Saturday, May 18, 2013

The cautionary tale of Alexander Hamilton's faith

An interesting reflection on that topic is posted over at the blog Holy Aspirations:  A Look at the Faith of Alexander Hamilton.  For what it's worth, my own theory is that Hamilton's religious faith became stronger as his worldly ambitions were increasingly frustrated. Hamilton always had a theological cast of mind, but his embrace of orthodox Protestant Christianity (evidenced by his death-bed desire to receive the eucharist) was long-a-coming.  The collapse of the Federalist Party, the death of his son Philip in a dual, and his national humiliation in the Reynolds affair all contributed to Hamilton embracing faith more seriously.  As is so often the case, when the things of the world turn to dust, the things of the spirit take new life.


Tom Van Dyke said...

That sounds just about right, Mark.

He was no Puritan. But that's perhaps unfair: nobody said the Puritans never sinned. True, he had a not-very-well-hid extramarital affair that cost him his shot at the presidency.

OTOH, well, Wiki tells the story adequately. He said he wanted a wife who "hates a saint," but he may have married one anyway:

In spring 1779, Alexander Hamilton asked his friend John Laurens to find him a wife in South Carolina:

"She must be young—handsome (I lay most stress upon a good shape) Sensible (a little learning will do)—well bred. . . chaste and tender (I am an enthusiast in my notions of fidelity and fondness); of some good nature—a great deal of generosity (she must neither love money nor scolding, for I dislike equally a termagant and an economist)—In politics, I am indifferent what side she may be of—I think I have arguments that will safely convert her to mine—As to religion a moderate stock will satisfy me—She must believe in God and hate a saint. But as to fortune, the larger stock of that the better."

On December 14, 1780, Alexander Hamilton and Elizabeth Schuyler were married at Schuyler Mansion in Albany, New York. Throughout her life, Elizabeth Hamilton defended her husband against his critics, maintaining his authorship of George Washington's "Farewell Address" and refusing to acknowledge his responsibility in the duel and sexual scandals of his life. James Monroe had accused Alexander of financial irregularities during the Reynolds affair. Steadfast until the end, Elizabeth demanded a complete apology, which Monroe would not give. Before his death, Monroe visited Elizabeth to reconcile their differences concerning her husband's reputation, but Hamilton gave the former president a cool reception and refused his apology.

Elizabeth (known as Eliza or Betsey), survived Hamilton for fifty years, until 1854. A religious woman, Eliza spent much of her life working to help widows and orphans. After Hamilton's death, she co-founded New York's first private orphanage, the New York Orphan Asylum Society.
She is buried near Hamilton in Trinity Churchyard at Wall Street and Broadway in New York City.

Hamilton and Elizabeth had 8 children.

Mark D. said...

Thanks, Tom. Hamilton's wife was an amazing woman, and I have little doubt her loyalty, devotion and faith helped to move Hamilton towards orthodox Christianity. The faith of Betsy Hamilton, like the faith of Abigail Adams, doesn't get nearly the attention it deserves in scholarly discussion.