“Constitutions should consist only of general provisions; the reason is that they must necessarily be permanent, and that they cannot calculate for the possible change of things.”
— Alexander Hamilton (1757–1804)
Among the blossoming cherry trees, spring is a perfect time to see the Alexander Hamilton Monument. It stands directly behind the Metropolitan Museum of Art, along Central Park’s East Drive at 83rd Street. The monument is unusual because it is carved entirely of granite, both the pedestal and the likeness of Hamilton, whose son John C. Hamilton donated the piece to the City in 1880. This sight is included as part of Walk About New York’s Central Park Walking Tour.
Alexander Hamilton was born on the 11th of January 1755 in St. Croix on the island of Nevis in the British West Indies. He was the illegitimate son of a Scottish landowner and a woman named Rachel Fawcett Lavien. Hamilton was always sensitive about the circumstances surrounding his birth. His father abandoned the family while Hamilton was young and his mother died when he was 13. He was an orphan.
In 1772 he come to New York, where he attended King’s College, now Columbia University. Hamilton volunteered for service in the Revolutionary War, while he was still a teenager. He rose to the rank of captain in a New York artillery company. Serving with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, Hamilton was an aide-de-camp to General Washington from 1777 to 1781.
In 1780, Hamilton married Elizabeth Schuyler; she was descended from two of New York’s most powerful and prominent Dutch families, the Schuylers and the Van Cortlandts. Two years later Hamilton was admitted to the bar; he began practicing law in New York City. He was a delegate in the Continental Congress and was elected to the New York State Legislature; he took a lead role ratifying the United States Constitution.
Hamilton was a passionate supporter of a strong federal government; he co-authored of many of the Federalist Papers. When the new government was established in New York City in 1789, President Washington appointed Hamilton the first Secretary of the Treasury. In this role his focus on business helped New York City, his hometown, grow into a financial center. He developed plans for Congress to charter the first Bank of the United States.
Hamilton’s lesser-known contribution to the fledgling nation was his proposal to create the Revenue Marine, now the United States Coast Guard. Through the Naval Act of 1794 he played an important role in establishing both the United States Navy and Naval Academy. Hamilton retired from his cabinet position in 1795. He resumed his law career and remained active in politics, starting the New York Evening Post (now the New York Post) in 1801 to air his opinions.
Alexander Hamilton was the most famous resident of the Manhattan neighborhood that would come to be called Hamilton Heights. In 1800, he began construction of his country home known as the Grange; it is located on Convent Avenue and 141st Street. It was completed shortly after his death in 1804, when Hamilton was fatally wounded in a duel with his political rival Vice President Aaron Burr (1756–1836). Hamilton is buried in Trinity churchyard, at Broadway and Rector Street.