The Funeral of Alexander Hamilton

TRUE CRIME HISTORIAN

“On Saturday last the remains of Alexander Hamilton were committed to the grave with every possible testimony of respect and sorrow,” reported the New York Evening Post on July 14, 1804 (via the National Archives). “That distant readers may form some idea of what passed on this mournful occasion, we shall here present them with a regular and correct account of the whole scene.”

The hair-trigger flintlock pistols used in the Burr-Hamilton duel.

The procession began at the home of John B. Church, Hamilton’s brother-in-law and owner of the pistols used in the duel, where the body lay in repose.

“On the appearance of the corpse it was received by the whole line with presented arms, and saluted by the officers, with melancholy music by a large and elegant Band,” the Post said.

“The military then preceeded [sic] the bier, in open column and inverted order, the left in front, with arms reversed, the band playing a dead march. At 12 o’clock the procession moved … through Beekman, Pearl, and Whitehall-streets, and up Broadway to the Church…

“On the top of the coffin was the General’s hat and sword; his boots and spurs reversed across the horse. His grey horse, dressed in mourning, was led by two black servants dressed in white, and white turbans trimmed with black.

“The streets were lined with people; doors and windows were filled, principally with weeping females, and even the house tops were covered with spectators, who came from all parts to behold the melancholy procession.

“When the advanced platoon of the military reached the church, the whole column wheeled backward by sections from the flanks of platoons, forming a lane, bringing their muskets to a reversed order, and resting the cheek on the butt of the piece in the customary attitude of grief. Through the avenue thus formed, the corpse, preceded by the clergy of different denominations, the Society of Cincinnati, and followed by the relations of the deceased, and different public bodies, advanced to the church, the band, with drums muffled, playing all the time a pensive, solemn air.”

Here are highlights of Hamilton’s eulogy, delivered by Gouverneur Morris, a long-time friend, a member of the Continental Congress and former Senator from New York:

Far from attempting to excite your emotions, I must try to repress my own, and yet I fear that instead of the language of a public speaker, you will hear only the lamentations of a bewailing friend. But I will struggle with my bursting heart, to pourtray that Heroic Spirit, which has flown to the mansions of bliss….

At the time when our government was organised, we were without funds, though not without resources. To call them into action, and establish order in the finances, Washington sought for splendid talents, for extensive information, and, above all, he sought for sterling, incorruptible integrity—All these he found in Hamilton. The system then adopted has been the subject of much animadversion. If it be not without a fault, let it be remembered that nothing human is perfect. Recollect the circumstances of the moment—recollect the conflict of opinion—and above all, remember that the minister of a republic must bend to the will of the people. The administration which Washington formed, was one of the most efficient, one of the best that any country was ever blest with. And the result was a rapid advance in power and prosperity, of which there is no example in any other age or nation. The part which Hamilton bore is universally known…

Brethren of the Cincinnati—There lies our chief! Let him still be our model. Like him, after a long and faithful public service, let us cheerfully perform the social duties of private life. Oh! he was mild and gentle. In him there was no offence; no guile. His generous hand and heart were open to all.

Gentlemen of the Bar—You have lost your brightest ornament. Cherish and imitate his example. While, like him, with justifiable, with laudable zeal, you pursue the interests of your clients, remember, like him, the eternal principles of justice.

Fellow Citizens—You have long witnessed his professional conduct, and felt his unrivalled eloquence. You know how well he performed the duties of a Citizen—you know that he never courted your favour by adulation, or the sacrifice of his own judgment. You have seen him contending against you, and saving your dearest interests, as it were, in spite of yourselves. And you now feel and enjoy the benefits resulting from the firm energy of his conduct. Bear this testimony to the memory of my departed friend. I charge you to protect his fame—It is all he has left—all that these poor orphan children will inherit from their father. But, my countrymen, that Fame may be a rich treasure to you also. Let it be the test by which to examine those who solicit your favour. Disregarding professions, view their conduct and on a doubtful occasion, ask, Would Hamilton have done this thing?

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