Thursday, February 10, 2011

Alexander Hamilton Seeks a Wife: 1779

Thursday, February 10, 2011
Susan reporting:

No matter the time period, finding the perfect spouse seems to have been a constant challenge for men and women alike. Matchmaking today may have become one more internet transaction, but in the past, most people turned to friends and family to help them find a suitable mate. And in the past, just as today, the laundry-list of requirements in a potential spouse that the hopeful bride or groom sought must have sorely tried the patience of a good many friends.

Alexander Hamilton (1757-1804), left, was one of early America's Founding Fathers, and is most remembered today as the first U.S. Secretary of the Treasury. But in April, 1779, he was an ambitious young lieutenant colonel serving in the Continental Army as an aide to General George Washington, and one of the ways he hoped to rise in the world was to make a favorable marriage. In a letter to his good friend and fellow officer John Laurens, he enlisted Laurens' assistance in finding just the right lady:

"Such a wife as I want will, I know, be difficult to be found, but if you succeed, it will be the stronger proof of your zeal and dexterity. Take her description – She must be young, handsome (I lay most stress upon a good shape) sensible (a little learning will do), well bred (but she must have an aversion to the word ton) chaste and tender (I am an enthusiast in my notions of fidelity and fondness) of some good nature, a great deal of generosity (she must neither love money nor scolding, for I dislike equally a termagant and an economist). In politics, I am indifferent what side she may be of; I think I have arguments that will easily convert her to mine. As to religion a moderate stock will satisfy me. She must believe in God and hate a saint. But as to fortune, the larger stock of that the better. You know my temper and circumstances and will therefore pay special attention to this article in the treaty. Though I run no risk of going to Purgatory for my avarice; yet as  money is an essential ingredient to happiness in this world – as I have not much of my own and as I am very little calculated to get more either by my address or industry; it must needs be, that my wife, if I get one, bring at least a sufficiency to administer to her own extravagancies."

Amazingly, Hamilton soon did find himself a wife who met nearly all of these stipulations. Elizabeth Schuyler (1757-1854), right, was the daughter of General Philip Schuyler, and a member of one of the wealthiest and most influential families in New York. Hamilton wed her in December, 1780, in her family's mansion. The marriage produced eight children and survived Hamilton's various scandals and a very public infidelity, and for the duration of Elizabeth's long life (she outlived her husband – killed in the famous duel with Aaron Burr – by fifty years), she defended Hamilton and refused to believe the gossip about him, no matter how true it might have been.

So perhaps despite the mercenary beginning, Alexander Hamilton really did get lucky and wed the girl of his dreams....


Tonya said...

Oh I loved this post. So interesting. Yes it sure sounds like he found in her eveything on his list. He must have for their marriage to last that long and produce that many children. I would have loved to live back in those times were you would be introduced to someone through family and friends, it's some what like that today but nothing like it was back then. Now most people I know go the internet and usually it never works out LOL. Blessings. Have a happy Thursday.

Anonymous said...

He does sound exactly like guys today - "She has to be totally hot, totally into me, and rich, rich, rich." No thank you. I pity his wife.

JaneGS said...

I think this is the most interesting requirement: "She must believe in God and hate a saint."

Hamilton is endlessly fascinating, to himself most of all!

Vivica said...

"She must believe in God and hate a saint."
Yes nothing a good WASP Founding Father feared more than the Roman Catholic church, unless it was the Jacobites.

An interesting and revealing excerpt. If the modern politicians who venerate the early American leaders would delve a bit deeper into their histories, then they'd change their tune soon enough. Hamilton was no moral prize.

Unknown said...

Is it just me, or does Mr. Hamiltons letter sounds like the lyrics to Somebody written by Martin Gore?

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