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Secrets of Alexander Hamilton's Powder Horn Revealed


New analysis offers a look at the founding father's hopes, dreams, and motivations.


Hard by a lunch cart with a sign taped to the side reading Corporate Accounts Welcome!, which may lend some credence to the tales of belt-tightening in the financial industry these days, is the Museum of American Finance, at 48 Wall Street.

The museum was presenting a "Lunch & Learn" seminar called The Hamilton Code, conducted by Dr. Warren Richman, who owns the powder horn used by Alexander Hamilton throughout his life, into which Hamilton carved several mysterious symbols.

After 20 years of research and investigation, Richman yesterday made his interpretations of Hamilton's inscriptions public for the first time at the MoAF. The venue is made even more appropriate by the fact that 48 Wall is the address at which Hamilton founded the Bank of New York (now BNY Mellon (BK)) in 1784, 11 years after the Nevis native arrived in the Colonies from the Caribbean island of St. Croix where his family moved when Hamilton was eight.

One of our country's founding fathers, America's first Secretary of the Treasury, and the man who laid the foundation for the American capitalist system, was also perhaps the finest example of an immigrant achieving the American Dream this country has ever known.

Richard Brookhiser, author of Alexander Hamilton: American wrote, "The thread that runs through…every aspect of Hamilton's life, is his identity as an American. Like that of many Americans after him, this identity was adopted. Hamilton's immigrant origin was no bar to his advancement."

A penniless 16-year-old orphan with nothing but 34 books to his name, Hamilton's life took a 180-degree turn when he set foot in the nascent United States. According to Richman, the marks on Hamilton's powder horn offer never-before-revealed insight into his motivational techniques for success.

Heavily influenced by the philosophy of Sir Francis Bacon, Hamilton engraved the horn with representations of key paths to success put forth by Bacon, particularly the idea that one must "begin with the end in mind."

Whereas most powder horns of the day depicted past successes, Hamilton chose to look forward instead, as Bacon taught. Bacon was also a Rosicrucian, as was Hamilton, along with Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin. One of the tenets of Rosicrucianism is to "Use visualization as a tool to achieve your goals." Which is exactly what Hamilton did with the powder horn that was by his side throughout his short life.

Bacon's steps to acquire "Fortune" and Rosicrucian symbolism were depicted on Hamilton's horn in the following ways:

A unicorn, which stood for hopes and aspirations, personalized by Hamilton by branding it with a cinq foiles, or a five-petaled flower, from the Hamilton family coat of arms

The phrase "First when came to Ohio" which Richman says "reads like the Iliad, projected Hamilton's triumphant return from frontier fighting."

This is a reference to the Bacon aphorism: "First the amendment of their own minds. For the removal of the impediments of the mind will sooner clear the passages of fortune than the obtaining fortune will remove the impediments of the mind." Richman notes that the "elegant sentence structure [is] similar to 'When in the course of human events,' " the first line of the Declaration of Independence.

Bacon wrote of "wealth and means" occurring by way of "mind, wit, courage, audacity, resolution, temper, industry, and the like." Hamilton carved into his powder horn a house on a large plot of land, surrounded by a fence to represent his future success.

Bacon's essay "Of Honor and Reputation" was symbolized with two separate etchings -- honor by a cinq foiles, which was a component of the Hamilton family's coat of arms…

…and reputation represented by a roundel with fasces (sticks tied with rope, a symbol of civil authority in Rome). It was also reminiscent of Roman General Cincinnatus (Hamilton became the second president of the Society of the Cincinnati, after being handed the reins by George Washington).

Hamilton first caught Washington's attention in 1776, when he took a cue from Machiavelli, who wrote that it "is better to be rash than cautious," in The Prince, and spent his last penny outfitting the soldiers under his command with uniforms (tailored by unsung war hero Hercules Mulligan, an intelligence agent -- and New York clothing merchant) identical to the one worn by Washington.

Washington noticed Hamilton and his men during the retreat from New York, after which Hamilton helped Washington successfully capture Trenton. A few months later, Washington made Hamilton his aide-de-camp.

When Washington was elected President of the new nation called the United States, in 1789, he named Hamilton his Treasury Secretary, who, during his term, promoted the development of stock exchanges, which he saw as crucial to the strength and vitality of the country.

Far off yet was the formation of the Dow Jones Index; the first listed company on the New York Stock Exchange was Hamilton's own Bank of New York in 1792. Rudimentary as it was, with 24 men trading underneath a buttonwood tree on what is now Wall Street, it laid the groundwork for today's NYSE (NYX), where hundreds of millions of shares are traded every day.

Warren Richman says the clues to Alexander Hamilton's dreams and aspirations, were, like in The Da Vinci Code, "hidden in plain sight."

We have Hamilton to thank for virtually every aspect of the entire American economic system -- a poor kid from the islands who sailed to the not-yet US and paid for it with two sacks of sugar.

From a teenage immigrant to the highest echelons of success. Only in America.

No positions in stocks mentioned.
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