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For Hamilton's Birthday, 11 Things You Didn't Know

National Portrait Gallery

Teddy Roosevelt was a huge Hamilton fanboy

Alexander Hamilton is probably the most talked about of the American founding fathers right now, eclipsing perennial favorites like George Washington and Ben Franklin, due to the popularity of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hit Broadway musical “Hamilton,” which won eleven Tony Awards in 2016. Most of us know know that Hamilton died in a duel, and we recognize his face from the ten dollar bill. And those who've seen the show know a lot more than that about the details of his life. But Miranda couldn’t include everything. Here are 11 facts about Hamilton – born Jan. 11, 1757 – that even the musical’s most die-hard fan may not know.

1. Though he was born in the Caribbean, Alexander Hamilton could have run for president, and there would have been no chance of an 18th-century birther scandal. The U.S. Constitution includes an exemption to the requirement that the president be a natural born citizen: “No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President.” As a U.S. citizen at the time the Constitution was adopted, Hamilton fits the loophole.

2. Hamilton’s death was not his first brush with dueling. Before his fatal encounter with Aaron Burr, he had been involved in at least ten honor disputes as either the challenger or the challenged, though they had all been settled before any shots were fired (as most were at that time). 

3. Hamilton was a newspaperman who established a newspaper that is still around today. In 1801, he founded the New York Evening Post, now known as the New York Post. He used the paper’s editorial page to promote his Federalist views and to denounce the positions of Jefferson’s Democratic Republicans, often dictating his columns verbatim to the paper’s editor, William Coleman.

4. Though essay writing got him off the island of St. Croix, he was also a poet. He wrote love sonnets to Elizabeth Schuyler while he was wooing her, one of which she kept in a locket she wore for years, and his “Poem on the Death of Elias Boudinot’s Child” was a beautiful memorial for a friend’s 2-year-old daughter, Maria, who had passed away. It read in part:

“Let reason silence nature’s strife,
“And weep Maria’s fate no more;
“She’s safe from all the storms of life,
“And Wafted to a peacefull Shore.”

5. When Hamilton became a lawyer following the American Revolution, he did so in quite a remarkable way. He did not attend law school, nor did he apprentice under an experienced lawyer, as was also common at the time. Instead, he spent just six months in 1782 essentially learning the material from scratch, and then passed a rigorous bar exam.

6. Some scholars claim that Hamilton may have been gay or bisexual, and that he had a secret relationship with fellow revolutionary John Laurens. The two were without question quite close friends who wrote many letters to each other. The language in some of these letters can be interpreted as referencing an intimate relationship. “I wish, my Dear Laurens,” Hamilton wrote in one letter, “it were in my power, by actions rather than words, to convince you that I love you.”

7. Hamilton helped create the United States’ first political party. Those who agreed with Hamilton’s calls for a national bank, strong federal government and good relations with the British formed an unofficial bloc of legislators and other politicians that formally became the Federalist Party in the early 1790s. The Thomas Jefferson-led Democratic-Republicans organized to oppose the Federalist agenda, and the country’s first two-party dynamic was in place. The party began to falter after Hamilton’s death in 1804, and, except for John Marshall’s Supreme Court, had disappeared from politics by 1820.

8. At the age of 18, Hamilton and a group of his fellow King’s College students joined the Hearts of Oak, a New York militia. A year later, Hamilton was elected captain of the militia, and turned it into a more professional military unit, in part by stealing matériel from the British. When George Washington brought Hamilton into his the Continental Army as Lieutenant Colonel, the Hearts of Oak came with him. The unit persists to this day, now known as Battery D, 1st Battalion, 5th Field Artillery, 1st Infantry Division (Mechanized), and is the oldest unit in the U.S. Army.

9. President Theodore Roosevelt was a huge fan of Alexander Hamilton, and the two were distant cousins. Roosevelt read Frederick Scott Oliver’s "Alexander Hamilton, An Essay on The American Union" while president, discussing it with legislators and members of his administration, and praised Hamilton as “the most brilliant American statesman who ever lived, possessing the loftiest and keenest intellect of his time.” If Teddy were around today, he’d certainly be in the front row on Broadway, silently mouthing along with every line.

10. Hamilton, who was a close friend of George Washington’s after serving him in the Revolutionary War and in his cabinet, ultimately had the honor of receiving the last last letter Washington wrote. Just two days before his death in 1799, Washington penned a note encouraging Hamilton’s plan to establish a national military academy. It read in part, “I sincerely hope that […] the reasons for its establishment, which you have so clearly pointed out in your letter to the Secretary, will prevail upon the Legislature to place it upon a permanent and respectable footing.”

11. Hamilton helped found not only the United States but also the city of Paterson, New Jersey. As a charter member of the Society for Establishing Useful Manufactures, a group that pushed for industrialization in the nation’s early days, Hamilton raised money and helped organize the planning of the United States’ first planned industrial city, establishing it at a location in New Jersey where the power of the Great Falls of the Passaic River could be harnessed for mills and other uses. The city, designed by Washington, D.C. planner Pierre Charles L'Enfant, was later named for New Jersey governor William Paterson.

And if you don’t know, now you know.