Alexander Hamilton was a revolutionary and military leader, a founding father, first secretary of the United States Department of Treasury, and the subject of the successful Broadway musical Hamilton.
But the show, which portrays him as an opponent of slavery, now faces the demand to "cancel" it in order to gloss over his own involvement in the trade.
While first seeing the evils of slavery in the West Indies and resolutely opposing slavery later in life, Hamilton often put these views in the background to gain recognition of wealthy benefactors and advance his career.
Its two main beneficiaries were George Washington and Philip Schuyler, who both owned slaves. Hamilton helped the Schuyler family buy slaves and helped run businesses that benefited from slave labor.
Even when he denounced slavery in 1796 after being forced out of politics, some argue that he cynically used it as a tool to destroy his rival Thomas Jefferson.
Alexander Hamilton (left) campaigned against slavery several times during his life, but also married into a wealthy slave family (picture on the right, his father-in-law Philip Schuyler) and often put his views aside to develop
Hamilton, a relentless social climber, was born on Nevis Island in 1755 to a merchant father who had left the family at the age of 10 and an already married mother who died at the age of 13 in 1768.
Hamilton grew up in poverty and is said to have lied about his age to work for two wealthy New York merchants before using his connections to travel to mainland America and attend King & # 39; s College – now Columbia .
There he became a lawyer for revolutionary purposes, joined the War of Independence as a volunteer in 1775 and became the captain of an artillery company the following year.
At the Battle of Trenton in December 1776, he attracted his first great benefactor – Washington – by bravely defending his main army against an attack by the British.
In 1777, he served as Washington's adjutant, a connection he used to marry Elizabeth Schuyler, daughter of the revolutionary colleague and second benefactor Major General Philip Schuyler. They married in 1780.
The Schuyler family's commitment to slavery
When Alexander Hamilton was born, the Schuyler family was one of the richest and best known in New York.
Her legacy was created by Philip Pieterse Schuyler, a carpenter born in the Netherlands, who emigrated to what was then New Netherland around 1650.
There he became involved in the fur trade and used his assets to buy land and property.
His descendants then used this wealth to get involved in state politics while maintaining their status as landowners and merchants.
Philipp's youngest son Johannes served as Mayor of Albany and was followed in this role by his own son Johannes Jr., who was the father of Philip Schuyer, Hamilton's benefactor.
It is not exactly clear when the family started to own slaves, although slavery was common in New Netherland from the beginning and was involved in the fur trade in which the Schuylers first built up their wealth.
At the first census in 1790, Albany became known as the most slave area in New York, and Philip Schuyler has 13 slaves in the city, more in Saratoga, for a total of at least 30.
For Hamilton, marriage was all about progress, and he became a close confidante of Philip, one of New York's richest men – and the greatest slave owner in Albany.
According to historical records, Schuyler owned at least 30 slaves who worked between his South End villa and a farm on his Saratoga estate.
While the slaves, unlike plantation work, were used as so-called "skilled work", historians say that the work was still "degrading, violent and harmful".
As part of the family, Hamilton appears to have ignored his father-in-law's slave ownership and helped buy slaves for his in-laws – although it is unlikely that he ever owned slaves himself.
While getting involved in the slave trade with the Schuyler family, Hamilton began to move in abolitionist circles – including friendship with passionate abolitionist John Laurens.
When Laurens proposed in 1779 to take black people into the army and free them from bondage, Hamilton stood up for him.
After the war ended, Hamilton – after leading a battalion in the crucial battle of Yorktown – continued to campaign for slave freedom.
In 1785, he helped establish the New York Manum Slave Promotion Society, which put pressure on owners to free their slaves and tried to prevent freed slaves from being recaptured and sold back to bondage.
As part of the Central Committee, he helped draft a proposal that would expire slave ownership among members of society, but was rejected.
However, this was far from his main project. In 1782 he was called to the Confederation's Congress and tried to establish a tax system so that the newly formed government could pay its debts primarily to the army.
He was subsequently involved in a group of officers who threatened the government with a military takeover if they were not paid, which is known as Newburgh Conspiracy.
As the situation finally dissipated, Hamilton continued to campaign for a strong federal government that was able to raise taxes, recruit an army, and legislate, in the fashion of the old colonial masters of Britain with whom he had a close relationship wanted to.
Although he came from poverty, he was an unabashed elitist who believed in the right of a principled upper class to rule the majority, which he considered immoral and uneducated.
At the Constitutional Convention of 1787, he proposed that the president and senators rule for life and at the same time speak out against democracy.
He also advocated the "three-fifths compromise", in which only three-fifths of slaves were counted as human beings when deciding how many representatives each state could send to Congress.
Hamilton's life was transformed into an award-winning musical that glossed over his involvement in the slave trade, which gave rise to some calls for the slave trade to be lifted
"It would be impossible to form a union without them," he said at the time.
These views brought him into conflict with Thomas Jefferson, who saw him as a possible Caesar who wanted to lead the country to tyrannical rule.
In fact, Abigail Adams, the wife of John Adams, even warned her husband that Hamilton was "as ambitious as Julius Caesar, a subtle schemer".
Regardless, she compared him to a "second Bonaparte" who had also been artillery commander during the French Revolution and was on the way to becoming emperor of France.
Henry Adams repeated this idea in a later letter in which he wrote: "I don't like Hamilton because I always feel the adventurer in him …
"From the first to the last word he wrote, I always read the same Napoleonic kind of adventure."
In 1794, this image was firmly established in the minds of many when Hamilton, as the first secretary of the US Treasury, waived taxes on states to pay off the war debt and prompted a group of peasants to rebel.
Hamilton himself marched with troops to stamp out the uprising, and while only a few died, this cemented his reputation for being against the many and for the few.
While many, including Jefferson, feared Hamilton would become president, he destroyed his own ambitions when he started an affair with a woman named Maria Reynolds in 1791.
The founding fathers and their slaves
Although they campaigned for the defense of freedom in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, the majority of prominent founding fathers were slave owners at some point.
George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson owned slaves, among others, and while Washington and Franklin liberated theirs, Jefferson was the slave owner until his death.
Hamilton was one of the few who are never believed to have owned slaves. Other characters are Samuel Adams and John Adams.
While many of the founders opposed slavery at the 1787 constitutional convention, the strong resistance of the southern population forced compromises.
The three-fifths compromise is perhaps the most notorious and only counts three out of five slaves as humans when it comes to how many representatives each state should have in Congress.
The compromise increased the seat share in the south by a third, but also burdened the region with more taxes.
Hamilton, Franklin and John Jay were also active in abolitionist societies in each of their respective states.
The so-called Reynolds affair, known as America's first sex scandal, began when a 23-year-old Maria came to Hamilton and claimed to be destitute after she was abandoned by her abusive husband James.
According to Hamilton's report, he agreed to bring money to a guest house where she lived that evening, and the two finally had sex.
The affair continued for the next year, and Maria even visited the house where Hamilton lived while Elizabeth was out of town and visiting her father.
Eventually, Maria's husband reappeared and blackmailed Hamilton into the matter – causing him to end it.
James Reynolds and a friend of his were arrested for fraud the following year when the friend told three Congressmen that James had worked with Alexander Hamilton on the crime.
Congressmen confronted Hamilton with this and he admitted adultery to relieve himself.
The scandal went silent for the next few years when Hamilton retired from politics, but came to the fore in 1796 when Hamilton launched an attack on Jefferson, who was running for president at the time.
Hamilton himself was out of the race after being overthrown by the federal party he co-founded for Thomas Pinckney and John Adams, but was determined to overthrow his opponent.
In a series of letters in which Jefferson was denounced as a hypocrite for speaking out against slavery while still owning and benefiting from slaves, he also dropped references to his relationship with one of his slaves – Sally Hemings.
Hamilton would continue to try to interfere with the electoral college in the same elections to keep Adams – whom he disliked – as vice president, while Pinckney became president, although he ultimately failed.
The following year, journalist James Callender struck back on Jefferson's behalf with information he received from one of the three congressmen, and publicly accused Hamilton of the affair and dodgy financial affairs.
In late 1797, Hamilton was forced to publish the Reynolds brochure, in which he defended himself against the financial burdens while admitting adultery.
The scandal ruined his political ambitions and cast a long shadow over his arguments against slavery, which critics said were only a means to reach Jefferson.
Hamilton continued to exert influence during the Adams government until a feud between the two became public shortly before the 1800 election.
Jefferson and Aaron Barr then won, kicked Adams and the federal party out of power, leaving Hamilton in the political wilderness.
Embittered and defeated, Hamilton went on the attack – and founded the New York Post in 1801 as a federalist newspaper with which he attacked his opponents.
In 1804, he used the newspaper to attack Barr, who was largely supported by the federalists but had personal complaints with Hamilton.
At that time, Barr was in the running for New York governor after Jefferson dropped him for the upcoming presidential election.
Barr lost the governor's race to his little-known opponent Morgan Lewis, and while Hamilton's intervention may not have affected voting, Barr was angry.
When the dust had subsided, Burr asked Hamilton to face him in a gun duel because a "detestable opinion" about him had been published in a newspaper.
Although his eldest son Philip had been killed in a duel three years earlier, Hamilton refused to backtrack on his own honor and agreed.
On July 11, the two men met in Weehawken, New Jersey, near the place where Hamilton's son had died, where they broke up before turning and firing.
Hamilton's bullet missed and broke a branch over Burr's head, but Burr's bullet hit Hamilton in the gut and caused a wound that would ultimately prove fatal.
After 31 hours of opium to relieve his pain, Hamilton died, leaving seven children and the woman he had betrayed who were deeply in debt.
While most northern states had voted to end slavery at the time of his death, it would take another 61 years and a civil war for slavery to be banned in the United States with the passage of the 13th amendment.
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