In celebration of the upcoming movie version of the musical Hamilton, we are highlighting two Hamilton-related documents from the National Archives holdings.
One of my favorite documents, and timely for Independence Day, is Alexander Hamilton’s Oath of Allegiance during the Revolutionary War.
Hamilton famously served as George Washington’s aide-de-camp for much of the war, including for most of the time the Continental Army camped at Valley Forge from December 1777 to June 1778. In February 1778, to ensure loyalty, Congress passed a resolution requiring all officers of the army take an oath of allegiance. Hamilton—and many other officers, including George Washington himself—signed their oaths while at Valley Forge in May 1778.
Keep in mind the Army was coming out of the terrible winter at Valley Forge, and Congress could barely afford to feed, clothe, and supply the men with arms and ammunition. Nonetheless, Congress still wanted them to fill out and sign these pre-printed forms and send them back. To paraphrase my colleague Trevor Plante, the bureaucracy was always with us.
The document itself is quite a mouthful too:
I, Alexander Hamilton Lieutenant Colonel and Aide De Camp to His Excellency The commander in Chief, do acknowledge the UNITED STATES of AMERICA, to be Free, Independent and Sovereign States, and declare that the people thereof owe no allegiance or obedience to George the Third, King of Great-Britain; and I renounce, refuse and abjure any allegiance or obedience to him; and I do swear that I will to the utmost of my power, support, maintain and defend the said United States, against the said King George the Third, his heirs and successors and his or their abettors, assistants and adherents, and will serve the said United States in the office of Aide De Camp which I now hold, with fidelity, according to the best of my skill and understanding.
It’s interesting to note he didn’t sign it “Alexander” but instead simply “Alex.” The handwritten words are also Alex’s handwriting, and it was signed by Major General William Alexander, Lord Stirling, as the witness.
After the scrappy Continental Army won the war, the new nation was governed by the Articles of Confederation. However, the Articles proved insufficient, and in 1787 a new Constitution was written and ratified in 1788 (thanks in large part to Hamilton’s collaboration with James Madison and John Jay on The Federalist Papers—but that is another story).
States then held elections for Congress and the President with the new government set to meet in New York City in spring 1789. After convening, Congress and the newly elected President, George Washington, had to build a whole new government using the Constitution as a blueprint.
Congress began passing legislation to do things like establish new government departments and the courts, raise revenue, and—in the very first law they passed—to require oaths of office!
President George Washington then had to appoint his cabinet, in addition to many, many other officials he had to nominate for various positions that required Senate approval.
On September 11, 1789, Washington nominated Hamilton as first Secretary for the Department of the Treasury. The Senate unanimously confirmed the appointment that very same day. The document was handwritten by Washington’s personal secretary, Tobias Lear, and signed by the President.
As Secretary of Treasury, Hamilton laid the financial foundation of the country. He remained in the position until 1795, when he resigned to resume his law practice. He was replaced by Oliver Wolcott, Jr., whose nomination for first Auditor of the Treasury can also be seen on the September 11, 1789, document.
Read these blog posts to learn more about Alex Hamilton: