General Fiction posted September 13, 2016


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A fictional letter from Alexander Hamilton

My Dearest, Angelica,

by Mark Valentine


                                                                                                                                                                10 July, 1804
 
My Dearest, Angelica,
 
If you are in receipt of this letter, I have left this realm for another. It is a journey that I cannot make without first unburdening my soul of the weighty sentiments that I have too long carried within. I express them now in spite of, nay because of, the unattainability of their desired object. I express them now because they transcend this material realm, soar high above its weeds and brambles. It is therefore well-nigh impossible they could be forever interred with my bones, confined to the narrow pine borders that will house the less permanent part of my being.

Angelica! Has there ever been a more aptly named creature? You are indeed heaven sent, and I have adored you as the nearest being to God that one can fathom. The thought of taking leave of you pains me, but the knowledge that I shall ever keep a part of you in my heart, and the hope that you will do likewise with me, brings comfort in this troubling hour.

At dawn on the morrow it shall be my duty to engage in an affair of honor with Mr. Aaron Burr. I shall not dwell here on the reasons for the interview. Your esteemed husband having engaged in such a duel with the same Mr. Burr not long hence, you will no doubt be acquainted with the man’s character, and thus it will not tax the imagination to surmise how such a circumstance might have come about.

You may, upon learning the news of my demise, think me a fool. You would be most justified in so thinking. I have a reputation as a learned man. ‘Tis true, I have never wanted for knowledge, nor wit, yet I find that wisdom, a commodity of considerably more value, has been in arrears in my account. Thus, it is only now, in my later years, that I am coming to recognise the puerility of this custom of dueling. It is unbecoming of civilised men and it is completely antithetical to the Gospel which I profess (albeit inconsistently). Nevertheless, honor, that noblest and most damnable of my gender’s sentiments, will allow me no other recourse than to meet Mr. Burr at dawn.

My Lord, and indeed the entire country, knows that I have wandered far from the path of righteousness. My infidelity to my dear wife, your sister, has been the deepest regret of my life. Would that I could undo that error! It is my desire to repent and to return to the path of righteousness that has led me to the decision not to take Mr. Burr’s life. When the time comes, I shall throw away my shot and leave my fate in the hands of God and Mr. Burr. I pray that the will of the former, and not the latter, triumphs.

If God does not see fit to keep me from harm tomorrow, I accept that fate. God owes me no favours for He has already bestowed more grace on this life than it merits. My passing need not be mourned, nor my death avenged. I should have died long ago. I should have died of yellow fever as a child. I should have died in the hurricane that struck my island when I was fourteen. I should have died at Yorktown. Instead the Lord saw fit to bring me here and survive the revolution, and, after our glorious victory, He placed me at General Washington’s side and allowed me to play a role in building this remarkable nation. An immigrant orphan was granted the honor of helping to breathe life into this great democratic experiment. Dare I say, it is a legacy that will last. If it can survive Adams, surely it will survive Jefferson.

Ah, our mutual friend, Mr. Jefferson. Always my adversary, but never my enemy. As you often tried to tell me, he is an honourable man. I regret that he and I let our differences outweigh our common interests. If the Lord sees fit to grant me more time, I shall try to ensure that our future relations proceed more amicably than our past.

And if the Lord should not be so inclined? I wonder how history will remember me. I wonder more how you will remember me.

Despite the pride I take in my public accomplishments, I find that here, in these late, perhaps last, hours, my thoughts are of you, Angelica. Your sister has been a wonderful wife to me and an exemplary mother to our children. She is the best of wives and best of women. And yet, I knew, even as Eliza and I were exchanging our vows, that I was marrying the wrong sister. It was Eliza’s hand I grasped that day, but the words I spoke, the vows I took, were directed at you. You may recall (I hope you do) that, at a point during the ceremony, I cast a sideways glance and caught your eye. Perhaps my eyes’ perception was coloured by my heart’s yearning, but the look I saw in your eyes was a look that could be deciphered only by someone who was similarly afflicted; it was a look of desperate longing.

It was a look that spoke to the pain of seeing a door shut behind you, irrevocably closing off a world that held every treasure that you ever desired. The pain of knowing that the union into which I was entering with Eliza, while it would guarantee that you and I would always thereafter be connected by familial ties, would preclude the possibility of our ever realizing the deeper and more intimate union that might have been our destiny.

Perhaps it is my vanity and arrogance (traits that I have been rumoured to possess in some quantity), but I cannot help but imagine that you have shared my sentiments. You showed me such tenderness over the years, your words and letters were so heart-felt, that I imagined that perhaps they were inspired by more than mere sisterly solicitude.

And if tomorrow, I make the journey to the other side, I will carry that imagination, even if a delusion, with me. You, dear Angelica, need not imagine however. I loved you. I have loved you deeply each day of these past twenty-four years, and I love you now as I write these final words. Though Fortune did not see fit to steer the courses of our lives together in more happy confluence, I am grateful She brought you to me. Though our love remained unarticulated and unconsummated, it, for my part at least, has been as tangible and sustaining as any love could hope to be.

As was so often the case during my time in government, I have been up much of the night writing. I wrote a letter to each of the children and, of course, a letter to Eliza. I have put off the writing of this present letter until now as I have struggled to find the right words, a rare occurrence for me.  I trust that this letter, like our love, shall remain our secret as I wish to cause Eliza no more pain than I already have.  Of course, I love her also. In the stillness of this night, the unique circumstances in which I find myself have made me something rather like the heir to my own will. And the bequest left to me by my impending demise is this: a perspective that disentangles my love for you from the more base instincts that often accompany love in this world. And once freed from the shackles of lust, my heart feels neither torment nor conflict in loving both you and Eliza, and only holds the best wishes for each of you. Take care of each other.
 
If I should depart this life tomorrow, know that my final thoughts will be of you. Know too that my love for you does not end with my life, but rather awaits the day when we might meet again on the other side of that grand curtain.
 
Ever yours

                                                                                                                                                                                           A H

 


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One gift that many great statesmen (think Jefferson, Lincoln, or Churchill) shared was the ability to use language to stir souls. Alexander Hamilton had that gift in spades, He was a prolific and gifted writer. His talent combined with the aestheticism of the time, makes his style of writing, especially his correspondence, fun to try to emulate. In the words of the Greg Kihn band, "they don't write 'em like that anymore".

On July 11, 1804, Hamilton was killed in a duel with the then vice-president, Aaron Burr. As was often the case in duels, Hamilton decided that he would not shoot to kill Aaron Burr. Because he was not confident that Burr would likewise "throw away his shot", he knew that there was a strong possibility that he would be killed. Shortly before the duel, therefore, he wrote a letter to his wife Eliza that was to be delivered to her in the occasion of his death.

Based on his correspondence with his sister-in-law, Angelica Church, historians have speculated that Hamilton and Angelica were in love with each other. This letter is what I imagine he might have written to Angelica.

A few background notes:

The title, "My dearest, Angelica," is taken from a line in one of the songs from the current Broadway musical, "Hamilton" (I've not seen it, but if any of you has an extra ticket you'd like to unload for face value, send me a PM), in which Angelica wonders why Hamilton, in a letter to her, put a comma after "Dearest" (thereby making an appositive out of it). Was there a message he was trying to send her?

The photo is of the actress Renee Elise Goldsberry portraying Eliza Church in the musical "Hamilton".

Duels were often referred to as "affairs of honor" or "interviews".

A few years before his duel with Hamilton, Burr had participated in a duel with John Church, Angelica's husband and Hamilton's brother-in-law. Neither party was wounded in the duel, though Church shot a button off Burr's jacket.

The line "best of wives, best of women" was taken from Hamilton's pre-duel letter to Eliza (you knew it was too good for me to have written it).

America's first political sex scandal involved Hamilton's affair with Maria Reynolds, an affair that was set up by Maria Reynolds and her husband for the purpose of extorting money from Hamilton, and which was eventually made public, essentially ending Hamilton's political career.

Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson were bitter rivals, though, at base, there seemed to be at least some mutual respect in that relationship. The same cannot be said for Hamilton and Aaron Burr.

Angelica and Thomas Jefferson were friends dating back to the time when they both lived in Europe. There is some evidence that Jefferson, like Hamilton, was infatuated with her (I'm thinking she, like the actress that now portrays her, must have been pretty hot).

For more, read Ron Chernow's excellent biography of Hamilton.
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