Commentary

Alexander Hamilton’s gay lovers the musical doesn’t tell you about

A Patriotic Pair

As aides, Ham and Laurens were inseparable — a fireworks couple, always coming up with explosive new ideas for the cause. Both were Freemasons who believed in a Supreme Deity (not necessarily the Christian God). Both were also educated in classical culture and government, going back to the Greeks and Romans. So they probably had a lot to talk about, as they planned for their country’s future.

Both men hated slavery, especially Laurens, who’d seen it in action on his father’s plantation. When Laurens’ state was invaded by the British, the two suggested that a regiment of Carolina slaves be armed and trained to fight. Washington and Congress thought it was a great idea. South Carolina leaders, including Laurens’ father, disagreed. But Laurens and Hamilton kept lobbying for a black regiment to be raised from other states.

The two were always going over the top with gestures of gallantry that were typical of the period. During the battle of Monmouth in July 1778, when the bungling of Washington’s 2nd in command, Gen. Charles Lee, put the American army in jeopardy, Hamilton got carried away with emotion. He leaped off his horse and drew his sword, getting ready to make a last stand on foot, and shouted at Washington, “We are betrayed, Your Excellency! The army are betrayed! The moment has arrived when every true friend of America and her cause must be ready to die in their defense!”

Washington must have rolled his eyes. All he said was, “Colonel Hamilton, get back on your horse.”

During the post-Monmouth uproar, with efforts to court-martial Lee going forward, Laurens himself went over the top and challenged Lee to a duel. Dueling was outlawed, but the two men went off somewhere and exchanged two rounds with their fancy pistols. Lee was wounded slightly, so Laurens won.

Later, as a show of power by favored aides, Hamilton and Laurens helped see to it that Lee was convicted and disgraced.

More Attractive Men

Hamilton and Laurens weren’t the only “passionate romantics” in Washington’s posse of charismatic men.

Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, was a young French officer who showed up on the revolution’s doorstep to offer his personal services as a fighter. Lafayette’s family descended from one of the captains in Joan of Arc’s army — hence his dedication to ideals of national liberty. Since Ham spoke French, Washington detailed him to look after Lafayette. Ham, Laurens and Lafayette became such friends that a later writer called them “the three musketeers.”

It was Lafayette who helped the army end its desperate deficit, at least temporarily. In 1781 Congress sent Benjamin Franklin and aide Laurens on a mission to Europe, armed with effusive letters of introduction from Lafayette. Back they came with 16 million livres loaned by France and the Dutch republic.

Another colorful figure was Baron Friederich von Steuben. The young Prussian noble came to Washington’s headquarters with a recommend by Benjamin Franklin. Steuben had skills and experience from serving in Frederick the Great’s famed professional army. Washington hired Von Steuben to smarten up his own troops. The General may or may not have known that Friederich had been quietly cashiered out of the Prussian army because of indiscretions with other males. Hamilton and Von Steuben became friends.

Now and then, Hamilton apparently felt the tug of attraction to other men besides Laurens. For instance, in 1780, he went heartsick over British spy John André, who was captured during the Benedict Arnold treason episode. André was gay, as most historians admit. He was also so handsome and charming that even Washington heaved a sigh of regret as he ordered that André be hanged. During the death watch, Hamilton visited André in his cell. When the execution took place, Washington and his aides couldn’t bear to watch, so they went in their headquarters and closed the shutters.

But John Laurens was clearly the sunlight in Hamilton’s day. When Laurens went home to South Carolina to fight, Hamilton got himself detached from Washington’s staff so he and Laurens could serve together in cavalry combat. Finally Washington decided he couldn’t do without Hamilton and ordered him back.

Through it all, Ham wrote his buddy some fervid letters that survive today. In one of them, he confessed, “I wish, my dear Laurens … it might be in my power, by action rather than words, to convince you that I love you.” Lauren’s own letters to Hamilton were warm, but a shade less frank.

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