What Alexander Hamilton’s deep connections to slavery reveal about the need for reparations today 2021
Alexander Hamilton publicly opposed slavery, but research reveals he was also complicit in it.
Alexander Hamilton has received a resurgence of interest in recent years on the back of the smash Broadway musical bearing his name.
But alongside tales of his role in the Revolutionary War and in forging the early United States, the spotlight has also fallen on a less savory aspect of his life: his apparent complicity in the institution of slavery. Despite being a founding member of the New York Manumission Society, which sought gradual emancipation of New York’s enslaved population, Hamilton benefited from slavery — both personally and by association.
As a historian of early America and Northern slavery, I study how Colonial-era figures like Hamilton fit into America’s long history of enslavement, and how slavery fueled networks of power that have lasted through the ages.
A life entwined with slavery
By Hamilton’s time in pre-revolutionary America, wealthy Northerners like him not only benefited from and propagated slavery, but enjoyed centuries of generational wealth built on the labor and lives of enslaved people.
Hamilton’s father-in-law had among the largest slaveholdings in the North. His mother-in-law was the daughter of Johannes Van Rensselaer and Angelica Livingston, both members of two of the largest slaveholding families in the North.
Hamilton’s early years in the Caribbean were also marked by slavery.
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