People & Events
Alexander Hamilton Defends Loyalists
The home of both Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, New York was already one of the most important cities in America by the time the Revolution began. During the war, New York would serve as a refuge for those who favored British rule. After the war, Alexander Hamilton made it a testing ground for American ideas of justice.
In 1776 British forces took a firm grip on New York; they held it for seven years. Many rebels and their families fled, and Loyalists from other areas of the country came to New York seeking protection.
At the war's end, many New York rebels returned to find their homes and businesses occupied by Loyalists. Under the Trespass Act, these people could sue Loyalists for compensation for the use of and damage to their property. These suits were among the earliest tests of the new nation: how would it treat those who had sided with the British during the war?
Many citizens favored stripping away Loyalists' rights and driving them out of the country. Among those opposed to this view was Alexander Hamilton. In the press, he declared that America needed the talents and power of Loyalists. In court, he successfully defended Loyalists sued under the Trespass Act. He made little money defending Loyalists, but by doing so, helped to establish the principles of equal treatment and due process under the law. Hamilton's effort contributed to the repeal of the Trespass Act.