The question has lingered around the edges of the pop-culture ascendancy of Alexander Hamilton: Did the 10-dollar founding father, celebrated in the musical “Hamilton” as a “revolutionary manumission abolitionist,” actually own slaves?
Some biographers have gingerly addressed the matter over the years, often in footnotes or passing references. But a new research paper released by the Schuyler Mansion State Historic Site in Albany, N.Y., offers the most ringing case yet.
In the paper, titled “‘As Odious and Immoral a Thing’: Alexander Hamilton’s Hidden History as an Enslaver,” Jessie Serfilippi, a historical interpreter at the mansion, examines letters, account books and other documents. Her conclusion — about Hamilton, and what she suggests is wishful thinking on the part of many of his modern-day admirers — is blunt.
“Not only did Alexander Hamilton enslave people, but his involvement in the institution of slavery was essential to his identity, both personally and professionally,” she writes.
But Ron Chernow, whose 2004 biography calls Hamilton an “uncompromising abolitionist,” said the paper presented a lopsidedly negative view.
The paper, he said in an email, “seems to be a terrific research job that broadens our sense of Hamilton’s involvement in slavery in a number of ways.” But he said he was dismayed at the relative lack of attention to Hamilton’s antislavery activities. And he questioned what he called her sometimes “bald conclusions,” starting with the claim that slavery was “essential to his identity.”
“I don’t fault Jessie Serfilippi for her tough scrutiny of Hamilton and slavery,” he said. “The great figures in our history deserve such rigor. But she omits all information that would contradict her conclusions.”
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Tuesday, November 10, 2020
Hamilton and Slavery
Jennifer Schuessler at NYT: