Alexander Hamilton - Advocate

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hamilton college statueOne of Alexander Hamilton's most well-known quotes is, "The sacred rights of mankind are not to be rummaged for among old parchments or musty records. They are written, as with a sunbeam, in the whole volume of human nature, by the Hand of Divinity itself, and can never be erased or obscured by mortal power." Unlike some of his contemporaries, Alexander Hamilton believes these "sacred rights" extended to all human beings. 

Alexander Hamilton is rarely recognized as a human rights advocate. However, he was extremely active with efforts to improve conditions of minorities in the United States, especially for black slaves. Learn more about his attitudes towards minorities, his proposed intiatives to eradicate slavery, and other efforts in education and reform in the trivia below. 

Did you know?

  • Alexander Hamilton never personally owned slaves.
  • Alexander Hamilton was born on the Caribbean island of Nevis and grew up on the island of St. Croix. During this time, the population ratio on both islands had about 10 slaves for every free man. For example, in St. Croix, 22,000 of the 24,000 inhabitants were slaves.1 
  • As a young boy, Hamilton worked as a clerk for a trading company, and though he rarely worked directly in the shipments of slaves, surviving documents show several instances that he recorded arrivals and conditions of the captives.2 
  • Alexander Hamilton supported the Haitan Revolution; advocated trade with the new Haitian Republic; helped them design their tax policy; and, in 1799, drafted a plan of government for Haiti that was the basis for Haiti's Constitution.3
  • He became a trustee and the namesake for Hamilton-Oneida Academy for Indian relations
  • As a lawyer, Hamilton took up cases against a law that persecuted loyalists

Hamilton on Blacks in the Revolutionary War

  • During the Revolutionary War, Alexander Hamilton and his close friend John Laurens proposed a plan in South Carolina to create several regiments of black slaves, who would receive their freedom in exchange for fighting in the Continental Army.
  • Alexander Hamilton lobbied state and national legislators to support his plan but the proposal was not approved by the South Carolina legislature
  • As part of his lobbying, Hamilton wrote to the President of the Continental Congress, John Jay, arguing that black's "natural faculties are probably as good as ours" and that "the contempt we have been taught to entertain for the blacks, makes us fancy many things that are founded neither in reason nor experience."
  • Hamilton concluded his letter saying that he hoped that the plan to "give them their freedom with their muskets" would lead to general emancipation, "for the dictates of humanity and true policy equally interest me in favour of this unfortunate class of men."

Hamilton and the New York Manumission Society

  • Alexander Hamilton was a founding member of the New York Manumission Society, the first abolitionist organization in New York.
  • The Society was formally known as the "The New York Society for the Manumission of Slaves and the Protection of such of them as had been or wanted to be Liberated."
  • Hamilton was the Society's second President, after John Jay.
  • Within this Society, Hamilton helped establish the African Free School in 1787.
  • Alexander Hamilton introduced a proposal that all the members of the Manumission Society must empancipate their slaves, a measure that was not adopted
  • Alexander Hamilton championed a gradual emancipation act in New York State that was finally passed in 1799
  • Alexander Hamilton had plans to introduce a bill for national emancipation in 1809, 20 years after the national government began. However he died in 1804. In a twist of fate, Abraham Lincoln was born in 1809. 
  • Alexander Hamilton petitioned the New York city government to prohibit grave robbing of slave and free black graves, but the city did not take action.
  • When riots broke out as a result of the grave digging, Alexander Hamilton tried to calm the rioters 

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