The Letters: 1779-1782
The letters excerpted here begin in 1779 when Hamilton was twenty-two and Laurens was twenty-five. Both young revolutionaries were part of that close male circle surrounding General Washington--his "family," as the general called them.
The American Revolution was in progress; John Laurens had left camp for South Carolina, hoping to be authorized by that colony's assembly to organize battalions of Black slaves to fight the British.
In April, 1779, Hamilton writes to him:
Cold in my professions, warm in [my] friendships, I wish, my Dear Laurens, it m[ight] 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 sh[ould] not have taken advantage of my sensibility to ste[al] 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].
Forwarding several letters which had arrived from Laurens' wife, Hamilton continues:
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. Take her description--She must be young, handsome (I lay most stress upon a good shape) sensible (a little learning will do), well bred, chaste and tender (I am an enthusiast in my notions of fidelity and fondness). But as to fortune, the larger stock of that the better.... Though I run no risk of going to Purgatory for my avarice, yet as money is an essential ingredient to happiness in this world--as I have not much of my own and as I am very little calculated to get more either by my address or industry; it must needs be, that my wife, if I get one, bring at least a sufficiency to administer to her own extravagances. N[ota] B[ene] [Note Well] You will be pleased to recollect in your negotiations that I have no invincible antipathy to the maidenly beauties & that I am willing to take the trouble of them upon myself.
If you should not readily meet with a lady that you think answers my description you can only advertise in the public papers and doub[t]less you will hear of many ... 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 [- - - - - -].
Here approximately five words are illegible due to mutilation of the original manuscript (the words have actually been cut out). The deleted words were certainly explicitly sexual, as Hamilton's reference to "the length of my nose" was clearly a joking allusion to the length of his penis. A long history (pun intended) links nose size and penis size, and penis size with associations of virility and fertility.
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 [maddness game]. 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. 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. Adieu
Laurens was still in South Carolina five months later on September 11, 1779. On that date, Hamilton writes to him:
I acknowledge but one letter from you, since you left us, of the 14th of July which just arrived in time to appease a violent conflict between my friendship and my pride. I have written you five or six letters since you left Philadelphia and I should have written you more had you made proper return. But like a jealous lover, when I thought you slighted my caresses, my affection was alarmed and my vanity piqued. I had almost resolved to lavish no more of them upon you and to reject you as an inconstant and an ungrateful -- [a space is here left blank in the manuscript, a word identifying Laurens is left unwritten by Hamilton, who continues:]
Laurens was with the American army in South Carolina when British forces arrived off that colony's coast and began the attack on Charleston which ended with that city's capture. Laurens was taken prisoner on May 12, 1780, and on a parole restricting him to the state of Pennsylvania arrived in Philadelphia. On June 30, 1780, Hamilton writes to Laurens:
I have talked to the General about your exchange; but the rigid rules of impartiality oppose our wishes. I am the only one in the family who think you can be exchanged with any propriety, on the score of your relation to the Commander in Chief. We all love you sincerely; but I have more of the infirmities of human nature, than the others, and suspect my self of being byassed by my partiality for you.
Hamilton reveals that he is now engaged to be married.
Have you not heard that I am on the point of becoming a benedict [a newly engaged or married man who had long been a bachelor]? I confess my sins. I am guilty. Next fall completes my doom. I give up my liberty to Miss Schuyler. She is a good hearted girl who I am sure will never play the termagant; though not a genius she has good sense enough to be agreeable, and though not a beauty, she has fine black eyes--is rather handsome and has every other requisite of the exterior to make a lover happy. And believe me, I am lover in earnest, though I do not speak of the perfections of my Mistress in the enthusiasm of Chivalry. Is it true that you are confined to Pensylvania? Cannot you pay us a visit? If you can, hasten to give us a pleasure which we shall relish with the sensibility of the sincerest friendship.
Adieu God bless you....
On September 16, 1780, Hamilton writes to Laurens, still under arrest and confined to Pennsylvania:
That you can speak only of your private affairs shall be no excuse for your not writing frequently. Remember that you write to your friends, and that friends have the same interests, pains, pleasures, sympathies; and that all men love egotism.
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. 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 Pensylvania. 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 francoise.
Adieu, be happy, and let friendship between us be more than a name
Two years passed. Laurens fought in the battle at Yorktown, then returned to South Carolina and took part in the continuing skirmishes with British troops. In a letter to Laurens dated August 15, 1782, Hamilton describes being delegated to Congress, assuring Laurens, "We have good reason to flatter ourselves peace on our own terms is upon the carpet." Hamilton continues:
Peace made, My Dear friend, a new scene opens. The object then will be to make our independence a blessing. To do this we must secure our union on solid foundations; an herculean task and to effect which mountains of prejudice must be leveled!
It requires all the virtue and all the abilities of the country. Quit your sword my friend, put on the toga, come to Congress. We know each others sentiments, our views are the same: we have fought side by side to make America free, let us hand in hand struggle to make her happy ....
Yrs for ever