I received this question on one of my social media accounts and I am sure it is something new comers to the Alexander Hamilton and John Laurens story would wonder about. The Question being: What do you think is one of/the most compelling evidence that their relationship happened?
I thought this was a good thing to share with a wider audience and to show more of the historical basis for this fiction novel. So my thoughts are below, I encourage anyone to check out the included links and read some of the letters!
There are actually two pieces of 'evidence' which I think to the be most compelling. The first being the ‘Cold in my professions’ letter written by Hamilton, April 1779 and the second being Hamilton’s September 1780 letter referring to the ‘part for the public and part for you.’
The April 1779 letter starts off, as many of you know, with some of the warmest sentiments in the letters between the two men:
Cold in my professions, warm in my friendships, I wish, my Dear Laurens, it might be in my power, by action rather than words, to convince you that I love you. I shall only tell you that ’till you bade us Adieu, I hardly knew the value you had taught my heart to set upon you. Indeed, my friend, it was not well done. You know the opinion I entertain of mankind, and how much it is my desire to preserve myself free from particular attachments, and to keep my happiness independent on the caprice of others. You should not have taken advantage of my sensibility to steal into my affections without my consent. But as you have done it and as we are generally indulgent to those we love, I shall not scruple to pardon the fraud you have committed, on condition that for my sake, if not for your own, you will always continue to merit the partiality, which you have so artfully instilled into me.
Some historians have argued this is the “language of the time,” which can be partially true, but is also a tool by historians used to attempt to erase even the possibility of queer relationships from history. If you compare Hamilton’s writing with other male friends, if you look at a letter to Meade or Lafayette, it is also warm and friendly, but it is not like this. This starting paragraph mentions the word ‘love’ twice.’ Hamilton goes out of his way to mention that he usually does not like to have emotional attachments. He insists upon not realizing how much he cared until Laurens was gone. He is teasing and sweet and certainly flirty. It is also the very start of his letter before anything else, not to mention the eloquence and detail. He could have wrote ‘I love you, I miss you’ but he puts far more effort into his exultation.
However, there is more to this letter than these declarations of affection and love; we have the section where he mentions Laurens’ wife.
I anticipate by sympathy the pleasure you must feel from the sweet converse of your dearer self in the inclosed letters. I hope they may be recent. They were brought out of New York by General Thompson delivered to him there by a Mrs. Moore not long from England, soi-disante parente de Madame votre épouse. [so-called relative of Madame your wife] She speaks of a daughter of yours, well when she left England
Now, it is hard to tell if Hamilton knew about Laurens having a wife before Laurens left from this. The phrase ‘she speaks of a daughter of yours’ at the very end implies that Hamilton did not know Laurens had a daughter. The phrasing would be odd if Hamilton already knew about a daughter, in fact, it almost has the cadence of a question. Which brings up the bigger question, if Hamilton did not know about the daughter, did he even know about the wife?
[Which is where my preferred reading of the later sections of ‘get me a wife’ from Hamilton comes from.]
This is very long section in an already long letter from Hamilton so I will just quote a few bits here.
And Now my Dear as we are upon the subject of wife, I empower and command you to get me one in Carolina. Such a wife as I want will, I know, be difficult to be found, but if you succeed, it will be the stronger proof of your zeal and dexterity.
So he starts off complimenting Laurens as he asks him this then proceeds to describe all the things he wants in a wife of which there are many. (Long paragraph that is not really the point). Then he writes.
If you should not readily meet with a lady that you think answers my description you can only advertise in the public papers and doubtless you will hear of many competitors for most of the qualifications required, who will be glad to become candidates for such a prize as I am. To excite their emulation, it will be necessary for you to give an account of the lover—his size, make, quality of mind and body, achievements, expectations, fortune, &c. In drawing my picture, you will no doubt be civil to your friend; mind you do justice to the length of my nose and don’t forget, that I ⟨– – – – –⟩.
I have read analysis by I believe @ciceroprofacto on tumblr who guesses that last crossed out bit from JHC read ‘never spared you of pictures’ or something close to. [She actually did a handwriting analysis of the original letter!] So this paragraph is obviously sexually charged and humorous - joking about an AD in the paper and clearly talking about his dick ('length of nose' was a time period reference to the penis) with the implication Laurens has seen it and knows enough of about Hamilton’s body and skill, in the bedroom and out, to make such an AD.
I know some historians have taken this whole section seriously, as if Hamilton really wanted his friend Laurens to find him a wife and this is proof of his womanizing, etc. But I cannot read this in any other manner than a joke or jest or, my personal analysis, a pissed off rant.
Some of this is likely conjecture, but the way I read this, Hamilton is pissed off to find out Laurens has a wife, after knowing each other for more than a year. So here he needles Laurens about finding Hamilton his own wife as some kind of revenge. He goes out of his way to describe what he would want in a wife to put Laurens’ through the pain that Hamilton feels at such knowledge of someone else linked to Laurens’ romantic life. He even emphasizes the sexual aspect to this with the implication of Laurens knowledge of such - another point toward evidence they were in some kind of romantic/sexual relationship - and reminds Laurens he would have sex with any wife he gets.
Directly after this paragraph, Hamilton writes:
After reviewing what I have written, I am ready to ask myself what could have put it into my head to hazard this Jeu de follie. Do I want a wife? No—I have plagues enough without desiring to add to the number that greatest of all; and if I were silly enough to do it, I should take care how I employ a proxy.
He literally says in the letter he does not want a wife and it would be the greatest annoyance in a joking way, as if he accidentally wrote this long section. So why write it if not to bother or hurt Laurens by doing so? It seems a lot of writing for just some friendly joking fun. He also says “I should take care how I employ a proxy.” You can read this in many ways, but one being maybe he shouldn’t send his lover to find his wife. (ha ha, he says to Laurens)
Hamilton then writes:
Did I mean to show my wit? If I did, I am sure I have missed my aim. Did I only intend to ⟨frisk⟩? In this I have succeeded, but I have done more. I have gratified my feelings, by lengthening out the only kind of intercourse now in my power with my friend.
He muses on whether he was showing how smart he was, if that worked out and if maybe he was trying to joke. He then says “I have gratified my feelings.” This is where my thoughts on his anger in this letter comes from. What feelings would he be trying to gratify with this? Obviously not a desire for a wife as he just said ‘no’ on that. Feelings about wanting to joke with Laurens still? Seems thin. Could it be feelings of anger and betrayal over a wife he did not know about and wanting to get back at Laurens for his lies, hence the rant about ‘find me a wife’ in “the only kind of intercourse now in my power with my friend.” His writing in a letter because Laurens is absent and, if you really want to get into double entendres, that they just couldn’t have angry sex instead.
OVERALL, this letter shows a lot of emotions on Hamilton’s side declarations of reluctant love, sorrow at separation, along with possible betrayal, flirting and not so veiled references to their sexual and personal relationship. While historians may try to pick out the pieces they want to fit their narrative, and you could argue I am reading it into my own narrative too, on the whole this is not a letter to just a friend.
Secondly, Hamilton’s September letter from 1780 after he has already written (in June) about his upcoming marriage and while Laurens’ is on parole in Philadelphia after his capture at Charleston.
We have less letters written by Laurens than we do from Hamilton. We have evidence of missing letters from when Hamilton mentions receiving ones, or Laurens mentions sending one, which have not survived. I will say, at the onset here, that I believe part of this reason is that the missing Laurens letters were more revealing of their relationship and either Hamilton himself, John Church [Hamilton's grandson who complied volumes of Hamilton's correspondence] or someone else chose to destroy them to conceal this. (it could also be just the passage of time, who knows) The point being, this letter from Hamilton actually reveals something of Laurens’ mind and writing as well because of his response.
There is only one paragraph that leads credence to the idea of their more intimate relationship but it is very important to me.
In spite of Schuylers black eyes, I have still a part for the public and another for you; so your impatience to have me married is misplaced; a strange cure by the way, as if after matrimony I was to be less devoted than I am now.
First, we get the implication of a letter from Laurens that at least included some idea about Hamilton getting married faster than his plans and the further implication that Laurens would think Hamilton’s marriage to mean he no longer cares about Laurens. It sounds as though Laurens wrote either in anger or sadness about the coming occurrence and would rather it be done with and the two of them possibly over as well.
Then we have Hamilton insisting he still will have “another for you” in terms of a relationship with Laurens and remain devoted. This phrase is placed opposite of ‘public’ meaning it to be private. If this was just a message to a friend about their friendship, why should it be something private? He also mentions being ‘devoted’ which is strong language for just a friendship.
Hamilton then writes:
Let me tell you, that I intend to restore the empire of Hymen and that Cupid is to be his prime Minister. I wish you were at liberty to transgress the bounds of Pennsylvania. I would invite you after the fall to Albany to be witness to the final consummation. My Mistress is a good girl, and already loves you because I have told her you are a clever fellow and my friend; but mind, she loves you a l’americaine not a la françoise.
Now, a lot has been said about this paragraph as it seems to imply that Hamilton wants to invite Laurens to his wedding night with his wife. I am not sure how serious Hamilton is about this as he says: “she loves you a l’americaine not a la françoise.” I have read analysis elsewhere about this which basically says the American is a love of friendship and the French is a sexual love. So Hamilton isn’t saying, come have sex with my wife because he says she does not love Laurens that way. Of course, there is the possibility that Hamilton really does mean come have sex with me and my wife, but you’re only going to have sex with me. Regardless, it is particularly related to sex which would be an odd thing to encourage just your friend to join in or visit on in any manner.
I think it can be seen that Hamilton is firmly telling Laurens in this part that he intends to have sex with his wife. To most friends this really wouldn’t be necessary, correct? But for the type of men who might marry a woman more as a duty and less as a desire, perhaps it is. So while this might be disheartening to Laurens, Hamilton felt the need to tell him that, yes, I desire my wife in the same paragraph where he tells Laurens he will still be devoted to him.
Summary, Hamilton is telling a Laurens who wrote him to hurry up his marriage that Hamilton still wants Laurens as much as he wants his future wife. Decidedly beyond a bond of friendship.