By Mark Macguidwin '20
During the birth of the United States as an independent and powerful nation, there were many people that shaped America politically and economically. In addition to the first presidents—Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison—one immigrant from the small island of Nevis grew into America’s most influential Founding Father: Alexander Hamilton. Considering his humble beginnings, how did Hamilton rise to the summit of political power? The answer lies in his early alliance with George Washington. Washington’s respect and care for Hamilton not only elevated Hamilton to power once Washington became president, but also restrained Hamilton’s fiery personality. Therefore, Hamilton’s most decisive moment was his decision to be Washington’s right-hand man during the Revolutionary War. By taking on Washington’s offer, Hamilton defined his future rise and fall from power.
First, Hamilton’s dedicated work ethic and brilliant mind impressed Washington and influenced his decisions once he became president. Before the Revolution, Hamilton was a passionate young military captain that emphasized courage and discipline. Noticing Hamilton’s military successes at Bunker Hill and Trenton, the Commander in Chief “was charmed by [Hamilton’s] brilliant courage and admirable skill”. As a result, Washington personally offered Hamilton a position on his staff “as an aide-de-camp”. Hamilton accepted. In his role, Hamilton drafted Washington’s letters, executed “diplomatic missions, dealt with… generals… and negotiated prisoner exchanges”. In addition, Hamilton’s mind was flowing with two main ideas for the America’s future: a powerful federal government and a centralized bank (138, 139). In time, Washington grew not only to adore Hamilton—he went so far as to call Hamilton “my boy”—but also to admire Hamilton, whose “knowledge… and sterling virtue” could only “be found… [in a] few men… his age”. Washington’s renown for this now lieutenant colonel influenced his decision on who would serve as the nation’s leaders later on.
Proving the significance of Hamilton working on Washington’s staff, Hamilton’s influence over Washington allowed him to rise to power and accomplish some of greatest achievements. Following the creation of the Constitution (along with Hamilton’s herculean task of writing over fifty essays in defense), Washington “was the executive branch”. In an effort to fix the “precarious… financial state of the new government,” Washington turned to his respected ally and appointed Hamilton as “the top financial spot”. From then on, Hamilton, whose “mind had wrought detailed financial plans… [f]or years,” utilized his platform of Treasury Secretary to “build an institutional framework” for our nation: he created a national bank and created a customs service with the Coast Guard and assumed states debts (with a plan for repayment) and improved public credit and employed monetary policy through bonds and enacted protective trade tariffs. Additionally, with so few departments and secretaries close to Washington, Hamilton advised Washington, “who frequently requested opinions from his cabinet” on a multitude of issues. When Britain and France went to war in 1793, Hamilton was able to convince Washington to sign a Proclamation of Neutrality even though Jefferson and other Republicans wished to aid the French. Once again, all of these accomplishments emphasize the consequence of Hamilton’s decision to work for Washington since all of his power and influence stemmed from his relationship with Washington.
Aside from Hamilton’s rise to power, Hamilton’s decline also revealed the importance of Washington in Hamilton’s life. Hamilton, The hypersensitive and “volatile Hamilton needed [the] steadying hand” of a “taciturn man” with “the gift of silence”. Thus, Hamilton’s ambition and knowledge combined with Washington’s restraint formed an “unbeatable… team” that succeeded in office. However, once Washington retired from politics, Hamilton “lost the strong, restraining hand of George Washington and [his] invaluable sense of tact,” contributing to Hamilton’s gradual fall from power. Due to insecurities about his past, Hamilton could not “refrain from vendettas… [and] discharg[ed] his venom in print” to denounce his political opponents. Hamilton made a significant blunder when he condemned John Adams’ personal conduct in a circular pamphlet. Despite being made in response to criticism, Hamilton’s “petty and vengeful” tone “erode[d] Hamilton’s influence among the Federalist faithful”. In addition, Hamilton’s pamphlet doomed his faction, the Federalist party, from winning the presidency, ushering a new era of Republican rule. For all Hamilton had done for his country, he “began to fade from public view".
In Hamilton’s life, Washington’s presence propelled Hamilton to power; conversely, Washington’s absence allowed him to throw it all away. Therefore, the genesis of their relationship is the most influential moment in Hamilton’s life. Although the two “had clashing temperaments” and sometimes quarreled, the pair’s respect and admiration for each other during the Revolutionary War formed an inseparable bond. In Washington’s farewell address, which Hamilton wrote, some observers noticed that “their two voices blended admirably together”. These “two voices” helped each other build the foundation for an entire nation. None of that could have happened if they had never met in the first place.