A Biography of Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804)

The quarrel with Washington (February 16, 1781)

It took all of a few seconds for Washington and Hamilton to split. On one busy winter day Hamilton, harried as usual with multiple tasks, met his General at the top of the stairs at headquarters in New Windsor, NY. As he explained to his father-in-law two days later:

"[Washington] told me he wanted to speak to me. I answered that I would wait upon him immediately." Hamilton delivered a letter to another aide, but allowed himself a few brief words with Lafayette, whom he ran into on the way. While rushing back to the General he found him fuming at the top of the stairs. "ŒCol Hamilton (said he), you have kept me waiting at the head of the stairs these ten minutes. I must tell you Sir you treat me with disrespect." I replied without petulancy, but with decision "I am not conscious of it Sir, but since you have thought it necessary to tell me so we part." "Very well Sir (said he) if it be your choice."

It seems a mild exchange as told by Hamilton, but it was in actuality a very terse one pushing the bounds of eighteenth century restraint. Hamilton had told his boss to go fly a kite.

Hamilton stormed out of headquarters, complaining angrily to Lafayette, who, horrified that he might have been the cause of the quarrel, immediately tried to repair the breach. Washington swallowed his pride and made overtures to Hamilton, but Hamilton remained impervious. He stayed at headquarters until April, but lived in a separate building. He and Washington dealt with business by dashing off icy letters to each other. Oddly, Hamilton made one more request for a command at the end of April. That rebuffed, he handed in his official resignation as aide-de-camp on April 30.