by Ron Chernow
Alexander Hamilton portrait by John Trumbull, 1806.

The Gilder Lehrman Institute has an array of resources on Alexander Hamilton and the Founding Era available to everyone. Our online materials in the History by Era section of the website include 8 essays, 14 Featured Primary Sources, 8 videos, 2 interactive features, and 9 lesson plans.

In addition, you can order posters of Alexander Hamilton and Eliza Hamilton as well as posters of Founding Era documents from our shop, register for a graduate-level Online Course on Alexander Hamilton’s America, sign up for a self-paced course, or request a Traveling Exhibition on Alexander Hamilton.

This excerpt from Ron Chernow's Alexander Hamilton provides a brief sketch of the Founding Father and his legacy.

Hamilton was the supreme double threat among the founding fathers, at once thinker and doer, sparkling theoretician and masterful executive. He and James Madison were the prime movers behind the summoning of the Constitutional Convention and the chief authors of that classic gloss on the national charter, The Federalist, which Hamilton supervised. As the first treasury secretary and principal architect of the new government, Hamilton took constitutional principles and infused them with expansive life, turning abstractions into institutional realities. He had a pragmatic mind that minted comprehensive programs. In contriving the smoothly running machinery of a modern nation-state—including a budget system, a funded debt, a tax system, a central bank, a customs service, and a coast guard—and justifying them in some of America’s most influential state papers, he set a high-water mark for administrative competence that has never been equaled. If Jefferson provided the essential poetry of American political discourse, Hamilton established the prose of American statecraft. No other founder articulated such a clear and prescient vision of America’s future political, military, and economic strength or crafted such ingenious mechanisms to bind the nation together.

Hamilton’s crowded years as treasury secretary scarcely exhaust the epic story of his short life, which was stuffed with high drama. From his illegitimate birth on Nevis to his bloody downfall in Weehawken, Hamilton’s life was so tumultuous that only an audacious novelist could have dreamed it up. He embodied an enduring archetype: the obscure immigrant who comes to America, re-creates himself, and succeeds despite a lack of proper birth and breeding. The saga of his metamorphosis from an anguished clerk on St. Croix to the reigning presence in George Washington’s cabinet offers both a gripping personal story and a panoramic view of the formative years of the republic. Except for Washington, nobody stood closer to the center of American politics from 1776 to 1800 or cropped up at more turning points. More than anyone else, the omnipresent Hamilton galvanized, inspired, and scandalized the newborn nation, serving as the flash point for pent-up conflicts of class, geography, race, religion, and ideology. His contemporaries often seemed defined by how they reacted to the political gauntlets that he threw down repeatedly with such defiant panache.More »

Featured Primary Sources

Aaron Burr to Joseph Alston, July 20, 1804 (GLC01523)

Aaron Burr, fugitive and traitor, 1804

Creator: Aaron Burr Curriculum Subjects: Grade Levels:
Alexander Hamilton, by Charles Willson Peale, ca. 1790 (Independence NHP)

Alexander Hamilton’s “gloomy” view of the American Revolution, 1780

Creator: Alexander Hamilton Curriculum Subjects: Government and Civics Grade Levels:
Alexander Hamilton, John Trumbull Copy after: Giuseppe Ceracchi 1806

Hamilton’s Report on the Subject of Manufactures, 1791

Creator: Alexander Hamilton Curriculum Subjects: Economics, Government and Civics Grade Levels:
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Multimedia

"One Last Time" from Hamilton

Speaker(s): Lin-Manuel Miranda, Christopher Jackson, Sydney James Harcourt, and Ian Weinberger

Alexander Hamilton

Speaker(s): Ron Chernow

Alexander Hamilton, American

Speaker(s): Richard Brookhiser
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