Alexander Hamilton (1789-1795)

At the inauguration of the constitutional government in 1789 Alexander Hamilton (1757- 1804), George Washington's former military aide and a renowned financier, was appointed the first Secretary of the Treasury and thus he became the architect of the structure of the Department. Desirous of a strong, centrally controlled Treasury, Hamilton did constant battle with Thomas Jefferson, then Secretary of State, and Albert Gallatin, then a Congressman, over the amount of power the Department of the Treasury should be allowed to wield. He designed a Treasury Department for the collection and disbursing of public revenue, but also for the promotion of the economic development of the country.

Portrait of Alexander Hamilton.

Sec. Alexander Hamilton
"Caroline L. Ormes Ransom"
"Oil on canvas"
"72 x 52 1/2 x 3""

Facing a chaotic treasury burdened by the heavy debt of the Revolutionary War, Hamilton's first interest when he took office was the repayment of the war debt in full. "The debt of the United States ... was the price of liberty,'' he affirmed, and he then put into effect, during 1790 and 1791, a revenue system based on customs duties and excise taxes. Hamilton's attack on the debt helped secure the confidence and respect of foreign nations. He introduced plans for the First Bank of the United States, established in 1791 which was designed to be the financial agent of the Treasury Department. The Bank served as a depository for public funds and assisted the Government in its financial transactions. The First Bank issued paper currency, used to pay taxes and debts owed to the Federal Government.

Hamilton also introduced plans for a United States Mint. Though he wanted the Mint to be a structural part of the Treasury, he lost the battle to Jefferson and it was established in 1792 within the State Department. The Mint became an independent agency in 1797 and was eventually transferred to Treasury in 1873. Under personal financial pressure, his office paying only $3500 a year, Hamilton resigned in 1795 and joined the New York bar. He kept in close contact with President Washington, however, and continued to give financial advice to his successor, Oliver Wolcott. Hamilton was killed in 1804 in a duel with Aaron Burr arising from a political dispute.

About the Artist

Caroline L. Ormes Ransom (1838 - 1910) was a portrait and landscape painter born in Newark, Ohio in 1838. She moved to New York City to study with Asher B. Durand and Daniel Huntington, and later she studied with Wilhelm von Kaulbach in Munich where she made many copies of old masters. After working in Ohio and New York, she settled in Washington, D.C. and opened a studio at 915 F Street. Her painting of Alexander Hamilton, a copy of John Trumbull's contemporary portrait which hangs in New York's City Hall, was painted on commission for the Treasury Department. "My Hamilton portrait is a success," she wrote to Mrs. James A. Garfield, ''in so far as a faithful copy is concerned...while in execution and strength it far surpasses the original.... I cannot make tame spiritless pictures any more than I can play the role of a tame spiritless woman, and my copies are not exceptions."