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Alexander hamilton’s exaggerated abolitionist stance

The US Treasury Department previously announced that the portrait of alexander hamilton on the 10-dollar bill would be replaced by someone else, which triggered a small-scale movement aimed at saving the position of the first treasury secretary in the history of American currency. The recurring theme in the “Save Hamilton” movement is to emphasize Hamilton’s position of abolishing slavery, and some critics who have gone further even regard it as the pioneer of a generation of abolitionists after the founding of the People’s Republic of China. The new york Daily News called him a “staunch abolitionist”, while the Huffington Post praised him for his “resolute” opposition to slavery, which was the main reason for keeping his portrait on the 10-dollar bill. This formulation goes far beyond the scope of amateur explanation. A considerable number of biographers who worship Hamilton will add abolitionists and resolutely oppose slavery to their writing themes.

“Few of the Founding Fathers can compare with Hamilton in the consistency of stance and firmness of abolitionist action,” Ron Chernow wrote in his widely acclaimed review of Federalist Papers. Richard Brookhiser and even the historian Forrest McDonald, who is famous for his rigorous textual research, praised his efforts against slavery in his biography. However, there is a big problem with this narrative: Hamilton’s evidence of “abolitionism” is greatly exaggerated, if not nonsense.

The fragments of the previous letter have shown that Hamilton’s relationship with slavery is far from innocent. Two of his female relatives, Margaret skyler Skyler van Lunsiral and Angelica skyler Church, are both suspected of owning slaves in their family business, and the slaves they want to recall are also under the control of a sales contract involving another political acquaintance. There are many examples in Hamilton’s letters that show that he was in charge of finance in the process of selling, signing contracts or buying slaves, and the parties concerned were his immediate family members.

The details of these transactions are scattered, but there are some questionable records. On the customer note of a 1784 ledger, there is “to Peggy, a black girl who sold it to him”; Another account book records “250 dollars in cash, bought me two black N Lou”, dated in 1796, which may be related to another transaction to buy slaves for relatives of the church family. In a text that modern and contemporary Hamilton biographers usually avoid talking about, Hamilton’s grandson described the above record like this: “It is generally believed that Hamilton never owned a black slave, but this is not true. We found in his book that there are some records showing that he bought slaves for himself and others. ” In 1797, a record involving his relatives wrote, “John B. mr. church bought $225 from black women and children. Another related record has the words “same as above, a black woman was bought for $90”.

Most of these transactions involved Hamilton’s married relatives-he married the daughter of a wealthy and powerful skyler family in new york, which owned some slaves, mainly domestic servants. Although this practice was common among wealthy families in the late 18th century, it also showed that Hamilton had many experiences of directly using slaves or buying and selling slaves for his family. From his marriage in 1780 to his death in 1804, he was generally a beneficiary of slavery (new york promulgated a law in 1799 to change slaves into apprentices for a certain period and gradually abolish slavery).

This does not mean that slave owners or beneficiaries of slavery cannot have the idea of abolishing slavery. Hamilton is probably like this. In 1785, Hamilton joined the new york Manufacturing Association, which included many political elites in new york, such as john jay, Melancton Smith and Aaron Burr. Although the organization opposes slavery, its position is still moderate and progressive. His political efforts mainly focused on ending the slave trade, gradually dissolving slavery by means of batch liberation measures and setting a contract time limit, rather than abolishing it immediately. During his military career, Hamilton also supported the revolutionary war hero John Lawrence to encourage slaves to join the army and fight for America in exchange for freedom. But these measures-Hamilton’s reputation as an abolitionist is almost entirely based on this-are not very positive for the abolition of slavery, even by the standards of 1780.

Don’t forget that Hamilton was a prolific news critic. He published hundreds of opinions on almost all political issues at that time under his pen name. Hamilton’s works have a remarkable feature, that is, he basically does not clearly express the view of “abolitionism”, although many biographers call him that. From this point of view, he is in sharp contrast with the outstanding abolitionists of his time, who often wrote thousands of words. Think about john adams. Although he compromised with the southern states on the issue of slavery in order to save the new republic, he publicly expressed his opposition to slavery. Or compare Hamilton’s silence with Benjamin Franklin’s silence. Franklin also kept slaves in his early years, but later he gradually devoted himself to the cause of abolishing slavery and became an outspoken opponent of slavery on his deathbed. We can even compare Thomas Jefferson, who owned a huge plantation in Virginia, but wrote many books attacking the immorality of slavery, fearing that it would be bad for the future of the United States. In contrast, Hamilton’s works hardly say anything about slavery, only some abstract expressions, which simply can’t reach the kind of concreteness endowed by theorists who are committed to this topic today.

A series of evidences mentioned above cannot rule out the possibility of Hamilton’s ideological opposition to slavery, and his participation in the activities of the Slave Liberation Association is enough to illustrate some problems. However, the evidence does reveal a point that contemporary biographers are unwilling to admit: Hamilton’s anti-slavery tendency has been overwhelmed by family or other political considerations many times, and his formal political opinions can be described as overwhelming, but as far as the topics he talks about are concerned, he is a dwarf in action. It may be accurate to call him a “beneficiary of slavery who is uneasy about the system”, but it is quite absurd to call alexander hamilton an abolitionist-not to mention boasting that he is a pioneer among contemporary abolitionists.