Civil Discourse Now

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Alexander Hamilton never claimed ownership over other human beings.

  Andrew Jackson’s image on the twenty-dollar bill soon will be replaced by that of Harriet Tubman. Earlier the push had been to bump Alexander Hamilton’s image from the ten-dollar bill. After all, Hamilton “only” was Secretary of the Treasury, favored a strong central national government, and was partial to the upper class. Some countered that Jackson had horrible policies against indigenous peoples (e.g., many deaths during The Trail of Tears) and claimed ownership over other human beings (i.e., was a slaveholder).
  Someone yesterday posted, in regard to this matter: “Did you know that Hamilton was a slave owner? , kind of sweeet for Tubman.”
  This is not true. Alexander Hamilton was a founding member of the New York Manumission Society “and a staunch antislavery advocate.”  Ellis, Joseph J., “Founding Brothers,” Vintage Press, New York, 2000, p. 113. The Manumission Society was an abolitionist group founded by John Jay. Jay did not attend the 1787 Constitutional Convention, but, along with Hamilton and James Madison, wrote The Federalist Papers.
  A more complete description of Hamilton in this context is from his biography.  Ron Chernow, in “Alexander Hamilton,” Penguin Books, New York, 2004, pp. 210-11, wrote:
  “The memories of his West Indian childhood left Hamilton with a settled antipathy to slavery.  During the [Revolutionary] war, Hamilton had supported John Laurens’s futile effort to emancipate southern slaves who fought for independence.  He expressed an unwavering belief in the genetic equality of blacks and whites—unlike Jefferson, for instance, who regarded blacks as innately inferior—that was enlightened for his day.  And he knew this from personal boyhood experience.
  “Hamilton’s marriage into the Schuyler family may have created complications in his stand on slavery.  At times Philip Schuyler had as many as twenty-seven slaves ... Eliza [Hamilton, Alexander Hamilton’s wife] had direct contact with these domestic slaves, to the extent that her grandson surmised that she was ‘probably her mother’s chief assistant in the management of the house and slaves.’  The image is terribly jarring, for we know Eliza was a confirmed foe of slavery.  There is no definite proof, but three oblique hints in [Alexander] Hamilton’s papers suggest that he and Eliza may have owned one or two household slaves as well.... In 1804, Angelica [Church] noted regretfully that Eliza did not have slaves to assist with a large party that the Hamiltons were planning.”
   The three “oblique references, Chernow points out, one matter involved a “sum that would have fallen far short of the money then requisite to buy a slave.”  Id., p. 211.  The other two “oblique references” involved debits to Hamilton’s cashbook for “$250 to [Hamilton’s] father-in-law” for purchases for John and Angelica Church “undertaken reluctantly by Hamilton.”  Id.
Church was Hamilton’s brother-in-law.
  There may be many reasons to criticize Hamilton.  He favored a lifetime leader of the executive branch. That is pretty close to monarchy. Hamilton’s beliefs about slavery were not amongst those beliefs to which we should take exception.

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