Gay Alexander Hamilton: Was this Founding Father homosexual?

Gay Alexander Hamilton: Was this Founding Father homosexual?

Mar 27, 2012

There’s plenty of speculation-ready evidence that Founding Father Alexander Hamilton was gay. Between the years 1779 and 1792, the revolutionary author of the Federalist Papers wrote dozens of intimate, emotional letters to his comrade in arms, John Laurens.

“I wish, my Dear Laurens, it were in my power, by actions rather than words, to convince you that I love you,” the future U.S. Treasurer and victim of Aaron Burr’s fatal bullet wrote in April of 1779. Then, on the subject of Laurens’ marriage, Hamilton pined, “As we are generally indulgent to those we love, I shall not scruple to pardon the fraud you have committed, on one 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.” Hamilton even goes so far as to describe himself as a “jealous lover” when Laurens, then imprisoned for trying to free slaves, was incapable of responding to his many missives. “Like a jealous lover, when I thought you slighted my caresses, my affection was alarmed and my vanity piqued.” And according to historian Paul Hardman, Laurens reciprocated Hamilton’s love: “[Laurens] “took Hamilton by storm, capturing judgment as well as heart, and loving him as ardently in return.”

Read with the 21st Century eye, these missives certainly sound like the words of a love lorn man longing for another man. And Hamilton and Laurens’ relationship certainly has the markings of same-sex desire. The two men met while on the battlefield with George Washington, fighting for this nation’s freedom, and rapidly developed an affectionate relationship, one so strong that Hamilton fell into a deep depression when Laurens was killed during a 1792 fight with the British. “I feel the loss of a friend I truly and most tenderly loved,” he wrote at the time.

As I and others have mentioned elsewhere, it’s dicey business trying to brand forefathers like Alexander Hamilton as homosexual. The term wasn’t coined until 1869, 65 years after Hamilton’s 1804 death. And, as Hamilton biographer John C. Miller wrote in 1959, the men lived in an era when eloquence and emotion were the order of the day, even between men.

Hamilton and Laurens belonged to a generation of military men that prided itself not upon the hard-boiled avoidance of sentiment but upon the cultivation of the finer feelings. Theirs was the language of the heart, noble, exalted and sentimental. For Hamilton and Laurens were not merely soldiers doing a job; they were classical scholars whose thoughts and actions were colored by the grandeur of antiquity.

Besides, what would concrete evidence that Alexander Hamilton was gay really prove? That gay men existed before being classified as such? This we know. That gay people have played a role in the birth of a nation. This we know, too. Another of Washington’s soldiers, Lt. Frederick Gotthold Enslin, was booted from the Continental Army for his gay dalliances, and Martin Luther King Jr. would have been lost without his gay right-hand man, Bayard Rustin, who helped outline the civil rights hero’s most famous speeches.

Indeed, the question of whether Founding Father Alexander Hamilton is inconsequential, and in fact impossible to determine. One thing is certain, however: Hamilton and Laurens had a close relationship unencumbered by social norms or moralistic legislation holding them down, living in a culture where love knew no bounds, a culture for which all Americans should fight.

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