Alexander Hamilton: Portrait in Paradox

By John C. Miller | Go to book overview
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Congress and the Army

Home from the wars, Hamilton settled down to the study of law in the office of Colonel Robert Troup, a lifelong friend. Having attained a modicum of glory, he seemed to have put all such thoughts from his mind: "You cannot imagine," he confided to a friend, "how entirely domestic I am growing. I lose all my taste for the pursuits of ambition. I sigh for nothing but the company of my wife and baby." Securely enmeshed in these delightful domestic toils, he declared that he asked no more of life than a home, a family and a reasonably profitable law practice. 1

Yet the circle of Hamilton's felicity was not so easily drawn. Several times in his career, Hamilton tried to persuade himself that he could be happy and contented as a plain New York attorney, but on each occasion the goad of ambition and the necessity of saving the country propelled him into the thick of the political struggles of the day. In 1781, he could hardly fail to observe that neither the domestic hearth nor the law library was quite the place for a man who had just given six years of his life to the winning of American independence. For the country was not yet in a situation to admit of an exclusive devotion to the pursuit of happiness. Indeed, Hamilton was already beginning to ask himself whether independence would prove a blessing or a curse.

While Hamilton was savoring the pleasures of home and busying himself with getting on in the world, his letter to Robert Morris suddenly bore fruit. True, it was not a particularly juicy plum that dropped into Hamilton's lap, but it was one of the best at the disposal of the Superintendent of Finance. Hamilton was offered the post of Receiver of Continental Taxes for the State of New York.

Since Congress had no authority to lay and collect taxes--that was a privilege reserved exclusively to the sovereign states--Robert Morris appointed officials to receive the money collected by the states for the general government and to act as representatives of the Treasury in its dealings with the states. Although these duties seemed simple enough, Hamilton hesitated


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