Talk: Alexander Hamilton led by AV Huff

Event details

  • February 19, 2019
  • 7:00 pm - 8:30 pm
  • Hughes Library, 25 Heritage Green Pl. Greenville, 29601
  • 864-244-1499

 View Map  Cost: Free

Talk: Alexander Hamilton


AV Huff, PhD is a distinguished author, public servant, Chautauqua visionary and beloved OLLI teacher. He brings his signature knowledge of all things American history to the story of our first Secretary of the Treasury.

He is Professor of History Emeritus and Retired Vice President of Academic Affairs and Dean, Furman University. His PhD is from Duke University. Dr. Huff served on Chautauqua’s Board from its inception in 1999 and is director emeritus.

AV is passionate about southern history and is author of Greenville: The History of the City and County in the South Carolina Piedmont. Dr. Huff has led previous Chautauqua Talks on historic  figures ranging from the revered George Washington to the controversial John C. Calhoun to escaped South Carolina slave and US military commander Robert Smalls.

Born in 1755, one of the most prolific and most misunderstood of our founding fathers. A West Indian native, Hamilton came to America just prior to the American Revolution. He was one of the early writers for independency, a Captain of Artillery in the battles in and around New York, his adopted home, and the battles of Trenton and Princeton. He was made an Aide de Camp to General Washington serving as one of his chief aides throughout the Philadelphia Campaign, Valley Forge and the winters at Morristown.

A delegate to the Confederation Congress, under the Articles of Confederation, Hamilton fought for the army’s rights and pay, calling for a convention for governmental reform. Hamilton and James Madison as members of the Annapolis convention were able to muster up resolve to get a constitutional convention in Philadelphia in 1787. Hamilton worked alongside General Washington, Edmund Randolf, his friend Gouvernor Morris, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman and (at that time) friend James Madison to form our new constitution.  In order to get our new constitution ratified, Hamilton, Madison and longtime friend John Jay wrote a series of articles that came to be known as the Federalist Papers, Hamilton writing the lion’s share.

When the new government went into effect President Washington asked Hamilton to be our first Secretary of the Treasury. Hamilton called on then innovative and novel ideas of finance to help our country and her 80 million dollars debt. Ideas that are now become basic financial principals. His financial plans included: selling stock, encouraging moneyed men to help with our country’s early finances, a national assumption of the war debt and his advocacy of a national bank.

These very often misunderstood plans brought him many enemies; chief among these was then Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson and Speaker of the House, James Madison.

Arguments with Thomas Jefferson and James Madison led to our nation’s capitol being established on the banks of the Potomac, a more centralized government and exploration into what and what is not allowable in our constitution.

Though members of the same political party, the Federalists, John Adams and Alexander Hamilton, whom the party first formed around, were sometime allies but became bitter enemies. John Adams despised Hamilton for his influence over Adam’s cabinet, Hamilton having been forced on him as a Major General in the Quazi-war with France and for his “shameful birth.” After their very public break during the election of 1800, the presidency was tied between Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr.  Hamilton supported his old enemy Jefferson rather than let Burr be elected, saying Burr was a man who “ought not to be trusted with the reigns of power.”

In a duel with pistols in Weehawken, New Jersey, Major General Alexander Hamilton was killed in a duel with then Vice-President Aaron Burr.

Since his arrival on these shores in 1774 he managed to be at almost every great event in early American history until his death at the hands of Aaron Burr in 1804.

1755 or 1727 (Jan 11) – born Nevis, British West Indies

1774 – traveled to Boston and New York.

1775 – attended Kings College (Columbia University) and enlisted in local Militia. Made Captain of New York Provisional Company of Artillery and served in actions at Crossing of Raritan, Trenton, Princeton

1776 – 80 – served as Aide-de-camp to General Washington. Served as one of Washington’s principal aides and letter writers, acting in Washington’s name several times during the War of Independence

1780 – meets Elizabeth “Eliza” Schuyler, daughter of General Philip Schuyler and gets engaged. (Sep 25) Day of Blackest Treason. On route from the French army at Hartford, CN, Washington and Lafayette, Hamilton encountered Gen. Arnold at West Point when his treason was discovered (Dec 14) marries Eliza Schuyler.

1781 – commissioned Lt. Colonel and given command of the New York Light Infantry under command of Gen. Lafayette.  Hamilton leads his troops in taking Redoubt #10, one of the decisive actions in the battle of Yorktown, prior to Cornwallis’ surrender.

1781 – passes the bar and begins to practice law in Albany, NY.

1782-3 – elected delegate from New York state to Confederational Congress

1783 – returns with family to New York City, where he argues cases in favor of Loyalists.  Argues Rutgers vs. Waddington, a case that defines national law over state law.

1787 – along with Judge Yates and John Lancing attends Constitutional convention in Philadelphia.  Hamilton ends up signing Constitution.

1787 (Oct) – 1788 (Aug) – John Jay, James Madison and Hamilton write the Federalist Papers to better explain and endorse the Constitution. Hamilton writes 56 of the 85 letters.

1789-1795 –appointed Secretary of the Treasury by President Washington.

1790 – creates a financial system that comes to be acknowledged as one of the best ever created – advocates Assumption of War debt, creation of a National Bank and creation of shares that are traded on the open market – comes into open conflict with Thomas Jefferson, who vehemently opposes the Bank.

1794 – supports the Jay Treaty

1798 – commissioned Major General in US Army and made Inspector General

1799 – upon Washington’s death becomes US Army Commander-in-Chief.  Later in the year, resigns from Army

1804 – (July 12) Hamilton killed in duel with Aaron Burr (age 47 or 49)

Men give me credit for some genius. All the genius I have is this. When I have a subject in mind, I study it profoundly. Day and night it is before me. My mind becomes pervaded with it… the effort which I have made is what people are pleased to call the fruit of genius. It is the fruit of labor and thought.

Wives – Such a wife as I want… must be young, handsome I lay most stress upon a good shape, sensible a little learning will do, well-bread, chaste, and tender. As to religion, a moderate stock will satisfy me. She must believe in God and hate a saint.

Those who stand for nothing fall for anything.

Why has government been instituted at all? Because the passions of man will not conform to the dictates of reason and justice without constraint. 

Men often oppose a thing merely because they have had no agency in planning it, or because it may have been planned by those whom they dislike.

 A promise must never be broken.

Whenever the government appears in arms, it ought to appear like a Hercules, and inspire respect by the display of strength. The consideration of expense is of no moment compared with the advantages of energy. ’Tis true this is always a relative question, but ’tis always important to make no mistake. I only offer a principle and a caution.

When the sword is once drawn, the passions of men observe no bounds of moderation.

I never expect to see a perfect work from an imperfect man.

It has been frequently remarked that it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government form.

The voice of the people has been said to be the voice of God; and, however generally this maxim has been quoted and believed, it is not true to fact. The people are turbulent and changing, they seldom judge or determine right.

The real danger to our liberties was not from a few provisional troops. The road to tyranny will be opened by making dependent judges, by packing juries, by stifling the press, by silencing leaders and patriots.

On overturning an election in New York: I do not feel it right or expedient to attempt to reverse the decision by any means not known to the Constitution or laws. The precedent may suit us today; but tomorrow we may see its abuse.

The liberty of the press consists in the right to publish, with impunity, truth, with good motives, for justifiable ends, though reflecting on government, magistracy, or individuals. That the allowance of this right is essential to the preservation of a free government; the disallowance of it fatal.

Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow (2005)
One of the best of the biographies on Hamilton. Chernow maintains a clear timeline and a wonderful perspective of Hamilton throughout his life.

Alexander Hamilton, American by Richard Brookhiser (2000)
Hamilton’s meteoric and fascinating rise as well as his importance is examined well.

George Washington’s Indispensable Men: Alexander Hamilton, Tench Tilghman and the Aides-de-camp Who Helped Win American Independence by Arthur S. Lefkowitz (2003)
A wonderful account of the aides de camp and Hamilton’s time on Washington’s staff.

Alexander Hamilton: A Life by Willard Sterne Randall (2000)
An excellent source on Hamilton, with the war years well covered.

The Federalist Papers by John Jay, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison (1787) The examination of the constitution and its viability for our new nation. Hamilton and the others put forth ideas here that have set legal precedent. The Federalist Papers are still used in legal arguments to this day.