In October 1781, immediately after the British surrendered at Yorktown, Hamilton set off on the three-week trip to Albany, arriving there in November. By December 29, 1781, he was writing to his friend Major Nicholas Fish to chide him about his love life:
I am sorry you seem to have broken your resolution so finally respecting a certain matter; as since I have been here, I have had reason to believe you were mistaken in your original suspicions. Several officers have reported here that you have openly professed to renounce the connexion—I imagine it has reached the family and I am told Miss is in great distress. ’Tis probable by this time your doubts are removed. Mr. G went lately into the Jerseys. I conjecture his errand was to see you; and I dare say you will understand each other. At all events you must be cautious in this matter, or your character will run some risk, and you are sensible how injurious it might be to have the reputation of levity in a delicate point. The Girls [Angelica, Peggy, Eliza?] have got it among them that this is not your first infidelity.
And at the end:
I have been very sick—I am still alternately in and out of bed. How are you after your Southern fatigues?
It’s a sign of how ill he was that Hamilton – who was an energetic correspondent – wrote so few lengthy letters in the last two months of 1781. The Founders Archives has only one long letter, written in response to one from the Vicomte de Noailles, regarding Cornwallis:
Without speaking of a cave [see here], and those other reports so injurious to Lord Cornwallis, which have been circulated only to flatter those weak minds who take pleasure in lessening the real merit of an enemy, I chuse rather to find the cause of our victory in the superior number of good and regular troops, in the uninterrupted harmony of the two nations [France and the United States], and their equal desire to be celebrated in the annals of history, for an ardent love of great and heroic actions. …
We have seen a General in America unjustly accus’d; but where shall we find an instance in history that a General has been praised after a defeat, without deserving it. I have seen that army so haughty in its success; not an emotion of the soldiers escap’d me; and I observed every sign of mortification with pleasure. I insinuated myself into their confidence, but could not hear a word to the prejudice of Lord Cornwallis. The soldiers were the echo of their officers … (More here)
Hamilton was back in New York, but living in Albany at the Schuyler family mansion rather than in Manhattan, which was still occupied by the British. News of Cornwallis’s surrender reached London in November 1781 (“Oh God ! it is all over !”: see here), but peace negotiations didn’t begin until the resignation of Lord North as prime minister in March 1782. The British finally evacuated New York City in November 1783.
Hamilton resigns from active military service
In January 1782, Secretary of War Benjamin Lincoln put Hamilton on the list of officers to be retained in the army, because of his “superior abilities & knowledge” (see here, n. 3). But Hamilton apparently decided to cut his losses with the military. He wrote to General Washington on March 1, stating that he wished to keep his rank but renounce claims to pay – although of course he would be available should his country need him. I suspect his unusually convoluted prose is a reflection of how annoyed he got merely from thinking about how long it took him to get a command in 1781.
Your Excellency will, I am persuaded, readily admit the force of this sentiment, that though it is the duty of a good citizen to devote his services to the public, when it has occasion for them, he cannot with propriety, or delicacy to himself, obtrude them, when it either has, or appears to have none. The difficulties I experienced last campaign in obtaining a command will not suffer me to make any further application on that head.
As I have many reasons to consider my being employed hereafter in a precarious light, the bare possibility of rendering an equivalent will not justify to my scruples the receiving any future emoluments from my commission. I therefore renounce from this time all claim to the compensations attached to my military station during the war or after it. But I have motives which will not permit me to resolve on a total resignation. I sincerely hope a prosperous train of affairs may continue to make it no inconvenience to decline the services of persons, whose zeal, in worse times, was found not altogether useless; but as the most promising appearances are often reversed by unforeseen disasters, and as unfortunate events may again make the same zeal of some value, I am unwilling to put it out of my power to renew my exertions in the common cause, in the line, in which I have hitherto acted. I shall accordingly retain my rank while I am permitted to do it, and take this opportunity to declare, that I shall be at all times ready to obey the call of the public, in any capacity civil, or military (consistent with what I owe to myself) in which there may be a prospect of my contributing to the final attainment of the object for which I embarked in the service.
I have the honor to be very Respectfully, Yr. Excellency’s Most Obedient servant A Hamilton (More here)
Phillip: Alexander and Eliza’s first child
In a letter written shortly afterward to Richard Kidder Meade, a fellow former aide-de-camp, he is his usual charming self – delighted to be a father, and matchmaking his son Philip with Meade’s new-born daughter.
An half hour since brought me the pleasure of your letter of December last. It went to Albany and came from thence to this place [Philadelphia]. I heartily felicitate you on the birth of your daughter. I can well conceive your happiness upon that occasion, by that which I feel in a similar one.
Indeed the sensations of a tender father of the child, of a beloved mother can only be conceived by those who have experienced them.
Your heart, my Meade, is peculiarly formed for enjoyments of this kind, you have every right to be a happy husband, a happy father, you have every prospect of being so. I hope your felicity may never be interrupted.
You cannot imagine how entirely domestic I am growing. I lose all taste for the pursuits of ambition, I sigh for nothing but the company of my wife and my baby. The ties of duty alone or imagined duty keep me from renouncing public life altogether. It is however probable I may not be any longer actively engaged in it.
I have explained to you the difficulties which I met with in obtaining a command last campaign. I thought it incompatible with the delicacy due to myself to make any application this  campaign. I have expressed this Sentiment in a letter to the General and retaining my rank only, have relinquished the emoluments of my commission, declaring myself notwithstanding ready at all times to obey the calls of the Public. I do not expect to hear any of these unless the State of our Affairs, should change for the worse and lest by any unforeseen accident that should happen, I choose to keep myself in a situation again to contribute my aid. This prevents a total resignation.
You were right in supposing I neglected to prepare what I promised you at Philadelphia. The truth is, I was in such a hurry to get home that I could think of nothing else. As I set out tomorrow morning for Albany, I cannot from this place send you the matter you wish.
Imagine my Dear Friend what pleasure it must give Eliza & myself to know that Mrs. Meade interests herself in us, without a personal acquaintance we have been long attached to her. My visit at [Mrs. Meade’s uncle in Philadelphia?] Mr. Fitzhughs confirmed my partiality. Betsy is so fond of your family that she proposes to form a match between her Boy & your girl provided you will engage to make the latter as amiable as her mother.
Truly My Dear Meade, I often regret that fortune has cast our residence at such a distance from each other. [Meade lived in Virginia.] It would be a serious addition to my happiness if we lived where I could see you every day but fate has determined it otherwise. I am a little hurried & can only request in addition that you will present me most affectionately to Mrs. Meade & believe me to be with the warmest & most unalterable friendship
Yrs A Hamilton (March 1782; more here)
Next up: Alexander studies for the bar.
- On Sunday November 6, 2016, I’ll be giving my talk “Hamilton: Man & Musical” in New York City ($35 at door, $30 in advance). It combines excerpts from Hamilton’s writings with the chance to burst into song. Space is limited. Details here.
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