Hamil-Tunes: Hamilton and Burr’s Pre-Duel Dinner

The week before their fateful/fatal interview in Weehawken, Hamilton and Burr both attended a 4th of July dinner meeting of the Society of the Cincinnati at Fraunces Tavern.  The Society was a group of Revolutionary War officers and Hamilton was president general, succeeding George Washington after his death.  During the dinner, Burr and Hamilton reportedly sat at the very same table!  While Burr seemed silent and serious, Hamilton was in seemingly high spirits and accepted a request to entertain his fellow former officers with a military song.

John Trumbull (who painted some of my favorite portraits of Hamilton and was also a member of the Society) wrote in his memoirs:

“On the 4th of July, I dined with the Society of the Cincinnati, my old military comrades, and then met, among others Gen. Hamilton and Col. Burr.  The singularity of their manner was observed by all, but few had any suspicion of the cause. Burr, contrary to his wont, was silent, gloomy, sour ; while Hamilton entered with glee into all the gaiety of a convivial party, and even sang an old military song.  A few days only passed, when the wonder was solved by that unhappy event which deprived the United States of two of their most distinguished citizens.”

Historians have disputed what song Hamilton actually sang, with some suggesting he sang “The Drum,” and others “How Stands the Glass Around.”

Ron Chernow writes:

“At first, Hamilton could not be induced to sign, then submitted.  ‘Well, you shall have it,’ he said, doubltess to cheers from the veterans.  Some have said his valedictory song was a haunting old military ballad called ‘How Stands the Glass Around,’ a song reputedly sung by General Wolfe on the eve of his battlefield death outside Quebec in 1759.  Others said that it was a soldiers’ drinking song called ‘The Drum.’  Both tunes expressed a common sentiment: a soldier’s proud resignation in the face of war and death.”

In his lecture on Hamilton’s military career, James Edward Graybill published a letter from Hamilton’s grandson Schuyler Hamilton regarding the song Hamilton sang prior to the duel which stated:

“I have always been of the opinion, from what I have heard from my father and uncles, that the song sung by my grandfather at the dinner of the Cincinnati where Colonel Burr was present, was General Wolff’s famous camp song, which begins with the words ‘How stands the glass around?'”

The first two stanzas of How Stands the Glass Around are reprinted below and express the brotherhood and solidarity of soldiers facing the threat of imminent danger and possible death.  Listen to a rendition of the song in the embedded video from YouTube!

How stands the glass around?
For shame you take no care, my boys,
How stands the glass around?
Let wine and mirth abound;
The trumpet sound,
The colors they do fly my boys;
To fight, kill or wound;
As you would be found,
Contented with hard fare, my boys
On the cold ground
O why, soldiers why?
O why should we be melancholy boys,
O why soldiers why?
Whose bus’ness is to die;
What? sighing? Fye!
Drink on, drown fear, be jolly boys;
‘Tis he, you or I, wet, hot, cold or dry;
We’re always bound to follow boys,
And scorn to fly.

Save the Date: Happy Birthday Hamilton 2015 Events!

The Alexander Hamilton Awareness Society is putting on its annual program of Hamilton events in New York City on January 9-11, 2015.  The flyer with a description of all the events is available here.  The schedule of events is citywide and open to the public.  All of the programs are extremely interesting and offer some new perspectives into Hamilton’s life.

I will be presenting two talks on January 9 and 10 (descriptions below).  The first talk will be at the Museum of American Finance about Hamilton’s experience as a young lawyer fighting discriminatory laws directed at the Tories of New York.  The second talk will be at Morris-Jumel Mansion in Harlem and discuss the high-profile criminal trial for which Hamilton and Burr teamed up to defend accused murderer Levi Weeks.

A ‘Bar Fight’ That Changed America: Alexander Hamilton, the Trespass Act, and the Case of Rutgers v. Waddington

When: Friday, Jan. 9th 2015 at 2-3:30pm
Where: Museum of American Finance, 48 Wall St, New York, NY

Pooja Nair, Esq. speaks on Hamilton’s role in opposing the Trespass Acts and upholding the rule of law in New York City and the United States. As a newly-minted lawyer after the Revolutionary War, Hamilton stepped into a firestorm of controversy by defending a Tory merchant in his firsthigh profile case. This case, Rutgers v. Waddington, took on the Trespass Act, whichhad been enacted at the end of the Revolution to strip Tories of their property. The results of the trial shapedthe development of New York City and was foundational tothe development of key principles of the American legal system.The talk is one hour, followed by a Q&A session. 

The Manhattan Well Murder

When: Saturday, Jan. 10th 2015 at 3-4:30pm
Where:Morris-Jumel Mansion, 65Jumel Terrace, New York, NY

Pooja Nair, Esq. will speak about the Manhattan Well murder trial, the first fully recorded murder trial in the United States. Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton teamed up for this dramatic case in 1800 for the defense of Levi Weeks. Weeks was accused of the murder of a young woman whose body was found in the bottom of a well built by Aaron Burr’s Manhattan Company. Come learn about this mysterious murder and the intense trial Burr and Hamilton worked together on four years before they met on the dueling grounds.

The talk is one hour, followed by a Q&A session.

Aaron Burr's strategim at the Weeks [i.e. Levi Weeks] trial

T.R. on Hamilton

President Theodore Roosevelt is an iconic figure in American history.  The 26th President of the United States was also a noted soldier, environmentalist, and historian.  Roosevelt wrote a history of New York entitled New York: A Sketch of the City’s Social, Political, and Commercial Progress from the First Dutch Settlement to Recent Times.

Roosevelt described New York’s emergence as the “Federalist City” and Hamilton’s role in this:

“It was during this period of the foundation of the Federal government, and during the immediately succeeding period of the supremacy of the Federalists in national affairs that New York City played its greatest and most honorable part in the government of the nation. Never before or since has it occupied so high a position politically, compared to the country at large; for during these years it was the seat of power of the brilliant Federalist party of New York State. Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and at the end of the time Gouverneur Morris, lived in the city, or so near it as to have practically the weight and influence of citizens; and it was the home likewise of their arch-foe Aaron Burr, the prototype of the skilful, unscrupulous ward-politician, so conspicuous in the later periods of the city’s development.

Hamilton, the most brilliant American statesman who ever lived, possessing the loftiest and keenest intellect of his time, was of course easily the foremost champion in the ranks of the New York Federalists; second to him came Jay, pure, strong and healthy in heart, body, and mind. Both of them watched with uneasy alarm the rapid drift toward anarchy; and both put forth all their efforts to stem the tide. They were of course too great men to fall in with the views of those whose antagonism to tyranny made them averse from order. They had little sympathy with the violent prejudices produced by the war. In particular they abhorred the vindictive laws directed against the persons and property of Tories; and they had the manliness to come forward as the defenders of the helpless and excessively unpopular Loyalists. They put a stop to the wrongs which were being inflicted on these men, and finally succeeded in having them restored to legal equality with other citizens, standing up with generous fearlessness against the clamor of the mob.”

Roosevelt also described how Hamilton and New York complemented each other:

 Hamilton and Jay were the heart of the Federalist party in the city and State. Both were typical New Yorkers of their time,—being of course the very highest examples of the type, for they were men of singularly noble and lofty character. Both were of mixed and non-English blood, Jay being of Huguenot and Hollander stock, and Hamilton of Scotch and French creole. Hamilton, born out of New York, was in some ways a more characteristic New Yorker than Jay; for New York, like the French Revolution, has always been pre-eminently a career open to talent. The distinguishing feature of the city has been its broad liberality; it throws the doors of every career wide open to all adopted citizens.

Saving King’s College: Hamilton and Columbia University

Columbia University is one of the most distinguished educational institutions in the world.  US News ranks it as one of the top colleges in the country and it has a stellar reputation for academics and research.  (Not to mention, my little brother Sid graduated from Columbia a few years ago!) King’s College held a special place in Hamilton’s affections.  His two year experience as a student was a catalyst for his revolutionary ideas and the basis for some of the most important and long-lasting friendships, including his friendship with Robert Troup.  King’s College was a fundamentally Tory institution, and during Hamilton’s time there, college president Myles Cooper was vehemently opposed to the revolutionary sentiment in New York.

In fact, as David C. Humphrey writes in From King’s College to Columbia, 1746-1800:

“Probably half or more of all the King’s College students and alumni living in 1776 became loyalists.  so did Myles Cooper, four of the five other men who taught liberal arts at King’s between 1770 and 1777, and more than two-thirds of the governors who participated in policy making during the early 1770s.  The college leaders conceived of their institution as a bulwark of the established order, not as its critic.  On the very eve of the Revolution they sought to strengthen the college’s ties to the Crown.”

In Stand, Columbia: a History of Columbia University in the City of New York, 1754-2004, Robert McCaughey writes that “Tory loyalities and eight years out of operation had nearly consigned” King’s College to the “dustbin of history.”

James Duane, the first postwar mayor of New York City, who had come under scrutiny for siding with Hamilton in the Rutgers v. Waddington case and limiting the application of the Trespass Act of 1783, was a major advocate for saving the college.  Duane, along with George Clinton, John Jay, and Alexander Hamilton, spearheaded an effort to reopen the college under the auspices of the New York state legislature.  In early 1784, Duane initiated a discussion in the New York Senate, and “on March 24, 1784, the senate received a ‘Petition of Governors of King’s College’ urging adoption of Duane’s proposal.”

The Columbia website states:

“In 1784, Hamilton and fellow state legislator John Jay (Kings College 1764) were instrumental in reviving King’s College as Columbia College. Hamilton served as a regent of Columbia from 1784 to 1787, and as a trustee from 1787 until his death on July 11, 1804, when he was shot in a duel by his political rival Aaron Burr. Hamilton is buried in the Trinity Church cemetery. The Alexander Hamilton Medal, presented each year by the Columbia College Alumni Association, is the highest tribute awarded to a member of the Columbia College community. Winners include Columbia president Dwight D. Eisenhower and alumni Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II.”

On April 13, 1787, Hamilton, Duane, and Jay’s efforts paid off and the New York Legislature approved a new charter that allowed the college more freedom and self-government than the more restrictive 1784 charter.   Robert A. McCaughey writes:

“In point of fact, the 1787 charter made the college substantially more private than King’s College under the 1754 charter or Columbia College under the 1784 charter.  None of its twenty-four trustees were to be state officeholders serving as ex officio members, and all replacements for future trustees were to be elected by incumbents.  The board was henceforth to be wholly self-perpetuating, as it would remain until 1908, when provisions were first made for alumni nominations to the board.  No less important in terms of the institution’s future identity, the charter explicitly linked for the first time governance and locale by its prepositional designation of ‘the Trustees of Columbia College in the City of New York..'”

This 1787 charter was the foundation upon which Columbia College was built, and which allowed the college to grow over time as an institution.

Hamilton on the Hudson

Hi all, sorry for the lack of posting recently.  I’m in New York City and working on some Hamilton research and will share details here in the next few weeks.

I wanted to bring your attention to some great Hamilton events going on this weekend (July 26-28, 2013) in Upstate New York.  The events are sponsored by the AHA Society to honor the 225th anniversary of the ratification of the US Constitution in New York (July 26, 1788).  The ratification of the Constitution in New York was a dramatic, tumultuous event.  When the debates began, the consensus of the delegates was to vote strongly against the Constitution.  However, by the time the final votes were counted, Hamilton’s persuasive skills had secured a 30-27 vote in favor of ratification, thus making New York the 11th state to join the Union.

Some highlights from the many great events include:

  •  Friday from 7:30-9 in Poughkeepsie- A talk by Professor Andrew Shankman from Rutgers University entitled, The Gentleman and the Democrat: Alexander Hamilton, Melancton Smith, and the Battle over the US Constitution.” 
  • Saturday at 11:30 in Garrison- A narrated walk tracing the steps of Benedict Arnold’s escape route/Hamilton’s chase route down to the Hudson River.
  • Sunday at 3 pm in Newburgh- a lecture series about George Washington and his aide-de-camp Alexander Hamilton in the Hudson Valley. The speakers for the afternoon include Hamilton scholar Michael Newton, AHA Society President Rand Scholet, and Johanna Porr, Director of the Historical Society of Newburgh. The lectures will take place at the Newburgh Heritage Center, also known as the Old Courthouse.

For a full listing of the events, see here.

See here for a record of the debates surrounding the New York Ratification Convention.

 

Hamilton’s Views on Race and Slavery: Jay’s Treaty and the Camillus Letters

One of the most unpopular positions that Hamilton took in his political career was his outspoken defense of the Jay Treaty. The provisions of the treaty were made public in the spring of 1795, and chaos erupted in response.   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.  He was the sole voice to publicly support the treaty amidst a flood of negative sentiment.  In fact, a mob attempted to stone Hamilton at a public meeting in New York for his defense of the treaty.

One specific aspect of Hamilton’s Camillus letters deals with the issue of slavery and natural law.  During the Revolution, the British had issued Lord Dunmore’s proclamation, offering freedom to slaves who left their masters and joined the British army.  According to Michael D. Chan, the actions of the British “infuriated southern slaveholders, especially because many of them were groaning under the weight of debts owed to British citizens.”  These Southerners insisted that any treaty with Britain include a provision for either returning the slaves or compensating the slaveowners for their loss.

File:Jay's-treaty.jpg

However, as Colleen A. Sheehan states: “The Jay Treaty provided for neither restoration of nor compensation for the slaves carried away.  This was a bitter pill for many Americans not only because of financial loss, but because of how the matter had been handled by the British from the state.”

Hamilton addressed the issue in his Camillus letters as follows:

  • IV.—The stipulation relates to “negroes or other property of the American inhabitants”; putting negroes on the same footing with any other article. The characteristic of the subject of the stipulation being property of American inhabitants, whatever had lost that character could not be the object of the stipulation. But the negroes in question, by the laws of war, had lost that character; they were therefore not within the stipulation.Why did not the United States demand the surrender of captured vessels, and of all other movables, which had fallen into the hands of the enemy? The answer is, because common sense would have revolted against such a construction. No one could believe that an indefinite surrender of all the spoils or booty of a seven-years’ war was ever intended to be stipulated; and yet the demand for a horse, or an ox, or a piece of furniture, would have been as completely within the terms “negroes and other property,” as a negro; consequently, the reasoning which proves that one is not included, excludes the other.The silence of the United States as to every other article is therefore a virtual abandonment of that sense of the stipulation which requires the surrender of negroes.
  • V.—In the interpretation of treaties, things odious or immoral are not to be presumed. The abandonment of negroes, who had been induced to quit their masters on the faith of official proclamation, promising them liberty, to fall again under the yoke of their masters, and into slavery, is as odious and immoral a thing as can be conceived. It is odious, not only as it imposes an act of perfidy on one of the contracting parties, but as it tends to bring back to servitude men once made free. The general interests of humanity conspire with the obligation which Great Britain had contracted towards the negroes, to repel this construction of the treaty, if another can be found.

Hamilton’s response to the issue of the British freeing of slaves during the war was nothing short of radical.   Using the framework of the laws of war, Hamilton put forth salient and controversial points relating to the morality of slavery.  Hamilton challenged the idea that freed slaves could be properly grouped with other types of “property” referred to in the treaty.  Additionally, Hamilton called the idea of returning freed slaves to slavery “odious” and “immoral,” despite the fact that slavery was prevalent throughout the Union.

Hamilton’s fearless defense of a treaty he believed in, even at the height of its unpopularity, demonstrates to me Hamilton’s commitment to stand for something, no matter what the personal or political cost.

Read the full Camillus letters here.

Images of Hamilton: A New Home for Hamilton Portrait

Earlier, I wrote a post about John Trumbull’s images of Hamilton .   Today, we got some exciting news about one of Trumbull’s most iconic Hamilton portraits!  Credit Suisse, the owner of the portrait,  announced that it will be gifted to two institutions: Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Arkansas and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.  This split ownership arrangement will allow the painting to be seen by audiences in two very different parts of the country.  Credit Suisse had put the painting on view at public institutions for short periods of time, but it decided that the painting should be permanently accessible to the public.  The painting was acquired by Credit Suisse as part of its takeover of another investment bank, DLJ.  The painting had been part of DLJ’s corporate art collection.

CEO Brady Dougan stated:  “Donating this well-known and highly regarded 1792 portrait of Alexander Hamilton by John Trumbull to both Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and The Metropolitan Museum of Art ensures that the widest possible American and international audiences can enjoy and study this historic piece of fine art for perpetuity”

The New York Times description of the portrait’s history states:

The painting’s history is very much a New York story. In 1791 five New York merchants representing the Chamber of Commerce commissioned Trumbull to paint a full-length portrait of Hamilton, President Washington’s secretary of the Treasury.

For Trumbull the assignment was trickier than it seemed. He and his subject were friends, and Hamilton was vocal in wishing his portrait to appear “unconnected with any incident of my political life.” But the men who commissioned the painting wanted it to hang in a public building. How then could Trumbull please his clients, who said they envisioned a work stately enough to be on public view, and the sitter, who shunned anything remotely official?

Taking his inspiration from European Grand Manner portraiture, the artist posed Hamilton standing, one hand on a table that is empty except for an ink stand and papers, devoid of any political references. In the background is an archway on one side and an architectural column on the other, along with a chair with a robe causally thrown over it.

Hamilton’s warm expression reflects the artist’s obvious affection for his subject. Trumbull called Hamilton’s fatal duel with Aaron Burr in 1804, “the unhappy event which deprived the United States of two of their most distinguished citizens.”