Alexander Hamilton's Dying Wish, Holy Communion

Like many intellectual men in Revolutionary America and Western Europe, Alexander Hamilton bought into the Deist ideas of a Creator, but certainly not a Creator who needed a Son to rise from the dead or perform miracles, and certainly not the continuous miracle of the Eucharist. Most leaders of the American Revolution were baptized Anglicans who later in life rarely attended Sunday services, the exception being George Washington.  The first President was the rare exception of a Founding Father who often attended Anglican-Episcopal Services, though he occasionally did leave before Holy Communion, which many intellectuals in the colonies (and most of England) decried as “popery.”

Hamilton was a unique man, who unlike many of the Revolution was not born in the colonies, but in the Caribbean and was born into poverty at that. He was practically an orphan as his father left his mother and she subsequently died from an epidemic. At a young age Hamilton showed so much promise that the residents of Christiansted, St Croix (now the American Virgin Islands) took up a collection to send him to school in New England. As a child, Hamilton excelled at informal learning picking up on what he could from passersby and those who took the time to help him. In August of 1772,  a great hurricane hit the Caribbean. Hamilton wrote about it in such vivid detail that it wound up being published in New York.

It was at this point that the residents of Christiansted answered the local Anglican pastor’s request and enough money was raised to send Hamilton to school in the colonies. While in school, Hamilton would excel and wound up in the Revolutionary Army as a young officer. By the time of Yorktown, General Washington thought enough of the 24 year old to have him lead a charge on one of the redoubts of Yorktown. It was here that the “Young Americans” and their French counterparts on land and sea, overwhelmed the British and the world turned upside down.

Hamilton would truly shine after the war. Some say he was the greatest mind in the colonies; almost single handedly creating the American economic system.  However, Hamilton and his Federalist mindset were cut of a different cloth than that of Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin. After the war, Jefferson and Franklin became smitten with the French Revolution and their leaders. It was Franklin, who years before the American Revolution sponsored the infamous Voltaire at a Mason initiation ceremony in Paris, while Franklin was criss-crossing Europe, already a one man invention machine seemingly known to all.

Fast forward a few decades; Jefferson, Franklin and many other Founding Fathers rejoiced in the French Revolution. Remember though Jefferson was a Deist, Franklin was so far to the theological left that he urged Jefferson to take the phrase “We hold these views to be sacred,” out of the Declaration of Independence, some 17 years before the onset of the French Revolution. The phrase was replaced with, “We hold these views to be self evident.” It seems sacred was too “religious” for Franklin. Though a few Diest principals united some leaders of both Revolutions, there was little else that brought the two together. Unlike some of their Deist national leadership, the American people were religious people who were repulsed by mob violence. They had seen enough violence in the long struggle for freedom and there would certainly not be any displays of sacrilege.

Unlike Franklin and Jefferson, Hamilton and many other Federalists were repulsed by the violence of the guillotine. Perhaps only Catholics of the newly created America could truly understand the evil of the French Revolution, as thousands of their fellow believers, rich and poor, clergy and laity were brutally murdered. In addition, there was the sacrilege committed by mobs against holy sites using clubs, fires and prostitutes to defile famous French churches.

Hamilton’s life after Yorktown (and the events of the French Revolution) was spent piecing together the US economy. One can truly see the genius in Hamilton when one considers how hard it was for newly independent colonial nations to get on their feet following liberation from their British and French colonial masters, at the end of World War II. The mind can scarcely fathom what it must have been like in the 1700s, for the newly created United States, with no world aid or United Nations to assist in the cause of nation building.  Where would the United States be without Hamilton?

As the 1800s dawned and the rage against God slowly receded in France and other “Enlightenment influenced citadels,” many were having second thoughts on their “worldviews.” Sadly for Hamilton, it took his dying hours for him to realize the error of his ways. For many years Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr were involved in political and personal squabbles. Perhaps Washington wasn’t big enough for the two egos of Vice President Aaron Burr and the creator of the American Economic system, Alexander Hamilton. Both agreed to a duel in New Jersey, on July 11, 1804. Though Burr was rumored to be a poor shot with a pistol, Hamilton was hit in the duel.

It was readily apparent that Hamilton’s internal wounds were vast and unable to be mended, at least by 1804 medical standards. Hamilton immediately appealed to the Episcopal Bishop of New York (and President of Columbia University) Benjamin Moore for Holy Communion. The Episcopal leader of New York balked, Hamilton had not been a regular attendee of services and he was dying from wounds in a duel, which went against the beliefs of the Episcopal Church (and most other churches.) Hamilton even appealed to a local Presbyterian leader.

Many of the New World’s glitterati were surprised at Hamilton’s vociferous requests, though few may have realized that his wife was a very pious and religious woman and held in great esteem by the dying Hamilton. Finally, after second thoughts and some pressure from the faithful, the Episcopal Bishop relented and gave Hamilton Holy Communion on July 12, 1804. Hamilton, with little energy left, gratefully thanked the Episcopal Bishop of New York and then asked his wife to bring in the entire family.

One by one, from his two year old son down the line, Hamilton kissed his family goodbye. He even asked to see well wishers gathered outside and assured them of God’s grace and mercy. He even went on to say that the only hate he possessed was for dueling,  not Aaron Burr. He asked them to hold no ill will toward the Vice President, who was now fleeing to a safer location. Aaron Burr for his part was never able to politically recover and always carried the guilt of the events with him. He mused that, “If only I had read less Voltaire and more Laurence Stern, I might have seen that the world was big enough for Hamilton and me.”

There are many lessons to this story. First the obvious evil vitriol that came out of the mouths of some of the leaders of the Enlightenment, especially Voltaire. Remember it was Voltaire who happily stated that after the Jesuits were kicked out of France, (before the French Revolution) the Church would soon be destroyed. It almost was, but alas good Catholics know the Church can never be destroyed, because Jesus said it couldn’t (Matthew 16:15-20.)

Another lesson learned that is very relevant today concerns money. It is one thing to spend other people’s money, it is quite another to give away your own. Hamilton was a self made man. He was the poorest of the Founding Fathers. Yet, he made many people generations on down, to the present, very rich. Many of the Founding Fathers and the European leaders of the Enlightenment were born into money. They never knew what it was like to be poor and then to be rich.  Today’s elite are not much different from the elite of the 18th century. They believe in liberal ideas and are indifferent to God. All this, while the vast majority, both then and now, believe in God and would rather not have others deciding the fate of their own money.

A theological lesson from the Age of Hamilton concerns the white washing of the mysterious and miraculous, which first first began with the anti-Lutheran radical reformers of the Protestant Reformation and took off in earnest with the leaders of the Enlightenment. Sadly, it led to many great minds turning away from God and toward utter depravity.  Man needs the mysterious and the miraculous to understand God, otherwise why would God have sent Jesus to perform the miraculous and the mysterious?

Finally as Catholics,  we realize that the liturgical Protestant (mainly Worldwide Anglican and Lutheran Churches) view of Holy Communion is not ours. We believe in the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ present in the Eucharist. However, liturgical Protestantism’s view is far closer than those Enlightenment inspired churches, especially those of the Calvinist or Unitarian Churches, where Holy Communion is rarely or never celebrated.

These churches are in a statistical freefall, because unlike their beliefs, mankind needs the miraculous and the mysterious to understand God’s love, power and mercy. Many wonder how my book The Tide is Turning Toward Catholicism can possibly be true. How can the Catholic Church possibly grow in light of scandals and a mainstream media feeding frenzy against her? The reason is simple; mankind needs the miraculous and the mysterious. In a sad series of circumstances, Alexander Hamilton found this to be true. Let us pray that it won’t take similar circumstances for a growing secular world to find this out.

Dave Hartline

12 Responses to Alexander Hamilton's Dying Wish, Holy Communion

  • Thanks for an excellent and engrossing essay, Dave. There’s always something new to be learned from history, especially when written from a Catholic perspective.

  • Very interesting.

    A few minor points:

    Hamilton is the only non-President on US currency

    Franklin, Sacagawea, Susan B. Anthony, and Salmon Chase.

    Hamilton was a self made man.

    The local community paid for his college education then he married into wealth.

    I disagree with your point about money:

    Hamilton was a strong advocate of agriculture and manufacturing subsidies. Of course the vast majority of people don’t like taxes. But Hamilton and others understood that taxes used for the general welfare were necessary. Those who understand it best often come from disadvantaged childhoods. Hamilton, Obama, Clinton. People from relatively more advantaged backgrounds like the Tea Partiers have a more difficult time comprehending the struggles of the poor.

  • As Thomas DiLorenzo in his book Hamilton’s Curse points out:

    “Hamilton complained to George Washington that “we need a government of more energy” and expressed disgust over “an excessive concern for liberty in public men” like Jefferson. Hamilton “had perhaps the highest respect for government of any important American political thinker who ever lived,” wrote Hamilton biographer Clinton Rossiter.

    Hamilton and his political compatriots, the Federalists, understood that a mercantilist empire is a very bad thing if you are on the paying end, as the colonists were. But if you are on the receiving end, that’s altogether different. It’s good to be the king, as Mel Brooks would say.

    Hamilton was neither the inventor of capitalism in America nor “the prophet of the capitalist revolution in America,” as biographer Ron Chernow ludicrously asserts. He was the instigator of “crony capitalism,” or government primarily for the benefit of the well-connected business class. Far from advocating capitalism, Hamilton was “befogged in the mists of mercantilism” according to the great late nineteenth century sociologist William Graham Sumner.”

    Hamilton the first of the “Rockefeller Republicans” or “Big Government Conservatives.”

  • Sorry for the monetary error Restrained Radical, I mede the necessary correction.

  • Sorry for the monetary error Restrained Radical, I made the necessary correction (it is awful early in the morning!)

  • Far better for the world if Hamilton had stayed in it and Burr, a true blackguard, had departed it.

  • Thanks Dave great stuff as always!

  • Speaking of Hamilton and Burr, the Creative Minority Report posted a funny account that mentions them in response to the news that George Washington, Hamilton and others failed to return library books: http://www.creativeminorityreport.com/2010/04/george-washington-and-i.html

    “Dueling for Dummies”: what a hoot!

  • Given that Obama’s grandmother was a bank president and he attended a prestigious private school in Hawaii, I have a difficult time seeing his upbringing as “disadvantaged,” unless you wish to argue that simply being of mixed race automatically places one in the ranks of the disadvantaged.

    People from relatively more advantaged backgrounds like the Tea Partiers have a more difficult time comprehending the struggles of the poor.

    My, tea party haters really need to get their memes straight. One day we’re being characterized as ignorant trailer trash, and the next we’re folks with all sorts of advantages and no sympathy for the poor. It might behoove you to simply attend one yourself and take a good look at the country instead of mindlessly repeating whatever the media line du jour is about the tea partiers. When I went to one, the great majority of people struck me as utterly ordinary; neither toothless hicks nor BMW-driving swells.

    I did not know the details of Hamilton’s last hours. Thank you for a very interesting and informative post, Dave.

  • Donna, thank you for your kind words. I think you succinctly described the way critics of Big Government are described in the Mainstream Media. It does appear critics are either described as the toothless characters one saw chasing Ned Beatty in Deliverance, or a modern version of Mr Howell, upset that more taxes are being heeped upon Lovie and him.

    In truth the alternative “Coffee Party,” that the mainstream media seems to smitten with is indeed the new elite. Gone are Mr & Mrs Howell and their Polo Club Membership. Instead the new elite holds Cocktail Party fundraisers in cosmopolitian neighborhoods in spring, or a large Cape Code home in Marth’a Vineyard in the summer. For the Heinz-Kerry Yachting crowd, maybe a little gnosh in Monaco for the fall.

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