140. The Man Who Became the First Secretary of the Treasury. Alexander Hamilton was not born in the United States. He first saw the light of day on a small British West India island, called Nevis. He was twenty-five years younger than Washington and fifty-one years younger than Franklin.
Hamilton's mother, who was a French Huguenot, died when he was young, and the boy was put into a counting house at the age of twelve. He wrote to a comrade "I am confident that my age excluded me from any hope of any immediate preferment, but I mean to prepare the way for 'futurity.' "
Like Franklin, he read and studied while at work and was determined not to be an underling. Hamilton's friends saw his industry and ability and raised money to send him to school in America. At the age of fifteen he came to New York and went to a famous old school at Elizabethtown, New Jersey. He worked hard and at the end of the year was prepared for King's College, now Columbia University.
While in college he studied with all his powers. He not only studied books, but the men and events around him. When he walked along his favorite shady street he "talked to himself" and made gestures. The people looked at him as they passed, but he did not always see them.
p268 The city was full of excitement at this time over the laws passed by Parliament to punish Boston for destroying the tea. Great crowds were listening to speakers. One day when a pause came, Hamilton mounted the speakers' stand and began talking. The people were astonished. He was a mere boy. But his earnest words held them to the end.
He now began to write for the newspapers on the trouble between England and America. His articles were so well written and his arguments so full of points that the people, as in the case of Franklin, thought that some great man was their author.
When the Congress advised the people to get ready for war, Hamilton, who knew military affairs by the study of books, joined a company of volunteers. When a British war ship opened fire on New York, Hamilton and his volunteers rushed into danger to save their cannon and war stores.
The people blamed the Tories for this act of hostility. The "Liberty Boys" rushed to and fro through the streets hunting them, and gathered before the house of the president of the college, who was a Tory. Hamilton mounted the steps, faced the angry mob and blamed them for their unlawful acts. While Hamilton was yet speaking, the president put his head out of the window and told the crowd to beware of such a fellow!
p269 The war had come. Hamilton raised and drilled a company so well in the use of cannon that General Greene told Washington about young Captain Hamilton.
When the boy captain with his company saved the American army at the battle of Long Island from a worse defeat, when he offered to retake Fort Washington, and when his little company, still brave and true, followed Washington across the Delaware River, General Washington made Hamilton an aid on his staff and his private secretary. Hamilton was at this time just twenty years old.
From the defeat on Long Island to the surrender of Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown, Hamilton was in almost every battle fought by Washington. At Yorktown he led the first charge of the American army upon the British breastworks and in ten minutes captured that part of the fortification.
Just one year before the surrender of Yorktown Hamilton had married Elizabeth Schuyler, the daughter of General Schuyler. The Schuylers, as we have seen, belonged to an old, aristocratic, p270 and wealthy Dutch family. Hamilton, however, had nothing to recommend himself to Miss Schuyler but his character, his ability, and his reputation.
141. Hamilton Defends the Constitution. He took up the study of law in New York, but the very next year the legislature sent him to Congress. He made speeches and wrote letters to newspapers in favor of giving more power to Congress. He knew that the old soldiers were angry with Congress. They had been poorly fed and poorly clothed, and were now going to their homes without their pay. Had they not been patriotic, and had Washington not loved his country more than himself, they might have made Washington king and forced the Congress to pay what it owed them at the point of the bayonet.
Although the war was over and America was an independent nation, a great danger still hung over her. She could neither pay the old soldiers nor those foreign nations who had helped her. Many of the states fell to quarreling among themselves. Men like Washington, John Jay, and James Madison agreed with Hamilton in trying to get the states to give more power to Congress.
In 1787, we have seen, the states sent fifty-five men to Philadelphia to decide what could be done to make the government stronger. Washington, Franklin, Madison, and Hamilton were the four greatest men in the Convention. Hamilton made speeches and talked with members of the Convention in favor p271 of a stronger government. He wanted the President and the senators elected for life, and favored given Congress far more power than was given it.
When the Constitution was finished, Hamilton went back to New York and wrote letters to a paper in favor of the new Constitution. These papers, with others written by James Madison and John Jay, now make a book, called The Federalist.
When the Convention of New York state met at Poughkeepsie (1788), to vote for or against the new Constitution, Hamilton was there and made many speeches in its favor, and finally had the pleasure of seeing New York accept the government and take her place among the states of the Union.
When Washington became President he chose Hamilton to be the first Secretary of the Treasury. Hamilton raised the money to run the new government, laid plans for paying the Revolutionary debt, and established a United States Bank.
p272 He thus became the national leader of the men who supported Washington, and favored a strong government. They formed the Federalist party.
In 1804 Hamilton opposed Aaron Burr's election as governor of New York. Burr challenged Hamilton to fight a duel, and killed him at Weehawken, New Jersey, July 11, 1804. The whole country was aroused, and Burr became an outcast from society.
Hamilton lies buried in Trinity churchyard, New York City.
142. The Early Years of Jefferson. The author of the Declaration of Independence was born in 1743, near Charlottesville, Virginia. Like other Virginia boys, Thomas Jefferson lived on a large plantation, and spent much time in hunting, fishing, and horseback riding. While yet a boy, and throughout his long life, Jefferson loved books and studied hard every subject that came before his mind.
At seventeen he rode away to Williamsburg to attend the College of William and Mary, the second oldest college in America.
Although Williamsburg was the capital of the largest and oldest of all the colonies, it had scarcely more than p273 two hundred houses, and not more than a thousand people. But it was a wonderful town in Jefferson's eyes, although it had but one main street. The capitol stood at one end the street and the college at the other. It was the first town he had ever seen.
At the opening of the House of Burgesses, Jefferson saw the best people in the Old Colony come pouring in. The planters came in fine coaches drawn by beautiful horses. The wives and daughters came to attend the governor's reception, and to enjoy meeting their old friends.
Jefferson became acquainted with the great men of his colony, and with many young men who were to be the future leaders in America. Here he met Patrick Henry, a student in a law office. Jefferson liked the fun-making Henry, and the two young men enjoyed many happy hours together, playing their violins.
After his graduation Jefferson remained in his old college town to study law in the office of one of Virginia's ablest lawyers. Henry often lodged in Jefferson's rooms when he came to attend the meetings of the Burgesses. When Henry made his stirring speech against the Stamp Act, Jefferson stood in the doorway of the House and listened spellbound to his friend's fiery eloquence.
In a few years Jefferson himself was honored with a seat in the House of Burgesses. He immediately took a leading part in opposing the tax on tea. The king's governor became angry and sent the members of the House of Burgesses home. But before p274 they went, the bolder ones met and signed a paper which pledged the people of Virginia to buy no more goods from England.
The next important event in Jefferson's life was his falling in love, and his marriage to a young widow. She was beautiful in looks, winning in her manner, and rich in lands and slaves. Jefferson took his young wife to a handsome mansion which he had built on his great plantation. He called the home Monticello. Here these two Virginians, like Washington and his wife at Mount Vernon, spent many happy days.
Jefferson, with his wife's estate added to his own, was a very wealthy man. Together they owned at this time nearly one hundred thousand acres of land and three hundred slaves.
But stirring events took Jefferson away from the quiet life at Monticello. After his marriage, he went to the meeting of the Burgesses, and there with other leaders formed a committee of correspondence. This committee wrote to the other colonies to get news of what the leaders were doing, and to tell them what the men in Virginia were planning to do. Each of the other colonies appointed committees of correspondence. They kept the news going back and forth as fast as rapid horsemen could carry it. These committees had a strong influence in uniting the colonies against England.
p275 143. Writes the Declaration of Independence. In 1775 the Burgesses chose Thomas Jefferson, Richard Henry Lee, and Benjamin Harrison as delegates to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. In this Congress Richard Henry Lee made a motion declaring that the Thirteen Colonies were free and independent of Great Britain.
The Congress appointed Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, John Adams of Massachusetts, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, Roger Sherman of Connecticut, and Robert R. Livingston of New York, to draw up a Declaration of Independence.
When these great men met to talk over the Declaration, the others urged Jefferson to do the writing, for he was able to put his thoughts on paper in plain, strong words. How important that the Declaration should be well written, and should contain powerful reasons for breaking away from England and setting up an independent government! A large number of people in America were opposed to separating from England. Besides, good reasons must be given to those brave Englishmen who, like Pitt and Burke, had been our defenders in Parliament.
When Jefferson showed what he had written, the others liked it so well only a few words were changed. Even after several days' debate in Congress, only a few more words were changed. Then it was signed by the members of the Congress and sent out for all the world to see why America was driven to fight for independence.
John Hancock, the president of the Congress, was the first to sign the Declaration, and he did so in large letters, saying that p276 George III might read his name without spectacles. He also said: "We must all hang together in this matter." "Yes," replied Franklin, "we must all hang together, or we shall hang separately."
Jefferson returned to Virginia, and later became governor, on the resignation of Patrick Henry.
After the war was over and England had taken her armies home, Congress sent Thomas Jefferson as minister to France (1785). The French people liked Jefferson very much, because, like Franklin, he was very democratic, and treated all men alike. The French people were just beginning to overthrow the power of their king, and plan a republic. Jefferson told them how happy the Americans were since they had broken away from George III.
After five years Jefferson returned home. When his negro slaves heard that he was coming back to Monticello they went p277 several miles to greet him. When the carriage reached home they carried him on their shoulders into the house. The slaves were happy, for Jefferson, like Washington, was a kind master, and hoped for the day to come when slavery would be no more.
Washington had just been elected the first President of the United States (1789), and was looking for a good man to be his adviser on questions about foreign nations. He chose Jefferson to do that work and gave him the office of Secretary of State.
Congress disputed and debated over the best ways of paying the Revolutionary War debt, and also over the question as to whether America should take sides with France in the great war between that country and England. The people also disputed over these questions, and formed themselves into two parties. One, the Democratic-Republican, was led by Thomas Jefferson, and the other, the Federalist party, as we have seen, was led by Alexander Hamilton.
144. Jefferson President. In 1800 the people elected Jefferson President. He was very popular because he was a friend of the poor as well as of the rich people. He declared that the new national government should in every way be plain and simple, instead of showy, like the governments of Europe.
p278 Presidents Washington and Adams had had fine receptions, where people wore wigs, silver shoe buckles, and fine lace. When Jefferson became President he did away with all this show and style.
Jefferson also pleased the people by reducing the expenses of the government. He cut down the number of government clerks, soldiers in the army, and sailors in the navy. He spent just as little money as possible in running the government.
One of Jefferson's most important acts while President was the purchase of Louisiana. Thanks to George Rogers Clark and his brave men, England had been forced to give the United States the Mississippi as our western boundary.
In 1800 Napoleon, the great French general, forced Spain to give France all of the region then known as Louisiana, which extended from the Mississippi to the Rocky Mountains, and from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. Spain, a weak country, had already refused to permit American boats to use the mouth of the Mississippi. What if Napoleon should send his victorious army to Louisiana and close the Mississippi entirely? Jefferson saw the danger at once, and sent James Monroe to Paris to help our minister, Robert R. Livingston, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, buy New Orleans and a strip of land on the east side of the Mississippi River near its mouth.
p279 Napoleon was about to enter on a terrible war with England, and needed money badly. He was only too glad to sell all of Louisiana for fifteen million dollars (1803). This was more than Livingston was told to buy, but he and Monroe accepted it.
If you will count the number of great states which have been carved out of the "Louisiana Purchase," and look at the great cities and the number of towns which have grown up within "old Louisiana," you will understand why great honor is given to the men who purchased this vast region.
In the very next year, Jefferson sent out an expedition under the command of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to explore this vast country of Louisiana. With men, Indians, and boats they made their way slowly up the Missouri, across the mountains, and down the Columbia River to the Pacific coast.
p280 The wonderful stories told by Lewis and Clark gave Americans their first real knowledge of parts of the Louisiana Purchase and of the Oregon region. In 1904, America, with the help of all the great nations of the world, celebrated at St. Louis the buying of this region by holding the Louisiana Purchase Exposition.
In 1804, Jefferson was elected President again by a greater majority than before. After serving a second term, he, like Washington, refused to be President for a third time. He retired to Monticello where he spent his last days pleasantly and where hundreds of friends from all parts of America and Europe came to consult him. The people called him the "Sage of Monticello."
Jefferson lived to see the first two great states, Louisiana and Missouri, carved out of the Louisiana Purchase. He died at Monticello, July 4, 1826. On the same day, at Quincy, Massachusetts, died his longtime friend, John Adams. These two patriots, one the writer, the other the defender of the Declaration of Independence, died just half a century after it was signed.
The Leading Facts. 1. Hamilton was born in the West Indies, and was sent by friends to this country for an education. 2. While a student at Columbia, Hamilton took part in the opposition to Great Britain. 3. He joined the army, was put on Washington's staff, and was in almost every battle. 4. He led the American troops in the first charge at Yorktown. 5. After the war he worked for a strong government; went to the Constitutional Convention. 6. Washington chose him to be Secretary of the Treasury, and he founded the Federalist Party. 7. Thomas Jefferson, born in Virginia, loved books, went to college, and met Patrick Henry. 8. Went to the Burgesses, planned the Committees of Correspondence. 9. Jefferson was sent to the Congress of 1776; wrote the Declaration of Independence. 10. After the war, Jefferson was sent as Minister to France. 11. Washington chose him as Secretary of State, and he founded the Democratic-Republican Party. 12. Jefferson was popular as President. He cut down expenses, and with his savings purchased Louisiana.
p281 Study Questions. 1. When and where was Hamilton born? 2. What of his mother and what did he say of himself? 3. Where did he prepared for college? 4. What proofs are given to show that Hamilton was a good student? 5. Picture Hamilton making his first speech. 6. What reminds you of Franklin in his writings? 7. What did the President of Columbia think? 8. Who told Washington about young Hamilton as a soldier? 9. What kind of a family did Hamilton enter through his marriage? 10. What might have happened at the close of the war if Washington had been less patriotic? 11. What was the cause of the quarreling at the close of the war and what remedy did some men propose? 12. Name some of Hamilton's ideas about the Government. 13. Mention something Hamilton did for the Constitution, even if it did not contain his ideas. 14. To what position did Washington call him and what party did he form? 15. What caused his death?
16. Name some things boys did on a Virginia plantation in Jefferson's time. 17. Describe the town of Williamsburg. 18. What did Jefferson do, see, and hear in Williamsburg? 19. Name some of Virginia's great men whom Jefferson knew. 20. When did Jefferson become a member of the Burgesses? 21. Explain how the "Committees of Correspondence" worked. 22. Why did the Burgesses not choose Washington also to go to Congress? 23. Who were the men appointed to make a Declaration of Independence? 24. Why did Jefferson write the Declaration? 25. Why were some people opposed to the Declaration? 26. How well did Jefferson write the Declaration? 27. Why did French people like Jefferson? 28. Picture Jefferson's return home. 29. How was Jefferson fitted for Secretary of State? 30. What were the people then disputing about and who were their leaders? 31. Why did Jefferson want the Government to be plain and simple? Who wanted it different? 32. Tell the story of the buying of Louisiana. 33. Why did Americans think the buying a great event? 34. Why did Jefferson not become President a third time? 35. What of the friendship of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson?
Suggested Readings. Hamilton: Brooks, Century Book of Famous Americans, 49‑63; Blaisdell and Ball, Hero Stories from American History, 138‑155; Burton, Four American Patriots, 71‑130; Bolton, Famous American Statesmen, 99‑132.
Jefferson: Wright, Children's Stories of American Progress, 55‑85; Cooke, Stories of the Old Dominion, 180‑192; Hart, How Our Grandfathers Lived, 317‑320; Butterworth, In the Days of Jefferson, 32‑168, 175‑206, 216‑264; Brooks, Century Book of Famous Americans, 117‑135.
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