Sotheby’s description of the auction items stated:
The material in the auction includes highly personal documents, such as love letters exchanged between Hamilton and his wife Eliza, as well as the condolence letter, sealed with black wax, his father-in-law, Phillip Skyler, sent to his daughter after Hamilton was killed in the duel with Burr (estimate $15/20,000). However, his public career is also well represented with notes he wrote for one of Washington’s annual addresses to congress (estimate $15/25,000) as well as legal papers from his private practice, among many others documents. Perhaps the most poignant relic in the sale is a lock of Hamilton’s hair with a letter of presentation from his wife Eliza (estimate $15/25,000).
The New York Times coverage of the auction noted that Hamilton artifacts are now valued more than Washington artifacts:
“Hamilton has exceeded the value of George Washington with this auction,” John Reznikoff, a dealer from Stamford, Conn., said after the hammer dropped on the last of 77 lots of letters and documents, which had been held by Hamilton descendants for more than 200 years. “If you compare letters with comparable content, Hamilton’s now cost more.”
At age 21, a young and fiery Alexander Hamilton directed some serious vitriol towards Samuel Chase, a Maryland Congressman. As a Congressman, Chase had known of Congress’ secret plan for securing flour to supply the French fleet. He then passed on this information to profit-minded associates, who hatched a plan to corner the supply of flour and raise its price. In a series of three Publius letters in October and November 1778, Hamilton blasted Chase for seeking to profit from the Revolution, and using his position as a Member of Congress to damage the country and the Revolutionary movement.
The first Publius letter, published on October 16, 1778 accused Chase of violating his sacred responsibilities of office:
But when a man, appointed to be the guardian of the State, and the depositary of the happiness and morals of the people—forgetful of the solemn relation, in which he stands—descends to the dishonest artifices of a mercantile projector, and sacrifices his conscience and his trust to pecuniary motives; there is no strain of abhorrence, of which the human mind is capable, nor punishment, the vengeance of the people can inflict, which may not be applied to him, with justice. If it should have happened that a Member of C———ss has been this degenerate character, and has been known to turn the knowledge of secrets, to which his office gave him access, to the purposes of private profit, by employing emissaries to engross an article of immediate necessity to the public service; he ought to feel the utmost rigor of public resentment, and be detested as a traitor of the worst and most dangerous kind.
Hamilton’s deep abhorrence of corruption and the use of political power for personal gain is apparent in his criticism of Chase. Particularly during a time of war, Hamilton felt that Chase’s use of information he had gained through his position of political trust for profit made him a “traitor of the worst and most dangerous kind.”
Hamilton’s second letter, published on October 26, 1778, criticized Chase as a man of mediocre (at best) talents, who had forced himself into public view as a result of the scandal and thus “acquired an indisputed title to be immortalised in infamy.” Hamilton packed no punches in his letter, and his contempt of Chase shines unmistakably through:
The honor of being the hero of a public panegeric, is what you could hardly have aspired to, either from your talents, or from your good qualities. The partiality of your friends has never given you credit for more than mediocrity in the former; and experience has proved, that you are indebted for all your consequence, to the reverse of the latter. Had you not struck out a new line of prostitution for yourself, you might still have remained unnoticed, and contemptible—your name scarcely known beyond the little circle of your electors and clients, and recorded only in the journals of C–––––ss. But you have now forced yourself into view, in a light too singular and conspicuous to be over-looked, and have acquired an indisputed title to be immortalised in infamy.
In his third and final Publius letter on the subject of Chase’s corruption, dated November 16, 1778, Hamilton painted a picture of Chase as someone driven by greed alone, who had achieved success but who had gone too far to return to a position of public trust
The love of money and the love of power are the predominating ingredients of your mind—cunning the characteristic of your understanding. This, has hitherto carried you successfully through life, and has alone raised you to the exterior consideration, you enjoy. The natural consequence of success, is temerity. It has now proceeded one step too far, and precipitated you into measures, from the consequences of which, you will not easily extricate yourself; your avarice will be fatal to your ambition. I have too good an opinion of the sense and spirit, to say nothing of the virtue of your countrymen, to believe they will permit you any longer to abuse their confidence, or trample upon their honour.
Hamilton urged Chase to resign from office in light of the scandal, and to stop the facade of patriotism.
It is a mark of compassion, to which you are not intitled, to advise you by a timely and voluntary retreat, to avoid the ignominy of a formal dismission. Your career has held out as long as you could have hoped. It is time you should cease to personate the fictitious character you have assumed, and appear what you really are—lay aside the mask of patriotism, and assert your station among the honorable tribe of speculators and projectors. Cultivate a closer alliance with your D—s—y and your W—t, the accomplices and instruments of your guilt, and console yourself for the advantage you have lost, by indulging your genius, without restraint, in all the forms and varieties of fashionable peculation.
Hamilton’s accusations effectively ended Chase’s career in the Continental Congress, and led him to near bankruptcy. Chase went home to Maryland, but returned to the national stage in the 1780s as a strong critic of the new Constitution. Chase would eventually switch his political beliefs and became aligned with the Federalist Party.
Interestingly, after his fall from the Continental Congress in disgrace, Chase was appointed by President Washington to be a Supreme Court justice in 1796. Chase later came into President Jefferson’s cross-hairs after openly criticizing the Democratic-Republicans for the repeal of the Judiciary Act of 1801. Chase was served with eight articles of impeachment, and Vice President Aaron Burr presided over his impeachment trial. Chase was ultimately not impeached by a large margin, and served on the Supreme Court until his death. Chase’s victory in avoiding impeachment helped maintain judicial independence from the executive and legislative branches. To read more about the trial, I recommend a 1967 article from the Maryland Law Review: “The Trials of Mr. Justice Samuel Chase.” It’s a fascinating read, and is available for free online via Digital Commons.
As an update to my older post about Hamilton-themed office supplies, here are some additional office supplies available!
My office still boasts a Hamilton bobblehead and the mini-bust that I got a few years ago! Some newer supplies and office decorations are now on the market, including:
Alexander Hamilton Notebook (from the Signature Notebook Series)- Leather-bound notebook with Hamilton’s quotes. The product description states: “Alexander Hamilton is arguably one of the most inspiring—if not the most significant—of our Founding Fathers, and today, Hamilton’s legacy of brilliance still rewards us all. His defense and advocacy of the Constitution continue to shape our political discourse, and his profound impact on our then-fledging nation was accomplished largely through the power of his written word. Now you can put pen to paper in your very own Alexander Hamilton Signature Notebook, and let his words encourage and inspire you as you record your daily musings.” It is available from Target from $9.87.
Blue Hamilton Mousepad- The Alex in Blue mousepad is a nonstick blue mousepad with a rubber backing. Available from Cafe Press for $9.99.
Alexander Hamilton Statue Sculpture Figurine- This 13 inch figurine is made of cold cast resin with a bronze powder finish and is available from Amazon for $56.25.
Alexander Hamilton Glass Paperweight- made of tempered glass with a felted base. The product description states that it is “an enduring inspiration and reminder of personal commitment and excellence. A visable symbol of Americas rich heritage.” It is available from Amazon for $9.95.
Alexander Hamilton’s third child, Alexander Hamilton, Jr. was born in 1786. Like his father and older brother Philip, Alexander completed a course of study at Columbia College. Hamilton, Jr. was active in politics and had a military career, spending some time in Spain and Portugal before the War of 1812, and serving as aide-de-camp to General Morgan Lewis. After time in Europe and Florida, Hamilton, Jr. returned to New York and practiced as a lawyer in the Court of Chancery.
Interestingly, Hamilton, Jr.’s legal career would place him on a collision course with Aaron Burr.
On July 3, 1833, 77-year old Aaron Burr had married wealthy widow Eliza Jumel. Philip Hone, a successful merchant and the mayor of New York from 1825-1826 wrote in his diary:
Wednesday, July 3. — The celebrated Colonel Burr was married on Monday evening to the equally celebrated Mrs. Jumel, widow of Stephen Jumel. It is benevolent in her to keep the old man in his latter days. One good turn deserves another.
“Upon Stephen Jumel’s death, Eliza was one of the wealthiest widows in New York. However, she sought additional security in terms of her place in society. Her marriage to former vice president Aaron Burr in 1833 bolstered her footing among the New York elite. The marriage was solely out of convenience for both sides. Aaron Burr was 77 when they married, and he was looking for a source of funds to assist him to cover his expenses. Eliza quickly saw his endgame and also learned of his infidelity with a much younger woman. Eliza sued for divorce. In an interesting turn of events, her lawyer was Alexander Hamilton’s son. Perhaps this was delayed karma for Aaron Burr, who had shot and killed Hamilton 30 years prior.”
William Henry Shelton wrote that during the divorce trial, Jumel and Burr were “hurling correspondents at each other, and on the part of Burr, in the unfair proportion of four to one.”
The divorce case based on Burr’s alleged infidelity proceeded privately in the Court of Chancery. Hamilton, Jr. represented Eliza Jumel, and Charles O’Conor represented Burr. On September 14, 1836, coincidentally the day of Burr’s death, the divorce was granted by Judge Philo T. Ruggles.
In an August 18, 1792 letter to President Washington, Hamilton commented on the differences between the South and North and described the talk of separation from a small group of “respectable men.” Hamilton noted that “happily,” despite this talk of separation, the “prevailing sentiment” of the people during this time period was in favor of maintaining the Union.
It is certainly much to be regretted that party discriminations are so far Geographical as they have been; and that ideas of a severance of the Union are creeping in both North and South. In the South it is supposed that more government than is expedient is desired by the North. In the North, it is believed, that the prejudices of the South are incompatible with the necessary degree of Government and with the attainment of the essential ends of National Union. In both quarters there are respectable men who talk of separation, as a thing dictated by the different geniusses and different prejudices of the parts. But happily their number is not considerable—& the prevailing sentiment of the people is in favour of their true interest,union. And it is to be hoped that the Efforts of wise men will be able to prevent a scism, which would be injurious in different degrees to different portions of the Union; but would seriously wound the prosperity of all.
Hamilton’s words of warning, nearly 70 years before the Civil War began, underscore the deep-seated tensions between North and South.
In addition to the duel with Aaron Burr, Hamilton was involved with several other duels, either as one of the challengers, or as a second for his friends and acquaintances.
On July 18, 1795, Hamilton was publicly criticized over his defense of the Jay Treaty at a meeting in New York. Hamilton tried to intervene in an argument between Commodore James Nicholson and Federalist lawyer Josiah Ogden Hoffman. Nicholson was one of Hamilton’s most prominent critics, and the two had long-standing political disagreements. Nicholson then allegedly called Hamilton an “Abettor of Tories” and accused him of declining a previous challenge to duel. Hamilton was offended and challenged Nicholson to a duel.
On July 20, 1795, Hamilton sent a letter to Nicholson via his close friend, Nicholas Fish, who he had designated as his second for the duel:
New York Monday July 20. 1795.
The unprovoked rudeness and insult which I experienced from You on Saturday leaves me no option but that of a meeting with You, the object of which You will readily understand. I propose to You for the purpose Pawlus Hook as the place and monday next eleven o’clock as the time. I should not fix so remote a day but that I am charged with trusts for other persons which will previously require attention on my part. My friend Col. Fish who is to deliver You this will accompany me.
I am &c. Your humble Servt.
In the letter, Hamilton cites Nicholson’s “unproved rudeness” and his “insult” of Hamilton as the reason for the confrontation being necessary. He states that Nicholson’s conduct has left Hamilton with “no option” but a meeting with him, and proposes that the duel be set for the following Monday. He notes that the only reason he is proposing a date seven days in the future is because of his prior commitments.
Nicholson responded immediately, stating that he feared an inquiry into the duel and insisting that the duel take place the following day rather than a week later:
I had the honor of recieving a note from you a few minutes ago by Colo: Fish relative to an Altercation that took place between us on Saturday last. On an occasion of this Kind I shall certainly not decline your invitation. Its peremptory tenor necessarily precludes any discussion on my part of the merits of the controversy. The publicity of the affair & the unusual visit of your friend have however unfortunately occasioned an alarm in my family & may produce an inquiry—you will therefore perceive that my situation will be rendered extremely disagreeable unless our interview takes place before that time. I have therefore to intreat that it may not be postponed longer than tomorrow Morning.
I am &ca. yrs.
Eventually, on July 26, 1795, after Hamilton and Nicholson had gone through three drafts of apologies (that Hamilton wrote for Nicholson’s review), Nicholson signed a declaration apologizing for his conduct:
Mr. Nicholson declares that the warmth of the expressions which he recollects to have used to Mr. Hamilton proceeded from a misapprehension of the nature of his interposition in the altercation between Mr. Hoffman & Mr. Nicholson that as to the suggestion alleged to have been made by Mr. Nicholson namely that Mr. Hamilton had declined a former interview he does not recollect and is not conscious of having made it, neither did he intend the imputation which it would seem to imply and that if he did make the suggestion he regrets the pain which it must have occasioned to Mr. Hamilton.
The seconds representing Hamilton and Nicholson were DeWitt Clinton, Nicholas Fish, Rufus King, Brockholst Livingston. Once Nicholson and Hamilton agreed on the apology, they signed off on the following statement, thus ending the challenge in a “satisfactory and honorable way”:
The subscribers having been made acquainted with the correspondence between Mr Hamilton and Mr Nicholson relative to a controversy that took place between them on Saturday before last, do hereby certify that the same has been settled in a satisfactory and honorable way to both the parties.
Interestingly, Nicholson’s son-in-law, Albert Gallatin, would serve as the Secretary of Treasury under President Jefferson. Gallatin, like Nicholson, was a vigorous critic of Hamilton’s tenure as Treasury Secretary, but eventually “he followed a Hamiltonian course.”
Angelica Schuyler’s marriage to Englishman John Barker Church jolted Albany society, and angered her father, who had disapproved of the match. Angelica and John, who was traveling under the assumed name of John Carter to avoid trouble after a duel, met and began a secret romance without consulting her father, General Philip Schuyler. They then eloped at the home of the young Patroon Stephen Van Rensselaer III (who would later secretly elope with Angelica and Eliza’s sister Peggy!!)
General Schuyler wrote to his friend William Duer (who had provided Church/Carter with a letter of introduction to the General) of his disapproval of the match and his gradual forgiveness of the couple:
“Carter and my eldest daughter ran off and married on the 23rd July. Unacquainted with his family, his connections and situation in life, the match was exceedingly disagreeable to me, and I had signified it to him. But as there is no undoing this gordian knot, I took what I hope you will think the prudent part: I frowned, I made them humble themselves, forgave, and called them home.”
After this awkward family reunion, the couple was welcomed back into the Schuyler home, and Church stopped using his fake identity.
Catherine Schuyler’s biographer, Mary Gay Humphreys stated:
“The mystery concerning Carter proved to be alarming only in the fact that it was a mystery. He had left England on account of a duel, assuming the name of Carter for that of John Barker Church, which he subsequently resumed. At the time he was Commissary for Rochambeau, and was afterwards associated with General Wadsworth in the same department. In this capacity he had the opportunity of amassing a large fortune, and the wayward couple became prominent in the social life of New York, London, and Paris.”
In Historic Houses of New Jersey, Weymer Jay Mills provides some romantic color to the story and writes:
“There was another Revolutionary love-affair in General Schuyler’s family which history has scarcely noted,- overshadowed as it is by that of Hamilton and his Betsey- and that is the elopement of Angelica, his eldest daughter with John Barker Church, a gentleman of fortune masquerading in America under the nom de guerre of Carter. The vivacious and clever Angelica, who far outshone the more retiring Elizabeth, met him at a Philadelphia assembly at the beginning of the war. Possessed of dashing manners and almost godlike beauty, it is small wonder that he attracted the attention of the maiden. From his mother, Elizabeth Barker, celebrated at the court of George III for her loveliness, he inherited the languishing blue eyes and finely-chiseled features which Reynolds and Cosway have immortalized. Although but a few years past his school days, he was already the hero of many adventures and a breaker of hearts. To escape a marriage with a wealthy kinswoman, whose Lowestoft estates joined his own, and the consequences of a duel, he fled from London without baggage or credentials; and it was under this assumed name that he wooed and won the most brilliant daughter of one of New York’s first families. General Schuyler at first did not approve of the marriage, but through the influence of the Patroon Van Rensselaer, who encouraged and sheltered the young couple at his manor, he gradually relented, and finally received them with open arms at the Albany homestead.
In a January 21, 1781 letter to his sister-in-law Margarita (Peggy) Schuyler, Hamilton lay out his philosophy on marriage and selecting the right partner. Hamilton noted that his wife, Eliza:
“….fancies herself the happiest woman in the world, and would need persuade all her friends to embark with her in the matrimonial voyage. But I pray you do not let her advice have so much influence as to make you matrimony-mad.”
He noted that despite Eliza’s happiness with their early married life, it was important for Peggy to be cautious before making such a commitment.
However, when marriages were made between two incompatible people, Hamilton expressed the skeptical view that:
“…its a dog of life when two dissonant tempers meet, and ’tis ten to one but this is the case.”
Therefore, Hamilton urged Peggy to be “cautious in the choice” and recommended that she:
“Get a man of sense, not ugly enough to be pointed at—with some good-nature—a few grains of feeling—a little taste—a little imagination—and above all a good deal of decision to keep you in order; for that I foresee will be no easy task. If you can find one with all these qualities, willing to marry you, marry him as soon as you please.”
Two years later, Peggy eloped with young Stephen van Rensselaer III. The marriage raised some eyebrows because Peggy was 25 and van Rensselar was only 19. The couple had three children, but only one, Stephen van Rensselaer IV, survived to adulthood. Peggy died at age 42 in 1801.