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.”

The Romantic Hamilton

In honor of Valentine’s Day, here are some of my favorite snippets of Hamilton’s writing to/about his wife Elizabeth.  Of course, Hamilton wasn’t always the perfect husband- he was away from his family often at the peak of his political career, and he had a much-publicized affair with Maria Reynolds, but :

From a July 2, 1780 letter:

“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- it’s tenderness to me- the beauties of your face and person- your unpretending good sense and that innocent symplicity 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.”

From an October 1780 letter

“I have told you, and I told you truly that I love you too much. You engross my thoughts too intirely to allow me to think of any thing else. You not only employ my mind all day; but you intrude upon my sleep. I meet you in every dream—and when I wake I cannot close my eyes again for ruminating on your sweetnesses. ‘Tis a pretty story indeed that I am to be thus monopolized, by a little nut-brown maid like you—and from a statesman and a soldier metamorphosed into a puny lover. I believe in my soul you are an inchantress; but I have tried in vain, if not to break, at least, to weaken the charms—you maintain your empire in spite of all my efforts—and after every new one, I make to withdraw myself from my allegiance my partial heart still returns and clings to you with increased attachment.

Among other causes of uneasiness, I dread lest you should imagine, I yield too easily to the barrs, that keep us asunder; but if you have such an idea you ought to banish it and reproach yourself with injustice. A spirit entering into bliss, heaven opening upon all its faculties, cannot long more ardently for the enjoyment, than I do my darling Betsey, to taste the heaven that awaits me in your bosom. Is my language too strong? it is a feeble picture of my feeling:?no words can tell you how much I love and how much I long—you will only know it when wrapt in each others arms we give and take those delicious caresses which love inspires and marriage sanctifies….”

Excerpts from a November 1798 letter:

Indeed, my Betsey, you need never fear a want of anxious attention to you, for you are now dearer than ever to me.  Your happiness is the first and sweetest object of my wishes and cares.  How can it be otherwise?  You are all that is charming in my estimation and the more I see of your sex the more I become convinced of the judiciousness of my choice.

Hamil-Swag: Pop Culture Meets Art Meets Awesome- “American Iconomics”

Check out these super creative renditions of currency with inspiration drawn from the worlds of film, art, and popular culture.  These images were created by artists Akira Beard and James Charles as part of a 2011 show at the Shooting Gallery in San Francisco entitled: American Iconomics.   Some of these awesome pieces are still on sale, for $600 a piece.  You should check out the full collection of images here– you’ll find Andrew Jackson as Ronald McDonald, Ulysses S. Grant as Mr. T, and other awesome iconic images.

Here are my favorite Hamilton images from the show.

Willy Wonka (coincidentally one of my favorite movies)- Hamilton as Wonka and a very distinguished Oompa Loompa

Star Wars– Yoda and Princess Leia

Akira Beard and James Charles : James Charles

Akira Beard and James Charles : James Charles

Van Gogh

Johnny Cash

Akira Beard and James Charles : James Charles

Note: all images were taken from the Shooting Gallery American Iconomics site.

Hamilton and the US Postal Service

On February 6, 2013, the US Post Office announced that it plans to halt its Saturday mail delivery service in a move to cut costs.   In the face of an $11.5 billion loss in 2012, many sources have been pointing to this development as a the beginning of the end of the USPS.  I think they’re being a little hasty to dismiss an enduring institution, but time will tell.  [Disclaimer: I LOVE the post office.  Stamps, getting mail, postcards, checking the mailbox- I love it all!  Also, Miracle on 34th Street.]

The history of the USPS is tied closely to the history of America.  It was first signed into law by the Second Continental Congress on July 26, 1775, almost a year before the Declaration of Independence!  Benjamin Franklin was selected as the first Postmaster General.  (This was really a continuation of work that Franklin had done under the British regime in Philadelphia.  He had begun the modernization of the system in some areas, but was removed from the position by the British in 1774 because of his revolutionary activities).  When he became President, Washington appointed New Yorker Samuel Osgood (who would go on to form the bank that evolved into Citibank) to be the first Postmaster General under the Constitution.  The Founders recognized the post office as an important tool of innovation, and one that would help modernize the economy and unite the country.

The post office was also part of a political struggle between Hamilton and Jefferson.  Hamilton wanted the agency to be placed within the Treasury Department, while Jefferson wanted it to be placed within the State Department.  The deadlock led to the post office being separated from other executive agencies, and considered a hybrid until 1836.

Hamilton recognized the potential of the post office to bring in revenue for the country.  In his January 16, 1795 Report on the Public Credit, Hamilton proposed that the funds from the post office should be placed into a “sinking fund.”  Hamilton stated:

“It will hardly have been unnoticed that the Secretary has been, thus far, silent on the subject of the Post Office.  The reason is, that he has had in view the application of the revenue, arising from that source, to the purpose of a sinking fund….[Hamilton described the revenue that the Postmaster General estimated could be derived from the Post Office.]…Under this impression, the Secretary proposes that the net product of the Post Office…be applied…to the discharge of the existing public debt, either by purchases of stock in the market, or by payments on account of the principal, as shall appear to them most advisable, in conformity to public engagements; to continue so vested, until the whole of the debt shall be discharged.”

Hamilton was also involved in helping the postal service with legal challenges it faced as it tried to modernize.  In August of 1786,  Postmaster General Ebenezer Hazard asked Hamilton to provide an opinion on how the Post Office should proceed with enforcing contracts with private stagecoaches without the Postal Service losing money or being forced to accept inadequate service.  These companies had contracted with the government to provide stagecoach service, but had been flaunting the legal requirements of the Post Office Ordinance of 1782.  Hamilton brilliantly answered Hazard’s questions and provided a legal opinion for the Post Office to use to inform the private stagecoach companies of the requirements they needed to meet to uphold the contract.

To wrap up- the Post Office is awesome.  It’s one of the oldest institutions in America, and it played an important role in our economic history and in our national infrastructure.  And you may only be able to send letters on Saturday for a limited time- so send those Saturday packages, cards, and letters while you still can!

A smiling mailman holds a Flat Rate Box.

[Image from https://cns.usps.com/go]

Hamilton’s Views on Race and Slavery: The New York Manumission Society

Following the American Revolution, the issue of slavery came into focus for many Northerners.  The rhetoric of slavery and liberty had been used frequently during the Revolution, but in its aftermath, the protection property rights and the maintenance of existing state economies, particularly in the South, prevented any full-scale national movements towards abolition.  In this landscape, the state of slavery in the Northern states became more contentious.  Robin Blackburn describes the importance of New York in the slave landscape:

New York and New Jersey “together accounted for three quarters or all slaves outside of the South,” and slavery in both states “survived constitutional and legislative challenges in the revolutionary and immediate post-revolutionary period.”

On February 4, 1785, the New York Manumission Society was formed.  Historian Catherine O’Donnell Kaplan characterized the Society as “the site of concerted efforts to unite dreams of human perfectibility to the practical labor of effecting change.”  Hamilton was the first vice president and his friend and fellow Federalist John Jay was the first president, staying in that office for five years.  Hamilton served as president for one year in 1788 before moving to Philadelphia to take up his position as Secretary of the Treasury.

The Quaker Friends Society newsletter recounted a 1786 petition that Jay, Hamilton, and other members of the society sent to New York that began:

“Your memorialists being deeply affected by the situation of those, who, although free by the laws of God, are held in slavery by the laws of the state…”

The stated goals of the Society were noble, but they were also decidedly moderate- limited to the state of New York and reflecting the fact that many of the founders of the organization were slaveholders:

“1st to effect, if possible, the abolition of slavery in this state, by procuring gradual legislative enactments; 2dly to protect from a second slavery such persons as had been liberated in the state of New York, or elsewhere, and who were liable to be kidnapped, and sold to slave dealers in other places; and 3dly to provide means for educating children of color of all classes.”

While Hamilton consistently supported the Society and was an active member whenever he was living in New York, he also pushed its members to points of discomfort by proposing more radical plans for abolition than many of his fellow members were comfortable with.  For example, Ron Chernow describes the 1785 proposal of the Society’s ways-and-means committee headed by Hamilton to require members to commit to freeing some of their own slaves immediately, and younger slaves within 5 years.  Hamilton’s proposal would have caused financial harm to members, and was quickly rejected as being too sudden.

The 2004 Senate Concurrent Resolution 123– Recognizing and Honoring the Life and Legacy of Alexander Hamilton on the Bicentennial of His Death Because of His Standing as One of the Most Influential Founding Fathers of the United States notes:

“…as a private citizen Alexander Hamilton served many philanthropic causes and was a co-founder of the New York Manumission Society, the first abolitionist organization in New York and a major influence on the abolition of slavery from the State…Alexander Hamilton was a strong and consistent advocate against slavery and believed that Blacks and Whites were equal citizens and equal in their mental and physical faculties.”

Hamilton lived to see New York embark on a path of very slow, gradual abolition, as Pennsylvania had done earlier.  In 1788, the slave trade was abolished and aspects of the slave code were softened.  In 1799, the legislature passed An Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery,  which “allowed masters to keep their younger slaves in bondage for their most productive years, to recoup their investment. The law freed all children born to slave women after July 4, 1799, but only after they had reached their mid-twenties.  Hamilton’s bolder vision of emancipation was never reached, but the efforts of the New York Manumission Society were instrumental in building acceptance of a free, multicultural society to New York.

Hamilton’s Views on Race and Slavery: Indian Policy and the Hamilton-Oneida Academy

In The Political Philosophy of Alexander Hamilton, Michael P. Federici writes:

“In 1793 a New York school designed by the Reverend Samuel Kirkland to teach Indian and white children was named after Hamilton (Hamilton-Oneida Academy), and he served as a trustee.  After his death, the school became Hamilton College.  His affiliation with a school for Indians was no accident.  Hamilton consistently supported peaceful relations with the various Indian tribes and he counseled Governor Clinton in New York and President Washington to reconcile with them.  Hamilton considered Indians and blacks to be equal members of the human race.”

The Hamilton-Oneida Academy in Clinton, New York was created with the idea of educating Indian and white children side by side to build cultural understanding.  The charter for the academy was granted on the January 29, 1793.  Hamilton was incorporated as a trustee and a namesake of the school soon after.

One description of Hamilton’s involvement states:

“Alexander Hamilton, the Secretary of the Treasury, and Colonel Pickering, then Post-Master General, furnished substantial aid, and the former was one of the trustees named in the petition for incorporation.”

The Magazine of American History with Notes and Queries reports:

“Mr. Kirkland met Alexander Hamilton, who took unusual interest in his efforts, and was of such assistance that Mr. Kirkland thought it but a fitting compliment to call the institution Hamilton Oneida Academy.”

In 1812, the Hamilton-Oneida Academy was chartered as Hamilton College, a liberal arts college.  The college recently celebrated its bicentennial.

The contemporary descriptions of Hamilton’s involvement with the Academy do not mention him having any substantial role in refining the Academy’s mission or determining what function it would have in the lives of the students attending.  However, Hamilton’s support of it may reflect his belief in the power of education and his progressive beliefs in racial equality.  Of course, to say that any founder, even Hamilton, was progressive with race relations in the modern sense would be an overstatement.  Hamilton’s father-in-law was involved with land grabs in New York that took substantial territory away from Indian tribes, and Hamilton firmly supported Washington’s policies that laid the groundwork for the forced migration of Indian tribes.  However, Hamilton’s support of the Academy suggests that he wanted to play a role in improving relationships with the Indians.

I generally feel ambivalent about the Indian boarding schools created by missionaries and later sponsored by the federal government.  In the late 1800s, these schools served as ground zero for the abuse of Native American children and the destruction of cultural history as the government attempted to forcibly assimilate these groups into mainstream American society.   Tim Giago states in Children left behind: dark legacy of Indian mission boarding schools that most of these school represented an “unholy alliance between church and state that tried to destroy the culture and spirituality of generations of Indian children.”

 

Hamilton on Jury Nullification

Jury nullification, or the ability of a jury to find a defendant not guilty because they disagree with law has been an important part of American history, and was successfully used by both William Penn and John Peter Zenger against British laws in the pre-Revolution period.  The most influential instance of jury nullification was in the 1735 trial of John Peter Zenger, who was charged with printing seditious libels against the British government of New York.  Under the law in the colonies, truth was not a defense to libel (the same law that Hamilton argued against in the Croswell case).  Zenger’s lawyer, Andrew Hamilton (no relation to Alexander) urged the jury to reach their own conclusions about the legal issue, notwithstanding the judge’s firm instruction.  The jury did so and acquitted Zenger completely, much to the chagrin of the British government.

In the Croswell case, Hamilton argued the case on behalf of a publisher who was charged with libel for publishing information about Thomas Jefferson.  Under the laws of New York at the time, libel was a crime regardless of the truth of the statement.  However, Hamilton argued that this interpretation of the law was incorrect and unethical.  Hamilton’s outline is interesting, both because of the points about libel and because of its focus on the jury’s responsibility to follow their conscience rather than the letter of the law.

Hamilton’s entire brief outline is below, with the passages about the power of the jury bolded :

I.—The liberty of the press consists in the right to publish with impunity truth, with good motives, for justifiable ends, though reflecting on government, magistracy, or individuals.
II.—That the allowance of this right is essential to the preservation of free government—the disallowance of it, fatal.
III.—That its abuse is to be guarded against by subjecting the exercise of it to the animadversion and control of the tribunals of justice; but that this control cannot safely be intrusted to a permanent body of magistracy, and requires the effectual co-operation of court and jury.
IV.—That to confine the jury to the mere question of publication and the application of terms, without the right of inquiry into the intent or tendency, referring to the court the exclusive right of pronouncing upon the construction, tendency, and intent of the alleged libel, is calculated to render nugatory the function of the jury; enabling the court to make a libel of any writing whatsoever, the most innocent or commendable.
V.—That it is the general rule of criminal law, that the intent constitutes the crime, and that it is equally a general rule that the intent, mind, or quo animo, is an inference of fact to be drawn by the jury.
VI.—That if there are exceptions to this rule, they are confined to cases in which not only the principal fact, but its circumstances can be and are specifically defined by statute or judicial precedent.
VII—That in respect to libel there is no such specific and precise definition of facts and circumstances to be found, that consequently it is difficult, if not impossible, to pronounce that any writing is per se and exclusive of all circumstances libellous; that its libellous character must depend on intent and tendency, the one and the other being matter of fact.
VIII.—That the definitions or descriptions of libels to be found in the books predicate them upon some malicious or mischievous intent or tendency, to expose individuals to hatred or contempt, or to occasion a disturbance or breach of the peace.
IX—That in determining the character of a libel, the truth or falsehood is in the nature of things a material ingredient, though the truth may not always be decisive, but being abused, may still admit of a malicious and mischievous intent which may constitute a libel.
X—That in the Roman law, one source of the doctrine of libel, the truth in cases interesting to the public, may be given in evidence. That the ancient statutes probably declaratory of the common law, make the falsehood an ingredient of the crime. That ancient precedents in the courts of justice correspond, and that these precedents to this day charge a malicious intent.
XI.—That the doctrine of excluding the truth as immaterial originated in a tyrannical and polluted source, the court of Star Chamber, and that though it prevailed a considerable length of time, yet there are leading precedents down to the Revolution, and even since, in which a contrary practice prevailed.
XII.—That this doctrine being against reason and natural justice, and contrary to the original principles of the common law enforced by statutory provisions, precedents which support it deserve to be considered in no better light than as malus usus which ought to be abolished.
XIII.—That in the general distribution of powers in our system of jurisprudence, the cognizance of law belongs to the court, of fact to the jury; that as often as they are not blended, the power of the court is absolute and exclusive. That in civil cases it is always so, and may rightfully be so exerted. That in criminal cases the law and fact being always blended, the jury, for reasons of a political and peculiar nature, for the security of life and liberty, is intrusted with the power of deciding both law and fact.
XIV.—That this distinction results: 1, from the ancient forms of pleading in civil cases, none but special pleas being allowed in matter of law; in criminal, none but the general issue; 2, from the liability of the jury to attaint in civil cases, and the general power of the court as its substitute in granting new trials, and from the exemption of the jury from attaint in criminal cases, and the defect of power to control their verdicts by new trials, the test of every legal power being its capacity to produce a definitive effect liable neither to punishment nor control.
XV.—That in criminal cases, nevertheless, the court are the constitutional advisers of the jury in matter of law; who may compromit their conscience by lightly or rashly disregarding that advice, but may still more compromit their consciences by following it, if exercising their judgments with discretion and honesty they have a clear conviction that the charge of the court is wrong.

Jury nullification, and the influence of the jury as an institution has been on the decline.  Currently, less than 1% of criminal and civil cases actually go before a jury.  Courts routinely tell juries that they have no power to disregard or interpret the law.  This discouragement makes sense in most cases: after all, allowing juries to decide cases purely on their emotions can lead to irrational appeals and decisions made from bias.  While jury nullification may help protect defendants from unfair laws, it may also have the unwanted effect of empowering community biases and racism.

However, despite these concerns, Hamilton’s vision of the jury and their power of conscience is a powerful one.

The Economist Blog  ran a story last year about the continuing right of nullification:

Juries do not only decide guilt or innocence; they can also serve as checks on unjust laws. Judges will not tell you about your right to nullify—to vote not guilty regardless of whether the prosecution has proven its case if you believe the law at issue is unjust. They may tell you that you may only judge the facts of the case put to you and not the law. They may strike you from a jury if you do not agree under oath to do so, but the right to nullify exists. There is reason to be concerned about this power: nobody wants courtroom anarchy. But there is also reason to wield it, especially today: if you believe that nonviolent drug offenders should not go to prison, vote not guilty.

New Hampshire passed a law last June that went into effect on January 1, 2013.  This law states:

“[A] Right of Accused. In all criminal proceedings the court shall permit the defense to inform the jury of its right to judge the facts and the application of the law in relation to the facts in controversy.”

Notwithstanding the New Hampshire legislation, the overwhelming trend of cases across the country is to limit jury nullification and discharge jurors who openly state they disagree with the law.  While this may maintain uniformity and a sense of law and order, I wonder if there should still be a place for Hamilton’s vision, in instances where jurors fundamentally feel that the law creates unjust results.

Hamilton and the Fiscal Cliff

On Friday, Scott Bomboy at Constitution Daily published an interesting piece on how Alexander Hamilton would view the debt ceiling.  He generally describes the financial crisis that Hamilton faced when he took over the Treasury Department and how he accomplished his almost impossible mission to pull the new republic out of financial oblivion, create a national debt, and ensure that the new nation develop good credit.

Bomboy describes the odds stacked against Hamilton and America’s economic success:

In 1789, when President Washington took office, the United States was broke; it had about $75 million to $80 million in public debt; and it wasn’t in a position to trade well in a global economy.

The United States’ economic problems after the Revolution were a direct impetus to call the Constitutional Convention of 1787, where delegates from 12 states met in Philadelphia to overhaul the Articles of Confederation and give the new nation a sound political and economic footing.

In addition, Hamilton single-handedly faced two powerful political opponents from Virginia who were opposed to his policies: future presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.

So in comparison to the current financial situation in Washington, Hamilton seems to have been in a much tougher spot in 1789.

Hamilton’s approach to fixing these epic problems was that the government of the United States had to possess excellent credit, before anything else could happen. Getting there would be a monumental task, since the nation had virtually no credit in 1789, despite its abundant resources.

Simon Johnson and James Kwak published an interesting analysis of Hamilton’s success and how it compared to the debt ceiling debate in the Vanity Fair article Debt and Dumb

In just five years, Hamilton—with Washington’s support—had laid the foundation of American fiscal policy. The federal government would always honor its debt. After the War of 1812, the Civil War, World War I, and World War II, this principle remained unquestioned. By the late 19th century, the government could raise large amounts of money on short notice—which made possible, among other things, rapid mobilizations to fight two World Wars.

Government bonds also became a crucial part of the financial system—the paradigmatic global risk-free asset, the universally accepted collateral on which everything else depends. What makes those bonds as good as cash is that the federal government has the power to levy and collect taxes in order to pay them off.

Hamilton’s scheme has succeeded at a scale unimaginable in 1790. Elsewhere, we have questioned Hamilton’s affection for large, powerful banks, but his contribution to American fiscal policy is undisputed. The good credit of the federal government has allowed us to amass trillions of dollars of debt, run the largest peacetime deficits in history, and still borrow money at historically low interest rates. But that has not made everyone happy.

Several authors have recently written about Hamilton and the debt ceiling, including the New York Times

Here are some of Hamilton’s words in Federalist No. 30, about the need for a country to demonstrate that it could credibly return loans:

In the modern system of war, nations the most wealthy are obliged to have recourse to large loans. A country so little opulent as ours must feel this necessity in a much stronger degree. But who would lend to a government that prefaced its overtures for borrowing by an act which demonstrated that no reliance could be placed on the steadiness of its measures for paying? The loans it might be able to procure would be as limited in their extent as burdensome in their conditions. They would be made upon the same principles that usurers commonly lend to bankrupt and fraudulent debtors, with a sparing hand and at enormous premiums.

At the same time, Hamilton was a firm believer that we needed some form of a national debt in order to grow as a nation, as he stated in his April 30, 1781 letter to James Duane.

A national debt, if it is not excessive, will be to us a national blessing. It will be a powerful cement of our Union. It will also create a necessity for keeping up taxation to a degree which, without being oppressive, will be a spur to industry, remote as we are from Europe, and shall be from danger. It were otherwise to be feared our popular maxims would incline us to too great parsimony and indulgence. We labor less now than any civilized nation of Europe; and a habit of labor in the people is as essential to the health and vigor of their minds and bodies, as it is conducive to the welfare of the state. We ought not to suffer our self-love to deceive us in a comparison upon these points.

All Things Hamilton has a more comprehensive list of Hamilton’s quotes on the national debt.  I feel that the issue is a key one for our time, but is also one in which interpretation of Hamiltonian philosophy can take us in different directions.

January 11th- Happy Birthday Hamilton!

Today, January 11th, marks Alexander Hamilton’s 256th (0r 258th) birthday!

I find it amazing to think about where Hamilton came from and what he accomplished.   Hamilton was born in Nevis, 1,3000 miles from New York and worlds away.  He was born out of wedlock at a time where illegitimacy was considered a moral failing, and was shunned by other children because of his status.   Hamilton’s father James became bankrupt and abandoned the family.  Hamilton’s mother died of yellow fever in 1768, and the Hamilton brothers were taken in by a cousin, Peter Lytton, who committed suicide 17 months later.   Hamilton had all the odds stacked against him, but with a combination of brilliance and luck, he not only made his way to America, he helped make America.

 

 

Hamilton’s own words in Federalist No. 36 seem fitting:

“There are strong minds in every walk of life that will rise superior to the disadvantages of situation, and will command the tribute due to their merit, not only from the classes to which they particularly belong, but from the society in general. The door ought to be equally open to all…”

 

If you happen to be in either Nevis or New York, check out the birthday events that the AHA Society has organized.  The events include a blessing at Trinity Church, a simultaneous cake cutting in New York and Nevis, and events at Hamilton Grange and the Museum of American Finance.  Looks like a great program.

Images of Hamilton: John Trumbull

[Note: I am certainly no art historian, but I very much appreciate images of Hamilton as you can tell by my Facebook group: Alexander Hamilton: The Hotness Never Dies.  I’m going to use this series to focus on a few of the painters and sculptors who depicted Hamilton, and show some of the images of Hamilton I think do him the most justice.]

The Sierra Star recently published a piece on John Trumbull entitled “A Revolutionary Painter.”   Trumbull was an active participant in the revolution, and a military comrade of Hamilton.  He briefly served as an aide to Washington, and was involved in politics as he pursued his artistic career.  Trumbull produced some of the most iconic images of the Revolution and the Early Republic.  Trumbull painted several pictures of Hamilton, and featured him prominently in his group paintings of the Constitutional Convention and the Revolutionary War. 

Interestingly, Trumbull dined with both Hamilton and Burr on July 4, 1804.   In his autobiography, Trumbull recollected the event:

“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.”

Trumbull had planned to pursue his career in Boston, but found that the market for his services was too crowded by other artists.  He instead returned to New York, and was commissioned by the city government to paint whole length portraits of Jay and Hamilton.  Trumbull states that he created the portrait using the bust created by Ceracchi (and later bought by Jefferson to display in Monticello) as inspiration for those portraits.

This was painted in 1805, the year after Hamilton’s death, and Trumbull used various accumulated drawings as its basis.  This portrait is the basis for the design of the Ten Dollar bill. 

By John Trumbull, 1805. Courtesy National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institute, Washington, DC 

(The best bill!  Image found here)

This 1792 portrait has Hamilton standing at his desk “an inkwell with quill at hand-the heroic pose of a writer and thinker at the pinnacle of his career.”

This 1832 portrait was copied from an original that Trumbull had painted in Washington in 1792. 

From the Yale University Art Gallery eCatalogue

Trumbull is an interesting historical figure in his own right.  If you’re interested in reading more about him, I suggest looking at his Autobiography or John Trumbull : a brief sketch of his life, to which is added a catalogue of his works (1901) by John Ferguson Weir.