What Hamilton Doesn’t Say About His Real History with Slavery

Still, Hamilton remained part of the group’s standing committee and even petitioned the state legislature of New York to ban trading slaves from anywhere else in the world, saying exporting Black people “like cattle and other commerce to the West Indies and the southern states” was a monstrous affair.

Nevertheless, all of these stands were made before Hamilton had actual political power inside of the government, as opposed to writing to it. So what did he do when he actually was in the room where it happens? Largely nothing other than treating it as a bargaining chip. During the Constitutional Convention, Hamilton spoke passionately about the need for allowing easy immigration and U.S. citizenry to anyone who wanted it—and argued that senators should have lifetime appointments—but on the issue of slavery, and the infamous “Three-Fifths Compromise” that occurred there, Hamilton gloomily surmised, “No union could possibly be formed” without it.

And what of his visceral admonishment of Jefferson’s hypocrisies in 1796? It was vividly fair. Jefferson, ever the proud renaissance man, was aware that slavery was evil. He attempted to blame the institution on King George III in the Declaration of Independence before Southern states forced him to take it out, and in the early 1780s he published Notes on the State of Virginia, which among other things argued that slavery could be ended in the state by 1784 with emancipated slaves moving into the interior North American continent. Of course none of that happened, and between his many impressive positions in government, from ambassador to France to Secretary of State, to vice president, and finally President of the United States, he never actually acted on these goals… or freed the hundreds of Black men and women he kept toiling at Monticello.

In fact, Hamilton used the hypocrisy and blatant racism within Notes on the State of Virginia against Jefferson, noting the document’s paternal bigotry where Jefferson offered pseudoscientific explanations to suggest in the natural hierarchy, whites were above Blacks, in the way Blacks were above orangutans. “[He’d have them] exported to some less friendly region where they might all be murdered or reduced to a more wretched state of slavery,” Hamilton wrote as Phocoin about Jefferson’s unrealized emancipation plan. But his most damning indictment was insinuating that the well-noticed light skinned slaves called Black in Monticello might have a complicated heritage.

“At one moment he is anxious to emancipate the blacks to vindicate the liberty of the human race. At another he discovers that the blacks are of a different race from the human race and therefore, when emancipated, they must be instantly removed beyond the reach of mixture lest he (or she) should stain the blood of his (or her) master, not recollecting what from his situation and other circumstances he ought to have recollected—that this mixture may take place while the negro remains in slavery. He must have seen all around him sufficient marks of this staining of blood to have been convinced that retaining them in slavery would not prevent it.”

– Alexander Hamilton

Biographer Chernow even believes this hints at Hamilton having knowledge about Jefferson’s affair with the light-skinned Sally Hemings, as Angelica Schuyler Church was a friend of Jefferson’s during his time in Paris when he possibly began that, um, relationship. Hemings was 14 at the time.

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