Four American Patriots  by Alma Holman Burton

The First Secretary of the Treasury

The people of the United States had now much to do. There were the Congressmen to be elected in all the states, and there were electors to be chosen to name a President.

George Washington, the hero of the Revolution, was elected President.

New York was made the capital; and when Washington stood on the balcony of the city hall to take the oath of office, Hamilton stood by his side, among other distinguished men.

When Chancellor Livingston exclaimed, "Long live George Washington, President of the United States!" cocked hats were tossed in the air, handkerchiefs fluttered, and above all waved the new flag of the Union, while thousands of voices shouted that the government had begun.

Soon the President asked Robert Morris: "What is to be done about this immense war debt of the United States?"

The great financier replied: "There is but one man in the United States who can tell you, and that man is Alexander Hamilton."

And so, when Washington appointed his Cabinet, he made Hamilton Secretary of the Treasury.

As a member of the Cabinet, Hamilton had many social duties. He assisted at the President's levees and at the Friday evening receptions of "Lady Washington." The beauty and wit of the nation were there. The envoys from Europe stood about in brilliant uniforms; and the officers of the army and of the navy were there, with their swords and medals voted by Congress. But no man in all the throng was more observed than Alexander Hamilton.

He generally wore a blue coat, a white silk waist-coat, black trousers to the knee, and long, white silk stockings. His powdered hair was combed back and tied in a cue. Although below middle size, he was erect and dignified. His brow was lofty, his face was fair, his voice was musical, and his manner was frank and cordial.

But social duties were the least of Hamilton's duties. He was to restore the public credit at home and abroad and this must be done by raising money to pay the national debt.

Yet he knew very well that, if the people were taxed too much, they would rebel against the government.

At last he persuaded Congress to put a high tariff on imported wares, and a tax on whisky and a few other home products. Then he had to oversee the collecting of the public money, and to pay it out again on the national debt.

He proposed a National Bank, and, after much debate, the Bank of the United States was established at Philadelphia. Then he recommended a mint. There were few American coins. English, French, and Spanish coins were about all the money we had. Congress ordered a mint to melt gold, silver, and copper, and stamp it.

People began to feel very proud of their country when they read "The United States of America" on the shining pieces of money.

The nations of Europe soon treated the American flag with more respect. They said the Republic seemed like a young giant. But they said, too, that young giants stumbled more easily than anybody else. They would wait a while before they believed that the new government would be a permanent one.

Hamilton continued to labor in all the departments of his office. He suggested laws for navigation and the coasting trade. He established bureaus for the sale of the lands in the West. He founded the United States Post-office. He made a report on American manufactures, and urged a high tax on foreign manufactures to encourage the home products.

And while he was toiling day and night, enemies attacked his character. They said he had used public money to bribe men for votes. A committee investigated the treasury books, but found that every dollar was in its place.

Hamilton was then more popular than ever; and when Washington was elected President for a second term, Hamilton was again chosen Secretary of the Treasury.

In 1795 he resigned his office, and resumed the practice of law in New York city. He was only thirty-eight years old, yet he had served his country for nearly twenty years, and won the name of the "founder of the public credit."

Many years after, Daniel Webster said: "Hamilton smote the rock of the national resources, and abundant streams of revenue gushed forth. He touched the dead corpse of public credit, and it sprang upon its feet." Is not that high praise from a great orator to a great statesman?