A Biography of Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804)
Under suspicionHamilton was to have his first taste of American prejudice during the summer of 1779. In July, he received a letter from a friend who reported that a most dangerous rumor was being spread about him among congressmen: that he was fomenting an army uprising to overthrow congress and install Washington as dictator. The correspondent, Colonel John Brooks, added that the speaker "further observed, that Mr. Hamilton could be no ways interested in the defence of this country; and therefore, was most likely to pursue such a line of conduct as his great ambition dictated."
Not surprisingly, Hamilton was outraged. Although he had made no secret of his frustrations with congress, he had consistently called for more power for congress, never for its ousting. In addition, Hamilton had long demonstrated a distaste for mob violence and uprisings. It would have been completely out of character for him to have uttered such sentiments, and Hamilton's colleagues knew this.
Hamilton had become a marked man because of his quick ascent out of nowhere to become Washington's closest and most trusted assistant. Most of Washington's communications were written in Hamilton's hand; and when someone wanted to get to Washington, they knew their best route was through Hamilton. A dashing, elegant blonde, who was also brilliant and witty, Hamilton won the hearts of both men and women with his social charm, and was highly respected for his intellect and intensity at work. Everyone who came in contact with him considered him extraordinary. Alexander Hamilton was a standout. Even the formidable Jefferson was awed, as he revealed to James Madison in 1795, "Hamilton is really a colossus . . . without numbers, he is a host within himself."
When Hamilton did not inspire affection, he often incited fierce jealousy. Congress, always wary of plots and already fearful of Washington's growing power and popularity as the war dragged on, began to focus on Hamilton, whom they saw as a shadowy figure with enough influence to sway the incorruptible Washington to fulfill whatever equally shadowy agenda they ascribed to him. When they began inquiring into Hamilton's background, they found out that he was not from a respected American family, nor even an American by birth. Hamilton was understandably vague about his origins, which was just as damning as if he had advertised them.
Hamilton rigorously investigated, and found the originator of the rumor was an erratic Massachusetts clergyman who, another friend from Boston assured Hamilton, was normally quarrelsome and at one point "proved a liar in the public street." An angry exchange of letters between the clergyman and Hamilton ensued, and Hamilton stopped just short of challenging the reverend to a duel. The matter was eventually forgotten--few had taken the allegations seriously-- but the attack on his personal honor left Hamilton shaken and depressed.
Not only did the inference underscore his rootlessness, the rumor was also a painfully defining moment in Hamilton's life and career. His motives as a public servant would be forever questioned because he was viewed as an outsider, an alien. After being denied by congress a diplomatic assignment to France, most likely on the advice of Washington who desperately needed him at headquarters, Hamilton hit rock bottom. He wrote of his severe unhappiness to his best friend John Laurens:
"In short Laurens I am disgusted with every thing in this world . . . and
I have no other wish than as soon as possible to make a brilliant exit. "Tis
a weakness; but I feel I am not fit for this terrestreal