“Learn from the past, prepare for the future, live in the present.”
– Thomas S. Monson
At GO Productivity, our focus is continuous improvement. But it isn’t just important to us, or the small and medium sized enterprises that we work with. In fact, it was extremely important to one of the forgotten founding fathers in American history. As the old saying goes “Those who don’t learn from history are bound to repeat the same mistakes.” However, there are some positive historical examples from which we can learn and prosper. One of these is the story of Alexander Hamilton, a case study in positive lessons from history, and a man who was never satisfied with “good enough” and always sought continuous improvement.
Despite having an incredibly popular Broadway musical, the story of Alexander Hamilton is often glossed over. This is because people such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson are most often seen as more influential figures in American history. As a result, Hamilton is not often recognized or rewarded for his accomplishments.
Alexander Hamilton was born an illegitimate child, orphaned on the Caribbean island of Nevis. He lived in poverty until age fourteen, and when he was seventeen, a hurricane destroyed what little he did have. Despite all this, he managed to escape the island and travel to the thirteen U.S. colonies to pursue a higher education. This was paid by an 18th century version of crowd-funding. Since he had little to no funds of his own, it was paid through money raised by the people of Nevis, who recognized Hamilton’s talents.
Once in America, he knew that he had a shot to make a difference in the world, and he was not going to throw it away. Alexander Hamilton was named George Washington’s aide-de-camp in 1777. He started as a low-level secretary. Through hard work and dedication, he rose through military ranks. He had his own battalion in the battle of Yorktown in 1781 during the war of independence, and then served as a General until the British surrender.
Most people would be satisfied with this life-time level of accomplishment. Not Hamilton, he knew that Americans had a country to create. This non-stop attitude of always striving for continuous improvement is one of the reasons why Alexander Hamilton was included in the 1787 Philadelphia Constitutional Convention proceedings.
Never the reluctant type, Hamilton spoke to the Conventions delegates for six hours, proposing his vision for the governance of the new United States of America, including the introduction of the idea of a “President”, and a version of his idea, as we know was accepted.
Then came the demands of writing the Constitution. There were many skeptics offering amendments or suggestions to scrape the ideal entirely. Hamilton was not among them. He believed in their Constitution, and in a collaboration of the willing, including a future president James Madison, he wrote a series of essays defending the Constitution.
Under Hamilton’s leadership, these men wrote a total of eighty-five essays in six months, known as “The Federalists Papers”, promoting the place and purpose of a Constitution. Three men contributed but it was Hamilton who stood out, personally writing fifty-one of the essays.
Their efforts were recognized and rewarded as the Constitution prevailed and the final document was ratified in Congress by in 1787 in a 30-0 vote, thanks to The Federalist Papers. George Washington was then named President who appointed Hamilton as his first Treasury Secretary. Hamilton’s vision started from scratch but included the creation the very first monetary fund, a national bank, and three of the first five publicly traded stock companies.
If there was ever a man to personally embody the word relentless, it would be Alexander Hamilton. What separated Hamilton from the rest of the brilliant minds of his day was the fact that he never stopped looking for improvements. He was an amazing innovator and created much of what future countries would use as a model for other governments to learn from. He wasn’t satisfied with the old currency system, so he invented a new one. He embodied the concept of continuous improvement. He was never satisfied with what he had accomplished, and continued to fight for what he believed right up to his death in 1804.
“Hamilton was the most brilliant American statesman who ever lived, possessing the loftiest and keenest intellect of his time” – Theodore Roosevelt.
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What a great post. Shows that thinking about a problem and looking at solutions and focusing on making things better are always a good path. He may not be recognized as much as others, but he left the world a better place than when he started. He was the change in the world that he wanted.