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Heroes of COS: The Alexander Hamilton Story

Published in Blog on October 18, 2023 by Jakob Fay

As Convention of States celebrates ten years of grassroots activism, we’re examining the lives of ten figures crucial to the Article V movement, including today’s hero: Alexander Hamilton. Read part 1 of this series here to learn more about our first hero, the Father of Article V, George Mason.

The short, 18-year-old boy could still picture the halls of King’s College. He could still envision the training, marching, drilling in the graveyard outside St. Paul’s Chapel. Ironically, his son, Phillip, would later be buried in that cemetery after being shot by George Eacker in a duel (the family, it seemed, had an unfortunate penchant for getting into duels). But of course, Alexander Hamilton could not have known that on August 23, 1775, as he and his fellow King’s students crept quietly toward the HMS Asia, an imposing, 64-gun British battleship. Tonight, all their training—all those hours at St. Paul’s—would be put to the test; the Hearts of Oak, as they called themselves, would prove themselves—or die trying.

“[U]ncommonly handsome,” Hamilton, despite his youth, was already well acquainted with the colonial cause for independence. An eloquent and well-reasoned student at King’s, he had distinguished himself as a powerful voice for independence, giving speeches and publishing broadly read political papers. When war broke out, he did not hesitate to join the school’s student militia. He wore the words “Liberty or Death” on his hat. He had not yet seen combat.

SEE ALSO: 'To prevent our becoming slaves': The George Mason story

Late August 23, Hamilton and his fellow Hearts of Oak soldiers finally received the order to take action they had longed for: they were to seize two dozen cannons from a British battery in Manhattan. Unfortunately, unfriendly Loyalists had tipped the captain of the HMS Asia off to their schemes. He sent his ship to keep guard.

Hamilton and his volunteers, accompanied by Continental Army Captain John Lamb and his artillery company, arrived at the battery, undetected, midnight fast approaching. They quickly set to work fastening ropes to the cannons and hauling them away. Just offshore, Asia patrolled ominously. They had not been sighted—yet. But the British were watching.

Beside Hamilton labored his friend, the resplendently named Hercules Mulligan, a prominent New York tailor, future spy, and war hero. The two men had previously lived together. “Often engaging in late night discussions, the two colleagues exchanged ideas in such a way that Hamilton’s desire for independence was unquestionably sharpened,” one source describes. Mulligan’s espionage on behalf of the Continental Army would later prove indispensable to George Washington, saving the General at least twice from certain catastrophe. After the war, Washington would frequent Mulligan’s shop to protect him from accusations of having been sympathetic to the British during his years as a spy. “Clothier to Genl. Washington,” a sign outside the sartorial business proudly declared.

But in August 1775, Mulligan’s storied career as a freedom fighter was just beginning. And if not for Hamilton, it might have ended there.

SEE ALSO: Article V at 236: The People's Tool for Preserving Freedom

Midnight had quietly passed when the moment the soldiers feared the most arrived—the Asia patrol spotted them. A barrage of gunfire rang out into the night. Dropping their ropes, Hamilton’s men picked up their weapons and returned fire at the attacking barge, a formidable foe. In the wave of returning fire, a sole redcoat collapsed to the deck, dead.

The captain of the ship turned the vessel in closer toward shore, unleashing fire from all 34 broadside cannons into the sleepy town. Fraunces Tavern, a prominent Revolution-era pub, recounts that in the ensuing hours-long bombardment, an 18-pound cannonball tore through its roof.

The Hearts of Oak now found themselves in a nightmarish predicament: forced to transport two dozen heavy cannons while also warding off heavy fire from a 64-gun ship. Those who returned to pulling the ropes, including Mulligan, were left weaponless against the incoming redcoats.

“I was engaged in hauling off one of the Cannons, when Mr. [Hamilton] came up and gave me his musket to hold, & he took hold of the rope,” Mulligan recalled. “The punt of the Asia had before approached the Battery and was fired upon and a man was killed, she returned to the ship and the fire was then opened upon us. Hamilton at the first firing was away with the Cannon. I left his musket in the Battery & retreated, as he was returning I met him and he asked for his piece. I told him where I had left it, and he went for it, notwithstanding the firing continued, with as much unconcern as if the [Asia] had not been there.”

In the end, the hazardous mission succeeded (21 of the 24 guns were captured), and Hamilton’s courage was noted. It was the beginning of an illustrious career for the young man, who went on to serve as a captain in the Continental Army and aide-de-camp to General Washington.

After the war, his many political endeavors involved drafting and supporting the new nation’s Constitution, including advocating for Article V, which enabled the states to call an amendments convention; producing eminent political commentaries (The Federalist Papers); and serving as secretary of the treasury under Washington, with whom he formed an indomitable bond. Although his life was eventually cut short by his notorious duel with Aaron Burr, Alexander Hamilton secured a legacy as one of the youngest, most brilliant, most accomplished Founding Fathers. Looking to his words, specifically those on Article V, present-day readers may rediscover the path back to the Founders’ original vision for constitutional governance and self-governance.

To learn more about Hamilton’s stance on Article V, click here. To learn more about other heroes of Convention of States, read part 1 of this series here. Lastly, join Alexander Hamilton in support of Article V when you sign the Convention of States petition below.

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