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Alexander Hamilton

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Few men have influenced the United States more than Alexander Hamilton–without him, the United States as it is today would simply not exist. Although he was born into poverty in a remote Caribbean colony of Holland, Alexander Hamilton eventually made his way to the American colonies, where he rapidly emerged as one of the most influential of the nation's Founding Fathers. Hamilton served his country in many ways: he fought in the American Revolution against the British; led the efforts to reform the inadequate Articles of Confederation; helped design the American government as outlined in the Constitution; and even secured its ratification by writing the Federalist Papers. Hamilton also served as the country's first and most influential Secretary of the Treasury under George Washington. What's more, Hamilton accomplished all of these tasks over the course of just twenty years.

Hamilton's career in the Revolutionary War was distinguished. He began his military career as the leader of a New York militia and quickly advanced to become an artillery captain, then went on to serve as an aide to General Washington. The "little lion", as Hamilton was called, served in Washington's family of aides for four years, during which he experienced both the hardship at Valley Forge, and a number of triumphs on the battlefield. As a lieutenant- colonel, the young Hamilton fought in several battles, including the battles of Monmouth and Yorktown, and the leadership skills he acquired during his service in the military proved to be invaluable in his political career.

At the war's end, Hamilton realized that the government outlined by the Articles of Confederation was weak and ineffective. The national economy had collapsed, citizens were depressed, and many of the various states quarreled so frequently that the Union was in danger of disbanding. Hamilton therefore took the initiative and invited leaders from every state to meet in Philadelphia to amend the Articles. At the convention, Hamilton succeeded in convincing the other delegates that the Articles should be replaced by a more perfect union of states under the direction of a strong central government. Many of his ideas are reflected in the Constitution, which the Philadelphia delegation produced.

Even though Hamilton did not entirely agree with the form of government outlined in the Constitution, which he believed would create a government too weak to solve the nation's problems, he nevertheless signed the document. Furthermore, Hamilton wrote a series of papers known as the Federalist Papers to convince Americans that ratification of the Constitution was vital to the survival of the United States. Many historians credit the ratification of the Constitution to the persuasiveness of the Federalist Papers, and these essays are also considered to be among the best collections of American and democratic political ideology.

With the ratification of the Constitution came the new government, and President Washington chose Hamilton to be his Secretary of the Treasury. At the time, the nation needed a strong economic policy, as both debt and inflation were high, and people had no real money. As Secretary of the Treasury, Hamilton solved these problems and simultaneously shaped American economic policy for generations to come. Hamilton created a national banking system to stabilize and monitor the nation's finances, and created a strong currency to replace the worthless currencies floating throughout the country. More importantly, Hamilton established and improved the nation's credit by assuming all the individual states' debts and promising to pay not only the principle back to the country's creditors, but the interest earned as well. Finally, Hamilton laid the foundation that allowed manufacturers to produce goods in the United States and make the country richer and more industrious.

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