Monthly Archives: March 2016

A “forgotten” essay by Alexander Hamilton? Reasons to be cautious.

Today, Stephen Brumwell presents a “forgotten” essay possibly written by Alexander Hamilton. Brumwell argues “there’s compelling evidence” that Hamilton penned this essay. According to Brumwell:

A long article…appeared on Thursday October 12 in The New-York Packet, and the American Advertiser… The essay of October 12, 1780, which sought to exploit the widespread anger over Arnold’s treason to revitalize the flagging and divided Patriot war-effort, was anonymous, but carried the bold, capitalized pseudonym “PUBLIUS.” Typical for that era, the same piece was swiftly re-published by other newspapers, making the front page of The Pennsylvania Gazette of October 18, 1780 (“From the New York Packet, Fishkill, October 12”) and later surfacing in The Norwich Packet, and the Weekly Advertiser on Tuesday October 24 (“From the Fish Kill Papers”).

Considering this coverage, including a conspicuous slot in one of early America’s best-known newspapers, it is surprising that neither Hamilton’s biographers nor the editors of his writings have noted this article, if only to eliminate it as the work of some other, less celebrated, “Publius.”

Publius, of course, is the pseudonym Hamilton, Madison, and Jay used to write the Federalist essays in 1787–88. Hamilton had also used it in 1778 to criticize Samuel Chase for “allegedly deploying insider knowledge in an unfair – and unpatriotic – bid to monopolize the flour market.” Read Brumwell’s post for this and more evidence he presents.

As I had done in Alexander Hamilton: The Formative Years regarding other essays attributed to Hamilton, I decided to do a simple stylometric analysis of this Publius essay, the complete text of which Mr. Brumwell was kind enough to provide in a link. Looking at word length and sentence length compared to known Hamilton essays, here are the results:

Publius1780

It clearly appears based on sentence length that Hamilton did not pen this essay. Although it is possible that Alexander Hamilton chose to write this essay in a different style, this is strong evidence against Hamilton’s authorship.

Of course, I also read this Publius essay and I think it does not read like something Hamilton wrote, but that is just the personal opinion of one person.

Mr. Brumwell also writes of an essay by A.B. that Hamilton may have also authored:

Previously unrecorded, however, is the fact that “A. B.” had also been used by the anonymous author of an article published in Loudon’s newspaper on April 20, 1780. Written at a time when Hamilton was with Washington at Morristown, New Jersey, this essay tackled a topic close to his heart: the worsening state of his country’s finances as the paper currency issued by Congress fueled rampant inflation. In particular, it criticized Congress’s decision of March 18 to fix “Continental money at forty to one.”

“A.B” was the pseudonym Hamilton used for his Continentalist essays and he may have also used it to try to convince British General Henry Clinton to trade Benedict Arnold for John André. Unfortunately, Mr. Brumwell did not provide the complete text of this essay for analysis.

I salute Mr. Brumwell for his great find and surely hope other evidence can be found regarding the authorship of these essays, but until then we must be cautious when trying to attribute anonymous works to certain people without any direct evidence.

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