Was Alexander Hamilton Jewish? A Scholar Investigates

Andrew Porwancher
Andrew Porwancher
University of Oklahoma

Andrew Porwancher is the Wick Cary Associate Professor at the University of Oklahoma, where he teaches constitutional history. The Ernest May Fellow at Harvard this academic year, Professor Porwancher previously held the Horne Fellowship at Oxford and the Garwood Fellowship at Princeton. Dr. Porwancher also is the recipient of the Longmire Prize for innovative teaching. His newest book, The Jewish World of Alexander Hamilton, will be published in 2021 by Princeton University Press. His first book, The Devil Himself, is currently being adapted for the stage at a theater company in Dublin.

Overview

June 10, 2022, 4:00 pm

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Encore Presentation

(Includes Live Professor  Q & A!)

 

Thousands of miles from the Old World, on a sun-kissed island in the West Indies, a young boy named Alexander Hamilton began a most unlikely journey in the 1750s. His meteoric rise from Caribbean obscurity to American founder has long captivated historians and, more recently, Broadway audiences. Yet one crucial aspect of Hamilton’s life has remained submerged for centuries: the weight of the evidence suggests that he was in fact Jewish.

Alexander Hamilton’s Relationship with the Jewish Community 

Drawing on untapped sources in the West Indies, Professor Porwancher makes the case for Hamilton’s Jewish ancestry and explores his ongoing relationships with Jews throughout his lifetime. Although he cast off any Jewish identity in his adulthood in the United States, Hamilton never forgot his origins. He emerged as a singular champion of American Jewry against the forces of anti-Semitism. Hamilton fought for Jewish rights in the courts, collaborated with Jewish merchants, and secured a position for the first Jew on the board of an American college. Alexander Hamilton may in fact have been the Jewish Founding Father.

 

Recommended Reading:

The Jewish World of Alexander Hamilton, by Andrew Porwancher

Antisemitism: Here and Now, by Deborah E. Lipstadt

American Judaism: A History, by Jonathan D. Sarna

 

Discussion Questions:

1. In what ways is antisemitism in Hamilton’s era similar to antisemitism today?

2. How might American history have played out differently had Jews become second-class citizens in the early days of the republic?

3. How does the story of Hamilton’s Jewish origins relate to the Hamilton musical’s own re-imagining of this founding father?

 

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