Last Updated on August 6, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 895
Ron Chernow's Alexander Hamilton chronicles the life of the first Secretary of the Treasury, the titular Alexander Hamilton. The biography begins with Hamilton's birth on a Caribbean island, argued by Hamilton to be Nevis, while some biographers believe it may have been St. Kitts. The year of his birth is also speculated: it is either 1757, as his family claims, or 1755, as Chernow claims. Hamilton's father, James Hamilton Sr. was Scottish, and the father of eleven children among various mothers. Hamilton's mother, Rachel Faucette Lavien Hamilton, was married to Johann Michael Lavien at the time of Hamilton's birth, but he later divorced Rachel in light of her adultery. Hamilton and his brother, James Hamilton Jr., were written out of Lavien's estate, with all of the money and property left to a legitimate Lavien heir. Rachel passed away in 1769, leaving the teenaged Alexander and James to fend for themselves.
The Hamilton boys moved in with Peter Lytton, Rachel's cousin, himself poor and desolate. Lytton died later that year, found in a pool of blood under mysterious circumstances. While it was never definitively proven, police believed he was either murdered or committed suicide. Alexander and James were split up after Lytton's death. Hamilton lived with Thomas Stevens, a man who gave the boy a chance to learn and grow his business acumen. Hamilton grew close to Stevens's son, Edward, and the two became like brothers. They looked alike, and it was speculated that Stevens may have been Hamilton's biological father, although this was never confirmed.
Sensing Hamilton's capabilities in business, Hugh Knox, a member of the clergy, raised the money to send Hamilton to America. Hamilton attempted to further his education at Princeton, where he wanted to graduate quickly. The school would not permit the fast pace, so he headed to Manhattan where he enrolled at King's College (known now as Columbia University). Hamilton was fiercely loyal to King's College and the president who allowed him to enroll (Myles Cooper). Cooper was a loyal Brit, but Hamilton continued to defend him even after becoming a figurehead in the Revolutionary War.
During the war, Hamilton was eager to fight. He struck up a quick friendship with George Washington, who made Hamilton his right-hand man. As a personal secretary, Hamilton was often separated from battle, something he regretted, but it made him important connections that would ultimately result in political favor. During the war, Hamilton met Marquis de Lafayette, Aaron Burr, and a myriad of good friends. He also met Elizabeth (Eliza) Schuyler, the daughter of politician Philip Schuyler. Eliza and Hamilton were married on December 14, 1780, after a short courtship. Hamilton became close with the entire Schuyler family very quickly, forging close friendships with his sister-in-law, Angelica.
After the war, Hamilton became a lawyer in New York City, working closely with Aaron Burr. The two developed an uneasy friendship, often acting as rivals, although they had a great deal in common. Despite his happy marriage, Hamilton was not faithful to his wife. Most notably, he had an affair with Maria Reynolds, a married woman whose husband blackmailed Hamilton to keep the affair quiet. While he initially gave in to the blackmail, Hamilton ultimately shared the details of the affair with the public. Burr was also actively wooing various women and eventually married the wife of a British soldier named Theodosia Bartow Prevost. She died only twelve years after their marriage but left Burr with a young daughter, also named Theodosia.
When George Washington became the first president of the United States of America, he appointed Hamilton as his Secretary of the Treasury. During his years in office, Hamilton was active in creating the US banking system and...
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