Founding Brothers

by

Joseph J. Ellis

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Alexander Hamilton Character Analysis

Alexander Hamilton was born out of wedlock on the island of Nevis in the West Indies. He rose to prominence through his role in the Revolutionary War. The founder of the Federalist Party, Hamilton served as Secretary of the Treasury under George Washington. Hamilton was the main champion of the Federalist cause, and led the campaign for the assumption of state debts. Ellis portrays him as a man of exceptional ambition and talent who made many enemies, including John Adams and Aaron Burr. Hamilton’s history of undermining Burr culminated in Burr inviting him to a duel. Burr shot and killed Hamilton, probably unintentionally. Hamilton’s funeral was an “extravaganza of mourning,” and he was memorialized as a martyr of the Federalist cause.

Alexander Hamilton Quotes in Founding Brothers

The Founding Brothers quotes below are all either spoken by Alexander Hamilton or refer to Alexander Hamilton. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
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). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Vintage edition of Founding Brothers published in 2002.
Chapter 1 Quotes

Strictly speaking, Hamilton’s concession should have been the end of it. Affairs of honor were supposed to involve only personal charges. Political or ideological disagreements, no matter how deep, lay outside the field of honor on which a gentleman could demand satisfaction. Hamilton’s distinction between personal and political criticism was designed to change the dispute with Burr from an affair of honor to a political difference of opinion.

Related Characters: Aaron Burr, Alexander Hamilton
Page Number: 34
Explanation and Analysis:

The hyperbolic tone of Hamilton’s anti-Burr comments derived not so much from intense personal dislike per se as from his intense fear that the precarious condition of the infant nation rendered it so vulnerable to Burr’s considerable talents. Burr embodied Hamilton’s daring and energy run amok in a political culture still groping for its stable shape.

Related Characters: Aaron Burr, Alexander Hamilton
Page Number: 45
Explanation and Analysis:
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Alexander Hamilton Character Timeline in Founding Brothers

The timeline below shows where the character Alexander Hamilton appears in Founding Brothers. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Preface: The Generation
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...assertion of liberty against European corruption, which was then corrupted by the Federalists (especially Alexander Hamilton). A different school highlights the origins of the Revolution further back, and proposes that its... (full context)
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...prominent political leaders” of the time: Abigail and John Adams, Aaron Burr, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Washington. The book focuses on a series of episodes... (full context)
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...except for the first one, which portrays the fatal duel between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton. This appears first in the book because it introduces the themes of the book well.... (full context)
Chapter 1: The Duel
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A basic summary of the duel between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton states that both men shot each other, and that Hamilton was fatally wounded, dying the... (full context)
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...clothes. His “devoted disciple and protégé, William Van Ness, accompanied him to the duel.  Alexander Hamilton, meanwhile, was accompanied by his doctor along with his “loyal associate,” Nathaniel Pendleton. Hamilton’s military... (full context)
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Hamilton was born on Nevis, an island in the West Indies. He approached political problems as... (full context)
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...the duel was to take place around 7:00 in the morning, followed shortly after by Hamilton. Dueling was illegal in New York, so the event had to be called an “interview,”... (full context)
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Hamilton was allowed to choose which position to stand in and chose a poor one, in... (full context)
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As Hamilton was being taken home, he advised those around him to be careful with his pistol,... (full context)
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...though the whole thing was illegal). Pendleton and Van Ness agreed that both Burr and Hamilton fired their weapons, and that a few seconds passed between the shots. Yet according to... (full context)
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Van Ness confidently testified that Hamilton shot first, and that it seemed as if Burr was hit, when in fact, Burr... (full context)
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Ellis’ own interpretation is that Hamilton fired his gun on purpose and did so first, aiming to miss Burr. Burr, not... (full context)
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Stepping back, what led Burr to challenge Hamilton to the duel in the first place? The two men had a long history of... (full context)
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Pendleton got involved, and encouraged Hamilton to make an apology in which Hamilton clarified that all of his criticisms were of... (full context)
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At the 1804 Independence Day dinner held by the Society of Cincinnati, Hamilton and Burr sat at the same table. While Burr was gloomy and quiet, Hamilton was... (full context)
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Hamilton likely didn’t think he was going to die in the duel, but the invitation nonetheless... (full context)
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Hamilton and Burr had been undermining one another’s political ambitions since 1789. Yet Burr was not... (full context)
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It is hard to know if Hamilton’s accusations were justified, as Burr had a habit of giving vague answers and destroying his... (full context)
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There were some similarities between Hamilton and Burr’s personalities, insofar as they were both talented, energetic, and ambitious. In fact, Hamilton’s... (full context)
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Hamilton’s reaction to Burr may have seemed paranoid and extreme, but that is because we, unlike... (full context)
Chapter 2: The Dinner
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In June 1790, Thomas Jefferson ran into Alexander Hamilton by chance outside George Washington’s office. Jefferson wrote that he remembered Hamilton looking “dejected beyond... (full context)
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According to Jefferson, at the dinner James Madison agreed that Hamilton’s proposal regarding the assumption of the state debts should be brought to the House again,... (full context)
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...the nickname “Father of the Constitution.” Following this, he co-wrote The Federalist Papers with Alexander Hamilton. After further political victories, he drafted the Bill of Rights and successfully passed it in... (full context)
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In 1790, the truly “great collaboration” was between Madison and Hamilton following their work together on The Federalist Papers. At this moment in time, Jefferson and... (full context)
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...his first legislative failure after so much success. After, there was a debate about assumption. Hamilton’s plan was to have the federal government take on state debts; Madison criticized this plan... (full context)
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Hamilton, meanwhile, was headstrong, determined, and hyper-productive during this period. He argued that Madison’s critiques of... (full context)
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Hamilton was not afraid of copying the financial institutions of England in order to stimulate economic... (full context)
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...the dinner party, admitted that he didn’t understand the issues under discussion as well as Hamilton and Madison did. Jefferson had just returned from five years in France, was dealing with... (full context)
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...hated partisanship and was “endlessly polite and accommodating”—hence his eagerness to facilitate a discussion between Hamilton and Madison. Moreover, Jefferson’s time abroad made him aware that the United States needed to... (full context)
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...made agriculture subordinate to business. It was clear that there was a threat of secession. Hamilton confided in John Jay about his fears of the republic breaking apart, but did not... (full context)
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...that Jefferson and Madison were working together again after five years. Together, they responded to Hamilton’s fiscal program by taking control of the federal government (rather than abandoning it). (full context)
Chapter 4: The Farewell
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...about the legacy of the Revolution being corrupted (as was revealed through his opposition to Hamilton’s financial plan). His suspicion of urban financial elites turned into a “full-blooded conspiracy theory.” Washington... (full context)
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The writing of the Farewell Address was a joint effort between Madison, Hamilton, and Washington. Madison had previously assisted Washington in writing a valedictory address in 1792, and... (full context)
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Washington and Hamilton continued to send drafts back and forth to each other for another month. Hamilton was... (full context)
Chapter 5: The Collaborators
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...England supported him and the South supported Jefferson. Yet he was furious that, thanks to Hamilton’s support, a Federalist called Thomas Pinckney from South Carolina had a chance of winning. Adams... (full context)
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...delegation alienated him from the Federalist party. He likely did it in part to undermine Hamilton’s goal of leading troops into battle against the French. He had also received information from... (full context)
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...election than many expected, he still lost to Jefferson and Burr. Just before the election, Hamilton published a pamphlet accusing Adams of being unfit for office. Adams was surprisingly unbothered by... (full context)
Chapter 6: The Friendship
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...go of his political grievances and bitterness toward his enemies. Adams was especially resentful of Hamilton and Jefferson. In 1804, Jefferson’s youngest daughter died in childbirth, and Abigail decided to write... (full context)