Monday, February 11, 2013

The Values of Alexander Hamilton

During his (New York) Assembly tenure that (1787) spring, Hamilton voted on two measures that suggested ambivalent feelings about his childhood.

Oddly enough, he supported a bill making it impossible for people divorced due to adultery to remarry. Such a draconian statute in the Danish West Indies had prevented Hamilton's parents from legitimizing his birth. If this vote suggests some latest hostility toward his mother, another vote betokens tenderness for her.

The Assembly was debating a bill that aimed to deter mothers of illegitimate children from killing them at birth. One controversial clause stipulated that if the child died, the unwed mother had to produce a witness who could corroborate that the child had been stillborn or died from natural causes.

It bothered Hamilton that the mother would have to admit openly that she had given birth to an illegitimate child. One newspaper account showed Hamilton's empathy:

Mr. Hamilton observed that the clause was neither politic or just. He wished it obliterated from the bill.

To show the propriety of this, he explained feelingly on the delicate situation it placed an unfortunate woman in. . . . From the concealment of the loss of honor, her punishment might be mitigated and the misfortune end here. She might reform and be again admitted into virtuous society.

The operation of this law compelled her to publish her shame to the world. It was to be expected therefore that she would prefer the danger of punishment from concealment to the avowal of her guilt. (The Daily Advertiser, February 10, 1787)
When Samuel Jones supported the measure, Hamilton refuted him "in terms of great cogency" and convinced the Assembly to side with him. That Hamilton argued so strenuously for this measure hints at surviving hobgoblins from the Caribbean that still hovered uneasily in his mind.
—Ron Chernow, Alexander Hamilton, 2004, pp. 226-227.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for the interesting post about Alexander Hamilton.

God bless and take care!

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