I really enjoyed doing research on Eliza. I think she and the other founding mothers had a dramatic impact on the shape our country took. And as with many women we studied this quarter they still don’t really get the credit they are due. I think the founding mothers probably knew that what they were doing was historical and that they would be remembered as historically significant along side their husbands (and at least Eliza was certain that their husband would be remembered, she spent so much time recording her husbands legacy), but I doubt they would have ever expected that there would people hundreds of years later would be going back to look at how they helped shape America independent of their husbands.
As we progress as a society, I can only hope that we can do less and less going back to figure out what the women of time were doing and how it effected history because we write down records of what they did just the same as we do men. I mean we aren’t there yet. Like within the past year information has come to public attention about women who are helped launch the first manned missions to space, so clearly we’re still working on giving women as much credit as men and we probably will be for a long time. But maybe someday people won’t need reminders to remember the ladies.
So I’ve basically decide that my paper is going to be about how Eliza Hamilton was as we talked about at the beginning of the quarter a “good wife,” and how that did not restrict her from being a politically engaged citizen, despite the fact that she was a women and as such her role in the public sphere was more limited than a mans. I’m still working on refining all that down. But I do want to talk about Eliza’s engagement with the concept of the public sphere. I’ve talked before about some of the ways that she was politically engaged through her father and husband, and I’ve talked about her accomplishments for charities, but I think it really is notable how, particularly after her husband’s death, she sort of transitioned from being politically engaged through men in her life to her own accomplishments. Like the very fact that she herself went and petition congress for for pay and land owed to Alexander seems incredible for the time. I mean I don’t really know how many women were going to petition congress, but it seems like it wouldn’t be many. And the fact that she engaged in the public sphere by founding an orphanage with some other women, I mean children are part of the private sphere but founding and running a public institution is very public. The same with a school, and at the time most formal schools were men’s realms.
So last week in class we talked about how during the revolutionary war women would often end up taking on the duties their husbands typically did, like running the farm or what not. And this week I was reading some of the letters between Alexander and Elizabeth and found a couple mentions of her running the grange, which was their house out in the country and what Hamilton refers to as the orchard, which as near as I can tell is on the grange.
Now the letters was reading through were written after the revolutionary war, but they do still talk about Eliza running things while Alexander is away . In a letter Alexander wrote on Oct 14. 1803, he tells Eliza to have two chimneys built, a compost bed put in, apple trees planted, and a fence built. And about a year earlier on October 16, 1802 he writes her to ask her to hire a few labors to dig a ditch around the orchard and he suggests that the clay they dig up can be used to firm up the roads. He even includes the line “Yet you will consider this merely as a suggestion & do as you shall think best after you shall have ascertained whether you can procure any better materials for the purpose.” Which shows that he trust Eliza to figure out whats best and make decision about running their property.
I also think it’s worth mention that Alexander tells her to hire labors, because they had no slaves. Both the Hamiltons were strong abolitionists from the start.
I haven’t been able to find much about what Eliza was up to specifically during the war. She and her sisters were know for going to balls and social events with revolutionary soldiers, which given that they were very well off and their father was a general is not at all surprising. I did think it was very interesting that one of the readings this week did specifically mention Eliza’s mother and one story of what she did though. The reading talks about Catherine Schuyler, Elizabeth’s mother, being one of the women who would rather destroy her own property than have it help the British army. Catherine set her own fields on fire rather than have them go toward feeding the British troops who were headed her way. Catherine was also the primary person who taught Eliza growing up, and I can’t help but imagine that her mother’s resilience impacted Eliza.
Eliza was certainly considered willful and opinionated. Through out her life she devoted her time to many different charities and causes she believed in. She championed the orphaned she helped found, she got a charter and founded a school, she was a steadfast abolitionist, and didn’t shy away from giving her opinion. And even after Hamilton’s death many presidents and politicians would visit her or invite her to events. And Eliza was known for speaking her mind. After his presidential term was over James Monroe payed Eliza a visit. She blamed him for forcing Hamilton to go public with the Reynolds pamphlet, and although he essential came to bury the hatchet thinking that the decades would have allowed them to move past it, Eliza interrupted and straight up told him that unless he was there to apologize that nothing had changed. Eliza was certainly willing to stand up for what she believed in and I have to imagine having a mother who was willing to go all out for her side of the war couldn’t have hurt.
Revolutionary Mothers (Carol Berkin)
Elizabeth grew up very wealthy and would have been accustomed to a comfortable lifestyle. Her life with Alexander Hamilton also would have been fairly comfortable although perhaps not quite as comfortable as her childhood was. However when Alexander died he was in massive debt, which left Eliza in poverty. Despite having grown up wealthy Eliza adapted well to her new situation. After Alexander’s death Eliza was forced to sell the Grange, the family home they shared, but eventually she was able to repurchase it. She did inherit some land from her father, who died shortly after Alexander, but not nearly enough to cover the debts.
After the revolutionary war Alexander had turned down the land offering and pension that he would have received as an officer, and after his death Eliza decided to petition to receive them. At the time of Alexander’s death Jefferson was president and Eliza knew that because he and Alexander had been opponents he was not likely to respond favorably to her request, so she waited until James Madison was elected to go and petition congress for the land and pension. And eventually Eliza got what she want, the cash value of the land and a full 5 years of army pay.
And despite her own financial trouble’s Eliza still managed to not only take care of the children she already had, but also took care of Hamilton’s blind cousin, Ann Mitchell. She also did a massive amount of work for charity and helped raise money for numerous causes.
Alexander Hamilton was somewhat known for being flirtatious. Even when he was married to Elizabeth his relationship with her sister, Angelica, was even somewhat flirtatious. Although Angelica was married when she met Alexander, and he was very soon her brother-in-law, there was some suspicion that there was some sort of affair between the two. It wasn’t odd for in-laws to treat each other with affection or like blood relatives, but the amount of allusions they make to lovers in their letters does seem a little odd, and Angelica even jokes about Elizabeth lending Hamilton to her in the letters between them. But while there are only speculation about the relationship between Angelic and Hamilton, Alexander was the subject of the first American political sex scandal, which of course had a huge effect on his wife Eliza.
While Eliza was away with the children one summer visiting her father, Hamilton engaged in an affair with Maria Reynolds. Maria’s husband either found out or had known all along and began blackmailing Hamilton, threatening to expose the scandal to Eliza and the public. Hamilton paid him off for a long time, but eventually his political opponents had questions about finances. In order to set the record straight about his finances Hamilton wrote an entire pamphlet detailing every aspect of the affair and published it. Eliza was of course humiliated. The Reynolds pamphlet explained how Hamilton had brought Maria into their family home and even encouraged Eliza to stay at her fathers longer. Eliza was of course very upset, she even destroyed a considerable portion of her and Hamilton’s letters and records. Which is part of the reason that so little documentation of their early relationship exists. But eventually Eliza forgave Hamilton. It really it was Eliza’s forgiveness that saved his reputation. After his death, Hamilton’s political opponents dragged his name through the mud, but Eliza spent the next 50 years documenting his life and all the work he did. She was the one who set the record straight, and she is the real reason we remeber Alexander Hamilton the way we do.
Before Eliza even married Hamilton she was engaged in the world of American politics. She was born into a wealthy family. Her parents were from wealthy dutch families. She was the second of three daughters. As she was from a wealthy family Eliza was well educated and taught traditional feminine task like sewing by her mother. Her father was politically active and even took Eliza with him to a Six Nations (a group of native American tribes) meeting when she was growing up. She also reportedly met Benjamin Franklin when he came and stayed with her family during some of his travels.
The Schuyler sisters were known to attend balls and spend time with British soldiers and officers before the revolutionary war and after the war had begun they of course spent their time with American soldiers and officers. Their father was a revolutionary war general. Eliza was friends with George Washington’s wife, Martha Washington and in fact it was at the Washington’s headquarters that Eliza and Hamilton really met and began their relationship. Apparently the two had met before when Hamilton had visited her father’s home to deliver a message, but they hadn’t interacted any further until being introduced at the officer’s ball. So even before meeting Hamilton Eliza was already a remarkable women who had political connections.