Most people think of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton as the face on the $10 bill. Either that or the primary author of the Federalist Papers who was killed in a duel by Vice President Aaron Burr in 1804. But few people are aware that the celebrated Revolutionary War veteran may have been bisexual.
Though he married Elizabeth Schuyler in 1780 and fathered a total of eight children, some historians believe Hamilton had a romantic relationship with fellow solider and aristocrat John Laurens while both men were aide-de-camps to George Washington during the Revolutionary War.
The evidence is found in a series letters written by Hamilton to Laurens shortly after Laurens left Washington’s military family for South Carolina, where he worked to recruit African American troops to fight against the British.
In a letter dated April 1779, Hamilton begins:
Cold in my professions, warm in my friendships, I wish, my Dear Laurens, it might be in my power, by action rather than words to convince you that I love you. I shall only tell you that ’til you bade us Adieu, I hardly knew the value you had taught my heart to set upon you. Indeed, my friend, it was not well done. You know the opinion I entertain of mankind, and how much it is my desire to preserve myself free from particular attachments, and to keep my happiness independent of the caprice of others. You should not have taken advantage of my sensibility to steal into my affections without my consent.
All that flowery language certainly does sound kinda — well — gay.
The letter continues:
But as you have done it, and as we are generally indulgent to those we love, I shall not scruple to pardon the fraud you have committed, on condition that for my sake, if not for your own, you will always continue to merit the partiality, which you have artfully instilled into me.
At the time, romantic relationships between members of the same sex were considered taboo, and sodomy was a punishable offense in all 13 colonies. Which raises the question of what sort of “fraud” Hamilton might be referring to.
In another letter, dated September 1779, Hamilton describes himself as a “jealous lover” after Laurens failed to respond to any of his missives:
Like a jealous lover, when I thought you slighted my caresses, my affection was alarmed and my vanity piqued. I had almost resolved to lavish no more of them upon you and to reject you as an inconstant and an ungrateful ____.
At that point, the handwriting becomes illegible, leaving it up to the reader’s imagination what the Founding Father may have written.
Later in the letter, Hamilton talks about his new fiance, Elizabeth Schuyler, in language that makes her sound more like a beard than a wife:
Next fall completes my doom. I give up my liberty to Miss Schuyler. She is a good hearted girl who I am sure will never play the termagant; though not a genius she has good sense enough to be agreeable, and though not a beauty, she has fine black eyes – is rather handsome and has every other requisite of the exterior to make a lover happy. And believe me, I am lover in earnest, though I do not speak of the perfections of my Mistress in the enthusiasm of Chivalry.
One year later, in a letter dated September 1780, Hamilton again wrote to Laurens about his wife:
In spite of Schuyler’s black eyes, I have still a part for the public and another for you; so your impatience to have me married is misplaced; a strange cure by the way, as if after matrimony I was to be less devoted that I am now. Let me tell you, that I intend to restore the empire of Hymen and that Cupid is to be his prime Minister.
He signed the letter:
Adieu, be happy, and let friendship between us be more than a name.
It’s been reported that after his death, Hamilton’s family crossed out sections of the letters. Their reasons for doing so are unknown, though some speculate it was because the notes contained suggestive language that might have confirmed a romantic relationship between the two men.
Interestingly, in his 2003 essay Slavery and Liberty in the American Revolution, historian Gregory D. Massey notes that of all the surviving letters written by Hamilton, the only other ones that show the same level of sentiment are those penned to his wife.
Of course, we’ll probably never know for sure. But one thing is for certain: Whatever feelings Hamilton had towards Laurens were unique, as evidenced in a letter he sent to General Greene in 1782 after Laurens was killed in the Battle of the Combahee River:
I feel the deepest affiction at the news we have just received of the loss of our dear and inestimable friend Laurens. His career of virtue is at an end…. I feel the loss of a friend I truly and most tenderly loved, and one of a very small number.