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James Hamilton Governor of Pennsylvania - A Stan Klos Biography

Andrew Hamilton

 

HAMILTON, Andrew, lawyer, born in Scotland about 1676; died in Philadelphia, 4 August, 1741. His parentage and career in the Old World he seems to have kept secret, as well as his real name. At one time he was called Trent, nor is it known exactly at what date he began to use the name of Hamilton. In his address to the Pennsylvania assembly in 1739 he speaks of "liberty, the love of which as it first drew me to, so it constantly prevailed on me to reside in this Province, tho' to the manifest prejudice of my fortune." Probably Hamilton was his real name, but for private reasons he saw fit to discard it for a time. About 1697 he came to Accomac county, Virginia, where he obtained employment as steward of a plantation, and for a time kept a classical school, His marriage, while steward, with the widow of the owner of the estate is said to have brought him influential connections, and he began the practice of the law. Previous to 1716 Hamilton removed to Philadelphia, and in 1717 was made attorney-general of Pennsylvania. In March, 1721, he was called to the provincial council, and accepted on condition that his duties should not interfere with his practice. He resigned the office in 1724, and in 1727 was appointed prothonotary of the supreme court and recorder of Philadelphia. He was elected to the assembly from Bucks county in the same year, chosen speaker in 1729, and re-elected annually until his retirement in 1739, with the exception of a single year. Hamilton, in company with his son-in-law, Allen, purchased the ground now comprised within Independence square, Philadelphia, whereon to erect "a suitable building" to be used as a legislative hall, the assembly, prior to 1729, having met in a private residence. The state house, afterward Independence Hall, was not completed until subsequent to Hamilton's death, the conveyance to the province being made by his son. The crowning glory of Hamilton's professional career was his defence of John Peter Zenger in 1735, which he undertook without fee or reward. Zenger was a printer in New York city, and in his newspaper had asserted that judges were arbitrarily displaced, and new courts erected without consent of the legislature, by which trials by jury were taken away when a governor was so disposed. The attorney-general charged him with libel, and Zenger's lawyers, on objecting to the legality of the judge's commissions, were stricken from the list of attorneys. Fearing that the advocate, who had subsequently been appointed by the court, might be overawed by the bench, at the head of which was Chief-Justice De Lancey, a member of the governor's council, Hamilton voluntarily went to New York, and appeared in the case. He admitted the printing and publishing of the article, but advanced the doctrine, novel at that time, that the truth of the facts in the alleged libel could be set up as a defence, and that in this proceeding the jury were judges of both the law and the facts. The offer of evidence to prove the truth of Zenger's statements was rejected, but Hamilton then appealed to the jury to say from the evidence that they had met with in their daily lives that the contents of the defendant's article were not false. His eloquence secured a verdict of "not guilty." The people of New York and the other colonies hailed the result with delight, since it insured free discussion of the conduct of public men. Gouverneur Morris referred to Hamilton as "the day-star of the American Revolution," and the common council of New York passed a resolution thanking him for his services, and presented him with the freedom of the city. His fame spread to England, an account of the trial passing through four editions there within three months. Hamilton was for many years a trustee of the general loan-office, the province's agency for issuing paper money, and in 1737 was appointed judge of the vice-admiralty court, the only office he held at the time of his death.

--His son, James Hamilton, governor of Pennsylvania, born probably in Accomac county, Virginia, about 1710; died in New York city, 14 August, 1783, was made prothonotary of the supreme court of Pennsylvania, when his father resigned that office. He was elected to the provincial assembly in 1734, and re-elected five times. He was mayor of Philadelphia for a year from October, 1745, and on retiring from office departed from a custom that compelled the entertainment of the corporation at a banquet. Instead of this, Mayor Hamilton gave £150 toward the erection of a public building. His example was followed by succeeding mayors, until, in 1775, the sum was devoted to the erection of a city hall and court house. Hamilton became a member of the provincial council in 1746. He was residing in London in 1748, when he was commissioned by the sons of William Penn as lieutenant-governor of the province and territories. He resigned in 1754, and when the news of Indian outrages reached Philadelphia in the autumn of 1755, entered actively on the work of defence, and reported to the assembly that a chain of garrisoned forts and block houses was nearly completed from Delaware river to the Maryland line.

Hamilton was again deputy-governor in 1759-'63, and on the departure of John Penn he administered the government as president of the council until the arrival of Richard Penn, in October, 1771. Subsequently he was acting governor for the fourth time from 19 July till 30 August, 1773. He was made a prisoner on parole in 1777, and lived at Northampton during the occupation of Philadelphia by the British. Governor Hamilton took an active part in founding several public institutions of Philadelphia. He was for several years president of the board of trustees of the College of Philadelphia, and was also at the head of the Philosophical society, when it united with the Society for promoting useful knowledge. At the first election for president of the new organization, Hamilton and Benjamin Franklin were placed in nomination, and the latter was chosen.

 

 

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