Question: Could you tell us about Hamilton's relationship with his children? I know he closed himself even more after Philip's death, but what about the other 7? Was he close to them?
All sources from Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow.
Of Alexander and Eliza’s eight children–Philip Hamilton, Angelica Hamilton, Alexander Hamilton Jr., James Alexander Hamilton, John Church Hamilton, William S. Hamilton, Eliza Hamilton and “Little Phil” Hamilton–not one appeared to utter a single unkind word about their father.
On January 22, 1782, Eliza gave birth to a son, named Philip Hamilton. On his birth, Alexander Hamilton wrote, “whose birth, as you may imagine, was attended with all the omens of future greatness.” He used to rock Philip’s cradle and played with the infant. At seven months, “it is agreed on all hands that he is handsome, his features are good, his eye is not only sprightly and expressive, but it is full of benignity. His attitude in sitting is by connoisseurs esteemed graceful and he had a method of waving his hand that announces the future orator. He stands however rather awkwardly and his legs have not at all the delicate slimness of his father’s… If he had any fault in manners, he laughs too much.”
On September 25th, 1784, the Hamiltons had their first daughter named Angelica. Their third child, Alexander was born on May 16th, 1786. Due to Hamilton’s busyness, Eliza ran the household and supervised the education of their children when they were small.
According to Ron Chernow, fourth born James Alexander Hamilton was their “favorite child”. Eliza gave birth to James Alexander on April 14th. While at Columbia, James frequently sought his fathers advice, urging him to review speeches had had written and etc.
On October 12, 1788, the Hamiltons went down to the end of Wall Street and had Philip, Angelica and Alexander all baptized at the same time at Trinity Church.
James Hamilton said,
“His [Alexander Hamilton sr.] gentle nature rendered his house a most joyous one to his children and friends. He accompanied his daughter Angelica when she played and sang at the piano. His intercourse with his children was always affectionate and confiding, which excited in them a corresponding confidence and devotion.”
Angelica Hamilton was very musical inclined and her father had Angelica Church find the best piano that she could find his daughter. When they were in separate cities, Hamilton usually kept one of the younger boys with him. He worried much about his children and enjoyed tutoring them. He had high expectations and wanted them to exceed. 1791, age nine, Philip and Alexander Jr. were sent off to boarding school in Trenton. Hamilton wrote this to his Philip:
“Your teacher also informs me that you recited a lesson the first day you began, very much to his satisfaction. I expect every letter from him will give me a fresh proof of your progress, for I know you can do a great deal if you please. And I am sure you have too much spirit not to exert yourself that you may make us every day more and more proud of you.”
A letter to his daughter, Angelica:
“I was very glad to learn, my dear daughter, that you were going to begin the study of the French language. We hope you will in every respect behave in such a manner as will secure to you the goodwill and regard of all those with whom you are. If you happen to displease any of them, be always ready to make a frank apology. But the best way is to act with so much politeness, good manners and circumspection as never to have an occasion to make any apology. Your mother joins in best love to you. Adieu, my very dear daughter.”
On August 22nd, 1792 Eliza gave birth to their fifth child, John Church Hamilton. In 1784, John began several ill and Hamilton–who scarcely asked for a vacation–pleaded with Washington to allow him “permission to make an excursion into the country for a few days to try the effect of exercise and change of air upon the child.”
A couple months after publishing the Reynold’s pamphlet, Hamilton had a scare after Philip nearly died of severe fever of some sort of typhus. In tending to Philip, Hamilton was both nurse and physician, leaving the doctor amazed by both his medical knowledge and his closeness towards his children. When he learned his son was to be well, the doctor said there were tears in the father’s eyes.
On August 4th, 1797, Eliza gave birth to a healthy baby, William Stephen Hamilton.
On multiple occasions, Hamilton would have his six year old son John Church write his letters for him, taking bizarre precaution to that his letters would not bear his handwriting during his plots in the Adams cabinet.
Smart Philip Hamilton walked in the footsteps of his father. He graduated in 1800 with high honors, was a good speaker and studied to be a lawyer. Hamilton regarded Philip as the family’s “eldest and brightest hope”. Hamilton had a prepared daily schedule for Philip that included writing, reading, church and ruled his waking moments from dawn to dusk. Philip did have reliance and rebellious streak which his father tolerated, “I am anxious to here from Philip. Naughty young man.” Before Philip’s duel with George Eacker,, he sought counsel from his father who told him that he should throw away his shot on the dueling ground. At the duel, Philip followed his father’s advise and did not raise his pistol at the command to fire. Eacker mirrored and they stood dumbly staring at one another. Finally, Eacker lifted his pistol and Philip did like wise. Eacker then shot Philip and he fell.
When Alexander Hamilton learned of what had occurred, he called for Dr. Hosack who later recalled that Hamilton was “so much overcome by his anxiety that he fainted and remained for some time in my family before he was sufficiently recovered to proceed.” The entire night, Alexander stayed with Philip at his bedside, and when he had to approach his son’s gravestone, his friends had to help him stand. Seventeen-year-old Angelica Hamilton who was extremely close with her brother suffered a mental breakdown and her father tried to restore her health. He got others to send her watermelons and birds (she liked birds), this didn’t work and she only grew worse.
After Philip’s death he fell into the deepest depression he had ever felt. Usually in his grief, he was able to publish papers and worked endlessly. This time, Hamilton was unable to write any more and did not respond to any of his correspondence for four months. Even his physical appearance was altered, always appearing troubled, melancholy and the childish glean that flinted across his eyes, had parted.
When Eliza went off to care for his father (her mother had recently passed) and Hamilton took care of their children at home.
In Hamilton’s duel with Burr, he used to very same dueling pistols that Eacker and Philip had used–a pair of guns that had caused the death of his son. It is possible Hamilton wanted to use to pistols as a homage to his son.
On his death bed, Hamilton had not been able to see his children until it was time to bid farewell. “She held up their two-year-old boy, Philip, to his lips for a final kiss. Then Eliza lined up all seven children at the foot of the bed so that Hamilton could see them in one final tableau, a sight that rendered him speechless.” According to the doctor, “he opened his eyes, gave them one look, and closed them again till they were taken away.” At his funeral on July 14th, 1804, the procession was followed by two of Hamilton’s oldest sons, James Alexander and Alexander Jr. Angelica Hamilton, four-year-old Eliza Hamilton and Philip Hamilton stayed with their mother, whom was not at the funeral. Gouverneur Morris gave the eulogy and sitting beside him on the stage weeping was Alexander (eighteen), James (fourteen), John (eleven) and William (six).
“The scene was impressive and what added unspeakably to its solemnity was the mournful ground of tender boys, the sons, the once hopes and joys of the deceased, who, with tears gushing from their eyes, sat upon the stage, at the feet of the orator, bewailing the loss of their parent! It was too much. The sternest powers, the bloodiest villain, could not resist the melting scene.”
Of their five sons post-duel they all gravitated towards law, government and military (the Hamiltonian way).
Angelica Hamilton lived under a physicians care and died in 1857.
Alexander Jr. Hamilton graduated from Columbia University weeks after his father’s duel. He became a lawyer, fought over seas in the duke of Wellington’s army, returned to America as an infantry captain during the War of 1812, and wound up as US district attorney in New York. He represented Eliza Jumel when she divorced Aaron Burr.
James Alexander Hamilton graduated from Columbia, served as an officer in the War of 1812 and was an acting secretary of state under President Andrew Jackson (and surprising was against the second bank of the United States) and became attorney for the southern district of New York. He developed a close relationship with Martin Van Buren and was an early supporter of emancipation of slaves. As a tribute to his father, he created a home which he called “Nevis”.
John Church Hamilton was a lawyer who fought in the War of 1812, and devoted decades to writing a biography of his father and sorting throughout his papers.
William Stephen Hamilton was “charming, handsome and eccentric”. He studied at West Point, fought at Black Hawk War, surveyed lands in Illinois and lived on the Western frontier. In 1849, he was drawn to California because of the gold rush, and opened a store to sell supplies. He died there of Cholera in 1850.
Eliza Hamilton cared for her mother in her later years and scolded her brother John at getting the seven volume biography done quicker.
“Little Phil” Hamilton was a “kindhearted, sensitive man”. He married the daughter of Louis McLane, daughter of a member of Andrew Jackson’s cabinet. He served as an assistant US attorney under his brother James but leaned on altruistic pursuits and was a reputation of “lawyer of the poor”.