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.”


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