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So lots of Hamilton

Lots and lots of Hamilton

"By Action Rather Than Words" - The Question of Hamilton’s Sexuality


One of the first questions that seems to pop up from someone who first starts learning about Alexander Hamilton is, “Was Hamilton gay?” It should be noted that divisions like “heterosexual” and “homosexual” (much less “bisexual” which even today continues to be erased from a lot of these discussions) weren’t coined until the 19th century, and same-sex relations were treated differently in the 18th century than they would later be in the Victorian times.

The real question people are getting at when they bring this up is, “Did Hamilton have a sexual relationship with a man?” And the man in question was his closest friend, Lieutenant-Colonel John Laurens.

This is part of a much larger problem of a double-standard that exists when it comes to opposite-sex versus same-sex attraction, as it’s assumed gay relationships are inherently more sexual than their het counterparts, which simply isn’t the case. But to tackle the question, sex between men certainly existed during his time, and it’s safe to assume Hamilton was aware of it. In his pay book, he quoted from Plutarch:

“Every lad had a lover or friend who took care of his education and shared in the praise or blame of his virtues or vices. It was the same with the women.”

(And unlike his notes on Spartan infanticide, Hamilton felt no need to give any sort of negative opinion on the ancient practice, and the quote above was presented without comment.)

And on his home country of Nevis, the white inhabitants were described by an Anglican minister as being composed of “whole shiploads of pickpockets, whores, rogues, vagrants, thieves, sodomites, and other filth and cutthroats of society.” And as that description indicates, they weren’t looked upon favorably by the European societies that shipped them to the West Indies. And even once Hamilton moved to America, “sodomy” was a capital crime in all thirteen colonies.

And with any historical figure that lived in a society where everyone was presumed straight, with the penalty of death for having sex with someone who identified with their own gender, it’s difficult to know anything for sure. There’s no real “smoking gun” short of either them admitting to the act or them being caught.

However, a lack of concrete evidence has never stopped scholars from saying Hamilton had a sexual affair with his sister-in-law, Angelica Church.

Now it’s unlikely Hamilton would have self-identified as a “sodomite” because he did have sexual relations with women – many relations according to his reputation among the other aides. He and his wife Elizabeth Schuyler had nine confirmed pregnancies resulting in eight children in their twenty-three years of marriage before his death. And his only confirmed adulterous affair was with another woman.

On Laurens’s end, the only confirmed relationship with a woman he had was with Martha Manning, whom he seems to have married solely to legitimize their child from the resulting said liaison. Afterwards he proceeded to ignore his wife and daughter in favor of his friendships among the men of the army; it’s unknown what his bond with his wife would have been like had both of them survived the Revolution.

Hamilton’s relationship with Laurens was one of the most emotional of his life, and there’s certainly little reason to doubt it was as deeply romantic as the one he shared with his wife, judging from his response following Laurens’s death:

“The world will feel the loss of a man who has left few like him behind, and America of a citizen whose heart realized that patriotism of which others only talk. I feel the loss of a friend I truly and most tenderly loved, and one of a very small number.” (AH to Nathaniel Greene, Oct. 12, 1782)

His letters to Laurens are full of “my dear”, “my Laurens” and other affectionate terms. This in and of itself may not have been indicative of anything more than a “romantic friendship” which were prevalent at the time – indeed, in the 18th century, comradeship and deep platonic bonds between men were seen as the highest and purest relationships one could have. So had his letters not progressed much further than “my dear,” his relationship with Laurens could be counted among the profound – but still straight – friendships among men of their time. And, indeed, that is how most historians treated their relationship for the greatest time.

But the censure of his letters calls that into question. One of his earlier biographers, presumably his son John Church Hamilton, edited this paragraph, where Hamilton gives Laurens instructions on how to make him sound good to a potential wife:

“To excite their emulation, it will be necessary for you to give an account of the lover—his size, make, quality of mind and body, achievements, expectations, fortune, &c. In drawing my picture, you will no doubt be civil to your friend; mind you do justice to the length of my nose and don’t forget, that I [– – – – –]” (AH to JL, April 1779)

The deduction that Laurens was apparently well acquainted enough with Hamilton’s penis (because that’s what he’s talking about) to give an accurate description aside, the last five words were scratched out by the biographer, and on the top of the letter was penciled, “I must not publish the whole of this.” It does raise questions. If describing his manhood three times in two sentences with another man was fine, what pushed the limit? If their relationship was nothing more than a romantic friendship, why did Hamilton’s letters need to be permanently censured?

That’s not to say the letters that survived weren’t full of enough double-entendres and word play to further suggest there may have been sexual tones to their relationship:

“Cold in my professions, warm in [my] friendships, I wish, my Dear Laurens, it m[ight] be in my power, by action rather than words, [to] convince you that I love you.” (AH to JL, April 1779)

“I have gratified my feelings, by lengthening out the only kind of intercourse now in my power with my friend.” (AH to JL, April 1779)

So there’s enough circumstantial evidence to at least raise the possibility to two were bisexual.

But because people stress that sex must have happened or else the person in question is straight, it obstructs the much more important question in all this: “Was Hamilton in love with another man?” And in my opinion, the answer is yes. And that means, at the very least, Hamilton had a homoromantic relationship with Laurens. And that is more important than whether or not they broke any “sodomy” laws.

Put simply, none of Hamilton’s other letters to men match the level of emotional attachment he lavished on Laurens:

“I shall only tell you that ’till you bade us Adieu, I hardly knew the value you had taught my heart to set upon you. Indeed, my friend, it was not well done. You know the opinion I entertain of mankind, and how much it is my desire to preserve myself free from particular attachments, and to keep my happiness independent on the caprice of others. You sh[ould] not have taken advantage of my sensibility to ste[al] into my affections without my consent. But as you have done it and as we are generally indulgent to those we love, I shall not scruple to pardon the fraud you have committed, on condition that for my sake, if not for your own, you will always continue to merit the partiality, which you have so artfully instilled into [me].” (AH to JL, April 1779)

Whatever bounds their relationship fell in, the two had become very attached to one another, and Hamilton found being separated from his friend difficult. And evidently he didn’t expect their love to lessen any once he had married Elizabeth Schuyler:

“In spite of Schuylers black eyes, I have still a part for the public and another for you; so your impatience to have me married is misplaced; a strange cure by the way, as if after matrimony I was to be less devoted than I am now.” (AH to JL, Sept. 16, 1780)

To carry it further, the only other person Hamilton ever ended a letter “yours forever” (the most affectionate closing to a letter he ever wrote) to besides his wife, was John Laurens.

So, in my opinion, yes, Hamilton had a gay relationship with another man. And whether or not sexual intercourse could ever be proven is second in importance to the obvious homoromantic love he had for Laurens.

In short, the Alexander Hamilton American Legion Post 448 (which is the only post consisting predominately of LGBT military members), is one of the best monuments his name could have been lent to.

1 year ago ⋅ 171 notes
alexander hamilton     john laurens     the history peeps     thp     essay     
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