In Brief

Who was Alexander Hamilton?

Meet the man behind the musical - a Founding Father, revolutionary economist and a pivotal US politician

Alexander Hamilton, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, has drawn a lot of attention since the musical Hamilton became a hit. But who was he and why is he so cherished by Americans?

When was he born?

Hamilton's date of birth is not clear. He is understood to have been born on the Caribbean island of Nevis, then part of the British West Indies, on 11 January but it is unsure if that was in 1755 or 1757. Hamilton claimed the latter, but official documents from Nevis records the year as 1755.

He was technically an illegitimate child as his mother was estranged from her husband when she gave birth. 

What did he do?

Hamilton's achievements are vast and varied. After moving to the Thirteen Colonies - the British-controlled territories that would later become the US - he fought in the Revolutionary War and became General George Washington's right-hand man, putting him in pole position to help shape the future of the newly founded country. 

Washington chose Hamilton to be the first secretary of the treasury and he played an instrumental role in forging the country's financial system. He was also an outspoken critic of the Articles of Confederation, the country's first constitution, and proposed redrafting and replacing it with the current form.

In addition, Hamilton was famously vehement in his anti-slavery stance: along with fellow Founding Father John Jay, he led the New York Manumission Society that would eventually oversee the abolition of slavery in New York.

What is his legacy?

Hamilton is one of the lesser-known Founding Fathers and his legacy is complex. Although his pro-constitution and abolition stances are widely regarded as greatly beneficial to the founding of the modern-day US, some of his ideas were at odds with many other staples of contemporary philosophy.

He was strongly aligned with the concept of "big government", which dictates that federal control is essential to a functional country, with which many modern Americans disagree. 

He was also "avowedly elitist," says The Guardian, "and supported the idea of a president for life – while his expansion of the federal government prompted the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794, which he brutally suppressed."

In spite of this, thanks to his relative obscurity, there has been little outright criticism of Hamilton. He tends to fall under the blanket praise received by the Founding Fathers and his image graces the $10 bill.

His legacy has been brought into the spotlight over the past year with the Broadway musical based on his life. Hamilton: An American Musical, which was inspired by Ron Chernow's 2004 biography Alexander Hamilton and features music by Lin-Manuel Miranda, has received rave reviews from critics and audiences alike.

It will soon come to London's Victoria Palace Theatre and tickets are expected to be in high demand.

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