Hamilton’s Views on Race and Slavery: Indian Policy and the Hamilton-Oneida Academy

In The Political Philosophy of Alexander Hamilton, Michael P. Federici writes:

“In 1793 a New York school designed by the Reverend Samuel Kirkland to teach Indian and white children was named after Hamilton (Hamilton-Oneida Academy), and he served as a trustee.  After his death, the school became Hamilton College.  His affiliation with a school for Indians was no accident.  Hamilton consistently supported peaceful relations with the various Indian tribes and he counseled Governor Clinton in New York and President Washington to reconcile with them.  Hamilton considered Indians and blacks to be equal members of the human race.”

The Hamilton-Oneida Academy in Clinton, New York was created with the idea of educating Indian and white children side by side to build cultural understanding.  The charter for the academy was granted on the January 29, 1793.  Hamilton was incorporated as a trustee and a namesake of the school soon after.

One description of Hamilton’s involvement states:

“Alexander Hamilton, the Secretary of the Treasury, and Colonel Pickering, then Post-Master General, furnished substantial aid, and the former was one of the trustees named in the petition for incorporation.”

The Magazine of American History with Notes and Queries reports:

“Mr. Kirkland met Alexander Hamilton, who took unusual interest in his efforts, and was of such assistance that Mr. Kirkland thought it but a fitting compliment to call the institution Hamilton Oneida Academy.”

In 1812, the Hamilton-Oneida Academy was chartered as Hamilton College, a liberal arts college.  The college recently celebrated its bicentennial.

The contemporary descriptions of Hamilton’s involvement with the Academy do not mention him having any substantial role in refining the Academy’s mission or determining what function it would have in the lives of the students attending.  However, Hamilton’s support of it may reflect his belief in the power of education and his progressive beliefs in racial equality.  Of course, to say that any founder, even Hamilton, was progressive with race relations in the modern sense would be an overstatement.  Hamilton’s father-in-law was involved with land grabs in New York that took substantial territory away from Indian tribes, and Hamilton firmly supported Washington’s policies that laid the groundwork for the forced migration of Indian tribes.  However, Hamilton’s support of the Academy suggests that he wanted to play a role in improving relationships with the Indians.

I generally feel ambivalent about the Indian boarding schools created by missionaries and later sponsored by the federal government.  In the late 1800s, these schools served as ground zero for the abuse of Native American children and the destruction of cultural history as the government attempted to forcibly assimilate these groups into mainstream American society.   Tim Giago states in Children left behind: dark legacy of Indian mission boarding schools that most of these school represented an “unholy alliance between church and state that tried to destroy the culture and spirituality of generations of Indian children.”


Hamilton on Jury Nullification

Jury nullification, or the ability of a jury to find a defendant not guilty because they disagree with law has been an important part of American history, and was successfully used by both William Penn and John Peter Zenger against British laws in the pre-Revolution period.  The most influential instance of jury nullification was in the 1735 trial of John Peter Zenger, who was charged with printing seditious libels against the British government of New York.  Under the law in the colonies, truth was not a defense to libel (the same law that Hamilton argued against in the Croswell case).  Zenger’s lawyer, Andrew Hamilton (no relation to Alexander) urged the jury to reach their own conclusions about the legal issue, notwithstanding the judge’s firm instruction.  The jury did so and acquitted Zenger completely, much to the chagrin of the British government.

In the Croswell case, Hamilton argued the case on behalf of a publisher who was charged with libel for publishing information about Thomas Jefferson.  Under the laws of New York at the time, libel was a crime regardless of the truth of the statement.  However, Hamilton argued that this interpretation of the law was incorrect and unethical.  Hamilton’s outline is interesting, both because of the points about libel and because of its focus on the jury’s responsibility to follow their conscience rather than the letter of the law.

Hamilton’s entire brief outline is below, with the passages about the power of the jury bolded :

I.—The liberty of the press consists in the right to publish with impunity truth, with good motives, for justifiable ends, though reflecting on government, magistracy, or individuals.
II.—That the allowance of this right is essential to the preservation of free government—the disallowance of it, fatal.
III.—That its abuse is to be guarded against by subjecting the exercise of it to the animadversion and control of the tribunals of justice; but that this control cannot safely be intrusted to a permanent body of magistracy, and requires the effectual co-operation of court and jury.
IV.—That to confine the jury to the mere question of publication and the application of terms, without the right of inquiry into the intent or tendency, referring to the court the exclusive right of pronouncing upon the construction, tendency, and intent of the alleged libel, is calculated to render nugatory the function of the jury; enabling the court to make a libel of any writing whatsoever, the most innocent or commendable.
V.—That it is the general rule of criminal law, that the intent constitutes the crime, and that it is equally a general rule that the intent, mind, or quo animo, is an inference of fact to be drawn by the jury.
VI.—That if there are exceptions to this rule, they are confined to cases in which not only the principal fact, but its circumstances can be and are specifically defined by statute or judicial precedent.
VII—That in respect to libel there is no such specific and precise definition of facts and circumstances to be found, that consequently it is difficult, if not impossible, to pronounce that any writing is per se and exclusive of all circumstances libellous; that its libellous character must depend on intent and tendency, the one and the other being matter of fact.
VIII.—That the definitions or descriptions of libels to be found in the books predicate them upon some malicious or mischievous intent or tendency, to expose individuals to hatred or contempt, or to occasion a disturbance or breach of the peace.
IX—That in determining the character of a libel, the truth or falsehood is in the nature of things a material ingredient, though the truth may not always be decisive, but being abused, may still admit of a malicious and mischievous intent which may constitute a libel.
X—That in the Roman law, one source of the doctrine of libel, the truth in cases interesting to the public, may be given in evidence. That the ancient statutes probably declaratory of the common law, make the falsehood an ingredient of the crime. That ancient precedents in the courts of justice correspond, and that these precedents to this day charge a malicious intent.
XI.—That the doctrine of excluding the truth as immaterial originated in a tyrannical and polluted source, the court of Star Chamber, and that though it prevailed a considerable length of time, yet there are leading precedents down to the Revolution, and even since, in which a contrary practice prevailed.
XII.—That this doctrine being against reason and natural justice, and contrary to the original principles of the common law enforced by statutory provisions, precedents which support it deserve to be considered in no better light than as malus usus which ought to be abolished.
XIII.—That in the general distribution of powers in our system of jurisprudence, the cognizance of law belongs to the court, of fact to the jury; that as often as they are not blended, the power of the court is absolute and exclusive. That in civil cases it is always so, and may rightfully be so exerted. That in criminal cases the law and fact being always blended, the jury, for reasons of a political and peculiar nature, for the security of life and liberty, is intrusted with the power of deciding both law and fact.
XIV.—That this distinction results: 1, from the ancient forms of pleading in civil cases, none but special pleas being allowed in matter of law; in criminal, none but the general issue; 2, from the liability of the jury to attaint in civil cases, and the general power of the court as its substitute in granting new trials, and from the exemption of the jury from attaint in criminal cases, and the defect of power to control their verdicts by new trials, the test of every legal power being its capacity to produce a definitive effect liable neither to punishment nor control.
XV.—That in criminal cases, nevertheless, the court are the constitutional advisers of the jury in matter of law; who may compromit their conscience by lightly or rashly disregarding that advice, but may still more compromit their consciences by following it, if exercising their judgments with discretion and honesty they have a clear conviction that the charge of the court is wrong.

Jury nullification, and the influence of the jury as an institution has been on the decline.  Currently, less than 1% of criminal and civil cases actually go before a jury.  Courts routinely tell juries that they have no power to disregard or interpret the law.  This discouragement makes sense in most cases: after all, allowing juries to decide cases purely on their emotions can lead to irrational appeals and decisions made from bias.  While jury nullification may help protect defendants from unfair laws, it may also have the unwanted effect of empowering community biases and racism.

However, despite these concerns, Hamilton’s vision of the jury and their power of conscience is a powerful one.

The Economist Blog  ran a story last year about the continuing right of nullification:

Juries do not only decide guilt or innocence; they can also serve as checks on unjust laws. Judges will not tell you about your right to nullify—to vote not guilty regardless of whether the prosecution has proven its case if you believe the law at issue is unjust. They may tell you that you may only judge the facts of the case put to you and not the law. They may strike you from a jury if you do not agree under oath to do so, but the right to nullify exists. There is reason to be concerned about this power: nobody wants courtroom anarchy. But there is also reason to wield it, especially today: if you believe that nonviolent drug offenders should not go to prison, vote not guilty.

New Hampshire passed a law last June that went into effect on January 1, 2013.  This law states:

“[A] Right of Accused. In all criminal proceedings the court shall permit the defense to inform the jury of its right to judge the facts and the application of the law in relation to the facts in controversy.”

Notwithstanding the New Hampshire legislation, the overwhelming trend of cases across the country is to limit jury nullification and discharge jurors who openly state they disagree with the law.  While this may maintain uniformity and a sense of law and order, I wonder if there should still be a place for Hamilton’s vision, in instances where jurors fundamentally feel that the law creates unjust results.

Hamil-Swag: Hamilton + Superheroes = Awesome

Aslan Malik, a German artist, has come up out with a Justice League 2013, featuring a currency redesign.  The project takes the bill designs and re-envisions them as comic book characters.  Hamilton is Batman, Lincoln is Flash, Franklin is the Green Lantern, and Andrew Jackson is Wonder Woman.  I’m a huge comic book/superhero fan (although Spider-Man is my favorite, and he is not a DC character and therefore is not part of the Justice League universe..note to Aslan- I bet Hamilton would make a convincing Spider-Man).

Check out the rest of Malik’s designs here.

And for comparison, here’s the Justice League:

Hamilton and the Fiscal Cliff

On Friday, Scott Bomboy at Constitution Daily published an interesting piece on how Alexander Hamilton would view the debt ceiling.  He generally describes the financial crisis that Hamilton faced when he took over the Treasury Department and how he accomplished his almost impossible mission to pull the new republic out of financial oblivion, create a national debt, and ensure that the new nation develop good credit.

Bomboy describes the odds stacked against Hamilton and America’s economic success:

In 1789, when President Washington took office, the United States was broke; it had about $75 million to $80 million in public debt; and it wasn’t in a position to trade well in a global economy.

The United States’ economic problems after the Revolution were a direct impetus to call the Constitutional Convention of 1787, where delegates from 12 states met in Philadelphia to overhaul the Articles of Confederation and give the new nation a sound political and economic footing.

In addition, Hamilton single-handedly faced two powerful political opponents from Virginia who were opposed to his policies: future presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.

So in comparison to the current financial situation in Washington, Hamilton seems to have been in a much tougher spot in 1789.

Hamilton’s approach to fixing these epic problems was that the government of the United States had to possess excellent credit, before anything else could happen. Getting there would be a monumental task, since the nation had virtually no credit in 1789, despite its abundant resources.

Simon Johnson and James Kwak published an interesting analysis of Hamilton’s success and how it compared to the debt ceiling debate in the Vanity Fair article Debt and Dumb

In just five years, Hamilton—with Washington’s support—had laid the foundation of American fiscal policy. The federal government would always honor its debt. After the War of 1812, the Civil War, World War I, and World War II, this principle remained unquestioned. By the late 19th century, the government could raise large amounts of money on short notice—which made possible, among other things, rapid mobilizations to fight two World Wars.

Government bonds also became a crucial part of the financial system—the paradigmatic global risk-free asset, the universally accepted collateral on which everything else depends. What makes those bonds as good as cash is that the federal government has the power to levy and collect taxes in order to pay them off.

Hamilton’s scheme has succeeded at a scale unimaginable in 1790. Elsewhere, we have questioned Hamilton’s affection for large, powerful banks, but his contribution to American fiscal policy is undisputed. The good credit of the federal government has allowed us to amass trillions of dollars of debt, run the largest peacetime deficits in history, and still borrow money at historically low interest rates. But that has not made everyone happy.

Several authors have recently written about Hamilton and the debt ceiling, including the New York Times

Here are some of Hamilton’s words in Federalist No. 30, about the need for a country to demonstrate that it could credibly return loans:

In the modern system of war, nations the most wealthy are obliged to have recourse to large loans. A country so little opulent as ours must feel this necessity in a much stronger degree. But who would lend to a government that prefaced its overtures for borrowing by an act which demonstrated that no reliance could be placed on the steadiness of its measures for paying? The loans it might be able to procure would be as limited in their extent as burdensome in their conditions. They would be made upon the same principles that usurers commonly lend to bankrupt and fraudulent debtors, with a sparing hand and at enormous premiums.

At the same time, Hamilton was a firm believer that we needed some form of a national debt in order to grow as a nation, as he stated in his April 30, 1781 letter to James Duane.

A national debt, if it is not excessive, will be to us a national blessing. It will be a powerful cement of our Union. It will also create a necessity for keeping up taxation to a degree which, without being oppressive, will be a spur to industry, remote as we are from Europe, and shall be from danger. It were otherwise to be feared our popular maxims would incline us to too great parsimony and indulgence. We labor less now than any civilized nation of Europe; and a habit of labor in the people is as essential to the health and vigor of their minds and bodies, as it is conducive to the welfare of the state. We ought not to suffer our self-love to deceive us in a comparison upon these points.

All Things Hamilton has a more comprehensive list of Hamilton’s quotes on the national debt.  I feel that the issue is a key one for our time, but is also one in which interpretation of Hamiltonian philosophy can take us in different directions.

Hamilton in DC

Writing this from the clouds: in an airplane flying from DC to LA!  I love technology!

If you’ve explored DC, you may have noticed that Hamilton is conspicuously absent in terms of memorials, statues, and public art from the city he had a huge role in making the capital.  While Jefferson’s influence can be felt throughout the city, Hamilton has been relegated to a much smaller role.  However, if you are looking for Hamilton stuff in DC- check out these places.

The first, located outside the Treasury Building, is by James Earle Fraser, who received the commission in 1917.  The 10 foot statue was erected in its current location in 1923.  I think it’s a really well-preserved, gorgeous statute.  The statue stands on a 9 foot base

If you’re in the Rotunda, you’ll notice this statue.  It was made by Horatio Stone, a prominent sculptor/doctor in the mid-1800s whose sculptures can be seen throughout Washington.

Alexander Hamilton

And, I’ve resolved that I’ll finally eat here next time I’m in DC!  The Hamilton is a restaurant/music venue located near Metro Center.  And, according to the Washington Post, the food’s pretty good.  Gotta love Hamilton in his own Hamil-swag.

January 11th- Happy Birthday Hamilton!

Today, January 11th, marks Alexander Hamilton’s 256th (0r 258th) birthday!

I find it amazing to think about where Hamilton came from and what he accomplished.   Hamilton was born in Nevis, 1,3000 miles from New York and worlds away.  He was born out of wedlock at a time where illegitimacy was considered a moral failing, and was shunned by other children because of his status.   Hamilton’s father James became bankrupt and abandoned the family.  Hamilton’s mother died of yellow fever in 1768, and the Hamilton brothers were taken in by a cousin, Peter Lytton, who committed suicide 17 months later.   Hamilton had all the odds stacked against him, but with a combination of brilliance and luck, he not only made his way to America, he helped make America.



Hamilton’s own words in Federalist No. 36 seem fitting:

“There are strong minds in every walk of life that will rise superior to the disadvantages of situation, and will command the tribute due to their merit, not only from the classes to which they particularly belong, but from the society in general. The door ought to be equally open to all…”


If you happen to be in either Nevis or New York, check out the birthday events that the AHA Society has organized.  The events include a blessing at Trinity Church, a simultaneous cake cutting in New York and Nevis, and events at Hamilton Grange and the Museum of American Finance.  Looks like a great program.

Images of Hamilton: Alexander Hamilton Memorial Statue in Chicago

If you’ve visited Chicago, you may have noticed a gilded statue of Alexander Hamilton in Lincoln Park.

The sculpture was commissioned by Chicago heiress Kate Sturgis Buckingham and designed by British sculptor John Angel.    Kate was the daughter of Ebenezer Buckingham, who made his fortune in grain elevators.   She never married and devoted her time to philanthropy and public art projects for the city, including the famous Buckingham Fountain.

Time Magazine stated in a 1951 article that Buckingham had “two consuming interests: art and Alexander Hamilton.”  Buckingham considered Hamilton “one of the least appreciated great Americans.”  She felt that “Hamilton had secured the nation’s financial future, making it possible for her own family to make a fortune.”   Prior to her death, Hamilton commissioned the statue from Angel and envisioned a massive setting.  She commissioned artist Eliel Saarinen to design a massive, 80 foot column to go behind the statue.  However, this proposal was not well-received and the setting was never completed.

Saarinen’s proposal (courtesy of Flickr user Chernobyl.Skies):

Buckingham died in 1937 before the statue was completed, but she left $1 million in her will to the Art Institute specifically to create and maintain the Hamilton Memorial.  The Art Institute trustees were not particularly keen to complete the work according to Buckingham’s vision, and Buckingham’s trustees eventually had to take them to court in 1951 to have the statue and setting completed.  The court ordered the completion of the monument by 1953, and the Art Institute commissioned Samuel A. Marx to create the setting.  

Original memorial with setting created by Marx (from the Art Institute of Chicago):

The statue stood like this for 40 years, but then engineering studies revealed design flaws in the setting.  The setting was demolished in 1993, and the statue has stood in its current form since then.  If you go to Lincoln Park today, this is what you’ll see:

Hamilton Statue in Chicago

For a more detailed description of the history of the Chicago memorial from an architectural point of view, see Andrew Raimist’s blog, Architectural Ruminations.  And for more images of Hamilton, check out the AHA Society’s Hamilton desk calendar.

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year from It’s Hamiltime!  Apologies for the long posting hiatus- work and the holidays have been pretty busy!  Thanks so much for reading this blog since I started it.  I have some big plans for 2013, including upcoming posts on Hamilton and the fiscal cliff, more installments in the race and slavery series, and more!

As we go into 2013, I was thinking about what I want to accomplish in the new year, and it brought to mind Hamilton’s headstone at Trinity Church


The PATRIOT of incorruptible INTEGRITY
The SOLDIER of approved VALOR
The STATESMAN of consummate WISDOM
Whose TALENTS and VIRTUES will be admired
Long after this MARBLE shall have mouldered into

Incredible accomplishments in just 47 years…