I was doing some digging on the Internet the last week and came across an article that referenced the following verses from the Bible…“But there is nothing covered up that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known. Accordingly, whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in the inner rooms will be proclaimed upon the housetops.” Taken from the New Testament’s book of Luke, they are perfectly suited to Today’s History Lesson.
Alexander Hamilton’s affair with Maria Reynolds left a blot on what was the exceptional (if controversial) life of one of America’s most important and influential Founders. In his biography of the man, Ron Chernow summarizes this black episode by writing, “The Reynolds affair was a sad and inexcusable lapse on Hamilton’s part, made only the more reprehensible by his high office, his self-proclaimed morality, his frequently missed chances to end the liaison, and the love and loyalty of his pregnant wife.”
And he very nearly got away with it.
He probably would have had not James Reynolds ended up in jail. The husband of Maria Reynolds was, in modern parlance, “a complete jerk.” He let his wife continue in an illicit relationship with a member of President Washington’s Cabinet, then worked to extort money from him, all the while putting on the facade of the wronged man.
But Reynolds was also a scammer, and that’s how Hamilton’s secret became known. Reynolds (and another man) tried to defraud the government by passing themselves off as the executors of a dead war veteran in order to collect $400 in benefits. The plan’s failure landed Reynolds in jail. And because the name of the war veteran came from a list stolen from Hamilton’s Treasury Department, the charges filed against the defendants were made by Treasury. Immediately Reynolds suspected Hamilton of engaging in a bit of “payback”, and began dropping hints that he had information damaging to the Secretary.
At first it was believed that the Treasury Secretary was engaged in some sort of illegal activity…maybe illegal speculation or diverting funds or collusion. Congressman Frederick Muhlenberg was the first to suspect the worst (having talked extensively with Jacob Clingman, Reynolds’ partner-in-crime), and visited with fellow Congressman Abraham Venable and Senator James Monroe. The three men decided to write a letter and give it to the President, but to visit Hamilton before making the delivery.
On the morning of December 15, 1792, the three entered Hamilton’s office and confronted the Secretary about improper dealings with James Reynolds (who by now had been released from jail and had skipped town). He responded angrily about the manner of their approach but denied nothing, instead inviting them to his home that evening, where he said he would explain everything.
That night, the three Congressmen, expecting to hear a tale of misdeeds and impropriety that had taken place behind the office door, were instead given a detailed account of a tawdry affair that had taken place behind a bedroom door. Alexander Hamilton, as was typical, was incredibly detailed. Chernow continues, “…as if in need of some cathartic cleansing, Hamilton briefed them in agonizing detail about how the husband had acted as a bawd for the wife; how the blackmail payments had been made; the loathing the couple had aroused in him; and his final wish to be rid of them.” Alexander Hamilton came completely clean…letters, payments, details, dates, times…everything.
The letter to the President was set aside. James Monroe would later write, “We left under an impression our suspicions were removed. He acknowledged our conduct toward him had been fair and liberal – he could not complain of it.”
The three men all swore they would keep Hamilton’s confession completely private. But as our Scriptures above will attest, Hamilton’s deeds were now public, even if the circle of “those in the know” was small. It wouldn’t take long for news of those deeds to spread.
Recommended Reading: Alexander Hamilton