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A Look at the Faith of Alexander Hamilton

 

All men have inward passions working inside of them. Some are good, some are bad. Often they conflict with each other inside of the person, trying to win precedence over one another. These emotions and desires dictate the actions of the individual. Alas, living in a fallen world, the sin nature inside of us is often vying to get us to listen to it instead of our inner conscious and Christian leanings, and no one is free of the conflict. We are however free to choose between them, and our actions- the mirroring of our inside passions- is a good way for people to tell what is going on inside of us.

Alexander Hamilton fits this mold just like every other person; he had the high points and the low ones in his life, just like we do. He is of interest because he is arguably one of the most influential people in the founding of our nation, and it would therefore be of some purpose to see what the passions and interests were that drove him, and where they clashed.

So, to get a comprehensive view of Hamilton, let’s ask some questions. First, did Alexander Hamilton have a Christian faith? Secondly, did all of his pursuits of honor and secular desires affect his faith, and if so how?

Hamilton is known for many things. When you think of him, his time as Treasury Secretary, or as General Washington’s aid, or perhaps of his time co-writing the Federalist papers come to mind. More infamous times in his life are perhaps also brought forth; his illegitimate roots in the West Indies, his scandalous affair with Maria Reynolds, or his fatal duel with Aaron Burr.

You might notice that a faith in Christ isn’t on the list. However, it is always a possibility that this has just been ignored in our secular age. So to get an actual idea let’s go back to his own writings and actions and the writings of those who actually knew him to search for answers.

Let’s start our look at the beginning of Alexander Hamilton’s life. Even with the mess his family situation was, it does appear that he had strong influences of Christianity in his early years. While still a youth in the Indies, he became good friends with Huge Knox, a man who no doubt had much influence in Hamilton’s spiritual life. They remained friends their entire lives.1

But of course there has to be more proof than just this early influence. Thankfully, Hamilton was a writer even from early age, and we can take a look at what he himself said on religion. Two of his early writings stand out. One is a hymn he wrote, which in later years his wife claimed as proof for a Christian faith in Hamilton2, and the other is a letter to his father describing a hurricane. With phrases contained in the two like “Methinks I hear my Saviour cry… I come oh Lord, I mount, I fly” or “Despise thyself and adore thy God… Succour the miserable and lay up a treasure in heaven”2, it certainly looks like Hamilton had a Biblical foundation.

Now we move foreword into Alexander Hamilton’s College years, after the young man had come to America. Perhaps one of the strongest pieces of evidence for Hamilton’s faith is found in this time in his life. One of his college friends, Robert Troup, is quoted as saying:

 “At this time the ‘General’ was attentive to public worship, and in the habit of praying on his knees night and morning…. I have often been powerfully affected by the fervor and eloquence of his prayers… [H]e was a zealous believer in the fundamental doctrines of Christianity. I confess that the arguments, with which he was accustomed to justify his belief, have tended in no small degree to confirm my own faith in revealed religion.”3

I think we can safely deduce that up to this point in his life, Hamilton was indeed a Christian.

I’m going to do things a little differently now and jump to the end of his life, to see if we can find similar evidence there. The easiest place to look would probably be on his deathbed. Here again we find evidence of Christian leanings. When told that all men had sinned, he replied “I perceive it to be so. I am a sinner. I look to His mercy.” He also said “I have a tender reliance on the mercy of the Almighty, through the merits of the Lord Jesus Christ.”4

His pronouncement of faith appears to be sincere, and for our purposes we will presume it was. So we have decided he started his life and ended it with a faith in Christ. One time still remains to be looked into.

Now, there is a reason that I skipped the middle of his life, because there is where it gets a little bit muddled. Here there is not as much abundance in the evidence of his faith as in his latter days or early beginnings, so much so that biographer Ron Chernow called Hamilton’s Christian ideals “late-flowering religious interests” and said that “his religious faith had ebbed during the Revolution”. Is there really such a lull in information that we can’t prove his faith in this point of his life? And is this information missing because he truly lacked faith in that point of his life or because other interests and desires took priority, quite wrongly, over Christ? Or did he stay true to his foundations? The only way to find out is to look further.

While there is a shortage of papers pertaining to his spiritual life during his middle years, there are some documents that point to an underlying faith that is still there. Hints here and there in his writings, actions that tell both for and against him, are seen.

To comprehend things easier a quick look at what he was doing at this time is helpful. Hamilton appears to constantly have had a lot on his plate, as the saying goes. Aide-de-camp for four years for Washington, writing the majority of The Federalist Papers, and many other political articles, and balancing a law practice with a family that continued to grow as the years went by. He was also a member of the continental congress, founder of a bank, and Secretary of the Treasury; the first the nation had, which added the difficulty of figuring out how everything was going to work.5

Let’s look at some of his writings. He’s quoted as saying such things as “If you should still be so mad as to bring destruction upon yourselves; if you still neglect what you owe to God and man, you cannot plead ignorance in your excuse” or “May God give you wisdom to see what is your true interest, and inspire you with becoming zeal for the cause of virtue and mankind!”6

Not definite proof, to be sure. In all the piles of papers he must have written at this time these are some of the few references that come up. So let us look for a moment at his actions. His marriage to Elizabeth Schuyler stands out as proof for his faith, since she herself had a very strong one7. There’s a strong possibility that she would only marry a man of faith, and also that she would be a good influence on him even if his faith was weak at that point.

This point in his life holds an action that has stained his name even to this day: his affair with a woman. It was a long, sinful dive that he no doubt regretted for the rest of his life. What happened to the strong man of God that he had been? Several theories exist. Some say he lost his faith here, and some say he was a Christian his whole life. In all probability only God and Hamilton will ever really know for sure.

I have a personal theory. I wonder if perhaps he got so busy and involved in the world around him, he forgot to put aside as much time for his Savior as he should have. If perhaps he forgot to make God his focus and since he lost that he was more easily tempted into sin. If the other interests and passions in his life overshadowed his Christian leanings temporarily. Yes, I do wonder.

I suppose the only thing we can do, after learning all of this about Alexander Hamilton, is to make sure we never fall into the same pitfalls that he did. We must make sure we don’t put other things before God in our lives, as he might have done. We must make sure that our worldly goals do not get in the way of our spiritual ones. We must always make sure God is the priority in everything we do, and that we do not let anything go above Him. We can learn from the mistakes of this man, an undoubtedly great man, and remember that even he, with such a strong faith, did not overcome all temptations. And we can be thankful that we have a merciful God who forgives our wrongs, if only we ask it in His Son’s name.

Praise be to God for that.

1. Virtualology.com
2. Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

3. Life of Alexander Hamilton, by John C. Hamilton

4. Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

5. law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/burr/HamiltonBio.htm

6. oll.libertyfund.org

7. pbs.org

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