The Gay Love Letters of Alexander Hamilton
Excerpts from My Dear Boy: Gay Love Letters through the Centuries (1998), Edited by Rictor Norton
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
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. . . .
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. . . .
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.
Copyright © 1997, 1998 by Rictor Norton. All rights reserved. Reproduction for sale or profit prohibited.
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).
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