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social sciences

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Hamilton, Alexander (1757-1804)  
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Hamilton's Further Career

When the Revolutionary War ended, Hamilton spent several months in the intense study of law, after which he was admitted to the bar in the state of New York. His intention at the time--contrary to his recommendation to Laurens--was to devote only a short time to public service before turning to law as a career.

Hamilton did retire from Congress in 1783 to start a law practice in New York City, but his political career was far from over. He participated in the Constitutional Convention of 1787, and when Washington became president in 1789 he chose Hamilton as his Secretary of the Treasury.

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Because of Washington's esteem for him, Hamilton was able to wield wider power than the secretaryship of a single department conferred, which sometimes led to clashes with other members of Washington's administration.

Hamilton faced a crisis in 1792 when several of his political adversaries, including James Monroe, accused him of financial improprieties in office. They based their allegations on the story of a small-time con man, James Reynolds, to whom Hamilton had given money. To defend himself against the accusations, Hamilton was forced to admit to having been inveigled into an affair with the man's wife, Maria Reynolds. The couple's objective--in which they succeeded--had been blackmail, and Reynolds concocted the second story only to deflect blame from himself.

Hamilton quit the poorly remunerated Treasury post in January 1795 to resume the practice of law, but he remained a trusted adviser to Washington and a leader of the Federalist Party.

When the highly contentious presidential race of 1800 ended in a tie in the Electoral College and was thrown into the House of Representatives, Hamilton put the good of the country above party loyalty. Believing that the Federalist candidate, Aaron Burr, would be a potentially disastrous president, Hamilton urged his fellow party-members to vote for his longtime political adversary Thomas Jefferson.

Burr never forgave Hamilton for his defeat, and in 1804 challenged him to a duel. When the two met on July 11, Hamilton received a serious wound from which he died the following day.

Interpreting the Hamilton-Laurens Relationship

The terms and categories of homosexual, heterosexual, and bisexual had not been invented in Hamilton's day, and one runs the risk of anachronism in attempting to apply them without qualification to him and his contemporaries. The relationship of Hamilton and Laurens was certainly , and it clearly involved deep emotional bonds. Whether it also included an overtly sexual dimension is difficult to establish, but that may not be the most important question, since same-sex sexuality is no more limited to genital relations than is heterosexual marriage.

Given Hamilton's later experience as married man and father of a large family, he likely did not identify as a "" or "" or other term used to designate people whom we would today describe as homosexual. Still, it may well be that his relationship with Laurens was the most important romantic and emotional bond of his life.

It is interesting to note how mid- to late-twentieth-century biographers have dealt with the relationship between Hamilton and Laurens.

Writing in 1946, Nathan Schachner attributed Hamilton's sadness over Laurens's death to the loss of someone who "had been as close to him as a brother" and cited their shared military experience as the basis of their bond.

In a 1957 biography Broadus Mitchell likewise called Hamilton's feeling for Laurens "brotherly affection." In Mitchell's 1970 work, Laurens became Hamilton's "fast friend." "Their companionship in the army" was again adduced as the reason for their closeness. Of Hamilton's "deepest affliction" over Laurens's death, Mitchell explains it away by noting, "Others--Greene, Washington, John Adams, even the Charleston Royal Gazette--were similarly sorrowful."

By the time Stuart Gerry Brown wrote his biography in 1967, he was obviously somewhat embarrassed and felt the need to conceal some aspects of his subject's relationship with Laurens. He described Laurens as Hamilton's "intimate friend" and recipient of the letter about his requisites in a wife. Brown, however, reproduced only the portion of the letter dealing with the ideal spouse, omitting among other things Hamilton's initial declaration of love for Laurens, his rejection of the idea of marriage, and the suggestive final line of the long letter: "I have gratified my feelings, by lengthening out the only kind of intercourse now in my power with my friend."

Brown's skittishness contrasts with the less self-conscious tone of Gertrude Franklin Atherton's 1902 panegyric, The Conqueror: Being the True and Romantic Story of Alexander Hamilton. Despite its claim of veracity, the biography reads more like a novel, with copious invented dialogue and imagined thoughts of the characters.

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