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Attorney at Law

Alexander Hamilton spent more of his life working as an attorney than he did in any other position. His intellect and oratory skills were well suited to practicing law, but, more importantly, he believed that the profession offered the best foundation for a political career. By October 1782, Hamilton had passed the New York bar exam and qualified as a counsellor to argue cases in court. He soon established a law office in New York City, taking mostly civil cases.

The treatment of loyalists after the Revolutionary War provided Hamilton with his first major case. In New York, loyalists were punished for their royal allegiance by confiscating their property, preventing them from voting, imposing special taxes, barring them from certain professions, and even inflicting physical attacks. Hamilton considered this treatment to be both unlawful and unethical. At the height of the violence in early 1784, he wrote two essays under the pseudonym Phocion to persuade New Yorkers to choose mercy toward their former enemies. Around the same time, to the shock of his fellow patriots, he agreed to serve as the defense attorney for a loyalist, Joshua Waddington, who was being sued by a patriot widow for back rent on her family’s brewery while it was occupied by the British. Hamilton’s arguments in this and similar cases helped to establish the doctrine of judicial review, that high courts could examine state and local laws and declare them illegal if necessary.
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