He intentionally fired into the air, but his political Rival, Aaron Burr, took deadly aim and fatally shot him in a duel on this day, July 11, in 1804. Alexander Hamilton appears on our $10 bills, but many Americans aren’t as familiar with this founding father.
Many make the argument that of all the larger-than-life men of the Revolutionary period, Hamilton had one of the biggest influences on America’s subsequent path to greatness. He promoted a forward-looking agenda for a modern nation-state with a market economy. More than anyone else, Alexander Hamilton helped to establish the peculiarly American idea that one’s origins are not nearly as important as one’s talents and actions.
After suffering the stigma of illegitimacy and surviving an impoverished childhood in the West Indies, he distinguished himself in the American Revolution as George Washington’s right-hand man. Hamilton played an important role in drafting the Constitution, and assisted in drafting the Federalist Papers, which brilliantly defended the new Constitution to the American people. Hamilton helped to give the fledging United States a structured federal government, a vastly improved economy, and the beginnings of a powerful military force.
Though Hamilton stands out even among the great men of his time, and his character and achievements tip the scale toward the heroic, there are also many who level strong criticism at Hamilton’s progressive views. Two of his greatest political enemies – Jefferson and Madison – are the men we credit for drafting, respectively, the Declaration and the Constitution.
All criticism and praise considered, let’s listen to some of Hamilton’s fiery words on the rights recognized in our founding documents:
He said: “The sacred rights of mankind are not to be rummaged for among old parchments or musty records. 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… Good and wise men, in all ages…have supposed that the Deity, from the relations we stand in to Himself, and to each other, has constituted an eternal and immutable law, which is indispensably obligatory upon all mankind.”