A Biography of Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804)

Atty. Alexander Hamilton, Esq.

As soon as the British evacuated New York City, Hamilton moved his wife and baby Philip to a house on 57 Wall St., and began his law practice in an office next door.

Hamilton was soon busy representing loyalists under the Trespass and Confiscation Acts, which, respectively, enabled patriots who fled the city to sue loyalists who had occupied their property in the interim for rent and damages, and refused loyalists the return of property confiscated during the war. Hamilton's reasons for defending loyalists were many, and consistent with his vision for the future of the United States.

One of the provisions of the Treaty of Paris was a pact that neither the United States nor Britain would persecute citizens who had taken the opposite side in the war. So, clearly, New York's anti-loyalist laws were a flagrant violation of an international treaty. Hamilton understood that continuing enforcement of the acts might precipitate a reaction by England, whose troops still occupied some outposts in western New York. In addition, he considered the implications on national character: "Do we think national character so light a thing as to be willing to sacrifice the public faith to individual animosity?" He asked Governor Clinton. Is restoration of property and protection of all citizens equally too much to ask considering the concessions given by Great Britain?

Hamilton was coming under fire for his defense of Tories. To further explain his position, and to conjure compliance with the treaty, Hamilton published his "Letters from Phocion." In the first letter, he exhorted the people of New York to build, not waste their time venting their resentments: "Instead of wholesome regulations for the improvement of our polity and commerce; we are labouring to contrive methods to mortify and punish Tories and to explain away treaties." To conclude his second letter, Hamilton eloquently reminded his readers of the scope of their responsibility as citizens of a new nation:

"The world has its eye upon America. The noble struggle we have made in the cause of liberty, has occasioned a kind of revolution in human sentiment. The influence of our example has penetrated the gloomy regions of despotism . . . If the consequences prove, that we really have asserted the cause of human happiness, what may not be expected from so illustrious an example? In a greater or less degree, the world will bless and imitate!"
In addition to treaty considerations, Hamilton decried the mass exodus of loyalists from the United States. Along with them, many of whom were merchants, went their much needed capital.

Hamilton tried upwards of seventy cases under the New York anti-loyalist laws, the most famous being the landmark Rutgers vs. Waddington case, which brought him an important victory introducing the supremacy of federal laws and treaties over state laws. Hamilton's efforts in support of loyalists' rights gained him a reputation as a resourceful yet controversial attorney.