During his time at college, two major changes occurred in the direction of Hamilton's life. First, he changed his plan for a career. When he entered King's College, he did so with the intent of studying medicine. Several college mates would later recount how they would pass by the dorm-room of Hamilton, a natural workaholic, who was staying up late, pacing back and forth, memorizing the bones of the foot. Young Hamilton had the privilege of studying under one of the earliest pioneers in surgery at the time, and so Hamilton's knowledge of the human body, though never applied in his career, came in handy as a father who tenderly cared for the health of his children. Hamilton, in the middle of his attendance at college, suddenly changed his academic focus from the study of medicine to the study of law. The reasons for this sudden change could be manifold; Robert Troup, Hamilton's close friend and college roommate, was studying law under John Jay, so it is possible that Troup's studies lured Hamilton. About this time also, Hamilton expressed an increased concern for the public affairs of man rather than the physical health of man, although his medical studies did interest him throughout his life. In earlier years, he had been sympathetic to the crown of England, and felt that the colonists were merely in an uproar about taxation. His discussions with patriotic classmates, and especially those with Hercules Mulligan, in whose home Hamilton lodged during his college years, had convinced him that the British government, and not the American colonists, were at fault. His subsequent writings in favor of the cause of American independence show his astounding knowledge of the history of America, of their forms of government, of their colonial charters, and the legal relationship between America and Great Britain. It is also noteworthy that Hamilton, at the age of eighteen, had a profound understanding of both the science of law and the particulars of legal documents. This new political persuasion was not a departure from, but rather a direct result of, his conviction that the rights of mankind were granted to them BY GOD HIMSELF, and that because these rights were God-given, man had not authority to take them away.
"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." (1)It is true that this statement does not directly contradict deism or theistic rationalism; however, this statement is perfectly in line with the Scripture, and therefore, Hamilton's above statement is biblical. Hamilton's above statement cannot be classed as "deistic" or "theistic rationalistic," because even though his statement does agree with the basic principles of both deism and theistic rationalism, he does not place man's reason above divine revelation, as deism and theistic rationalism both do. Hamilton's statement is biblical, because he acknowledges that man was created by God (Genesis 1:26-27), and that God gave man inalienable rights, since man was created in God's image. This concept is key to the understanding of our Founding Era, and, of more primary importance in our case, to understanding Hamilton's beliefs concerning his religion, and therefore his politics. Man is distinguished from the animals, by having been created in God's image. Being created in God's image means that man is capable of making choices between right and wrong, unlike the animals, who live their lives according to their God-given instinct. Because God has given man the power of choice, man has the ability to reason; for without reason, man can decide nothing for himself. The fact that man has been created in God's image also means that man has some sort of inherent value -- a value greater than animal or plant life, even though those things are also the creation of God. Man became "a living soul" (which implies the power of will, reason, and man's value) according to Genesis 2:7; therefore, man is more than just flesh and bones -- he has an eternal soul, so no other man has the right to take another man's life, unless a man should, by transgressing that right of others, forfeit his own right to life.
It has been assumed that Hamilton's mention of the idea of the "state of nature" makes him a theistic rationalist. I do not understand the logic of this assertion; however, I can say that Hamilton quite frankly rejected the humanistic idea of Thomas Hobbes' "state of nature" theory. Hamilton wrote to a tory opponent:
"There is so strong a similitude between your political principles and those maintained by Mr. Hobbes, that, in judging from them, a person might very easily mistake you for a disciple of his. His opinion was exactly coincident with yours, relative to man in a state of nature. He held, as you do, that he was then perfectly free from all restraint of law and government. Moral obligation, according to him, is derived from the introduction of civil society; and there is no virtue but what is purely artificial, the mere contrivance of politicians for the maintenance of social intercourse. But the reason he ran into this absurd and impious doctrine was, that he disbelieved the existence of an intelligent, superintending principle, who is the governor, and will be the final judge, of the universe. As you sometimes swear by Him that made you, I conclude your sentiments do not correspond with his in that which is the basis of the doctrine you both agree in; and this makes it impossible to imagine whence this congruity between you arises. To grant that there is a Supreme Intelligence who rules the world and has established laws to regulate the actions of His creatures, and still to assert that man, in a state of nature, may be considered as perfectly free from all restraints of law and government, appears, to a common understanding, altogether irreconcilable." (bold italics added) (2)What God-given laws is Hamilton referring to? If the reader continues, he finds that Hamilton is referring to the "law of nature." Christians, theistic rationalists, and deists believe that this law is God-given. Hamilton cannot be proven one of the above with just this quote. However, if we take Hamilton's words in the context of what he believed throughout his life, it is very reasonable to assume that Hamilton was speaking from a Christian worldview. Hamilton never said anything that affirms his belief in theistic rationalism (i.e., that man's reason is superior to divine revelation). He did make statements, however, that affirm that he believed the opposite. These quotations have been cited on this blog, and one of them has been examined in a recent post; but I shall dig into the others in their chronological order. In the mean time, we shall examine Hamilton's religion during his college years and early involvement in the American Revolution. It is extremely unlikely that Hamilton became a theistic rationalist during his college years. Remember the testimony of his roommate Robert Troup, which was quoted in "Alexander Hamilton's Religion: Part Two":
"'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.' " (capitals and italics added) (3)
"But being ruined by taxes is not the worst you have to fear. What security would you have for your lives? How can any of you be sure you would have the free enjoyment of your religion long? Would you put your religion in the power of any set of men living? Remember civil and religious liberty always go together: if the foundation of the one be sapped, the other will fall of course." A Full Vindication" (1774) (4)
"Is it not better, I ask, to suffer a few present inconveniences, than to put yourselves in the way of losing every thing that is precious? Your lives, your property, your religion, are all at stake. I do my duty. I warn you of your danger. If you should still be so mad as to bring destruction upon yourselves; if you still neglect what you owe to God and man, you cannot plead ignorance in your excuse. Your consciences will reproach you for your folly; and your children's children will curse you." (4)
"May God give you wisdom to see what is your true interest, and inspire you with becoming zeal for the cause of virtue and mankind!" (4)
"Good and wise men, in all ages, ... have supposed that the Deity, from the relations we stand in to Himself and to each other, has constituted an eternal and immutable law, which is indispensably obligatory upon all mankind, prior to any human institution whatever." The Farmer Refuted (1775) (4)There is also another quick excerpt from Hamilton's pamphlets which is worth noting, as relates to his piety and morality. Some have argued, and do argue, that Hamilton was irreverent and impious in his youth, or that he thought less of religion and virtue as he advanced in years and became swept up in Revolutionary fervor. This is certainly not very arguable at this point in Hamilton's life.
"No Protestant Englishman would consent to let the free exercise of his religion depend upon the mere pleasure of any man, however great or exalted. The privilege of worshiping the Deity in the manner his conscience dictates, which is one of the dearest he enjoys, must in that case be rendered insecure and precarious." Remarks on the Quebec, Part Two (1775) (5)
"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 the divinity itself, and can never be erased or obscured by mortal power." The Farmer Refuted (1775) "The fundamental source of all your [tory's] errors, sophisms, and false reasonings, is a total ignorance of the natural rights of mankind. Were you once to become acquainted with these, you could never entertain a thought, that all men are not, by nature, entitled to a parity of privileges. You would be convinced that natural liberty is a gift of the beneficent Creator to the whole human race, and that civil liberty is founded in that, and cannot be wrested from any people without the most manifest violation of justice." The Farmer Refuted (1775) (6)
In Hamilton's "A Full Vindication," he remarked:
"By Him—but, with your leave, my friends, we’ll try, if we can, to do without swearing. I say, it is enough to make a man mad to hear such ridiculous quibbles offered, instead of sound argument; but so it is,—the piece I am writing against [the Tory pamphlet written most likely by Samuel Seabury, Anglican clergyman] contains nothing else.Hamilton's pamphlets had such a profound effect on New Yorkers, and were so well-written, that it was supposed that John Jay had authored them (Hamilton had merely signed his name as "A Friend to America").
"When a man grows warm he has a confounded itch for swearing. I have been going, above twenty times, to rap out an oath, By Him that made me; but I have checked myself with the reflection, that it is rather unmannerly to treat Him that made us, with so much freedom." (7)
At this point, George Washington Parke Custis, the adopted grandson of George Washington, and the son of John Parke Custis who attended King's College along with Hamilton, related in his book Recollections and Private Memoirs of Washington, page 342, Hamilton was running out of funds to continue his studies in college, and was considering returning to the West Indies. His patriotic friends in college, who had come to deeply appreciate his fervent patriotism, begged him to change his mind. They asked that he would remain, and use his talents to fight for the cause of American independence.
" 'Well, my friends,' said the gallant youth, 'if you are determined that I should remain among you, and take part in your JUST and HOLY cause, you must raise for me a full company of artillery.'" (emphasis added)In 1776, Alexander Hamilton, at the age of nineteen, became the captain of the New York Artillery Company, a volunteer corps which comprised of any patriotic male New-Yorker willing to join. The company consisted of about thirty men, including some of Hamilton's patriotic college mates such as Robert Troup and Nicholas Fish (father of Hamilton Fish, named for guess-who, who later became Governor of New York). Hamilton knew how to manage the company well, having privately studied mathematics and artillery during his college years. During that time, he and several of his patriotic college mates had participated in a local militia company commanded by a Captain Fleming, an old veteran who had once fought with the British. Hercules Mulligan, Hamilton's friend and host, was also connected with this company, and related a somewhat humorous anecdote as the two were on a mission to confiscate 24 pieces of artillery to keep them from the British:
"I was engaged in hauling off one of the cannons, when Mister Hamilton came up and gave me his musket to hold and he took hold of the rope. . . . Hamilton [got] away with the cannon. I left his musket in the Battery and retreated. As he was returning, I met him and he asked for his piece. I told him where I had left it and he went for it, notwithstanding the firing continued, with as much concern as if the [Asia] had not been there." (8)To avoid the notice of the college President, Hamilton and his fellow patriots would rise early, put on their green jackets with the words "Freedom or Death," no doubt taken from the speech which made Patrick Henry immortal, pinned to their lapels a tin heart on which was engraved "God And Our Right," pulled their muskets out from beneath their beds, and gathered to the green of St. George's Chapel, were they drilled. It was this company, named the "Hearts of Oak," which provided the experience and skills he needed as Captain of the New York Artillery Company. He embraced the work heartily, and his bravery and devotion won the hearts and loyalty of his men, who were all older than him. Until Baron von Steuben came a few years later and gave the Continental Army a system of articulate procedure and drilling, Hamilton's Company became renowned as the most efficient, courageous, well-disciplined, and calculated regiment which followed the Continental troops under Washington's command.
In my next post, we shall take a look at Hamilton's life and religion during the his years as a soldier during the Revolution.