Fighting for a Strong Union

22 George Washington by Gilbert Stuart, 1797.jpg

George Washington by Gilbert Stuart, 1797

George Washington’s Farewell Address

Just as he resigned his commission at the end of the Revolutionary War and returned to his beloved Mount Vernon, in 1796, George Washington, after serving two terms as President, again decided to step away from power, refusing to be considered for a third term. Washington turned once again to Hamilton, this time for help in drafting his Farewell Address. In this document, Washington advises the young nation to avoid creating factions and to avoid entangling alliances with other countries.

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Portrait of Hamilton by W. J. Weaver, 1798

Hamilton and the Quasi-War

After having served as Washington’s Vice President during both of his terms in office, John Adams was elected President in 1796. However, although he was a fellow Federalist, Adams often disagreed with Hamilton’s policy views and resented Hamilton’s influence over some members of his cabinet. In 1798, when tensions between France and the U.S. rose to the brink of open warfare, Adams asked Washington to come out of retirement to lead the army. Washington agreed, on the condition that Hamilton oversee the army’s day-to-day operations. Despite his reservations, President Adams assented to Washington’s wishes, and Hamilton was commissioned a major general and the inspector general of the army. In the end, while the Quasi-War largely consisted of naval battles, Hamilton did much to improve the readiness of all of America’s fighting forces: the army, navy, and marines.

24 Aaron Burr by John Vanderlyn, 1802.jpg

Aaron Burr by John Vanderlyn, 1802

Aaron Burr

Aaron Burr was a New York attorney and politician who had served as an officer in the Continental Army. He supported ratification of the U.S. Constitution but later left the Federalists to join the Democratic-Republicans. Hamilton’s rivalry with Burr began as early as 1791, when Burr outmaneuvered Philip Schuyler, Hamilton’s father-in-law, for a U.S. Senate seat. However, Schuyler regained the seat in 1797. As prominent New York lawyers, Hamilton and Burr sometimes found themselves on the same side of court cases. Nevertheless, the two continued at loggerheads over numerous issues, including the Manhattan Company’s banking powers (apparently snuck into the company’s charter by Burr), and Burr’s candidacy for governor of New York in 1804. Hamilton also thwarted Burr’s presidential aspirations.  

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Thomas Jefferson Inaugural Banner, 1801

The Election of 1800

The presidential election of 1800 pitted Democratic-Republicans Jefferson and Burr against Federalists Adams and Charles C. Pinckney. Hamilton strongly opposed Adams’ candidacy, favoring Pinckney instead. However, the two Democratic-Republican candidates accidentally tied for first place, so the decision between Burr and Jefferson was thrown into the House of Representatives, which was still controlled by the Federalists. Instead of conceding, Burr tried to steal the presidency from Jefferson and might have succeeded had Hamilton not intervened, using his influence over Federalist congressmen to sway the vote to Jefferson. Hamilton disagreed with Jefferson’s policies, but considered him more principled and trustworthy than the self-serving Burr.


26 Alexander Hamilton by Ezra Ames, 1802.jpg

Alexander Hamilton by Ezra Ames, 1802

Hamilton as a Person

Throughout his life, Hamilton opposed slavery; believed in the equality of people regardless of race or religion; loved his family and friends; helped those who were suffering or in need; sacrificed himself for the sake of the country; never focused on enriching himself; was an ardent patriot; relied on hard work and study to achieve his goals; and dedicated himself to duty and integrity. In his later years, Hamilton devoted himself to his family and focused more time on his law career, often taking on clients pro bono.

In this 1802 portrait, Hamilton appears much older and more sorrowful than in previous images. Although still fairly young, he seems to be burdened by grief after the death of his oldest son, Philip, in a duel the previous year.  

27 The Grange, Residence of General Alexander Hamilton, Lithographed by George Hayward, 1858.jpg

The Grange,

lithographed by George Hayward, 1858

Hamilton’s Grange

Because Hamilton devoted himself to public service, especially in the military and Treasury, not to mention the fact that he and Eliza raised eight children, he never accumulated a fortune. For most of his life, he never even owned his own home. By 1802, however, he was ready to move his family into a mansion called “the Grange” after his family’s ancestral home in Scotland. Here Alexander and Eliza planned to spend many years together in the bosom of their family. Today, the Hamilton Grange National Memorial, located at 141st Street in Harlem, is a National Park Service site.  

28 Duel Between Burr and Hamilton by W.H. Hooper, 1804.jpg

Duel between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton by W. H. Hooper

The Duel

By 1804, the Burr-Hamilton rivalry had grown incredibly intense, with Burr alleging that Hamilton had impugned his honor. Although they could have negotiated their way out of appearing on the dueling grounds in Weehawken, New Jersey, neither did. In his last letter to Eliza, on July 10, Hamilton wrote that he would rather expose his life than subject himself to the guilt of taking the life of another.  Both appeared and both fired. As he had promised in his letter, Hamilton deliberately threw away his shot, but Burr’s bullet struck Hamilton, inflicting mortal injuries. He lingered for a day and a half before dying in physical agony but with the knowledge that he had well served his God, his family, and his adopted country.

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In Memory of Major-General Alexander Hamilton, 1804

In Memory of Major-General Alexander Hamilton

Hamilton’s death led to a massive outpouring of grief in New York. His long funeral procession included military units, attorneys, bankers, merchants, port wardens, Columbia college professors and students, clergy “of all denominations,” and members of the Cincinnati Society for Revolutionary war officers, St. Andrew’s Society, Tammany Society, Mechanic Society, and the Marine Society, as well as “citizens in general,” his family, and his pall bearers, who included his closest friends and associates. Hamilton was buried at Trinity Churchyard Cemetery in Manhattan, at the top of Wall Street. His tombstone is pictured on this memorial cloth.

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Hamilton Estate Trust Share Certificate

Eliza’s Fight for Hamilton’s Legacy

Ironically, given all that he had done to ensure the economic greatness of his adopted country, Hamilton did not die a wealthy man. As a result, his wife and children were left in straitened circumstances and had to accept aid from family and friends to make ends meet, especially while Hamilton’s accounts were settled with his creditors and debtors. Pictured here is evidence of such aid, fittingly distributed in the form of a financial security. Eliza lived for 50 years after Hamilton’s death, dedicating the rest of her life to defending Hamilton’s legacy and to helping others, co-founding the first private orphanage in New York City, and raising funds for the Washington Monument.

Fighting for a Strong Union