Palaces Out of Paragraphs: Hamilton’s Love Letters

By March of 1780, Alexander Hamilton and Elizabeth Schuyler were engaged.  The wedding date was set for December of that year, and as Hamilton continued his duties as General Washington’s aide-de-campe, he wrote her several letters expressing his sentiments.  Although most of Elizabeth’s friends affectionately called her Eliza, Hamilton referred to her as his Betsey.  The letters excerpted below are from the period July 1780 to October 1781, and are all available via the National Archives’ Founders Online.

Image from: Alexander Hamilton Exhibit

July 2-4, 1780

I love you more and more every hour. The sweet softness and delicacy of your mind and manners, the elevation of your sentiments, the real goodness of your heart, its tenderness to me, the beauties of your face and person, your unpretending good sense and that innocent simplicity and frankness which pervade your actions; all these appear to me with increasing amiableness and place you in my estimation above all the rest of your sex.

July 31, 1780– Because Eliza’s letters have never been found, we don’t know what the back and forth exchange was between the two, but it appears that Hamilton was reassuring Eliza about his feelings for her.

Since my last I have received three letters from you,the sweetest ever dictated by a fond heart. Banish your uneasiness my love; I discard for ever, every idea injurious to your tenderness which every thing convinces me is without an equal but in mine. I have no time to indulge my heart by dwelling on those assurances which it delights to be ever giving you of its admiration, of its esteem of its love. My life shall be a continued proof of the unbounded affection of your

In August of 1780, a few months before they were to be married, Hamilton playfully questioned whether Eliza would be able to handle the challenges of her new uncertain financial situation after the two were married.  He asks her to think seriously about whether she can adjust to a lifestyle of financial uncertainty and be satisfied with it even when she sees her friends and acquaintances living far grander lifestyles:

But now we are talking of times to come, tell me my pretty damsel have you made up your mind upon the subject of housekeeping? Do you soberly relish the pleasure of being a poor mans wife? Have you learned to think a home spun preferable to a brocade and the rumbling of a waggon wheel to the musical rattling of a coach and six? Will you be able to see with perfect composure your old acquaintances flaunting it in gay life, tripping it along in elegance and splendor, while you hold an humble station and have no other enjoyments than the sober comforts of a good wife? Can you in short be an Aquileia and chearfully plant turnips with me, if fortune should so order it? If you cannot my Dear we are playing a comedy of all in the wrong, and you should correct the mistake before we begin to act the tragedy of the unhappy couple.

I propose you a set of new questions my lovely girl; but though they are asked with an air of levity, they merit a very serious consideration, for on their being resolved in the affirmative stripped of all the colorings of a fond imagination our happiness may absolutely depend. I have not concealed my circumstances from my Betsey; they are far from splendid; they may possibly even be worse than I expect, for every day brings me fresh proof of the knavery of those to whom my little affairs are entrusted. They have already filed down what was in their hands more than one half, and I am told they go on diminishing it, ’till I fear they will reduce it below my former fears. An indifference to property enters into my character too much, and what affects me now as my Betsey is concerned in it, I should have laughed at or not thought of at all a year ago. But I have thoroughly examined my own heart. Beloved by you, I can be happy in any situation, and can struggle with every embarrassment of fortune with patience and firmness. I cannot however forbear entreating you to realize our union on the dark side and satisfy, without deceiving yourself, how far your affection for me can make you happy in a privation of those elegancies to which you have been accustomed. If fortune should smile upon us, it will do us no harm to have been prepared for adversity; if she frowns upon us, by being prepared, we shall encounter it without the chagrin of disappointment. Your future rank in life is a perfect lottery; you may move in an exalted you may move in a very humble sphere; the last is most probable; examine well your heart. And in doing it, dont figure to yourself a cottage in romance, with the spontaneous bounties of nature courting you to enjoyment. Dont imagine yourself a shepherdess, your hair embroidered with flowers a crook in your hand tending your flock under a shady tree, by the side of a cool fountain, your faithful shepherd sitting near and entertaining you with gentle tales of love. These are pretty dreams and very apt to enter into the heads of lovers when they think of a connection without the advantages of fortune. But they must not be indulged. You must apply your situation to real life, and think how you should feel in scenes of which you may find examples every day. So far My Dear Betsey as the tenderest affection can compensate for other inconveniences in making your estimate, you cannot give too large a credit for this article. My heart overflows with every thing for you, that admiration, esteem and love can inspire. I would this moment give the world to be near you only to kiss your sweet hand. Believe what I say to be truth and imagine what are my feelings when I say it. Let it awake your sympathy and let our hearts melt in a prayer to be soon united, never more to be separated.

On December 14, 1780, Alexander and Eliza were married at the Schuyler Mansion in Albany.  Shortly afterwards, Hamilton returned to his post and wrote letters about the pain of being separated from his new wife.

July 10, 1 781

I impatiently long to hear from you the state of your mind since our painful separation. Be as happy as you can, I entreat you, my amiable, my beloved wife. But let not absence deprive me of the least particle of your affection. Always remember those tender proofs I have so frequently given you of mine and preserve for me unabated the only blessing which can make life of any value to me.

September 6, 1781

Constantly uppermost in my thoughts and affections, I am happy only when my moments are devoted to some office that respects you. I would give the world to be able to tell you all I feel and all I wish, but consult your own heart and you will know mine. What a world will soon be between us!

October 12, 1781– Hamilton chastised Eliza for not writing him enough letters, but then expressed how his annoyance melted away when he thought of the impending birth of his child.

You complain of me my love, for not writing to you more frequently, but have I not greater reason to complain of you? Since I left Kings ferry, I have received three letters from you, that is three in seven weeks. You have no occupations to prevent your writing; I am constantly employed. Yet I am sure I have written to you during that period more than twenty letters. Don’t imagine that this neglect will go unpunished. I hope to see you in three or four weeks from this time, and you may then expect to be called to a severe account. I know you rely upon your power over me. You expect that your usual blandishments will have the usual charm. You think you have only to smile and caress and you will disarm my resentment; but you are mistaken. The crime is of too serious nature to be forgiven; except with one atonement which I am sure it will not be easy for you to make. This is to love me better than ever. If upon deliberate examination you should find this impossible, I may compound for one substitute. You shall engage shortly to present me with a boy. You will ask me if a girl will not answer the purpose. By no means. I fear, with all the mothers charms, she may inherit the caprices of her father and then she will enslave, tantalize and plague one half ⟨the⟩ sex, out of pure regard to which I protest against a daughter. So far from extenuating your offence this would be an aggravation of it.The idea of a smiling infant in my Betseys arms calls up all the father in it. In imagination I embrace the mother and embrace the child a thousand times. I can scarce refrain from shedding tears of joy. But I must not indulge these sensations; they are unfit for the boisterous scenes of war and whenever they intrude themselves make me but half a soldier.

Happy Birthday, Hamilton!

Happy birthday to the founding father without a father!  On January 11, 1757, Alexander Hamilton was born in uncertain circumstances on the island of Nevis in the West Indies.  However, by sheer brilliance, luck, and a relentless drive and ambition, Hamilton became (among many other accomplishments) an influential Revolutionary thinker, invaluable aide-de-camp to General Washington, creator of the Federalist Paper, Secretary of Treasury, and a celebrated lawyer

When Hamilton was 12, he wrote to his friend Edward Stevens who was studying in King’s College and described the extent to which his ambition made him unable to accept the circumstances of his birth as something that could limit him to a menial position for the rest of his life:

“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 youll 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.”

In describing Hamilton’s ambition to John Adams in September of 1798, George Washington stated:

“By some he is considered as an ambitious man, and therefore a dangerous one.—That he is ambitious I shall readily grant, but it is of that laudable kind which prompts a man to excel in whatever he takes in hand.—He is enterprising,—quick in his perceptions,—and his judgment intuitively great:—qualities essential to a great military character, and therefore I repeat, that his loss will be irreparable.”

Image from Mental Floss

Happy Birthday Hamilton Events in NYC This Weekend!

The AHA Society is putting on a series of events this weekend to commemorate Alexander Hamilton’s birthday on January 11.  If you’re in the New York City area this weekend, check out the event description here.

I’ll be giving a talk on the Manhattan Well Murder trial Saturday, January 9 at 12 pm at Hamilton Grange, which has an interesting connection to the case itself.  Hope to see some of you there!

Other great events include:

  • Dr. Tom Oller’s talk on Monday, January 11th at Federal Hall at 11 am entitled “From Colleagues to Rivals: Hamilton and Jefferson in Washington’s Cabinet and Beyond”
  • Dr. Stephen Knott’s keynote speech at Trinity Church at 1:15 pm on “Washington and Hamilton: The Alliance That Forged America.”

It’s Hamiltime (Again)!

Happy New Year!

After taking a hiatus from blogging to focus on my law practice and on a non-Hamilton related writing project (will share more about that later), I’m happy to announce that this blog will be back on a regular posting schedule starting next week.  New post will be out Mondays and Wednesdays, with occasional Hamil-Swag Friday posts.

Some of the series that I’ve been working on include:

  • Duels for Days (covering some of Hamilton’s other duels or near-duels)
  • Hamil-Fam (will be adding to my series of past posts about Hamilton’s children and family life)
  • A. Ham, Esq (covering some of Hamilton’s notable legal cases from his career

Also, I’ll be speaking at Hamilton Grange in Harlem on January 9, 2016 at 12 pm about the Manhattan Well Murder trial, in which Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, and Brockholst Livingston co-defended the first recorded murder trial in American history.  For more information, and for the full schedule of Celebrate Hamilton events in January 2016, check out the AHA Society’s flyer.