An avowed early American history enthusiast, Hamilton College alumnus and life trustee Carl Menges '51 has made a commitment of $3.6 million to support the newly established Alexander Hamilton Center (AHC) at the college. Inspired by Alexander Hamilton's life and work, the AHC seeks to "promote excellence in scholarship through the study of freedom, democracy and capitalism as these ideas were developed and institutionalized in the United States and within the larger tradition of Western culture," according to the center's charter.
Carl Menges, and his wife Cordelia, who are also the parents of a Hamilton graduate, have been generous supporters of the college over many years, having made previous gifts in the area of scholarship aid, faculty innovation and programming. This most recent gift will support operating expenses and an endowment for the center.
"Carl Menges has been a steadfast and generous supporter of the college," said President Joan Hinde Stewart. "This contribution will be a true legacy to his passion and high regard for Alexander Hamilton and his contributions to the founding of the American experiment in republican government. Our students will benefit now and in future years from the programming and resources resulting from Carl's gift."
Menges also initiated and underwrote a 2001 conference on Alexander Hamilton that brought Hamilton biographer Richard Brookhiser and nearly two dozen other scholars from across the nation to Clinton. (New York University Press published the papers presented at the conference as a volume co-edited by one of the center's founders, history professor Douglas Ambrose, and government professor Robert W. Martin.) Menges also was instrumental in bringing Hamilton biographer Ron Chernow to campus in 2004 for a presentation. He was awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters by Hamilton in 2005.
In discussing the center's impact on the college community, Hamilton's dean of the faculty Joseph Urgo commented, "The Alexander Hamilton Center is an exciting faculty initiative, one that will draw renewed attention on this campus to the considerable scholarly interest in the life and work of the founder who lent his name to our college. Alexander Hamilton's rise to prominence from disadvantage, his life-long commitment to clarity in prose and speech, and his ultimate devotion to the experiment of a United States government and society, all reflect the ongoing educational values of Hamilton College."
Center founders are Hamilton faculty members James Bradfield, the Elias W. Leavenworth Professor of Economics, Robert Paquette, the Publius Virgilius Rogers Professor of American History, and Douglas Ambrose, the Sidney Wertimer Associate Professor of History.
In introducing the center, Paquette, who will serve as the center's first director, said, "The Alexander Hamilton Center has lofty aspirations and an ambitious agenda. Its central concerns derive from the big issues tackled by the college's distinguished namesake during the founding of the United States. The center will take root on campus and begin active programming during the fall semester 2007. …We fully intend to build an edifice that will stand the test of time and serve as a beacon light for scholarship and high standards among this country's elite liberal arts colleges. With this remarkable gift, Carl Menges has transformed a paper reality into a vital scholarly enterprise that will draw national attention to Hamilton's mission of educational excellence."
Alexander Hamilton's connection to the college reaches back to 1793 when, as Secretary of the Treasury, he endorsed Samuel Kirkland's proposal to create a "seminary of learning" to educate the children of Oneida Indians and white settlers in upstate New York. Hamilton agreed to serve as a trustee of the school, which, in 1812, was chartered as Hamilton College.
Hamilton stood at the center of the founding of the United States, serving as an artillery officer and key aide to George Washington. He not only participated as a delegate in the Constitutional Convention, but also endorsed its handiwork by composing the majority of the Federalist Papers. Thomas Jefferson, Hamilton's arch-rival, described the 85 essays as "the best commentary on the principles of government, which ever was written." Hamilton's role in the ratification of the Constitution and his enduring contributions to the fields of law, economics and politics helped ensure the very survival of that great experiment in popular government.
Reflecting on Alexander Hamilton's influence, Menges concludes, "In some ways, Hamilton has been relegated to the backwaters of American political history, but I think that is changing. One way or another, you can substantiate the claim that Hamilton wrote so brilliantly about political philosophy, about banking and related subjects, that he informed the thinking of George Washington and other contemporaries. To a large degree, therefore, he established the country we have today."
"The basis for many of Hamilton's major accomplishments were written ones," Menges continued. "It's a great, great asset to the college to have such a deep connection to a writer of that excellence and that stature. According to his biographers, Hamilton felt that part of his mission was not only to do, but to speak and to write and to explain, a mission mirrored in the college's own commitment to clear, concise writing as an integral part of undergraduate education," Menges said.
Following his graduation from Hamilton College, Menges earned an MBA from Harvard University. He joined the investment firm Donaldson Lufkin & Jenrette (now part of Credit Suisse Group) in 1966 and ultimately retired from the firm as its vice chairman in 1998. One of his three sons, Samuel Menges, is also a graduate ('00) of the college. Currently a life trustee, Carl Menges began his service on the Hamilton College Board of Trustees in 1985.