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Alexander Hamilton

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Alexander Hamilton, the first financial intelligence of the United States, overcame tremendous childhood odds to lead America through its early monetary decisions and foundations in the time following the American Revolution. "I consider Napoleon, Fox, and Hamilton the three greatest men of our epoch, and if I were forced to decide between the three, I would give without hesitation the first place to Hamilton. He divined Europe."Ð'--Charles Maurice de Talleyrand.

Before earning such a bright acclamation from the French statesman, Alexander Hamilton had a rocky road to travel (Hamilton 1). In the first twenty-one years of his life, Alexander Hamilton struggled for a chance to prove himself and gain recognition of his abilities (Hamilton 1). He was also painfully aware that, having no money, family connections, or inherited prestige, nothing would be handed to him. He would have to work harder and excel beyond everyone else in order to make a name for himself, which is what he resolved to do early on (Hamilton 1). Even though Hamilton went through a lot of hardships, he grew stronger, and a lot of his experiences shaped him into the man that he came to be. Illegitimacy, abandonment, life in the Caribbean, and a devastating hurricane marked the early years of the highly intelligent young man and undoubtedly did much to supply the urgent drive that characterized his later career.

Urbane and witty Governor Morris was asked to deliver Alexander Hamilton's funeral oration, and he "confided to his diary the problems that the assignment presented" (Hecht 1). "The first point of his biography," Morris said, "is that he was a stranger of illegitimate birth; some plan must be contrived to pass over this handsomely" (Hecht 1). It is clear that Hamilton led an illegitimate childhood, but he eventually overcame these hardships for the most part (Hecht 2).

Hamilton's early life and the lives of his family members were set in the small islandsÐ'--the Leeward and the Virgin IslandsÐ'--that rim the northeast corner of the Caribbean. Rachel Faucett, Hamilton's mother, was born on Nevis, but went to St. Croix as a teenager (Brookhiser 15). In about 1745, Rachel married a planter, John Lavien, and a year later she bore him a son. John Lavien and Rachel settled on a cotton plantation that John owned. In 1750 he had her jailed for refusing to live with him (Brookhiser 15). When she got out, she returned to the British West Indies, where she met James Hamilton (Brookhiser 15).

Alexander admitted that his birth was "not free from blemish"(Brookhiser 15). His mother, Rachel, had two sons with James Hamilton, James Junior and Alexander, without getting a divorce from John Lavien (Brookhiser 15). Rachel and James tried to avoid the great stigma of illegitimacy (Brookhiser 15). Alexander was led to believe that his mother had gotten a second marriage and records from the Dutch island of St. Eustatius mentioned the presence of James Hamilton and "Rachel Hamilton his wife" (Brookhiser 15). However, in the Danish Virgin Islands, Rachel was still Rachel Lavien. In 1759, John Lavien divorced Rachel for her "ungodly mode of life" (Brookhiser 16). Rachel was not aloud to remarry, mainly because she was the party at fault. Presumably, James Senior discovered this state of affairs when he moved with his family to St. Croix in 1765. A year later, he left them, never to return (Brookhiser 16). "These early experiences helped shape critical facets of Hamilton's later thinking" (Finseth 1).

Alexander and his older brother, James, had an apparently normal family life. But in 1765 their father decided to go his own way, leaving Rachel Lavien and her two illegitimate sons to fend for themselves (Hamilton 15). Circumstances forced Rachel to apprentice her son, Alexander, to Beekman and Cruger, a commercial firm that hired him as a clerk (Hecht 6). Rachel ended up proving her husband wrong, and for three years she operated a prosperous store on the Danish island of St. Croix (Hamilton 15). Before, and maybe after, Alexander started to work, he helped his mother in the store, thereby obtaining some idea of business (Hecht 6).

In February 1786, Rachel was diagnosed with a terrible fever that became progressively worse (Hecht 6). She died that month, and the courts awarded all her property to her son with John Lavien (Hamilton 15). In effect, Alexander and his brother were orphaned at the ages of thirteen and fifteen. The boys found that their mother had given them a particularly valuable legacy, the example of her pride and hard work (Hamilton 15). The unfortunate youngsters were about to be dealt with an additional blow. Peter Lytton, the man Alexander and his brother were living with, committed suicide (Hecht 7). Now James and Alexander were dependent on strangers (Hecht 7). When Rachel had died, she left a list of thirty-four books for Alexander and his brother (Hecht 8). The books in the list must have constituted to Alexander's "gold mine of knowledge" (Hecht 8).

After, and mainly because of Alexander's abandonment, he spent most of his time working for Beekman and Cruger (Hecht 8). "The firm was located on the colorful waterfront of Christiansted, fronted with buildings of seventeenth and eighteenth-century Danish style, with colonnades to provide shade from the intense tropical sun" (Hecht 8). By 1769, the company was engaged in the export of raw sugar, and other island products and in the importation of supplies for the plantations (Hecht 8). "Hamilton's most vital education was acquired on the job" (Hecht 8). Alexander learned some accounting and bookkeeping, as well as the rudiments of trading, and proved a natural master as writing business letters (Hecht 8). "The young lad met and dealt with seamen who had traveled the world and was exposed to the horrors of the slave trade" (Hecht 8). Advertisements in the Christiansted newspapers of 1771 and 1772 reveal that slaves from the Gold Coast were frequently offered for sale in Cruger's yard (Hecht 8). The most revealing account of Alexander's business education is available in a series of letters that he wrote, when he was barely seventeen. Nicholas Cruger, who went to New York for his health (Hecht 8), left Hamilton in charge of the company. During this time, Hamilton sent out many letters, in them he passed judgment on loads of flour, apples, and the captain of a ship the Cruger's had hired. He suggested that Nicholas's brother mount the guns on the ship to protect it from the Spanish coast guard (Brookhiser 19). "Hamilton's letters were an early display of his ability to make independent judgments and to shoulder responsibility" (Hecht 9). While he was the acting head of Cruger's,



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