Revolutionary Love

The Gay Love Letters of Alexander Hamilton

Excerpts from My Dear Boy: Gay Love Letters through the Centuries (1998), Edited by Rictor Norton

Copyright © 1997, 1998 by Rictor Norton. All rights reserved. Reproduction for sale or profit prohibited.


Alexander Hamilton (1757–1804) was a pamphleteer in support of Colonial freedom, and fought in the American Revolutionary Army under George Washington and Lafayette. He served in the Continental Congress 1782–3, then began a law practice in New York. After the war he helped to found the Federalist Party (writing many noted essays in The Federalist) and influenced national politics. His long-time adversary Vice President Aaron Burr killed him in a duel in 1804. The aristocratic Southerner John Laurens (1754–1782), also an aide to General Washington, once fought a duel to defend Washington's honour. In 1780 he was held prisoner of war by the British at the defeat of Charleston, South Carolina. On his release, he went to France to raise funds for the Revolutionary Army, which he rejoined on his return. He was killed in a minor foraging party on August 27, 1782. Hamilton wrote to Laurens while Laurens was organizing black slaves to fight the British in South Carolina in 1779, and after Laurens' capture in 1780. Laurens had married in 1776, but his letters were passionate on the subject of friendship, as when he wrote to his friend Richard Meade: "Adieu: I embrace you tenderly. . . . My friendship for you will burn with that pure flame which has kindled you your virtues." Hamilton, who had not yet married, playfully raises the subject of marriage as a substitute or displacement for his own love of Laurens, as an opportunity to explore his own feelings and to gauge the other man's response.


ALEXANDER HAMILTON TO JOHN LAURENS

[April, 1779]

Cold in my professions – warm in my friendships – I wish, my Dear Laurens, it were in my power, by actions rather than words, to convince you that I love you. 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 of the caprice of others. You should not have taken advantage of my sensibility, to steal 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 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. . . .
          And Now my Dear as we are upon the subject of wife, I empower and command you to get me one in Carolina. Such a wife as I want will, I know, be difficult to be found, but if you succeed, it will be the stronger proof of your zeal and dexterity. . . .
          If you should not readily meet with a lady that you think answers my description you can only advertise in the public papers and doubtless you will hear of many . . . who will be glad to become candidates for such a prize as I am. 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 [about five words here have been mutilated in the manuscript].
          After reviewing what I have written, I am ready to ask myself what could have put it into my head to hazard this Jeu de follie. Do I want a wife? No – I have plagues enough without desiring to add to the number that greatest of all; and if I were silly enough to do it, I should take care how I employ a proxy. Did I mean to show my wit? If I did, I am sure I have missed my aim. Did I only intend to [frisk]? In this I have succeeded, but I have done more. I have gratified my feelings, by lengthening out the only kind of intercourse now in my power with my friend. Adieu
          Yours.
                    A Hamilton

South Carolina
September 11, 1779

I acknowledge but one letter from you, since you left us, of the 14th of July which just arrived in time to appease a violent conflict between my friendship and my pride. I have written you five or six letters since you left Philadelphia and I should have written you more had you made proper return. But like a jealous lover, when I thought you slighted my caresses, my affection was alarmed and my vanity piqued. I had almost resolved to lavish no more of them upon you and to reject you as an inconstant and an ungrateful —. But you have now disarmed my resentment and by a single mark of attention made up the quarrel. You must at least allow me a large stock of good nature. . . .
          Have you not heard that I am on the point of becoming a benedict? I confess my sins. I am guilty. Next fall completes my doom. I give up my liberty to Miss Schuyler. She is a good hearted girl who I am sure will never play the termagant; though not a genius she has good sense enough to be agreeable, and though not a beauty, she has fine black eyes – is rather handsome and has every other requisite of the exterior to make a lover happy. And believe me, I am lover in earnest, though I do not speak of the perfections of my Mistress in the enthusiasm of Chivalry.
          Is it true that you are confined to Pensylvania? Cannot you pay us a visit? If you can, hasten to give us a pleasure which we shall relish with the sensibility of the sincerest friendship.
          Adieu God bless you. . . .
                    A Hamilton
          The lads all sympathize with you and send you the assurances of their love.

September 16, 1780

That you can speak only of your private affairs shall be no excuse for your not writing frequently. Remember that you write to your friends, and that friends have the same interests, pains, pleasures, sympathies; and that all men love egotism.
          In spite of Schylers 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 that I am now. Let me tell you, that I intend to restore the empire of Hymen and that Cupid is to be his prime Minister. I wish you were at liberty to transgress the bounds of Pensylvania. I would invite you after the fall to Albany to be witness to the final consummation. My Mistress is a good girl, and already loves you because I have told her you are a clever fellow and my friend; but mind, she loves you a l'americaine not a la françoise.
          Adieu, be happy, and let friendship between us be more than a name.
                    A Hamilton
          The General & all the lads send you their love.


SOURCE: The Works of Alexander Hamilton, ed. John C. Hamilton (New York, 1851); Allan McLane Hamilton, The Intimate Life of Alexander Hamilton (London: Duckworth, 1910); The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, ed. Harold C. Syrett, assoc. ed. Jacob E. Cooke (New York: Columbia University, 1961).


Return to My Dear Boy Table of Contents
Return to Gay History and Literature