Alexander Hamilton’s Challenging Friendships

Even though he was one of America’s Founding Fathers, Alexander Hamilton didn’t receive much attention –that is until Lin-Manuel Miranda’s 2015 musical, Hamilton became a Broadway sensation. Alexander likely received less recognition because many of his colleagues (and occasional political enemies) went on to serve as presidents, while Hamilton did not. But the real story of Hamilton’s life is how accountability helps a man grow. In Hamilton’s case, accountability — or lack thereof, helped him realize how to become a better man. – albeit not perfect, man

As I wrote in my last post, Frenemies of the State, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson were friends who supported each other but were also fierce political rivals. Similarly, Alexander Hamilton endured the death of a good friend and a family member, He also had friends who became enemies. While it’s unclear if any of them supported Alexander after his tragedies, it is clear that Hamilton became a better man –albeit not a perfect one, by being challenged by his “frenemies.”

Death of a Close Friend 

A song early in the musical shows a meeting in 1776 where Alexander Hamilton, John Laurens, Hercules Mulligan, and Marquis de Lafayette consume alcohol in a bar as they talk and laugh, toasting every now and then. The four young revolutionaries celebrate their friendship and loyalty to the newly-started revolution.

Hamilton biographer, Ron Chernow speculates in his book that Alexander may have had a sort-of adolescent crush on his closest friend, John Laurens. In an example that some feel showed a “romantic friendship,” Alexander writes to his friend, John, “I wish, my dear Laurens, that it might be in my power, by action, rather than words, to convince you that I love you.” 

The musical implies Hamilton and Laurens’ friendship was cemented when both testified against General Charles Lee in 1778. After insulting Hamilton — and even George Washington himself, Laurens challenges Lee to a duel. Laurens shoots Lee and his honor was satisfied. But in 1782, Laurens dies at the young age of 27 during the Battle of the Combahee River.

It’s possible that Mulligan and Lafayette came alongside Hamilton in his grief. Chernow said that Laurens’ death dramatically affected Hamilton psychologically: “After the death of John Laurens, Hamilton shut off some compartment of his emotions and never reopened it.” Hamilton never really formed another relationship that matched the closeness he had with Laurens. 

I personally know that the death of a close friend can also have a huge impact on us. It’s why Accountability Can Help Friendships

Contrary to the storyline in Hamilton, Burr and Hamilton did not meet at Princeton University to study together. The two first met in 1776 during the American Revolution as young American officers working to defend New York City against a British attack. Major Burr and his men rescued Captain Hamilton and his men as the Americans were retreating from New York. Apparently, Hamilton resented Burr’s attitude toward him and Burr felt the same toward Hamilton. In 1790, Burr also drew Hamilton’s ire when he beat Hamilton’s father-in-law, Philip Schuyler, in a race for the US Senate.

Later in his career, Alexander Hamilton was accused of covering up an affair and financial scheming. Ron Chernow refers to the situation as “one of history’s most mystifying cases of bad judgment.”

The musical covered the real-life Hamilton’s relationship with a woman named Maria Reynolds, the blackmail by her husband, and Alexander’s payoff to stay quiet. Then-Congressman, James Monroe confronts Hamilton, who claimed he was not conducting crooked deals but was being blackmailed for the affair. Monroe agrees to keep things quiet once he realized Hamilton’s only offense was poor personal judgment.

James Monroe had a secret of his own, though. He also sent Thomas Jefferson copies of the letters Hamilton received from Maria Reynolds. The affair wasn’t publicly exposed until 1797 after Hamilton stepped down as treasury secretary. Hamilton saves his reputation by publishing a pamphlet that fully detailed the affair and blackmail, successfully denying the corruption charges. Maria Reynolds then sued her husband for divorce, ironically guided by her attorney, Aaron Burr.

Accountability helps a man grow. What might have happened if Hamilton’s frenemies had not challenged him? His poor judgment almost ruined his marriage and political career.

Fatal Duels

Just like Hamilton himself, Alexander’s eldest son, Philip, died in an ill-fated duel. In 1801, the 19-year-old Philip was at the theater with his friend, Richard Price, when they spotted a Republican lawyer named George Eacker, who made derogatory statements about Philip’s father during a speech. Philip and Price stormed Eacker’s private box (they may have been drunk) and hurled insults at him. The three took their argument to the lobby. After failing to reach a resolution, they agreed to a duel the next day. Alexander suggests to his son to fire harmlessly to the sky but Eacker’s bullet strikes Philip’s left arm. Philip Hamilton died on November 24, 1801, devastating his mother and father.

Despite the devastating loss of his son in a duel, Hamilton’s life had a similar ending. 

In A Fatal Friendship, Arnold Rogow offers an account of the conflicted relationship and the fatal duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. The book discusses the two men’s youth, Revolutionary War service, early friendship, and competition through the 1780s and 1790s. Hamilton, a Federalist, and Burr, a Democratic-Republican, eventually became notorious political enemies. This ultimately led to their July 11, 1804 duel, which killed Hamilton. Charged with two counts of murder, Burr never held political office again.

At what point did Alexander’s pride get in the way of reason? Could they have avoided a duel if Hamilton had listened early on to Burr when he said “Talk less. Smile more. Don’t let them know what you’re against or what you’re for.” (OK, that’s from the musical and likely didn’t happen!) It’s still good advice that shows accountability helps a man grow.

Leaving His Widow in Debt 

Alexander Hamilton might have been a great treasury secretary, but he left Eliza with a significant amount of debt. His enemies wanted people to believe Hamilton used his position to enhance his personal wealth. However, deep down, Alexander may have been too ethical. Reports are that he refused his army pension for his military service. He could have made more money as a lawyer than as a treasury secretary and regularly undercharged his clients. Hamilton could have been quite a wealthy man, but he left behind a record free of any corruption.

Eliza lived to be 97 and devoted the rest of her life to preserving her husband’s legacy. 

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GodBuddy Focus

The life of Alexander Hamilton shows several instances where friends and enemies provide accountability that helps a man grow.

First, the initial group of friends (Hamilton, Laurens, Mulligan, and Lafayette) shared the goal of the revolution and celebrated its success.

GodBuddies also share the common goal: they make each other better by following the ways of Jesus. They also celebrate each other’s accomplishments.  

Next, Hamilton’s expression of love for Laurens showed the emotional depth of their friendship. Some wonder if Hamilton had a love affair with Laurens. But that viewpoint may merely reflect a modern tendency to see latent homosexuality in deep male friendships.

As I explained in my post on Abraham Lincoln and Joshua Speed and the biblical story of Jonathan and David, a close friendship has emotional intimacy. However, our culture tends to sexualize close friendships even though it demonstrates a deep commitment between friends. 

Lastly, even though many of the Founding Fathers became “frenemies”, they helped each other become men who changed the world. They supported each other in tragedy. They helped shape each other’s ideologies and challenged their bad behavior. Even though it may have been for political gain, they spoke the truth. But they also helped sharpen each other into better men.

I believe it’s good for men to have several types of men in their inner circle. At least one should be a GodBuddy. This is a godly man who will celebrate your successes, check your pride and hold you accountable to higher standards. He is someone who will also remain committed to the friendships, even when you disagree. 

My next post will describe some friendships from the wide world of sports.  


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