The Hamilton Collection

The Wisdom and Writings of the Founding Father


Edited by Dan Tucker

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The subject of a New York Times best-selling biography and a Pulitzer-Prize winning musical, interest in Alexander Hamilton is at an all-time high. This carefully curated collection of Hamilton’s writings gives the reader an intimate glimpse into the mind of our most misunderstood founding father.

The smash-hit musical Hamilton presents its central character as a truth-telling immigrant boot-strapper who used his extraordinary intelligence to make good — but what was he really like? Let the man himself, a prolific and extremely effective writer, tell his story in his own words.

Organized chronologically, this collection of Alexander Hamilton’s personal letters, business and governmental correspondence, and excerpts from his most important published writings (including the Federalist Papers) gives readers first-hand insight into this highly influential founding father who engineered the ratification of the US Constitution, created the United

States’ financial system, and established friendly trade relations with Britain.

The book includes love letters to Elizabeth Schuyler, who became his wife, and correspondence with his friend-turned-nemesis, Aaron Burr, which led to the duel in Weehawken that ended Hamilton’s life at the age of 47. Also included are responses from some of his correspondents that give a 360-degree view of the man so esteemed by his protector and friend, George Washington, but reviled by others, including Washington’s successor as president, John Adams.

Illustrated with 50 illustrations, drawings, document facsimiles and more, the text is accompanied throughout by explanatory annotations from editor Dan Tucker who also provides introductions to each chapter and a preface.


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In 2015, Lin-Manuel Miranda, the son of Puerto Rican immigrants to New York, brilliantly turned the American founding father and unrepentant elitist Alexander Hamilton into a rapping, dancing, populist hero in the smash hit Broadway musical Hamilton. Miranda presents Hamilton as a scrappy immigrant who spoke truth to power and used his extraordinary intelligence to bootstrap his way into the top echelons of the American military, government, and society.

But how accurate was this depiction of him? What was Hamilton, the man, really like?

When one looks at the broad contours of Hamilton's life, it is difficult not to be moved by the extreme hardship of his youth: born out of wedlock, abandoned by an insolvent father, and orphaned with no money or prospects before he turned thirteen. Against the backdrop of these circumstances, the magnitude of his inborn gifts, his incessant drive, and his enduring achievements are all the more dazzling. In an extraordinary coincidence, or perhaps an intervention of fate, his arrival on the North American continent coincided with the moment that American colonists were in the early stages of what developed into an open and violent rebellion against the British Empire. "I wish there was a war," he had written as a fourteen-year-old already hungry for glory, in a letter to his childhood friend Edward Stevens.1 The rebels could not have wished for a more relentless advocate for independence, or a more ambitious and determined soldier, or a more skillful administrator than the gifted and arrogant teenager who arrived in their midst in 1772, a few years before the Boston Tea Party.

Hamilton quickly emerged as a leader of the colonial movement, distinguished himself on the battlefield, and indisputably had a hand—oftentimes, a forceful, guiding hand—in the creation of many of the American institutions that have defined and sustained the nation since its inception. As Ron Chernow, whose 2004 biography of Hamilton served as the inspiration for the musical, writes, "If [Thomas] Jefferson provided the essential poetry of American political discourse, Hamilton established the prose of American statecraft. No other founder articulated such a clear and prescient vision of America's future political, military, and economic strength or crafted such ingenious mechanisms to bind the nation together."2

So why has Hamilton been so frequently derided as an autocrat, an apologist for monarchy, and worse?

Hamilton was one of the most prolific correspondents, pamphleteers, and disseminators of political propaganda of the American Revolutionary era and the early years of the republic. His pen could be a devastating weapon, as anyone on the receiving end of one of his trademark attacks, notable for their bite as much as their astute reasoning, would have attested.

His political enemies returned the favor in kind. Perhaps more than anyone else, Thomas Jefferson, Hamilton's ideological and political nemesis, can be said to have engineered the decline in Hamilton's reputation. Jefferson engaged Hamilton in both political and personal battles during their time in George Washington's administration, orchestrating numerous public attacks on Hamilton that escalated through the Adams administration and into Jefferson's own presidency. After Hamilton's death, Jefferson, attempting to maintain his political ascendancy and to seal his political triumph, perpetuated those attacks.

John Adams, another antagonist of Hamilton's, had a more personal reason to loathe him: Hamilton had sabotaged his political career by undermining his presidency and ultimately helping limit it to one term. More frank and direct in his attacks than Jefferson, and more personally insulting about Hamilton's illegitimacy and background, Adams, too, continued to vilify Hamilton long after the latter's death.

Thanks to his own vanity and hubris, Hamilton had done an impressive job of damaging his own reputation before his death at forty-nine in 1804. By the time he was forty-five, he had essentially become politically irrelevant. Without his protector and alter ego, George Washington, to shield him, Hamilton became prey to the enemies he had made over the course of his political career, and to the fallout of his own rather colossal misjudgments. He was cast out of the Adams administration, for example, when Adams discovered that Hamilton had been quietly but powerfully influencing Adams's cabinet members without his knowledge or approval. Without Washington's protection, Hamilton's fears of besiegement by domestic and foreign enemies became more extreme, his judgments less reliable, his temper more volatile.

Hamilton sometimes displayed a tin ear for "retail" politics—the flesh-pressing business of influencing people in small groups and as individuals—as when he praised the British Constitution as "the only government in the world 'which unites public strength with individual security'"3 while addressing the Constitutional Convention in 1787. How could he not have known that this idea might have raised the hackles of the very people who only a few short years before had risked their lives fighting the British government? His "confidential" letter-writing campaign to thwart the candidacy of John Adams, whom he believed incapable of effective governance, was a naïve miscalculation. How could someone with so profound a mistrust of human nature expect those letters, caustically critical of Adams, to remain secret?

One can find plentiful evidence in Hamilton's letters and published writings not just of his elitism, but of his anti-democratic beliefs as well. His opponents and critics seized on the latter charge to give credence to their depiction of Hamilton as a closet monarchist and autocrat, but Hamilton would unhesitatingly have pleaded guilty to opposing democracy. Steeped in the writings of the Scottish philosopher David Hume, he had a deep distrust of human nature ("I have an indifferent opinion of the honesty of this country,"4 he wrote to George Washington in 1783). Human fears and frailty, in combination with the tumultuous nature of life in general, would lead inevitably to disorderly mob rule and conflict, in Hamilton's view. He saw direct democracy (as opposed to republicanism) to be a direct, slippery, and downhill road to anarchy. By the end of his life, he viewed the depredations of the French Revolution as vindication of these beliefs, referring to those, like Jefferson, who opposed a strong central government in favor of individual liberties as "Jacobins." Alluding to Jefferson's policies in a personal letter written in 1802, Hamilton lamented, "Mankind are forever destined to be the dupes of bold & cunning imposture."5

He also stirred up regional antipathies, though it was his express aim not to do so. He saw manufacturing and commerce, the engine of the northern states, as complementary rather than antagonistic to the agrarian economy of the south that Jefferson favored and idealized. Nevertheless, it is not difficult to trace in the arguments that Hamilton made in his "Report on the Public Credit" and his "Report on the Subject of Manufactures," as well as in the capitalist juggernaut that his policies and institutions unleashed, the fault lines that led up to the Civil War right up to Occupy Wall Street and beyond.

Given the fact that Hamilton was frequently derided for his Caribbean birth (a "Creole bastard," John Adams had called him), his nativist streak is inexplicable. Placed against the background of the violence of the Terror in France and Napoleonic expansionism throughout Europe and the Middle East, his girding against infiltration by foreign agents fomenting revolution in the United States is only somewhat more understandable. To most modern sensibilities, these fears tip over into jingoism and paranoia—though jingoism and fear mongering always seem to play well in times of upheaval and uncertainty. Perhaps, given the circumstances of his life at that time, cast out of the Adams administration, widely and routinely attacked in the press, denigrated in the halls of Congress, no longer shielded by George Washington—and having suffered the devastating loss of his eldest son, Philip, in a duel—it could be argued that Hamilton anticipated besiegement on every front in his life.

Unsurprisingly, Hamilton was a champion of contrarian causes. His representation of Loyalists after the Revolutionary War is one example of this. Another one, confounding to critics of Hamilton's "aristocratic" tendencies, was his consistent and principled opposition to slavery. Abolitionism was certainly not unprecedented at the time—Hamilton was one of thirty-one founding members of the New-York Society for Promoting the Manumission of Slaves (a group that sought to abolish slavery) in 1785, along with John Jay and Aaron Burr. But Hamilton's firsthand experiences on the Caribbean side of the slave trade gave his views added insight and understanding. Few of his contemporaries, for example, shared his conviction that blacks had intrinsic abilities equal to those of whites. Of course, his mother had owned slaves (one of whom had been assigned to him), as did his in-laws, so it must be said that Hamilton is not exempt from the criticism to which his slave-owning fellow Founders—especially Jefferson—have been justifiably subject.

As maddeningly brilliant and hubristic as Hamilton's public life was, his letters to family and friends reveal a warmth and wit that put him in his best light. One gets the sense from them, particularly those to his sister-in-law, Angelica Schuyler Church, that Hamilton was simply fun to be with, and that he was a loyal and confiding friend. His letters to his wife, Elizabeth, reveal his tender and protective side. He was, in spite of his brief affair with Maria Reynolds, a loving husband and father.

One can only read the correspondence leading up to Hamilton's duel with Burr with a queasy sense of what is to come, and wonder whether in the early days of the nineteenth century Hamilton's reasons for pursuing the duel seemed less flimsy than they do now. Hamilton undoubtedly had his reasons for provoking Burr and then passively allowing the events leading up to the duel to unfold, down to his decision to throw away his shot (whether he actually did throw his shot away or not is open to question). But they remain elusive, even after reading and re-reading the words he so carefully wrote in the days leading up to the confrontation in Weehawken. In any case, it is a great irony that the man who took Hamilton's life on the field of honor represented, to Hamilton, the embodiment of a man without honor.

It is extremely unlikely that the United States would have emerged as a world power without Hamilton's federal system of finance, which harnessed the economic power of the individual states together to produce a single, more powerful driving force. Some of Hamilton's other contributions likewise contributed to American ascendancy over the last two-plus centuries: the Treasury with a publicly funded debt, a central bank, an independent judiciary and a strong executive, a standing army, the coast guard. Without these things individually and in combination, it is impossible to conceive of the United States' becoming the world power that it is, nor is it difficult to imagine its having devolved into a fractious continent resembling a more rustic version of Europe had Hamilton's contributions been absent.

Ultimately, Hamilton saw the fragile and nearly impossible art of governance as a balancing act between the forces of despotism and anarchy. Nearly 250 years of American history are testimony to the enduring power of his vision—his judgment that institutionally, at least, a strong, well-funded federal government was needed in order for the country to become a viable power has served it well. Yet, today's newspaper headlines show that we continue to struggle with the visions of Hamilton and Jefferson—to find the proper balance between centralized authority and individual liberty, between federal authority and states' rights.

So, what was Hamilton like as a man? It is tempting to say that he was brilliant and flawed, and to list his many extraordinary, endearing, and maddening qualities. This book is an attempt to allow him to tell his story in his own words. Hamilton's DNA runs through the American system and psyche in a way that is in abundant evidence today, and the more we can understand his character, choices, and context, the more we can understand about ourselves and our future.

EDITOR'S NOTE: All of Hamilton's letters and published writings reproduced in this book are taken from the astonishing Founders Online website ( operated by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission of the National Archives in cooperation with the University of Virginia Press. I have preserved Hamilton's spelling and grammar in order to retain his authentic voice and the sense of the historical period.

In some cases, Hamilton's letters were cobbled together by scholars (led by Harold C. Syrett) from multiple sources, among them signed original manuscripts retained by the recipient; manuscript copies made and retained by Hamilton himself; and copies of these letters made by family members and others after Hamilton's death. I have chosen not to distinguish between these sources, as the variations are slight and do not materially affect the understanding of Hamilton that I am seeking to create here. For those wishing for that level of nuance, I refer you to the Founders Online website mentioned above, where you can while away many a pleasurable hour in the company of America's founding fathers, and some of the mothers too.


John Adams's epithet for Hamilton, which gives this chapter its title, only begins to describe the cruel circumstances that Hamilton faced during his childhood on the Caribbean island of Nevis. He was indeed born out of wedlock—his mother, Rachel Faucette Lavien, descended from a French Huguenot family and had been previously married to Johann Lavien and was unable to obtain a divorce. Lavien was, by all accounts, an exceptionally cruel husband (even by the standard of the time) from whom Rachel had fled. Hamilton's father, James Hamilton, descended from Scottish nobility, and was in the midst of an unsuccessful run in the Caribbean sugar trade when Hamilton was born. James Hamilton deserted the family when Alexander was ten.

After his father left, Rachel moved with Alexander and his older brother, James, to the nearby island of St. Croix and opened a small store in Christiansted, the island's biggest city. Because Hamilton was born out of wedlock, he was denied membership in and schooling by the Church of England, so his mother enrolled him in a private school run by a Jewish headmistress, and arranged for private tutoring.

In February 1768, he and his mother contracted a severe fever from which Rachel never recovered. She died in the sickbed that she shared with Alexander, who was orphaned before he turned thirteen.

The probate court report on the disposition of the estate of Hamilton's mother reveals the family's diminished circumstances. It also, according to most historians, sets the year of Hamilton's birth as 1755 rather than 1757. Eager to appear the boy prodigy, Hamilton had perhaps intentionally obfuscated his age.

The record shows Hamilton's mother's name as Rachael Lewine. According to contemporaneous records, her surname should have been spelled "Lavien," though Hamilton himself spelled it "Lavine."

Probate court transaction no. XXIX

Which in the Probate court protocol is recorded as No. XXIV sc. the case of the deceased Rachael Lewine

James Towers, by His Royal Majesty of Denmark and Norway duly appointed administrator of estates in the Christiansted jurisdiction on the Island of St. Croix in America, and Ivar Hofman Sevel, appointed bailiff in the same jurisdiction, together with Laurence Bladwil, administrator of estates, Isaac Hartman, and Johan Henric Dietrichs, appointed town and probate court recorder in the aforesaid jurisdiction, make known that

In the year 1768 on the 19th day of February in the evening at 10 o'clock sharp the probate court met in a house here in town belonging to Thomas Dipnal [landlord to Hamilton's mother and her children, and the man who paid for her funeral], where an hour earlier a woman, Rachael Lewine, died, in order to seal up her effects for subsequent recording. Present at this transaction were the aforesaid Thomas Dipnal and Friedrich Wilhl Larsen as witnesses to the sealing up of a chamber containing her effects together with a trunk etc., thereafter were sealed an attic storage room and two storage rooms in the yard, after which there was nothing more to seal up, except some pots and other small things which remained unsealed for use in preparing the body for burial, among them being 6 chairs, 2 tables, and 2 wash-bowls. The transaction was then closed.

In witness thereof

As Witnesses:

James Towers

Johan Henric Dietrichs

Thomas Dipnal

Friedrich Wilhm Larsen

In the year 1768 on the 22 of February the probate court administered by me, James Towers, as acting administrator of estates, and by me, Johan Henric Dietrichs, duly appointed by the King as town and probate court recorder in the Christiansted jurisdiction on the Island of St. Croix in America, met in Thomas Dipnal's house here in town, where on the 19th of this month Madam Rachael Lewine died, and whose effects were forthwith sealed up, in order now to take an inventory of them for subsequent distribution among the decedent's surviving children, who are 3 sons, namely, Peter Lewine, born in the marriage of the decedent with John Lewine who, later, is said for valid reasons to have obtained from the highest authorities a divorce from her (according to what the probate court has been able to ascertain), also 2 other sons, namely, James Hamilton and Alexander Hamilton, the one 15 and the other 13 years old, who are the same illegitimate children sc. born after the decedent's separation from the aforesaid Lewine. The above mentioned Peter Lewine has resided and still resides in South Carolina and according to reports is about 22 years old.1

A view of Christiansted Harbor, St. Croix, where Rachel Faucette Lavien, Hamilton's mother, kept a store.

Several years before his death, Hamilton wrote a detailed description of his family background in a letter sent to William Jackson, a close friend and Revolutionary War comrade, in response to a personal attack on his origins made by a political enemy in 1800. Its purpose was clearly to improve his reputation, but the letter nevertheless offers a concise family history.

To William Jackson:

I think it proper to confide to your bosom the real history of it, that among my friends you may if you please wipe off some part of the stain which is so industriously impressed.

The truth is that on the question who my parents were, I have better pretensions than most of those who in this Country plume themselves on Ancestry.

My Grandfather by the mothers side of the name of Faucette was a French Huguenot who emigrated to the West Indies in consequence of the revocation of the Edict of Nantz [or "Nantes," the 1598 edict in which King Henry IV of France had granted substantial civil rights to French Protestants, or Huguenots] and settled in the Island of Nevis and there acquired a pretty fortune. I have been assured by persons who knew him that he was a man of letters and much of a gentleman. He practiced a[s] a Physician, whether that was his original profession, or one assumed for livelihood after his emigration is not to me ascertained.

My father now dead was certainly of a respectable Scotch Fami[ly.] His father was, and the son of his Eldest brother now is Laird of Grang[e.] His mother was the sister of an ancient Baronet Sir Robert Pollock.

Himself being a younger son of a numerous family was bred to trade. In capacity of merchant he went to St Kitts, where from too generous and too easy a temper he failed in business, and at length fell into indigent circumstances. For some time he was supported by his friends in Scotland, and for several years before his death by me. It was his fault to have had too much pride and two large a portion of indolence—but his character was otherwise without reproach and his manners those of a Gentleman.

So far I may well challenge comparison, but the blemish remains to be unveiled.

A Dane a fortune-hunter of the name of Lavine came to Nevis bedizzened with gold, and paid his addresses to my mother then a handsome young woman having a snug fortune. In compliance with the wishes of her mother who was captivated by the glitter of the [left blank] but against her own inclination she married Lavine. The marriage was unhappy and ended in a separation by divorce. My mother afterwards went to St Kitts, became acquainted with my father and a marriage between them ensued, followed by many years cohabitation and several children.

But unluckily it turned out that the divorce was not absolute but qualified, and thence the second marriage was not lawful. Hence when my mother died the small property which she left went to my half brother Mr Lavine who lived in South Carolina and was for a time partner with Mr Kane. He is now dead.2

Lavien's estate was awarded in probate to Peter Lavien, Alexander's half-brother, but a family friend bought her books and returned them to Hamilton. Left with nothing but these books, Hamilton took a job at a well-known St. Croix mercantile house, Beekman and Cruger, while his older brother, James, apprenticed with a carpenter. The boys were adopted by their cousin, Peter Lytton, who committed suicide only a few months later. Alexander was then taken into the home of Thomas Stevens, who some scholars believe may have been Hamilton's biological father.

In this letter to Stevens's son, Hamilton's boyhood schoolmate and friend Edward Stevens, Hamilton expresses ambition and knowledge of the world beyond his fourteen years: he yearns for a war to prove his mettle and rise above his status as a clerk. Stevens was a student at King's College in Manhattan (later renamed Columbia University), which Hamilton was destined to attend, though at the time of this letter he could not have known it.

To Edward Stevens:

… As to what you say respecting your having soon the happiness of seeing us all, I wish, for an accomplishment of your hopes provided they are Concomitant with your welfare, otherwise not, tho doubt whether I shall be Present or not for to confess my weakness, Ned, my Ambition is prevalent that I contemn the grov'ling and condition of a Clerk or the like, to which my Fortune &c. condemns me and would willingly risk my life tho' not my Character to exalt my Station. Im confident, Ned that my Youth excludes me from any hopes of immediate Preferment nor do I desire it, but I mean to prepare the way for futurity. Im no Philosopher you see and may be jusly said to Build Castles in the Air. My Folly makes me ashamd and beg you'll Conceal it, yet Neddy we have seen such Schemes successfull when the Projector is Constant I shall Conclude saying I wish there was a War.3

Shortly after joining the firm of Beekman and Cruger, Hamilton's abiding interest in literature and love is on full display as he submitted the following impassioned and somewhat overwrought poem for publication by the Royal Danish American Gazette, the St. Croix newspaper.

To the Printer of the Royal Danish American Gazette:

I am a youth about seventeen, and consequently such an attempt as this must be presumptuous; but if, upon perusal, you think the following piece worthy of a place in your paper, by inserting it you'll much oblige Your obedient servant,


In yonder mead my love I found

Beside a murm'ring brook reclin'd:

Her pretty lambkins dancing round

Secure in harmless bliss.

I bad the waters gently glide,

And vainly hush'd the heedless wind,

Then, softly kneeling by her side,

I stole a silent kiss—

She wak'd, and rising sweetly blush'd

By far more artless than the dove:

With eager haste I onward rush'd,

And clasp'd her in my arms;

Encircled thus in fond embrace

Our panting hearts beat mutual love—

A rosy-red o'er spread her face

And brighten'd all her charms.

Silent she stood, and sigh'd consent

To every tender kiss I gave;

I closely urg'd—to church we went,

And hymen join'd our hands.

Ye swains behold my bliss complete;

No longer then your own delay;

Believe me love is doubly sweet

In wedlocks holy bands.—

Content we tend our flocks by day,

Each rural pleasures amply taste;

And at the suns retiring ray

Prepare for new delight:

When from the field we haste away,

And send our blithsome care to rest,

We fondly sport and fondly play,

And love away the night.

Cœlia's an artful little slut;

Be fond, she'll kiss, et cetera—but

She must have all her will;

For, do but rub her 'gainst the grain

Behold a storm, blow winds and rain,

Go bid the waves be still.

So, stroking puss's velvet paws

How well the jade conceals her claws

And purs; but if at last


On Sale
Oct 25, 2016
Page Count
336 pages