HAMILTON, ROBERT (1743–1829), Scottish economist and mathematician, was born at Pilrig, Edinburgh, on the 11th of June 1743. His grandfather, William Hamilton, principal of Edinburgh University, had been a professor of divinity. Having completed his education at the university of Edinburgh, where he was distinguished in mathematics, Robert was induced to enter a banking-house in order to acquire a practical knowledge of business, but his ambition was really academic. In 1769 he gave up business pursuits and accepted the rectorship of Perth academy. In 1779 he was presented to the chair of natural philosophy at Aberdeen University. For many years, however, by private arrangement with his colleague Professor Copland, Hamilton taught the class of mathematics. In 1817 he was presented to the latter chair.
Hamilton’s most important work is the Essay on the National Debt, which appeared in 1813 and was undoubtedly the first to expose the economic fallacies involved in Pitt’s policy of a sinking fund. It is still of value. A posthumous volume published in 1830, The Progress of Society, is also of great ability, and is a very effective treatment of economical principles by tracing their natural origin and position in the development of social life. Some minor works of a practical character (Introduction to Merchandise, 1777; Essay on War and Peace, 1790) are now forgotten.