Alexander Hamilton was neither the first nor the last American politician to face accusations of infidelity. Rumors of his affair with Maria Reynolds had swirled throughout the 1790s, and in the summer of 1797, they were printed in a series of pamphlets alleging both sexual and financial impropriety while Hamilton was serving as the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury. But if the charges were standard, Hamilton's response was not. He published a 95-page pamphlet of his own, frankly admitting the adultery while vehemently denying that he had used his official position for any personal enrichment. Money paid to Reynolds' husband was not, as alleged, for the purpose of financial speculation but instead to buy his silence about the affair. Hamilton supported his position with nearly 60 pages of documents, including love letters he had written Reynolds.
Hamilton, who valued public honor above all, hoped such honesty would preserve his national reputation, even though it would also inflict great pain on Hamilton's wife Elizabeth. But his friends thought the move "humiliating" and "ill-judged"; as for Hamilton's opponents, they mockingly characterized his defense as "I am a rake and for that reason I cannot be a swindler." But others defended Hamilton: in the midst of the crisis, George Washington sent a gift and note of high esteem; and a Federalist judge suggested that private immorality was no bar to public service. If Hamilton "fornicates with every female in the cities of New York and Philadelphia," the jurist said, "he will rise again, for purity of character after a period of political existence is not necessary for public patronage."
Should a private indiscretion, like Hamilton's adultery, disqualify a person from holding public office?
Exclusive Corporate Funding is provided by: