Monday, January 15, 2018

Hidden Text Found in Alexander Hamilton Letter

Alexander Hamilton wrote to Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton on September 6, 1780, two months before their marriage. According to a mid-19th century publication of the Hamilton papers, the letter was entirely about a battle of the Revolutionary War and begins: "Most people here are groaning under a very disagreeable piece of intelligence just come from the southward, that Gates has had a total defeat near Camden, in South Carolina." In the mid-20th century, Columbia University history professor Harold C. Syrett published the Hamilton papers again. In Syrett's edition the same letter begins: "I wrote you My Dear Betsey a long letter or rather two long letters by your father." The "disagreeable piece of intelligence" from South Carolina starts at paragraph two. Syrett also includes the end of the letter, excluded by John Hamilton, where Hamilton apologizes: "Pardon me my love for talking politics to you. What have we to do with any thing but love?"


To find out what lay beneath the scratchings-out, Fenella France, chief of the Preservation Research and Testing Division, and preservation staff Meghan Wilson and Chris Bolser used hyperspectral imaging. A noninvasive analysis that employs light at different wavelengths to capture information not visible to the eye, hyperspectral imaging can determine the composition of inks and pigments, track changes in documents over time and reveal faded, erased or covered writing.

Because the ink Hamilton used differs from that used to cross out his words, the imaging process was able to distinguish between the two, revealing the writing underneath. Here is what we were able to read (brackets indicate words that remain partly or totally obscured):

Do you know my sensations when I see the sweet characters from your hand? Yes you do, by comparing [them] with your [own] for my Betsey [loves] me and is [acquainted] with all the joys of fondness. [Would] you [exchange] them my dear for any other worthy blessings? Is there any thing you would put in competition[,] with one glowing [kiss] of [unreadable], anticipate the delights we [unreadable] in the unrestrained intercourses of wedded love, and bet your heart joins mine in [fervent] [wishes] to heaven that [all obstacles] and [interruptions] May [be] speedily [removed].


Who crossed out these lines? It seems likely, as Syrett believed, that John Hamilton did. Given their steaminess, this is not surprising: these were his parents, and he was embarrassed.

John Hamilton probably left out the beginning and the end of the letter, along with the 14 lines, because he felt those sections, as documentation of the Hamiltons' personal life, were just not as important as the part that described a Revolutionary War battle.

Tastes change. Today, Americans have demonstrated their interest in the Hamiltons' personal life with their enthusiastic embrace of Lin-Manuel Miranda's musical, "Hamilton." Also, historians now recognize the significance of private life, including the lives of women, who in the Hamiltons' time were excluded from public life.

#1 | Posted by GOnoles92 at 2018-01-15 05:16 PM

Love is the answer. And you know that.

#2 | Posted by cbob at 2018-01-15 10:00 PM

All you need is love, love. Love is all you need.

#3 | Posted by Corky at 2018-01-15 11:35 PM

I once read a book of love letters from presidents to their wives. Eisenhower, Roosevelt, Regan, etc. Very interesting, the mushiness and romance alongside the politics and war.

#4 | Posted by TFDNihilist at 2018-01-16 07:18 AM

Best read has to be between John and Abigail Adams. Reading what she went through while John was in France and Holland makes today's women look pretty wimpy. I doubt most women today has cared for family members suffering from cholera, and watching some die. She didn't complain, she just told her husband the facts. Her intellect and clarity of thought with a compassionate and generous spirit is in contrast to John's prickly nature. I doubt John had more than one friend in his life, but she was enough.

#5 | Posted by docnjo at 2018-01-16 10:35 AM

"All you need is love, love. Love is all you need."

And when a revolutionary war is at hand a warm gun.

#6 | Posted by donnerboy at 2018-01-16 01:31 PM

Some Presidents have been great romantics.

Jefferson swore to never remarry when his wife was dying. Carter is still deeply inlove with Rosalynn. And one of the presidents who was shot begged his Entourage to be gentle to his wife when they broke the news to her.

#7 | Posted by Tor at 2018-01-16 01:32 PM

Back then Presidents had something called "Honor".

A rare commodity in our "modern" leadership.

#8 | Posted by donnerboy at 2018-01-16 01:43 PM

#7 | Posted by Tor, His life partner was Sally Hemmings, actually the half sister to his wife and only one quarter black. Still it was illegal in Virginia to marry her, but he lived with her for over 40 years. I believe that is one of the big reasons Jefferson turned his back on the Christian faith about that time.
#8 | Posted by donnerboy, Politics was politics then also, read some of the partisan news papers, and they were all partisan, said about the candidates and office holders. Vicious is a good description. Jefferson himself through intermediaries launched a nasty press campaign using hack press to win ageist Adams in 1804.

#9 | Posted by docnjo at 2018-01-16 05:29 PM

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