Alexander Hamilton: Portrait in Paradox

By John C. Miller | Go to book overview
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2.
Aide-de-Camp to Washington

With the advent of fighting in New England, a wave of mob violence swept the American colonies. In May, 1775, the New York mob, having already emulated the Boston "redskins" by destroying a cargo of East India Company tea, attacked the house of the Reverend Myles Cooper. Admittedly, this was an unceremonious way of treating a clergyman, but the Reverend Doctor Cooper, in the eyes of his adversaries, had forfeited his clerical immunities by becoming a Tory propagandist and a college president. Although Hamilton was fond of sport, he drew the line at Tory-baiting: there were, he declared, wise and good men on both sides of the controversy and he could not "presume to think every man who differs from him either a fool or knave." Suiting his actions to his words, Hamilton and several other undergraduates saved the Reverend Doctor from the mob. No greater love hath an undergraduate for a college professor than Hamilton demonstrated on this occasion. He was properly rewarded by being mentioned in a poem commemorating this incident published by the grateful clergyman in the Gentleman's Magazine.

A few months later, in October, 1775, Isaac Sears, a New York patriot, descended upon the city at the head of a body of Connecticut horsemen. His objective was to capture James Rivington, a New York printer guilty of publishing Loyalist tracts. On their way through Westchester County, Sears and his men carried off the Reverend Samuel Seabury. But by the time they reached New York City, Rivington had flown and the patriots had to be content with wrecking his press. Nevertheless, they returned to New England in triumph: it was not every day that Yankees could see a real live clergyman of the Church of England in captivity.*1

Instead of warmly welcoming these visiting Sons of Liberty and applauding the forthrightness with which they disposed of his political adversary, Hamilton deplored Sears's raid as a wanton piece of violence and an unlaw

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*
A sad disappointment was in store for the patriots: no crimes or misdemeanors could be proved against Seabury. And so, upon the demand of the New York Provincial Congress, his captors reluctantly turned him loose. Seabury found sanctuary in England and later returned to the United States, where he became an Episcopalian bishop.

-17-

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