Salena Zito

NEW YORK CITY – “The Grange” in Upper Manhattan is the only home that Alexander Hamilton ever owned.

Standing in front of it, an impeccably dressed elderly man says it’s hard to pin down exactly who Hamilton was.

“The one thing he wasn’t, was a politician,” said Steve Laise, an historian and park ranger who serves all of New York City’s national park sites. “But, oh, was he brilliant.”

Hamilton’s home, newly relocated after being squished between an apartment building and a church a block away, once was a 90-minute carriage ride from lower Manhattan. Over at Federal Hall, where the original Congress met and George Washington was inaugurated as president, Laise said most people think of Hamilton as having died in a duel and of imposing a tax that led to the Whiskey Rebellion.

“He felt that if our new country had to pay down its debt because of the costs of the Revolutionary War, well then, doggone it, everyone was going to pay,” explained Laise.

Hamilton and Washington (and a healthy-sized army) rode to Pennsylvania to show rebelling farmers that they meant business. It was an act of leadership that today’s politicians would be loath to consider – except, perhaps, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

As America’s first treasury secretary, Hamilton established a monetary system that still exists today, said Dr. Ronald Surmacz, a Duquesne University expert on American economic history. And he was “one of the primary authors of the Federalist Papers, the literary defense of the Constitution, and helped create parts of the Constitution.”

As such, Surmacz contends, Hamilton was as much a Founding Father, if not more so, than Jefferson, Madison, Adams or Franklin.

Despite preferring urban life to that of a farmer, Hamilton was the original self-made man.

Jefferson, so often described as a “man of the people,” was a plantation owner and, unlike Hamilton, a master politician.

Unlike Jefferson, Hamilton actually fought in the revolution – no “desk-jockey,” he – and was Washington’s most trusted lieutenant after Nathaniel Green.

Last week marked 220 years since Hamilton delivered his "Report on Manufactures" to Congress at Federal Hall. Two years in the making, it laid out a vision for a national economy based on immigrant labor, ingenuity, a vibrant manufacturing sector and agriculture resources.

Standing atop the stairs of Federal Hall where the iconic statue of George Washington overlooks the New York Stock Exchange, you can look right toward Wall Street and Broadway Avenue and see the Trinity Church graveyard where Hamilton was buried.

Salena Zito

Salena Zito is a political analyst, reporter and columnist.