Book Article

Why Alexander Hamilton would make Bill Clinton blush

Ron Chernow's book spans the ex-president's illegitimate birth, womanizing, sex scandals, and the single bullet that killed him

A signer of the United States Constitution, coauthor of The Federalist Papers, and the first U.S. treasury secretary, Alexander Hamilton might have nabbed a bigger legacy than the $10 bill but for that ill-fated 1804 duel with longtime rival Aaron Burr. For those who can't fight through all 738 pages of Ron Chernow's Alexander Hamilton (Penguin Press, $35), we've shot off some highlights.

-- Born illegitimately, orphaned at 14, Hamilton attended King's College (now Columbia University) thanks to wealthy patrons.

-- Personally selected as George Washington's Continental Army aide-de-camp, ''Hammie'' later ghostwrote the first President's famous farewell address.

-- The father of eight was a serial womanizer whose 1791 affair with the married Maria Reynolds (who later blackmailed him) sparked America's first major sex scandal.

-- Hamilton's 19-year-old son, Philip, was killed in a duel in 1801. Like his father, Philip was shot above the right hip and chivalrously fired his weapon without aiming at his opponent.

-- When Burr's bullet entered his body, Hamilton knowingly exclaimed, ''I am a dead man.''

Originally posted Apr 30, 2004 Published in issue #762-763 Apr 30, 2004 Order article reprints