Speaking Up for Alexander Hamilton
By Nancy Spannaus
March 22, 2021—Over the last two days, two prominent advocates for Alexander Hamilton have come forward to defend Hamilton’s legacy as a visionary statesman, including against the charges that he was an “enslaver.” These important initiatives came from Douglas Hamilton, Hamilton’s fifth-great-grandson, who directly took on the charges, and Marianne Als, an independent Hamilton researcher and filmmaker, who countered them implicitly by presenting his role in building the nation.
The charges against Hamilton were issued last year by a docent at New York’s Schuyler Mansion, Jessie Serfilippi, and were spread without critical review by institutions such as the New York Times, AP, and the Smithsonian Institution. Despite the issuance of a detailed refutation of many of Serfilippi’s “facts” in a document (“Opening the Door to Their Emancipation: Alexander Hamilton and Slavery”) released last November, neither Serfilippi, nor the institutions promoting her work, have deigned to respond to the challenge.
These new voices are crucial in breaking the blackout against the truth about Alexander Hamilton, who established the principles of the American System of Economics which our country needs so badly today, if we are to actually overcome the economic legacy of slavery which still weakens our nation.
Hamilton in the New York Post
It is to the credit of the New York Post, which was founded by Alexander Hamilton in 1801, that it published a substantial interview with descendant Douglas Hamilton. The article appeared March 20 under the title “’Alexander Hamilton was not a slave owner!’ Descendant Challenges Critics.” Author Jane Ridley interviewed Douglas Hamilton, who himself collaborated in the production of the document refuting Serfilippi’s charges.
“He cannot defend himself, so it’s my duty to speak out on his behalf,” Douglas Hamilton said.
“There is no truth at all to her claim that he based his personal and public life all around slavery,” he continued. “It upsets me because Hamilton was driven by fame, recognition and the call to public service.”
Interviewer Ridley cites several of Douglas Hamilton’s arguments against Serfilippi’s assertion that Alexander was a slave owner and dealer. She also notes that both Serfilippi and the New York State Department of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation, which runs the Schuyler Mansion, refused an opportunity to comment. Ridley writes:
“I’m all for finding out the truth about Hamilton,” said Douglas. “But Jessie’s research is the opposite of the truth. Hamilton did a lot of good things against slavery, but she mentioned none of them. Instead, her method was to take a few select ‘facts’ and twist them to suit her agenda.
“I am absolutely convinced he did not support slavery and that Jessie’s research is a lie. I am not going to back down from correcting her distortion of Hamilton’s record,” he added.
The full article in the Post, which was the fourth largest circulation newspaper in the United States in 2019, can be found here.
“Genius Meets Destiny”
The second new initiative toward establishing the truth about Alexander Hamilton’s positive role in our country’s history came from Marianne Als, whose earlier documentary “The Evidence for Hamilton Against Slavery” has recently been promoted on this blog. (That video itself is on my You tube channel.) Als has just issued an updated version of her 2017 documentary Hamilstory – Part I: Genius Meets Destiny.
The mission of Alexander Hamilton Documentaries by Marianne Als is to provide leading scholarship on Alexander Hamilton’s life and legacy through themed film offerings in an educational and entertaining format, which combine textual narration and music with vintage portrait and images from original documents.
This new one-hour documentary provides an overview of Hamilton’s life and crucial contributions to the creation of our republic, with special attention to his differences with Thomas Jefferson and to his record on slavery. Part II of the Hamilstory, entitled “Pragmatic Founder Forges a New Nation,” is scheduled for release in April of this year.
Why It Matters
I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: Establishing the truth about our Founding Fathers matters. If we succumb to the heavily promoted narrative that the United States was established by nothing but contemptible hypocrites, we will lose our moral bearings as a nation, and thus sabotage our future as well.
The reality is that the Founding Fathers of the United States were united by a general commitment to the principles in the Declaration and the Constitution, but differed dramatically in their understanding of how those principles should or could be realized. From the start, there was a strong grouping, gathered around George Washington and Hamilton, which sought to build a republic based on technological progress for all, which meant that the slavocracy had to be defeated by a Federal government with the tools to ensure that progress. I elaborate on those principles and how they lived on in our nation’s history, in my book Hamilton Versus Wall Street: The Core Principles of the American System of Economics.
Yet there were also Founding Fathers who were intensely committed to protecting their predatory ways of life, both as slave owners and international merchants or financiers, and therefore fought desperately against the American System. Their resistance to Hamilton’s ideas in particular, in my view, is what put us on track to the Civil War, the defeat of Reconstruction, and the divisions we still see threatening our nation today.
No one can truthfully argue that even the American System advocates made no blunders (even serious ones) or unnecessary compromises. But if we lose their principles, we lose the soul of our nation. And that cannot be allowed to happen.
Copies of Hamilton Versus Wall Street are available from the author at firstname.lastname@example.org or, if you want to help Jeff Bezos, through Amazon, or through my publisher iuniverse.com.