(Marko Georgiev ~ Associated Press file)
Alexander Hamilton met that standard on Thursday, as a group of descendants, along with latter-day admirers, convened to mark the anniversary of his birth in 1757.
The setting for the event, to quote another famous American, was altogether fitting and proper -- the Manhattan churchyard where Hamilton was buried after being killed in a duel with Vice President Aaron Burr in 1804, in the shadow of Wall Street towers that symbolize his role as the Founding Father who best understood high finance.
Wreaths were laid and the Rev. Anne Mallonee, vicar of the historic Trinity Church, offered a prayer in memory of the Caribbean immigrant who, among other achievements, became the first U.S. treasury secretary. That put him on the $10 bill, an honor that was briefly imperiled a few years ago by a lobbying campaign to replace him with Ronald Reagan.
"For a long time he never got any credit for doing anything, but I think in the last couple of years his popularity has increased significantly, recognizing the contributions he made," said Douglas Hamilton, an Ohio computer salesman and one of several seventh-generation direct descendants attending the ceremony.
The Hamilton history revival got a boost of sorts with a 2004 reenactment of the duel in which he was killed by Burr 200 years earlier. Douglas Hamilton played the role of his fallen ancestor.
Alexander Hamilton was born in the Caribbean island of Nevis, making him ineligible to become president of the United States. But that did not stop him from playing what historians recognize as perhaps the most varied -- yet vital -- roles of any of the founders of American democracy.
Gaining fame for battlefield exploits in the early days of the American Revolution, he became Gen. George Washington's most trusted personal aide and helped to forestall a chaotic retreat by Continental troops at the 1778 Battle of Monmouth.
He also earned a law degree, served in the Continental Congress after the war, helped lead the fight for ratification of the Constitution and wrote most of the Federalist Papers, tracts later published in New York newspapers to win public support for the Bill of Rights.
But as Washington's choice to head the treasury, Hamilton made what many historians believe were his most important contributions, issuing national currency, creating the banking system, establishing credit in domestic and foreign financial circles and other policies that spurred a functioning economy in the struggling new nation. His other accomplishments included creating the Coast Guard to protect commerce.
Pugnacious in politics, Hamilton had sharp differences with several Founding Fathers, including John Adams and Burr. It came to a head when he led successful efforts to have the House of Representatives back Thomas Jefferson over Burr in their deadlocked 1800 presidential race.
Their mutual hostility led to a showdown with pistols on a field in Weehawken, N.J., on July 11, 1804, in which Burr fatally wounded Hamilton. Hamilton died the next day, saying he forgave Burr for "all that happened."