Alexander Hamilton and Major Andre

Hamilton's physical attraction to and affection for John Laurens seemed genuine, yet it also seemed to cool. Hamilton's marriage to Elizabeth Schuyler is not a completely satisfactory reason to explain that cooling, because Hamilton continued his amorous by-play in his letters to Laurens even as he anticipated his marriage. He clearly invited Laurens to maintain the relationship they had despite his marriage. An intriguing explanation for his change of heart about Laurens is Hamilton's brief involvement with Major Andre while the latter awaited his execution for spying. Of course, there was no sexual involvement of any kind, but the personality of the ill-fated British officer certainly seems to have been idolized by Hamilton.

In a long letter (10 printed pages long in Syrett's edition of his letter) to Laurens dated October 11, 1780, Hamilton describes the capture and captivity of Andre, and his visits to him:

In one of the visits I made to him (and I saw him several times during his confinement) he begged me to be the bearer of a request to the General for permission, to send an open letter to Sir Henry Clinton. "I foresee my fate (said he) and though I pretend not to play the hero, or to be indifferent about life; yet I am reconciled to whatever may happen, conscious that misfortune, not guilt, has brought it upon me. There is only one thing that disturbs my tranquility - Sir Henry Clinton has been too good to me; he has been lavish of his kindness. I am bound to him by too many obligations and love him too well to bear the thought, that he should reproach himself, or that others should reproach him, on the supposition of my having conceived myself obliged by his instructions to run the risk I did. I would not for the world leave a sting in his mind, that should embitter his future days." He could scarce finish the sentence, bursting into tears, in spite of his efforts to suppress them, and with difficulty collected himself enough afterwards to add, "I wish to be permitted to assure him, I did not act under this impression, but submitted to a necessity imposed upon me as contrary to my own inclination as to his orders." His request was readily complied with, and he wrote the letter annexed, and with which I dare say, you will be as much pleased as I am both for the diction and sentiment. There was something singularly interesting in the character and fortunes of Andre. To an excellent understanding well improved by education and travel, he united a peculiar elegance of mind and manners, and the advantage of a pleasing person. 'Tis said he possessed a pretty taste for the fine arts, and had himself attained some proficiency in poetry, music and painting. His knowledge appeared without ostentation, and embellished by a diffidence, that rarely accompanies so many talents and accomplishments, which left you to suppose more than appeared. His sentiments were elevated and inspired esteeem. They had a softness that conciliated affection. His elocution was handsome; his address easy, polite and insinuating. By his merit he had acquired the unlimited confidence of his general and was making a rapid progress in military rank and reputation. But in the height of his career, flushed with new hope from the execution of a project the most beneficial to his party, that could be devised, he was at once precipitated from the summit of prosperity and saw all the expectations of his ambition blasted and himself ruined.

The character I have given of him is drawn partly from what I saw of him myself and partly from information. I am aware that a man of real merit is never seen in so favourable a light, as through the medium of adversity. The clouds that surround him are shades that set off his good qualities. Misfortune cuts down the little vanities, that in prosperous times served as so many spots in his virtues; and gives a tone of humility that makes his worth more amiable. His spectators who enjoy a happier lot are less prone to detract from it, through envy, and are more disposed by compassion to give him the credit he deserves and perhaps even to magnify it.

I speak not of Andre's conduct in this affair as a Philosophe, but as a man of the world. The authorised maxims and practices of war are the satire of human nature. They countenance almost every species of seduction as well as violence; and the General that can make most traitors in the army of his adversary is frequently more applauded. On this scale we acquit Andre, while we could not but condemn him, if we were to examine his conduct by the sober rules of philosophy and moral rectitude. It is however a blemish in his fame, that he once intended to prostitute a flag; about this a man of nice honor ought to have had a scruple, but the temptation was great; let his misfortune cast a veil over his error.

This letter is also interesting in light of the opinions of his chief, Washington, that Hamilton would express a few months later. Go to Hamilton and Washington.

Bob Arnebeck

 

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