with his candor, he also broke his loving wife’s heart. But being the impossibly kind woman she was, Eliza did not divorce Hamilton and even eventually forgave him.

Aaron Burr was Hamilton’s first acquaintance and his eventual killer. “Hamilton’s attendance at the Elizabethtown Academy brought him into the immediate vicinity of the younger Aaron Burr, who had attended the same school several years earlier.” (43) Hamilton and Aaron Burr met during their college years, with Hamilton being slightly younger. Both being orphaned geniuses, they connected quickly. They had certain beliefs that were different, though, and they would eventually turn them against each other. “Afraid to adulterate his own party, Hamilton spiked this coalition and became an immovable obstacle in the path of Aaron Burr’s ambitions—a position he was to occupy so frequently in the future years that it finally drove Burr into a frenzy.” (421) Hamilton was, to Burr, the greatest obstacle in all of his political paths and achievements. In the final election between Burr and Thomas Jefferson, a man Hamilton despised since the very beginning, Hamilton still gave Jefferson his endorsement. That caused the latter to win by a landslide, which of course also resulted in Burr losing by a landslide. That was perhaps when he finally snapped and decided to put an end to Hamilton jeopardizing of his political pursuits. “He must have assumed that, once he fired, Burr would be too proud or too protective of his own political self-interest to try to kill him.” (704) The Burr-Hamilton duel occurred on July 11, 1804, in Weehawken, New Jersey. Burr’s shot killed Hamilton. Hamilton did not shoot Burr, though. In fact, he barely even aimed. He pointed his gun up into the sky, while Burr panicked and shot. Hamilton passed away a day later from his injuries. The man was gone, but his legacy still remained.

From a very young age, Hamilton constantly obsessed with his legacy, what the world would think of him after he was long gone. He wanted desperately to make a difference, to create something that would outlive him. Though he died at the early age of 49 years, his dream did come true. Over the course of his short but full life, the most important thing Hamilton wrote was most likely The Federalist Paper, crafting 51 out of the 85 installments. He also led the Annapolis Convention of 1786, as well as the Treasury Department. Those are just a tiny fraction of Hamilton’s great achievements. But it was not all him—his ever-loving wife, Eliza, played a huge role in preserving her husband’s legacy. John Laurens was one of his first and closest friends who introduced him to the Revolution, and Aaron Burr was a man who may not have been the kindest to Hamilton but was still a crucial part of his life all the same. The story behind the man on the ten-dollar bill is great, and the people next to him were even greater.

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