Discovering the oldest known Alexander Hamilton document

My new blog, Discovering Hamilton: New Discoveries in the Life of Alexander Hamilton, His Family, Friends, and Colleagues is now up and running. Yesterday, I posted the first new discovery: the oldest known Alexander Hamilton document. After checking it out (and sharing it with friends on facebook, twitter, etc.), be sure to subscribe to the new blog to receive all the new Alexander Hamilton discoveries in your mailbox.

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New Alexander Hamilton coming soon

I’ve set up a new blog. Discovering Hamilton: New Discoveries in the Life of Alexander Hamilton, His Family, Friends, and Colleagues. I should start blogging real soon.

Visit http://discoveringhamilton.com/ and subscribe to ensure that you are to first to learn about these exciting new Alexander Hamilton discoveries.

“Medicare For All” is more appealing when you hide the enormous tax increase

According to the Washington Post, the “dam is breaking on Democrats’ embrace of single-payer” for healthcare as a fourth member of Congress co-sponsored Bernie Sanders’s “Medicare for all” bill. But the Post makes no mention of the cost for this bill.

Why, you ask, would they only discuss the benefits to be received without mentioning the cost? Hmm…

Heading over to Bernie Sanders’s Medicare for All website, one finds that the cost is estimated to be $1,380,000,000,000. That’s $1.38 trillion.

Bernie Sanders then lists seven ways to raise the required revenue–new taxes, tax increases, and closing loopholes. The largest source of revenue would be a “6.2 percent income-based health care premium paid by employers,” in other words a 6.2% tax on income to be paid by employers, as if employers will just eat the tax increase without passing it on to employees or customers. On top of this is a “2.2 percent income-based premium paid by households,” i.e., a 2.2% tax increase.

Given that all but one of these additional sources of revenue involves directly or indirectly a tax on income, lets just look at the tax increase in aggregate. This year, the federal government is expected to generate revenue of $3.46 trillion. A $1.38 trillion tax increase is the equivalent of all tax rates rising by 40% (40 percent, not 40 percentage points). In other words, social security taxes would have to rise from 6.2% to 8.7%. The lowest tax bracket would have to jump from 10% to 14%. The 25% tax bracket, in which most American probably reside, would need to leap to 35%. And the top tax bracket would have to go from 39.6% to 55.4%.

Bernie Sanders wants to pay for his Medicare For All by taxing the rich. He raises the top tax bracket from 39.6% to 52%, but only on those earning over $10 million. Other high-income people see smaller increases in their income taxes.

How do lower-income earners fare in his proposal? Probably even worse than their high-income counterparts. Although Bernie Sanders tries to hide it by calling one new tax a “6.2 percent income-based health care premium paid by employers” and another a “2.2 percent income-based premium paid by households,” these are, in effect, tax increases of 6.2% and 2.2%, the first to be paid by the employer, who will surely pass all or most of the cost along, and the second to be paid by the earner. If one looks at one’s income tax rate as the total of his income taxes plus social security taxes plus medicare taxes, the lowest tax bracket will go from a current 25.3% to 33.7%, a 33% increase. That may not be the portion paid by the individual, but it’s the amount the government takes and it is the amount paid by earner either directly through his taxes or indirectly through lower wages or highest consumer prices.

The Medicare For All website also claims that a typical family earning $50,000 would save $5,800 in healthcare spending. He does not mention that the new taxes of 2.2% and 6.2% total $4,200. So the saving as much smaller. But the website also points out people currently receive “tax breaks that subsidize health care” to the tune of $310 billion. These would be eliminated under the plan. The website does not say much does a typical family earning $50,000 receive in these “tax breaks.” I wonder why. Needless to say, that $5,800 in savings all but disappears when one accounts for the tax increases and the removal of tax breaks.

Now it’s clear why the Washington Post does not mention the cost of this “Medicare For All” bill. It’s also clear why the Medicare For All website gives a clear picture of how much a typical family saves but not how much it will cost them.

It’s much easier to give away goodies when people think they are free or someone else is paying for them rather than tell them how much it will cost them. If politicians were required to disclose the costs in addition to the benefits (much like a drug advertisement is required to reveal the side-effects), socialist proposals like Medicare For All would surely gather less support than when everything appears to be free.

Michael E. Newton on “Discovering the Earliest Known Records of Alexander Hamilton” and “A “Jest” Gone Wrong: Nicholas Cruger’s “Supposed Duel” on St. Croix”

My talk today at Liberty Hall Museum about about Discovering the Earliest Known Records of Alexander Hamilton and A “Jest” Gone Wrong: Nicholas Cruger’s “Supposed Duel” on St. Croix.

If you have trouble watching the video here, please see the video on Liberty Hall Museum’s facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/libertyhallmuseum/videos/1803776389648810/

New Hamilton Discoveries to be Revealed on July 6

On Thursday, July 6, at 1:00 p.m. (to be repeated at 3:00 p.m.), I will share my recent discovery of the earliest known records of Alexander Hamilton and their implications to Hamilton’s biography. These records predate Hamilton’s letter to Edward “Ned” Stevens of November 1769 and the probate record of Hamilton’s mother from February 1768.

I’ll also be sharing a previously unknown story about Nicholas Cruger, Hamilton’s boss on St. Croix, and his “supposed duel,” which caused a “sensation” and much “disorder” on the island.

The event will take place at Liberty Hall Museum at 1003 Morris Avenue, Union, NJ 07083. A similar event last year sold out, so please reserve your seat at http://www.kean.edu/libertyhall/events/young-immigrant-hamilton-tour-july6.

If you can’t attend, the event will be live streamed on Liberty Hall’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/libertyhallmuseum/

Doctoring Newspapers for PBS’s “Hamilton’s America” Documentary

Like every other fan of Alexander Hamilton the man and Hamilton: An American Musical, I was eager to watch the PBS documentary about the making of the musical, titled Hamilton’s America, which aired on October 21, 2016. I knew that this documentary would be a mix of Alexander Hamilton history and behind-the-scenes footage of the development, production, and staging of the musical. And while I enjoyed most of the documentary, I was sorely disappointed in some of the historical inaccuracies.

Now, we all know that there are historical inaccuracies in the musical. Most of these are perfectly fine as Lin-Manuel Miranda used his poetic license to tell the story. Lafayette being in America and meeting Hamilton before the war even started is one such example. Everyone knows it didn’t happen that way, but it made sense from the musical’s perspective to present it that way. Other inaccuracies were mistakes to which Miranda has admitted, like when Angelica Schuyler said, “My father has no sons,” when he in fact had three sons. Others are errors that have come down through history and which the musical repeats, like the oft-repeated tale of Martha Washington’s tomcat named Hamilton.

As a piece of fiction, Hamilton: An American Musical is immensely enjoyable. Moreover, it gets most of the history right and certainly captures the spirit of Hamilton’s life and of the period. So even when this nit-picky historian points out inaccuracies in the musical, he does not intend to diminish the great work created by Lin-Manuel Miranda and the other producers and performers. It is only done to educate those who would like to learn more about Alexander Hamilton.

However, when PBS produces a documentary, I expect more accuracy and certainly don’t expect them to mislead the viewer. And yet, that is exactly what happens in at least one instance. Talking about Alexander Hamilton’s life on St. Croix in the Caribbean West Indies, the documentary of course discusses Hamilton’s account of the great hurricane of 1772, which was published in St. Croix’s The Royal Danish American Gazette. On screen, they present this image of the newspaper.

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Alexander Hamilton’s hurricane account, as published in The Royal Danish American Gazette, as shown in PBS’s Hamilton’s America

According to this image, Hamilton’s hurricane account was published in The Royal Danish American Gazette on Sunday, September 6, 1772. At the top of the newspaper’s first column appeared a preface introducing Hamilton’s account. Hamilton’s writing then appears on the top of columns two and three.

Unfortunately, none of this is true. This image is a complete fake. It was doctored for the purpose of presenting in this documentary.

Here’s what the newspaper featuring Hamilton’s hurricane account really looks like:

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First of all, you probably noticed that Hamilton’s hurricane account appears on the second page of the newspaper, not the first. Not only is that less dramatic than having it on the first page, it makes it more difficult to present quickly on the TV screen. And in order to make Hamilton’s hurricane account fit on the first three columns of the first page, they didn’t just copy and paste the original into their desired position, but they actually retyped it. Of course, they styled it to look like it was original to 1772 because they wouldn’t want the viewer to think it was fake.

Second, you might notice that while Hamilton’s newspaper account is dated September 6, 1772, it was not published until October 3, 1772. And yet, in PBS’s version, the newspaper with Hamilton’s account was published on September 6.

Third, there is one part of PBS’s image that is original: the beautiful masthead of The Royal Danish American Gazette. But even here, PBS erred. PBS copied the masthead with volume and issue numbers from Vol. 3, Issue No. 235. You’ll see in the real newspaper featuring Hamilton’s essay that that the issue of October 3 was No. 234. Issue No. 235 was published October 7, 1772.

Fourth, since PBS used the masthead from October 7 and no issue of the newspaper was published on September 6, PBS had no choice but to retype the date under masthead. What’s most amazing is that The Royal Danish American Gazette was published only on Saturdays and Wednesdays. But September 6, 1772, was a Sunday. So, in very large letters, PBS typed “SUNDAY.” Even to the casual eye, that “SUNDAY” stands out as inauthentic.

To summarize, PBS changed the layout of the newspaper, retyped the text of Hamilton’s hurricane account, retyped and changed the date of publication, and had the wrong issue number. The only original things about it were the words written by Hamilton and the masthead, which was taken from a different issue.

Perhaps it’s just the historian in me caring too much about historical accuracy, but I expected more from a PBS documentary.

Angelica Schuyler Church’s portrait of Thomas Jefferson by John Trumbull (with a Cruger twist)

In the American Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, amid much larger and more famous paintings, hangs a small portrait of Thomas Jefferson with a most interesting history for any fan of Alexander Hamilton or the Hamilton musical. In 1786 and 1787, John Trumbull visited Thomas Jefferson in Paris. With Jefferson’s “assistance,” Trumbull began painting The Declaration of Independence on a small 21-inch by 31-inch canvas. This small painting became the basis for the huge 12-foot by 18-foot painting of the same name that hangs in the U.S. Capitol.

John Trumbull also used the original The Declaration of Independence as the source for three small portraits of Thomas Jefferson. One of the portraits was given to Maria Cosway, a married woman whose amorous correspondence with Jefferson has historians debating whether their relationship went beyond words. Another was given to Thomas Jefferson’s daughter. The other portrait of Jefferson painted by Trumbull was given to another one of Jefferson’s close friends, with whom he also wrote numerous flirtatious letters, Mrs. Angelica Church, known to many as the eldest of the Schuyler sisters. Luckily for fans of both Alexander Hamilton and Angelica Church, this portrait hangs in Gallery 753 of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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John Trumbull’s Thomas Jefferson [Metropolitan Museum of Art] (© Michael E. Newton)

Fans of the real Alexander Hamilton who know a thing or two about his biography (that’s not mentioned in the musical) will also enjoy the provenance of this painting. When Angelica Church died in 1814, this painting was inherited by her daughter, Catherine. Catherine was married to Bertram Peter Cruger, who happened to be the son of Nicholas Cruger, the man who befriended and employed Hamilton back on St. Croix in the 1760s and 70s. Trumbull’s painting of Jefferson stayed in the Cruger family for three generations until Cornelia Cruger bequeathed it to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1923