Blast from the Past: Hamilton Broadway Lines and their Historical Sources

In his script for Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda merges the American Founding with the tenor of modern America, such that history is both relived and reimagined.  The characters in Hamilton recite excerpts from historical documents such as Washington’s Farewell Address and Hamilton’s History of the United States for the Year 1796, In Which the Charge of Speculation against Alexander Hamilton, Late Secretary of the Treasury, is Fully Refuted (aka The Reynolds Pamphlet).  Miranda also weaves in fragments of real quotes from Hamilton and his contemporaries, effortlessly fitting them into the fabric of the whole production.

Below are a few lines that jumped out at me along with excerpts of the historic primary source documents that contain either the exact phrase or are very similar.  (Note that this short list is by no means exhaustive and is entirely based on my memory from seeing the show in previews- if you think of others, add them into the comments section!)

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“I wish there was a war.” (Hamilton to Burr)

“…my ambition is vigilant, so I continue the groveling condition of a clerk, or the like to which my fortune condemns me, and would willingly risk my life, though not my character, to exalt my station. …  I shall conclude by saying I wish there was a war.” – Letter from Hamilton to his friend Edward “Ned” Stevens dated November 11, 1769 (reprinted in Reminisces of James A. Hamilton, available here through Google Books).

At the time of this letter, Hamilton was still in St. Croix working as a clerk.  Hamilton realized that in order to rise up and advance his station in life, something dramatic would need to happen and he expressed his willingness to take any risks that would not endanger his honor.

“I’m just saying, If you really loved me, you would share him!” (Angelica to Eliza)

“…by my Amiable you know that I mean your Husband, for I love him very much and if you were as generous as the old Romans, you would lend him to me for a little while, but do not be jealous, my dear Eliza, since I am more solicitous to promote his laudable ambition, than any person in the world…” – Letter from Angelica Church to Elizabeth Hamilton, July 30, 1794 (Reprinted in the Intimate Life of Alexander Hamilton by Allan Mclane Hamilton, available on Google Books)

“Best of wives and best of women.” (Hamilton to Eliza before the duel)

“Fly to the bosom of your God and be comforted.  With my last idea; I shall cherish the sweet hope of meeting you in a better world.

Adieu best of wives and best of Women.  Embrace all my darling Children for me.

Ever yours.    AH”  – Letter from Alexander Hamilton to Eliza Hamilton written July 4, 1804

Hamilton gave this letter to Nathaniel Pendleton, his second in the duel, as part of his efforts to put his affairs in order prior to his interview with Aaron Burr at Weehawken on July 11, 1804.   (Reprinted in the Papers of Alexander Hamilton, available here via Google Books).  Interestingly, Hamilton and Burr had dinner together with a group of fellow former Revolutionary War officers just days before the duel.

Review: Eve Karlin’s City of Liars and Thieves

On December 22, 1799, a young woman named Elma Sands disappeared from her New York City boarding house and was found 11 days later at the bottom of a well owned by Aaron Burr’s Manhattan Company.  Sands’ suspected lover and killer, Levi Weeks, was defended in court by co-defense counsel Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, and Brockholst Livingston.  The case, which was America’s first recorded murder trial, has been the subject of several non-fiction and fictional accounts.  In preparation for my talk at Federal Hall on July 13, 2015, I read several of these accounts as well as the newspaper accounts and transcripts of the trial.

One account I particularly enjoyed was Eve Karlin’s historical fiction novel City of Liars and Thieves.  Karlin’s book presents the story of Elma’s disappearance and the subsequent high profile murder trial through the lens of Catherine Ring, Elma’s cousin and close friend.  By putting the story through the eyes of a character who would normally be relegated to the historical background, Karlin offers a fresh new perspective on a historical mystery.  The novel provides insight into the turmoil and unrest in New York in 1799, after the city was recovering from a yellow fever epidemic, reeling from the news of George Washington’s death in December 1799, and struggling to provide clean water for its citizens.  Amidst all of these events, Elma Sands’ murder prompted a massive outpouring of public sympathy and fascination.

Image from Amazon

The death of Elma Sands brought the entire City of New York to a standstill and prompted an unprecedented degree of national curiosity.  Karlin weaves historical facts in with a richly imagine backstory of conspiracy, mystery, and tragedy for a gripping read.  The trial of Levi Weeks, her supposed lover and son of a prominent builder who had connections with three of the most prominent lawyers of the day, led to throngs of people flocking to New York’s City Hall.

Urban legend tells us that at the conclusion of the trial, after Levi Weeks was affected, Catherine Ring pointed in the direction of counsel’s table and cursed Hamilton that if he should die a natural death there would be no justice in heaven.  The formal trial transcripts don’t capture this aside, but Karlin’s novel imagines the need for answers and sense of helplessness that the victim’s friends and family may have suffered.

The ebook is available from Amazon for $2.99.  If you’ve read it, share your thoughts in the comments section!

The infamous Manhattan well where Elma Sands was found (now located at a COS store in SoHo) and the site of the trial (Federal Hall National Memorial) are both accessible to the public, so if you’re in New York and interested in the historical mystery, I encourage you to visit both!

Fisher Ames on the Character of Alexander Hamilton

Fisher Ames, an influential Massachusetts Federalist and famed orator, gave a speech about Hamilton’s life and legacy immediately after his death.  Ames entered Harvard University at age 12, and graduated by 16.  He was well known both for his oratorical skills and his deep resistance to Jeffersonian democracy.
Picture from Biographical Directory of the United States Congress

Interestingly, before the election of 1800, Ames sent Hamilton a series of letters urging him not to split the Federalist Party and put Jefferson in power (which is exactly what happened).

Ames wrote:

“…the only chance to prevent the triumph of the Jacobins is to unite and vote according to the compromise made at Philadelphia for the two candidates. That this gives an equal chance and a better than we would freely give to one of them. But strong as our objections are, and strongly as we could and are willing to urge them to the public we refrain, because the effect of urging them would be to split the Federalists and Absolutely to ensure Mr. Jefferson’s success.”

Hamilton broke with Ames and many of his other fellow Federalists by supporting Jefferson over Burr in the Senate tiebreaker in the election of 1800.  Nevertheless, Ames delivered a heartfelt oration after Hamilton’s death, describing his unique role in creating the nation, the universal grief surrounding his death, and the impact of his legacy.

Ames delivered these remarks to a private group of friends immediately after Hamilton’s death.  It was later published in July 1804 in the Repertory newspaper, and was included in a compilation of his works.  The full text is available here via Google Books, and excerpts are below with my commentary.  (If you read the original, you’ll notice that I’ve modernized the spelling and some of the punctuation to make it easier to read.)

Ames described how the news of Hamilton’s passing had paralyzed the nation.

“Since the news of his death, the novel and strange events of Europe have succeeded each other unregarded; the nation has been enchained to its subject, and broods over tis grief, which is more deep than eloquent, which though dumb, can make itself felt without utterance, and which does not merely pass, but like an electrical shock, at the same instant smites and astonishes, as it passes from Georgia to New Hampshire.”


“Alas!  The great man who was, at all times, so much the ornament of our country, and so exclusively fitted, in its extremity, to be its champion, is withdrawn to a purer and more tranquil region.  We are left to endless labors and unavailing regrets.”

Throughout the oration, Ames draws on references to ancient Greek and Roman philosophy and mythology.  In one section he states:

“It is not as Apollo, enchanting the shepherds with his lyre, that we deplore him; it is as Hercules, treacherously slain in the midst of his unfinished labors, leaving the world overrun with monsters.”

In contrast to other eulogies and orations delivered after Hamilton’s death, Ames directly tackled the Republican rumors surrounding Hamilton’s corruption and the consequences of his “frankness” in writing the Reynolds Pamphlet in 1797.  Ames suggested that Hamilton’s talent was so immense that it inspired the suspicion of his enemies and they attributed motions of corruption despite lack of cause.

“No man ever more disdained duplicity, or carried frankness further than he.  This gave to his political opponents some temporary advantages, and currency to some popular prejudices, which he would have lived down, if his death had not prematurely dispelled them.”


“It was impossible to deny, that he was a patriot, and such a patriot, as, seeking neither popularity nor office, without artifice, without meanness, the best Romans in their best days would have admitted to citizenship and to the consulate.  Virtue, so rare, so pure, so bold, by its very purity and excellence, inspired suspicion, as a prodigy.  His enemies judged of him by themselves: so splendid and arduous were his services, they could not find it in their hearts to believe, that they were disinterested.”

Ames concluded by imploring his fellow citizens to keep the memory of Hamilton’s legacy alive:

“The most substantial glory of a country, is in its virtuous great men: its prosperity will depend on its docility to learn from their example.  That nation is fated to ignominy and servitude, for which such men have lived in vain.  …  The name of Hamilton would have honored Greece, in the age of Aristides.  May heaven, the guardian of our liberty, grant that our country may be fruitful of Hamiltons, and faithful to their glory.”

Talk: Murder in Manhattan! (July 13, 2015, 12 pm, Federal Hall)

On Monday, July 13, 2015, I’ll be speaking on the Manhattan Well Murder trial, in which Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr successfully defended Levi Weeks from the charge of murdering his alleged lover, Elma Sands.  The case is interesting for several reasons: the ongoing mystery surrounding the murder itself, the rare courtroom collaboration between Hamilton and Burr, and the insight it provides into the criminal justice system in New York in 1800.  The murder and trial are the subject of two recent historical fiction novels: City of Liars and Thieves by Eve Karlin, and Duel with the Devil by Paul Collins.

The talk will be at 12-1:30 pm at Federal Hall on Monday July 13, 2015 and admission is free.

Federal Hall (where the trial of Levi Weeks as held in 1800) is located at 26 Wall Street.  The talk is free, and is part of the series of Celebrate Hamilton events put on by the Alexander Hamilton Awareness Society.

Look forward to seeing you there!

Gouverneur Morris’s Eulogy of Alexander Hamilton

After Hamilton’s death on July 12, 1804, his long-time friend Gouverneur Morris delivered a funeral oration on July 14, 1804, addressed to the people of New York, on a temporary stage erected in the portico of Trinity Church.  Morris was accompanied by four of Hamilton’s surviving sons, ranging in age from 6 to 16.  The New York Post published the text of Morris’s remarks (full text available here via Founders Online), which are excerpted below.  Morris’s oration highlighted Hamilton’s multi-faceted contributions and impact on several different sectors of New York society:

Far from attempting to excite your emotions, I must try to repress my own, and yet I fear that instead of the language of a public speaker, you will hear only the lamentations of a bewailing friend. But I will struggle with my bursting heart, to pourtray that Heroic Spirit, which has flown to the mansions of bliss.

At the time when our government was organised, we were without funds, though not without resources. To call them into action, and establish order in the finances, Washington sought for splendid talents, for extensive information, and, above all, he sought for sterling, incorruptible integrity—All these he found in Hamilton. The system then adopted has been the subject of much animadversion. If it be not without a fault, let it be remembered that nothing human is perfect. Recollect the circumstances of the moment—recollect the conflict of opinion—and above all, remember that the minister of a republic must bend to the will of the people. The administration which Washington formed, was one of the most efficient, one of the best that any country was ever blest with. And the result was a rapid advance in power and prosperity, of which there is no example in any other age or nation. The part which Hamilton bore is universally known.

Brethren of the Cincinnati—There lies our chief! Let him still be our model. Like him, after a long and faithful public service, let us cheerfully perform the social duties of private life. Oh! he was mild and gentle. In him there was no offence; no guile. His generous hand and heart were open to all.

Gentlemen of the Bar—You have lost your brightest ornament. Cherish and imitate his example. While, like him, with justifiable, with laudable zeal, you pursue the interests of your clients, remember, like him, the eternal principles of justice.

Fellow Citizens—You have long witnessed his professional conduct, and felt his unrivalled eloquence. You know how well he performed the duties of a Citizen—you know that he never courted your favour by adulation, or the sacrifice of his own judgment. You have seen him contending against you, and saving your dearest interests, as it were, in spite of yourselves. And you now feel and enjoy the benefits resulting from the firm energy of his conduct. Bear this testimony to the memory of my departed friend. I charge you to protect his fame—It is all he has left—all that these poor orphan children will inherit from their father. But, my countrymen, that Fame may be a rich treasure to you also. Let it be the test by which to examine those who solicit your favour. Disregarding professions, view their conduct and on a doubtful occasion, ask, Would Hamilton have done this thing?

Duelversary: Hamilton after the Duel

On July 11, 1804, Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr began their fatal duel in Weehawken.  After Hamilton was mortally wounded, he was taken by boat back to New York City, where he passed away the following day.  In a letter to William Coleman (Hamilton’s friend and the editor of the New York Post), Dr. David Hosack, Hamilton’s attending physician, described Hamilton’s moments after the duel.  Dr. Hosack’s full account is available from Founders Online.

Dr. Hosack first described calling out to Hamilton and finding him after he had been shot.  Dr. Hosack determined that the only chance that Hamilton had to survive would be to get onto a boat and go to New York City immediately for treatment.

When called to him, upon his receiving the fatal wound, I found him half sitting on the ground, supported in the arms of Mr. Pendleton. His countenance of death I shall never forget. He had at that instant just strength to say, “This is a mortal wound, Doctor;” when he sunk away, and became to all appearance lifeless. I immediately stripped up his clothes, and soon, alas! ascertained that the direction of the ball must have been through some vital part.* His pulses were not to be felt; his respiration was entirely suspended; and upon laying my hand on his heart, and perceiving no motion there, I considered him as irrecoverably gone. I however observed to Mr. Pendleton, that the only chance for his reviving was immediately to get him upon the water. We therefore lifted him up, and carried him out of the wood, to the margin of the bank, where the bargemen aided us in conveying him into the boat, which immediately put off.

As the party approached the shore, Hamilton gave Dr. Hosack instructions as to how to break the news to his wife, Eliza.

Perceiving that we approached the shore, he said, “Let Mrs. Hamilton be immediately sent for—let the event be gradually broken to her; but give her hopes.” Looking up we saw his friend Mr. Bayard standing on the wharf in great agitation. He had been told by his servant that Gen. Hamilton, Mr. Pendleton, and myself, had crossed the river in a boat together, and too well he conjectured the fatal errand, and foreboded the dreadful result. Perceiving, as we came nearer, that Mr. Pendleton and myself only sat up in the stern sheets, he clasped his hands together in the most violent apprehension; but when I called to him to have a cot prepared, and he at the same moment saw his poor friend lying in the bottom of the boat, he threw up his eyes and burst into a flood of tears and lamentation. Hamilton alone appeared tranquil and composed. We then conveyed him as tenderly as possible up to the house. The distresses of this amiable family were such that till the first shock was abated, they were scarcely able to summon fortitude enough to yield sufficient assistance to their dying friend.

In his last hours, Hamilton spent time with his wife and children, and expressed his anxiety for their future and their grief.

During the night, he had some imperfect sleep; but the succeeding morning his symptoms were aggravated, attended however with a diminution of pain. His mind retained all its usual strength and composure. The great source of his anxiety seemed to be in his sympathy with his half distracted wife and children. He spoke to me frequently of them—“My beloved wife and children,” were always his expressions. But his fortitude triumphed over his situation, dreadful as it was; once, indeed, at the sight of his children brought to the bed-side together, seven in number, his utterance forsook him; he opened his eyes, gave them one look, and closed them again, till they were taken away. As a proof of his extraordinary composure of mind, let me add, that he alone could calm the frantic grief of their mother. “Remember, my Eliza, you are a Christian,” were the expressions with which he frequently, with a firm voice, but in pathetic and impressive manner, addressed her. His words, and the tone in which they were uttered, will never be effaced from my memory. At about two o’clock, as the public well knows, he expired.

Incorrupta fides—nudaque veritas

Quando ullum invenient parem?

Multis ille quidem flebilis occidit.

The powerful Latin phrase Dr. Hosack quoted in the letter is translated below:

“When will incorruptible Faith and naked Truth

Find another his equal?

He has died wept by many.”