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Edward D. Reuss
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In his Farewell Speech to the Nation,  outgoing President George W. Bush declared:

At the same time, we must continue to engage the world with confidence and clear purpose. In the face of threats from abroad, it can be tempting to seek comfort by turning inward. But we must reject isolationism and its companion, protectionism. Retreating behind our borders would only invite danger. In the 21st century, security and prosperity at home depend on the expansion of liberty abroad. If America does not lead the cause of freedom, that cause will not be led.”

President George W. Bush,  January 15, 2009


Those words are very telling about the direction which our economic future is headed.  Terms such as “free trade” and “fair trade” are little understood by the man in the street..   The Economic Professors in our institutions of learning lecture our future Captains of Industry on the merits of globlization and the dangers of protectionism. 

I wonder if those professors of economics ever have their students study the words and deeds of one of our Founding Fathers, Alexander Hamilton?  Perhaps a review of the record of the History of these United States of America will be helpful?

Alexander Hamilton.  His picture is on the $10.00 bill. At least for the time being.

He was born on a small island in the West Indies.  History considers him as the illegitimate son of a Scotsman named James Hamilton.   His father abandoned him and his mother who died at a young age.  As a young teenager, he obtained employment on St. Croix with an importing business that had ties to New York in the American Colonies.   He quickly showed his abilities to the owners and his skill in writing were also noted.  

Hamilton learned about the problems with  the currency exchange required in the importation and exportation of goods.  In the 18th Century, the West Indies became the major location for such trade.  British, French, Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish, as well as Danish coins were used to pay for such goods.  What was the currency exchange rate for these coins?  Who determined that?    At an early age,  Alexander Hamilon experienced the difficulties involved in these economic problems.  He also witnessed the horrors of slavery on those islands. He would ultimately become a fierce advocate of the abolition of the slave trade and end of the Institution of Slavery. 

His employers recognized the talents of the  Alexander Hamilton. They arranged for him to travel to the American Colonies to be educated.  Luckily for us,  he was sent to the Colony of New York.  First, he was enrolled in a school in Elizabethtown, New Jersey where he was educated in the liberal arts including Latin and Greek.  While a boy in the West Indies,  he was already fluent in French.  He would study law in Kings College.  Kings College would eventually become Columbia University. The idea of a break with the British Crown became obvious to Hamilton.   His political sympathies lay with those who would become the leaders of the American Revolution. 

In April 1775, with the outbreak of hostilities at Lexington and Concord,  Hamilton knew where his future destiny would be. His experiences in the West Indies included duties with the citizen militia.   The landowners of those islands always feared servile insurrections by the thousands of slaves that toiled under the lash of their taskmasters.  Such fears led to the training of the europeans in military skills.  The young Hamilton saw the evils of slavery and would someday he would be a leader in the Manumission movement.  During the war years he would write to John Jay advocating the enlistment of slaves as soldiers.   (This would not endear him to certain leaders in the slave states of the South).  The little military training that Hamilton received enabled him to see the value of artillery in 18th Century warfare.   With the spread of the American Rebellion and the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776,  Hamilton formed an artillery battery in his adopted New York.   The soldiers under his command lacked the training and experience required, but they would become veterans under the most trying conditions.

The British Fleet arrived with over 30,000 British and German troops in Gravesend Bay in New York Harbor.  After a short time to supply that force, they crossed to the Brooklyn side of the Narrows and proceeded to engage the inexperienced American Army in what would the Battle of Long Island.   The professional British Army mauled the patriots in a pell-mell rout.   Rear guard actions by the Delaware and Maryland Continentals tried to stem the retreat at the Gowanus Creek, but the bayonet charges of the redcoats drove all opposition before them.  Washington’s small Army was nearly surrounded with their backs to the East River.    

The British Commanders would refer to Washington as “The Fox”.   They did so in a condescending manner.  British Commanders were members of the British Aristocracy whose pastimes included foxhunts on their landed estates.  To be referred to as a “fox” by such men was not meant to be a compliment.  However, Washington was indeed cunning as a fox when he conducted an amphibious evacuation of his troops across the East River to Manhattan. He instructed his soldiers to build fires to deceive the proud and overconfident British.  One of the regiments of the American Army included seamen from Marblehead and Salem Massachusetts.  These seamen assembled as many small boats as they could and the troops were ferried over to the Manhattan side. What was truly miraculous was the fact that a heavy fog covered the movements of the boats.  During the night,  the British were preparing to destroy the American Army that they believed to be trapped with the river at their backs. With the dawn,  the British were to get their first lesson from “The Fox” when they found the abandoned works of the American Army.    The British warships in the harbor weren’t able to sail up against the swift current of the East River.   They had to wait until favorable winds enabled them to navigate north in pursuit of the Americans. 

The Americans retreated rapidly north on Manhattan Island.   British troops were able to land and pursued the patriot army.  Washington belatedly realized that New York City was not good ground to conduct a campaign.  He knew that his small army could be trapped on the island of Manhattan, so his only hope was to the north. 

However, the British Infantry still pursued the patriots on Manhattan.   At one point in the withdrawal of the Americans, in what would someday be called the Battle of Harlem Heights,  Washington would watch in frustration as his troops fled before the British regulars.    In the chaos and confusion of the retreating patriots, he noticed a boyish looking captain of artillery making a stand with his field pieces. He was directing the placement of the guns and firing into the oncoming British troops.    That Captain was Alexander Hamilton.  In that critical time, for General George Washington,  that was an action he would not soon forget. 

The British would defeat the Americans in New York City.   The British and Hessian regulars would take the last bastion at Fort Washington on the Hudson River side of Manhattan opposite Fort Lee, New Jersey.  Washington would fight a rear guard action into White Plains and would cross safely over the Hudson into “the Jerseys”. 

The Americans would then be pursued by the victorious British and Hessians south through the Jerseys to Trenton.  As the weather turned colder, they were able to get to relative safety across the Delaware River into Pennsylvania.  They had been defeated in every action with the British and they had little food or equipment.  They had no winter clothing to speak of.  There were only a few thousand of them left as the year 1776 was drawing to a close.   But, they were the “winter soldiers” that Thomas Paine had called for.

Opposite them in the New Jersey town of Trenton, hundreds of German merceneries were comfortable in their winter quarters.  Most of them came from Hesse in Germany and were known as “Hessians” in the Americas.  Washington’s small army was in a desperate condition.  As Christmas approached,  a battalion of German-American patriots under the command of Colonel Nicholas Hausegger came into Washington’s camp.   It wouldn’t hurt to have German speaking patriots on hand during any fighting with the Hessians.

Washington needed a miracle to save his army.  The fact that the Germans in Trenton would be celebrating Christmas in their usual traditions could be that possible miracle.  The English colonists observed Christmas in a quiet manner.  The Germans would eat and drink their beer in noisy good spirits.   Would they be on their guard as they slept off their beer? 

The rest is history. Washington ordered an attack to be launched across the Delaware River on the evening of December 25, 1776.  At eleven that night, his troops embarked in small Durham boats manned by those same Massachusetts seamen from Marblehead and Salem.   They crossed the icy river in biting sleet as they tried their best to keep their gunpowder dry and their weapons in firing condition.   As the Germans in Trenton slept in their warm quarters, the Americans reached the Jersey side of the Delaware and began their trek in deep snows.   Many of the soldiers had no footwear and wrapped their feet in cloths.  Among those struggling troops was the boyish looking Captain of New York Artillery, Alexander Hamilton.  As the dawn light appeared over Trenton, the Americans attacked the town and killed and captured the entire garrison.   Hamilton used his guns to good effect in that battle.    Within a few days, Hamilton would prove himself again under fire at the Battle of Princeton. His guns would fire into Nassau Hall on the grounds of Princeton University as the British used that building as a stable.  Shortly after those battles, Washington would take his army into the Jerseys again and into winter quarters in Morristown.  It was during that winter, that Washington grew to know and respect   Alexander Hamilton.  He appointed Hamilton as his aide-de-camp with the rank of Colonel.  
The General discovered that Hamilton not only was a brave soldier, but was a gifted writer.  Hamilton also was fluent in French.   In communicating with Congress in Philadelphia, Washington needed to have someone with the ability to communicate with the only central authority in the newly formed United States of America.  Washington depended on Congress for supplies and support for the Continental Line.  The Continental troops were volunteers who by now had become experienced veterans.  They received their pay from the Congress.  As the war would drag on for seven long years, Washington and Hamilton would experience the problems of a weak central government.  With little power to levy taxes on the thirteen states,  nor to supply the Continental Army with the logistical support needed to conduct a protracted war,  Congress was not able to give Washington the help he needed to defeat the most powerful army in the world.  Due to lack of such support, the Continental Line would go unpaid for long period of time.  It got to the point that mutiny by those same troops would threaten the war effort.

Hamilton had a front row seat during the war.  He suffered the defeats and hardships of the American Army during those trying years.   The Battles of Brandywine and Germantown in Pennsylvania were low points of the war.   He saw how opponents of Washington in the Congress sought to replace him with others.   Another miracle of sorts occurred when the patriots went into winter quarters in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania.   During that  winter, when many of the Continental troops were sick and  discouraged, a rotund German volunteer named Baron Friedrich Von Steuben arrived in the depths of that desperate winter. The Baron proceeded to train the Continental Army in Prussian tactics and drill with the bayonet.  Within a few months, he transformed the American troops into a force that would match the British and Hessian Regulars in open battle.   Von Steuben spoke only German and French.  To assist him in the training of the Continentals, Washington had Alexander Hamilton translate the French to the troops being trained. .

                                                   Statue of Von Steuben at Valley Forge

In the Spring of 1778, the Continental  Army acquitted itself on the battleground at the Battle of Monmouth.  For the first time,  the American Continental Line clashed with British Regulars in battle formation and defeated that army on equal terms.   Colonel Alexander Hamilton was wounded and shot from his horse during this engagement.  It is interesting to note that the British would choose not to fight such a battle again in the Northern Theatre for the remainder of the War.   They would change their plans to the Southern Colonies. 


Copyright 2009 Edward D. Reuss

NOTE:  It is a curious historical fact that there is no noteworthy monument to the memory of Alexander Hamilton.   As one of the Founding Fathers of our Nation, he surely deserves to be honored in such a fashion.   Here in New York City, his home,  “The Grange” is now being restored to its former glory by the US National Park Service in St. Nicholas Park in Manhattan.     The park once comprised his farm until his death in the duel with Aaron Burr.  A website is online with updates on the progress of the restoration of his home.

The home of Alexander Hamilton in poor condition now being restored by the US National Park Service

Hamilton’s grave is in the Trinity Churchyard at Broadway and Wall Street.   He lies in a humble grave with his wife Elizabeth.   His death in a duel of honor with Aaron Burr ended the life of one of our greatest patriots.

Copyright © 2009 Edward D. Reuss


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