One of my favorite songs in Hamilton comes in the second act. It’s called “The Reynolds Pamphlet.”
Thomas Jefferson sings, “Well, he never gon’ be President now.”
It also happens to be one of my favorite parts of the biography on which the show is based, Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow because it’s so ridiculous.
Alexander Hamilton was the first Treasury Secretary of the United States. He is not only on the ten dollar bill…he created our entire financial system. The reason Wall Street is Wall Street is because of Hamilton. Our currency is due to him. All of these complicated financial and economic things that my hopelessly math-stupid brain can’t comprehend are due to Hamilton.
Hamilton was also a loudmouth. He didn’t know when to stop. And he was painted, at least by his enemies, as a licentious man, this upstart immigrant who wanted to strengthen the federal government and executive power because they alleged that he was in love with the English system of government and wanted to create a monarchial system in America.
Hamilton was one of Washington’s top aides in the Revolution, commanded a battalion, fought at Yorktown, represented New York in the Constitutional Convention, was an abolitionist, wrote the bulk of the Federalist Papers which defended the not-yet-ratified Constitution, and was concerned about the Democratic-Republican faction (led by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison), who were for States’ Rights and in love with the French Revolution… even as it devolved into guillotines, regicide, and the Reign of Terror.
Hamilton had a long affair during his time as Treasury Secretary. Maria Reynolds was the woman’s name and her husband, James Reynolds, used the affair as a way to blackmail Hamilton. Hamilton, who was married with four or five kids at the time, not to mention a government official, paid Reynolds the hush money. This was in 1791 and 1792.
Hamilton eventually paid Reynolds a total of $1,000. In 1793 money. That’s a lot of money!
Reynolds was jailed for speculating; of course, knowing he could get Hamilton into a lot of trouble, he used that. Hamilton was being investigated for being associated with William Duer, a New York man who speculated in buying up American debt to France and then went bankrupt—Hamilton’s ideas for stocks, exchanges, and securities was still deeply suspicious to a lot of people.
When James Monroe and Congressmen Muhlenberg and Venable got wind that the Treasury Secretary may have misappropriated funds and that Reynolds may have been associated with Hamilton, they confronted him one night in December 1792. Had he been embezzling government money? Had he been participating in improper speculation?
Nope, Hamilton said. He revealed that he’d had an affair with Maria Reynolds and the money he paid the husband was to keep the affair under wraps. It wasn’t government money. He wasn’t speculating. He even turned over the love letters Maria wrote. Muhlenberg, Venable, and Monroe swore never to tell anyone and cleared Hamilton of any charges of speculation.
But James Monroe gave some of these papers to a clerk to copy. The clerk told Jefferson about what he’d read in the papers.
And Jefferson and Hamilton hated each other. Despised each other.
Also, today, January 9th is Alexander Hamilton’s birthday.
So. To be continued.