Hamil-Burrn: Hamilton on Gen. Charles Lee and the Battle of Monmouth

Hamilton was not one to mince words, and his vitriol was especially sharp when it was directed to the forces undermining General Washington and the American forces during the Revolution.  One target with whom Hamilton had significant history and distrust was General Charles Lee.

In a July 5, 1778 letter to Elias Boudinot describing the Battle of Monmouth, Hamilton described Washington’s distinguished war council as a group of babies because of their desire to avoid direct confrontation with the British forces and wrote:

“When we came to Hopewell Township, The General unluckily called a council of war, the results of which would have done honor to the most honorable society of midwives, and to them only”

In a 1789 eulogy of Major General Nathanael Greene, Hamilton again exorciated the failed leadership of the war council before the Battle of Monmouth, describing it as “impotent” for allowing the British to retreat without pursuit.

It would be an unpleasing task and therefore I forbear to lift the veil from off those impotent Councils, which by a formal vote had decreed an undisturbed passage to an enemy retiring from the fairest fruits of his victories to seek an asylum from impending danger, disheartened by retreat, dispirited by desertion, broken by fatigue, retiring through woods defiles and morasses in which his discipline was useless, in the face of an army superior in numbers, elated by pursuit and ardent to signalise their courage.

Speaking directly about General Lee in his July 1778 letter to Boudinot, Hamilton wrote:

“Indeed, I can hardly persuade myself to be in good humour with success so far inferior to what we, in all probability should have had, had not the finest opportunity America ever possessed been fooled away by a man, in whom she has placed a large share of the most ill judged confidence.  You will have heard enough to know, that I mean General Lee.  This man is either a driveler in the business of soldiership or something much worse.”

Hamilton went on to describe General Lee’s cowardly performance at the Battle of Monmouth, noting that his leadership had led to troops retreating from the British forces, and that General Washington single-handedly brought order to the troops and rallied them to victory.

Seattle Panel Appearance at GeekGirlCon

On October 9, 2016, I’ll be speaking on a Hamilton panel at GeekGirlCon in Seattle!  Come check it out if you’re in the area!  Panel description is below and it is scheduled for October 9 at 3 pm:

Over the last year, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical Hamilton has become a Broadway and nationwide phenomenon, selling out tickets for performances over a year from now. We’ll explore the impact Hamilton has had in the theater world and beyond, from the fandom it’s inspired to the attention it’s brought to the women in Alexander Hamilton’s life. Come discuss a variety of topics related to the hit musical and the “founding father without a father” who inspired it.

LA Nerd Nite: Manhattan Well Murder Talk Tomorrow Night

On August 11, 2016, I’ll be giving a talk entitled “Murder in Manhattan!: Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, and America’s first recorded murder trial.”  Tickets are available here and a description of my talk is below!

In March of 1800, the nation was transfixed by a high profile murder trial involving the death of a young woman found in the Manhattan Well. The defendant, Levi Weeks, was represented by a legal dream team of Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, and Brockholst Livingston (less than four years before Burr would kill Hamilton in a duel). Pooja Nair will delve into the trial, which is the first recorded murder trial in American history, offering us unique insight into the workings of the criminal justice system of the era.

I’ve been focusing on research and on preparing talks for the past few months, but will be updating this blog more frequently and have some exciting posts scheduled for the end of August!

New Exhibit- Alexander Hamilton: Striver, Statesman, Scoundrel

The New York Public Library has announced a new free exhibit on Alexander Hamilton that they will be hosting from June 24, 2016 through December 31, 2016.  The library’s press release describing the exhibit states:

Alexander Hamilton: Striver, Statesman, Scoundrel features more than two dozen items on display from the Library’s collections, focusing on his ambitious early life, work as a statesman and creation of the Federalist Papers, as well as the scandals that marred his legacy. The exhibition also explores Hamilton’s volatile relationships with Aaron Burr, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison.

Some of the exciting highlights of the new exhibition include:

  • Hamilton’s draft of George Washington’s farewell address alongside Washington’s version
  • The Federalist (commonly known as the Federalist Papers) as originally published in a historic newspaper
  • Hamilton’s proposed plan for a U.S. Constitution
  • The Reynolds Pamphlet, in which Hamilton’s admits to an affair with Maria Reynolds
  • Letters from Hamilton to his wife Eliza, and  her sister Angelica Schuyler Church; correspondence Hamilton sent on behalf of Washington, and a letter he sent to Washington about the Newburgh Conspiracy
  • Letter introducing Burr to the Schuyler family
  • Broadside of the letter that incited the duel that led to Hamilton’s death

The exhibit is open to the public for free, and will be at the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building on 5th Ave and 42nd Street.  I’ll certainly be checking it out this summer!

His Name is Alexander Camelton

Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago has been making headlines for naming its baby Bactrian camel Alexander Camelton, in honor of our own Mr. Hamilton.  The naming announcement, made earlier this week by the zoo, has drawn attention from across the nation.  Reuters describes the month-old baby camel as a “social media star.” According to Chicago Tonight, there are fewer than 1,000 Bactrian camels living in the wild and the species is classified as critically endangered.  Camelton’s birth was the first successful camel birth at the zoo in 16 years!

The zoo’s official birth announcement, on May 18, 2016 stated:

Lincoln Park Zoo is proud to announce a baby Bactrian camel! The new arrival made its official debut on May 18, but it actually entered the world in a public manner on May 9, with mom Nasan giving birth in the species’ outdoor yard at the Antelope & Zebra Area.

The camel calf spent the time between bonding with mom behind the scenes but will now be visible with the rest of the herd, which includes its parents and two additional adult females. The little one is the first successful offspring for Nasan and her mate, Scooter, and is also the first camel calf born at Lincoln Park Zoo since 1998.

While the baby was 4 feet tall and 81 pounds at birth, adult Bactrian camels can reach 7 feet in height and weigh up to 1,500 pounds. The species’ thick, brown coat changes with the seasons; in winter it thickens to provide insulation while large chunks of fur are shed in the summer months. Both male and female Bactrian camels have two large humps on their backs (as opposed to one-humped dromedary camels) that serve as a reservoir for energy-rich fat that the camel can metabolize if food is scarce in the wild.

 

Hamilton Saved on the $10!

Today, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew made a much anticipated announcement about the future of the $10 and $20 bills.  He stated: “The front of the new $10 will continue to feature Alexander Hamilton, our nation’s first Treasury Secretary and the architect of our economic system.”  The back of the bill will now “honor the story and the heroes of the women’s suffrage movement against the backdrop of the Treasury building.” Harriet Tubman will replace Andrew Jackson as the new face of the $20 bill.

The full text of Secretary Lew’s open letter is available via Medium.

Bad Blood: Abigail Adams on Hamilton

I’ve posted previously about the enmity and bitterness that John Adams felt towards Alexander Hamilton, even after Hamilton’s death.  Amanda Norton of the Massachusetts Historical Society, has a great blog post summarizing some of the highlights of Abigail Adams’ choice words about Hamilton, which focused on what she saw as his unbounded ambition, his influence over prominent statesmen, and his failed marriage vows.  I’ve included some quotes from Adams’ letters below.

In a December 31, 1796 letter to her husband, Abigail wrote:

“You may recollect, that I have often said to you, H. is a Man ambitious as Julius Ceasar. A subtle intriguer, his abilities would make him dangerous if he was to espouse a wrong side. His thirst for Fame is insatiable. I have ever kept my Eye upon him. He has obtaind a great influence over some of the most worthy and amiable of our acquaintance whom I could name.”

On January 28, 1797, a few months before the Adams administration began, Abigail wrote to John complaining of Hamilton’s cunning in trying to influence the 1796 election.  She remarked about Hamilton’s “wicked eyes,” claiming that “the very devil is in them.”

Mr. Black told me the other day on his return from Boston that Col. H. was loosing ground with his Friends in Boston, On what account I inquired. Why for the part he is said to have acted in the late Election. Aya what was that? Why they say that he tried to keep out both Mr. A–s and J–n, and that he behaved with great duplicity. He wanted to bring in Pinckney that he himself might be the dictator. So you see according to the old adage, Murder will out. I despise a Janus tho I do not feel a disposition to rail at or condemn the conduct of those who did not vote for you, because it is my firm belief that if the people had not been imposed upon by false reports and misrepresentations, the vote would have been nearly unanimous. H–n dared not risk his popularity to come out openly in opposition, but he went secretly cunningly as he thought to work, and as his influence is very great in the N England States, he imposed upon them. Ames you know has been his firm friend. I do not believe he suspected him, nor Cabot neither whom I believe he play’d upon. Smith of S C was duped by him I suspect.  Beware of that spair Cassius, has always occured to me when I have seen that cock sparrow. O I have read his Heart in his wicked Eyes many a time. The very devil is in them. They are laciviousness itself, or I have no skill in Physiognomy.

Pray burn this Letter. Dead Men tell no tales. It is really too bad to survive the Flames. I shall not dare to write so freely to you again unless you assure that you have complied with my request.

In a January 12, 1799 letter, Abigail described the idea of Hamilton having a top ranking position in the army in the Adams administration.  She complained that Hamilton’s nomination to such a position would “ill suit[]” the New England stomach.  She also alluded to his public affair with Maria Reynolds, stating that he was damned to “everlasting Infamy.”

“The Idea which prevails here, is that Hamilton will be first in command, as there is very little Idea that Washington will be any thing more than, Name as to actual Service, and I am told that it ill suits the N England Stomack. They say He is not a Native, and beside He has so damnd himself to everlasting Infamy, that He ought not to be Head of any thing. The Jacobins Hate him and the Federilists do not Love him. Serious people are mortified; and every Uriah must tremble for his Bathsheba”

A Host Within Himself: Hamilton’s 1795 Defense of the Jay Treaty

In 1795, Thomas Jefferson complained bitterly about Hamilton’s campaign to support the Jay Treaty after its provisions were made known to the public in 1795.  Jeffersonians took up the cry: “Damn John Jay! Damn every one that won’t damn John Jay!  Damn every one that won’t put lights in his windows and sit up all night damning John Jay!!!”

Hamilton risked his popularity, and even his safety to defend Jay’s Treaty.  In fact, a mob attempted to stone Hamilton at a public meeting in New York for his defense of the treaty.  However, as noted in Henry Cabot Lodge’s edition of the Works of Alexander Hamilton, Hamilton’s Camillus letters “did more to check an apparently irresistible popular feeling and turn it the other way, than anything else.”

On August 3, 1795, Jefferson wrote to Madison about Hamilton’s activities in support of the treaty:

You will percieve by the inclosed that Hamilton has taken up his pen in support of the treaty. [Return it to me.] He spoke on it’s behalf in the meeting at New York, and his party carried a decision in favor of it by a small majority. But the Livingstonians appealed to stones and clubs and beat him and his party off the ground. This from a gentleman just from Philadelphia. Adieu.

P.S. Richmond has decided against the treaty. It is said that not even Carrington undertakes to defend it.

On September 21, 1795, Jefferson wrote to Madison about the state of the Federalist Party and his fears that Hamilton’s singular talents with the pen were a viable threat to the Jeffersonian Republicans despite the fact that the Federalists were outnumbered.

Hamilton is really a colossus to the antirepublican party. Without numbers, he is an host within himself. They have got themselves into a defile, where they might be finished; but too much security on the Republican part, will give time to his talents & indefatigableness to extricate them. We have had only midling performances to oppose to him. In truth, when he comes forward, there is nobody but yourself who can meet him. His adversaries having begun the attack, he has the advantage of answering them, & remains unanswered himself. A solid reply might yet completely demolish what was too feebly attacked, and has gathered strength from the weakness of the attack.

Jefferson implored Madison to take action and draft a sufficient reply to Hamilton’s words.

The merchants were certainly (except those of them who are English) as open-mouthed at first against the treaty as any. But the general expression of indignation has alarmed them for the strength of the government. They have feared the shock would be too great, and have chosen to tack about & support both treaty & government, rather than risk the government: thus it is that Hamilton, Jay &c in the boldest act they ever ventured on to undermine the constitution have the address to screen themselves & direct the hue & cry against those who wished to drag them into light. A bolder party-stroke was never struck. For it certainly is an attempt of a party which finds they have lost their majority in one branch of the legislature to make a law by the aid of the other branch, & of the executive, under color of a treaty, which shall bind up the hands of the adverse branch from ever restraining the commerce of their patron-nation. There appears a pause at present in the public sentiment, which may be followed by a revulsion. This is the effect of the desertion of the merchants, of the President’s chiding answer to Boston & Richmond, of the writings of Curtius & Camillus, and of the quietism into which the people naturally fall, after first sensations are over. For god’s sake take up your pen, and give a fundamental reply to Curtius & Camillus.

Hamil-Swag: Hamiltine’s Day!

In preparation for Valentine’s Day, here are some Hamilton-themed Valentine’s Day gifts (and gifs)!

Slate recently featured these Hamilton musical inspired Valentine’s Day postcards from artist Casey Barber (who also came up with the My Shot cocktail recipe I featured on Hamil-Swag: Shot Glasses.  The postcards are available via Etsy for $20.

Image from Etsy

The New-York Historical Society sells a necklace for $78.00 that is inspired by one of Hamilton’s love letters to Eliza that has the inscription: “I meet you in every dream.”  The website’s description states:

Few figures in the history of the United States have left such a profound legacy as that of Alexander Hamilton, America’s first Secretary to the Treasury. This modern sterling silver pendant is inscribed with a delightful quotation from Hamilton’s intimate letter to Elizabeth Schuyler, dated October 5, 1780, only a few weeks before their marriage. It displays his elegance as a wordsmith, his charm and his humanity, often forgotten among the great issues of military history and statesmanship for which he is best remembered.

Hamilton’s complete sentence read: “I meet you in every dream – and when I wake I cannot close my eyes again for ruminating on your sweetnesses.”

Pendant measures 1″ diameter.

 

And here is my favorite from Comediva’s series of Founding Fathers Pick Up Lines:

 

Hamilton Grange: Moving Hamilton’s House

Hamilton Grange National Memorial, Hamilton’s country home is the only home he ever owned.  The home was built in 1801, three years before Hamilton’s death.  In 1889, the home was moved for the first time to 287 Convent Avenue.  According to the New York Times, the National Park Service took stewardship of the property in 1962.

In 1967, the Landmarks Preservation Committee observed:

“The almost square architectural mass of Hamilton Grange is impressive in its symmetry and handsome proportions.  Designed by one of the City’s best early architects, John McComb, Jr., and incorporating features suggested by Hamilton, this Federal style house, with its porches and unpretentious clpaboard exterior, has a gracious dignity.  ‘The Grange’ was planned as a country seat by Alexander Hamilton for the open countryside and was named after his paternal grandfather’s home in Scotland.  It is one of the few remaining notable historical houses, designed in the Federal Style, of true architectural distinction.”

In 2006, the National Park Service began an $8.2 million restoration project to restore the house, including a restoration of the original entryway and front and back porches.  For the first time in 119 years, the house would be visible from all four sides.  However, the ultimate location of the house created some controversy because the house was placed in a different orientation than was originally intended so that it could face 141st Street, as documented by the New York Times in a February 2008 article:

This spring, the National Park Service plans to move the Grange from a cramped nook on Convent Avenue to a far more generous setting in a hillside corner of nearby St. Nicholas Park in Upper Manhattan.

In doing so, the service will swing the house around to face West 141st Street. That means that the Grange’s front door will end up oriented northeast rather than southwest, as was intended by Hamilton and his architect, John McComb Jr., when the home was completed in 1802.

This is a grave concern to some preservationists, who believe the government is squandering a chance to authentically restore the home of a towering founding father.

After the house was moved, the National Park Service created a short video, available on YouTube documenting the process of moving the house and explaining the historical significance of Hamilton Grange.

Wolfe House & Building Movers also released a nine minute video compilation of news coverage of the house being moved so that you can watch it in action.

If you’re in New York, make sure to stop by Hamilton Grange, now located at 414 W 141st St, New York, NY 10031!  Information on visiting hours and tours is available here.