Monday, February 7, 2011

If Alexander Hamilton Was Not Orthodox, Why Did He Quote The Trinity?

My buddie Jon has written a post on AC about Alexander Hamilton's faith. Because AH quoted the Trinity, unless he rejected the Trinity later in life, this is prima facie evidence supporting Orthodox Christian faith: 

AH! whither, whither am I flown,
A wandering guest in worlds unknown?
What is that I see and hear?
What heav'nly music fills mine ear?
Etherial glories shine around;
More than Arabias sweets abound.


Hark! hark! a voice from yonder sky!
Methinks I hear my Saviour cry,
Come gentle spirit come away,
Com to thy Lord without delay;
For thee the gates of bliss unbar'd
Thy consant virtue to reward.


I come oh Lord! I mount, I fly,
On rapid wings I cleave the sky;
Stretch out thine arm and aid my flight;
For oh! I long to gain that height,
Where all celestial beings sing
Eternal praises to their King.


O Lamb of God! thrice gracious Lord
Now, now I feel how true thy word;
Translated to this happy place,
This blessed vision of thy face;
My soul shall all thy steps attend
In songs of triumph without end.
--Soul Ascending into Bliss, October 17, 1772

"Although it is impossible to determine beyond dispute that Hamilton was the author of this poem, it is attributed to him by J. C. Hamilton (John Church Hamilton, a son of Alexander Hamilton), who refers to it as 'a hymn,' but ascribes it to the period when Hamilton attended school in Elizabethtown, New Jersey (The Life of Alexander Hamilton, Hamilton, J.C., vol. I, 10 and The Works of Alexander Hamilton, editor Hamilton, J.C., vol. I, 48). In the Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress, there is a copy of an unidentified writing of the first three verses of this poem. At the end of the third verse is written in the same hand: "Written by A.H. when 18 years old." At the bottom of the page in still another handwriting is written: "This is a copy in pencil by Alex: Hamilton, my uncle – P.S." The "P.S" presumably refers to the Philip Schuyler who was the son of George L. Schuyler. George L. Schuyler had married Hamilton's granddaughter, Mary Hamilton, daughter of James A. Hamilton. The Alexander Hamilton who copied the poem was probably the son of James A. Hamilton, brother-in-law of George Schuyler and uncle of Philip Schuyler." --from The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, volume 1

Hercules Mulligan gives a short commentary on the poem, presenting Hamilton's familiarity with Revelation 4:8. I am not sure this is a clear correlation; what I do know, is his faith was not temporary, to which his roommate in college (Robert Troup) testifies:
At this time,' Troup relates, 'the "General" was attentive to public worship, and in the habit of praying on his knees night and morning. I lived in the same room with him for some time, and I have often been powerfully affected by the fervor and eloquence of his prayers. He had read many of the polemical writers on religious subjects, and he was a zealous believer in the fundamental doctrines of Christianity. I confess that the arguments with which he was accustomed to justify his belief, have tended in no small degree to confirm my own faith in revealed religion.
Also, Hamilton rented Pew 92 at Trinity Church as early as 1790, affirming his church attendance. As to taking Communion, he had desired it in the past, yet accomplished it on his death bed. Hamilton's death-bed statement proves he believed in Christ's Atonement years before his death:

It has for some time past been the wish of my heart, and it was my intention to take an early opportunity of uniting myself to the church, by the reception of that holy ordinance [Communion].
Furthermore, he despised the Enlightenment ideal, that man would get better with time:
As riches increase and accumulate in few hands; as luxury prevails in society; virtue will be in a greater degree considered as only a graceful appendage of wealth, and the tendency of things will be to depart from the republican standard. This is the real disposition of human nature: It is what, neither the honorable member nor myself can correct. It is a common misfortune, that awaits our state constitution, as well as all others..It is a harsh doctrine, that men grow wicked in proportion as they improve and enlighten their minds. Experience has by no means justified us in the supposition, that there is more virtue in one class of men than in another. Look through the rich and the poor of the community; the learned and the ignorant. Where does virtue predominate? The difference indeed consists, not in the quantity but kind of vices, which are incident to the various classes; and here the advantage of character belongs to the wealthy. Their vices are probably more favorable to the prosperity of the state, than those of the indigent; and partake less of moral depravity. [bold face mine]
-Alexander Hamilton, New York Ratifying Convention 21 June 1788. Papers 5:36--37, 40--43

Back to the post on Hamilton:
 
"I disagree that "nothing like it" appears in Hamilton's record. If that's your standard for what constitutes an "ass," other things Hamilton said during that period arguably merit him that label. For instance, when speaking on what he values in a military chaplain, in a letter to Anthony Wayne July 6, 1780, Hamilton said:

“He is just what I should like for a military parson except that he does not whore or drink. He will fight, and he will not insist upon your going to heaven whether you will or not."

Here is Hercules Mulligan's interpretation of Hamilton's words: 

If, however, the phrase does exist in Hamilton's original letter, this letter is poor evidence against his Christianity, for the following reasons. First of all, what idiot would seriously expect a military chaplain, of all people, to practice those things? The style of Hamilton's letter implies that he is writing somewhat humorously. Hamilton's reference(s) may be a rather exaggerated way of referring to the parson's abstinence from drinking wine and attending balls, which were part of the circle of life at Washington's headquarters, and since Washington was particularly hospitable to chaplains, he no doubt would have invited the chaplain to participate in the few relaxations and luxuries available at his headquarters. If the parson declined, he probably would have done so with Hamilton's knowledge, since Hamilton was one of Gen. Washington's closest aides-de-camp. Hamilton then, may be giving an impression of the parson's aversion to those things on account of their abuses.


In addition, Hamilton's statement “he will not insist upon your going to heaven whether you will or not” does not at all indicate impiety or heterodoxy on Hamilton's part. This sentence begins with “He will fight,” and then continues as quoted above. Hamilton is not saying that the parson is neglectful of the souls of the troops, but merely that he is willing to stand with them and defend their lives rather than allow them to die. Hamilton's words, paraphrased, would say something like, “This man will stand and fight, instead of saying 'If we die, it's just as well -- at least we'll all get to heaven more quickly!' (Going to heaven of course, would depend upon the cases of individual soldiers.).”


Notice also, that Hamilton's letter indicates ("whether you will or not") that he doesn't believe that all people are going to Heaven automatically; he is obviously not of the universalist mindset. Hamilton believes in Heaven, and that God requires people to satisfy certain criteria; given Hamilton's Christian youth, and no evidence of change, it is reasonable to conclude that he accepted the Scriptural standard of a Christian. We see then, that the evidence thrown as objections to Hamilton's faith and morals are rather weak when given a closer look.
The post continues with Hamilton's letter to John Laurens:


"Likewise when noting what he was looking for in a wife, to John Laurens, December, 1779, Hamilton writes:

"In politics I am indifferent what side she may be of. I think I have arguments that will easily convert her to mine. As to religion a moderate stock will satisfy me. She must believe in God and hate a saint. But as to fortune, the larger stock of that the better. You know my temper and circumstances and will therefore pay special attention in the treaty. Though I run no risk of going to Purgatory for my avarice, yet as money is an essential ingredient to happiness in this world, as I have not much of my own, and as I am very little calculated to get more either by my address or industry, it must needs be that my wife, if I get one, bring at least a sufficiency to administer to her own extravagancies."

"Notice how Hamilton cares more about the specifics of his political creed than his religious creed. He cares about converting his future wife to his politics; but as to religion, she has to merely "believe in God and hate a saint." We see no, "I have arguments that will easily convert my wife to Christianity because I can show her the evidences of its historical truth."

"Given his wife turned out to be an orthodox Christian, it's likely that she converted him at the end of his life."

First, his wife did not turn out to be an orthodox Christian, she already was an orthodox Christian! Mulligan explains, "[h]e apparently didn't mind a “devoted stock” either! So much for his aversion to religion!"

Furthermore, from Hamilton's death-bed statement, it is impossible for his wife to have converted him at the end of his life; he was already converted from his previous wish to commune. Hamilton's actions marrying an Orthodox Christian outweigh his words; thus, Hercules Mulligan hits the nail on the head:

This passage also fails to provide those who claim that Hamilton's faith diminished during this period that he ever changed his religious beliefs.

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