For 20 years out of a life that was only 47 years long, this greatest of modern statesmen, the most consummate intellect produced in the Western world, served daily, weekly, monthly, in dealing with the concerns of the college which is ours and which we love.
... Here is record of a service patient, enduring, affectionate, to a struggling little college in this trading and commercial city, for whose affairs he could find time, amid all the great preoccupations of building a nation, defending the government, and organizing the national system of taxation and finance...
...I submit to you, gentlemen, that he has won a place in the affection and regard of Columbia which is in no ways adequately measured by his service to mankind in the larger sphere of action.
— President Nicholas Murray Butler CC 1882 in his tribute to Alexander Hamilton CC 1778, delivered at the Alexander Hamilton Award Dinner in 1924
Alexander Hamilton CC 1778 was born circa January 11, 1755 (or 1757) in St. Kitts and Nevis, the illegitimate child of James Hamilton, a Scottish trader, and Rachel Fawcett Lavien. After his father abandoned the family, Hamilton began working at 11, becoming an accounting clerk in St. Croix. In 1772, impressed by Hamilton’s quick learning abilities and intelligence, Hamilton’s boss sponsored the young clerk’s trip to the United States to attend school there. Hamilton began his preparation for college at a grammar school in New Jersey and enrolled in King’s College in 1774.
Education at King’s College
Hamilton’s enrollment at King’s College speaks to his astounding skills and intelligence. He wanted to be admitted to a university on his own terms — to be allowed to enroll in any class for which he was qualified and to graduate as soon as he had completed the minimum requirements. After being denied admission at Princeton because of his unorthodox request, Hamilton was admitted to King’s College under the proposed arrangement and subsequently assigned a special tutor.
Political Influence at King’s College
During his time at King’s College, Hamilton’s eloquence and genius took a political application as debates became more poised toward independence. While a sophomore at the College, Hamilton delivered an impromptu speech that passionately outlined the case of the colonies against Parliamentary injustices. He also became well-known for publishing a series of scathing yet reasoned responses to the Continental Congress that were published when Hamilton was only 18.
The Revolutionary War broke out before Hamilton graduated and he decided to join the forces on the battlefield, fighting alongside the Patriots. Thus began his military career, which included advising and assisting Gen. George Washington, as well as leading and participating in several battles, including the Battle of Yorktown.
Legal and Political Career
Hamilton left his post as adviser to study law and eventually established his own practice in New York. He became a well-known and sought-after lawyer in New York, and his involvement in politics made him a trusted political adviser. He co-wrote the Federalist Papers with James Madison and John Jay CC 1764, thus playing a central role in the ratification of the Constitution. From 1789 to 1795, Hamilton was the first secretary of the Treasury, appointed by Washington.
Restructuring the Newly Founded Columbia College
During the same years, Hamilton was a member of the Board of Trustees of the newly renamed Columbia College. King’s College had dissolved and the buildings were used for military purposes during the Revolutionary War. Beginning in November 1784, Hamilton served on several committees on Columbia's Board of Trustees that crafted a detailed outline of the new academic departments and faculty appointments. He assisted in analyzing Columbia College finances and budget allocations.
Serving Columbia Until His Death
Hamilton continued to eagerly and diligently participate in board meetings and serve Columbia for the next 20 years, up until his death in 1804 in a duel against Aaron Burr.