James Hamilton, governor of South Carolina and a financial agent of the Republic of Texas, son of James and Elizabeth (Lynch) Hamilton, was born in Charleston, South Carolina, on May 8, 1786, and educated in New England. He was a lawyer in Charleston and for several years served as mayor of that city. He became a member of Congress in 1822 and served until 1829. In 1830 he was elected governor of South Carolina and became a leader in the Nullification movement.
Although still a resident of South Carolina in 1836, he won many admirers in Texas due to his support for Texas independence. Because of this he was offered command of the Texas army in late 1836, but he declined for personal reasons. He later offered his services to negotiate a loan for the financially pressed republic and was appointed loan commissioner by President Mirabeau B. Lamar. Hamilton immediately met with the Texas Congress to secure passage of legislation strengthening the public credit of Texas and improving prospects for a loan. He then borrowed $457,380 from the Bank of the United States in Philadelphia. When further attempts to borrow in the United States failed, he turned to Europe.
Because he believed that stable and peaceful international relations were essential to the success of Texas, he strongly advocated and worked toward diplomatic recognition by European powers and peace with Mexico. France seemed to offer the best hope for a sizable loan, and so Hamilton worked with the Texas minister to that country, J. Pinckney Henderson, in negotiating a commercial treaty. His effort to obtain a $5 million loan from interests in France was on the verge of success when the French government withdrew its support and the deal collapsed. Hamilton had been cultivating Great Britain and Holland and had gained diplomatic recognition from these two countries but no direct funds. He then made a tentative agreement with Belgium and returned to Texas to promote it.
He arrived in Texas to find that Sam Houston had replaced Lamar as president and repealed all laws relating to the European loan in January 1842. Hamilton's services had been terminated, and although he had labored for several years at his own expense, he was unable to collect money owed him by Texas. Drained financially, he returned to South Carolina in March. In late 1843 he attempted to secure appointment to a collectorship at Sabine. In 1855 he finally moved to Texas, where he held land grants in Nacogdoches, Milam, and Harris counties. In 1857 he traveled to Washington but quickly decided to return when he received word that Texas was ready to negotiate a settlement on the funds he was owed. En route, in mid-November or early December, his ship was rammed in the Gulf of Mexico. He drowned after giving up his chance for safety to a woman and her child.