The life of Mrs. Alexander Hamilton.
When Eliza Schuyler (1757-1854) first met Alexander Hamilton, writes Mazzeo (English/Colby Coll.; Irena's Children: The Extraordinary Story of the Woman Who Saved 2,500 Children from the Warsaw Ghetto, 2016, etc.), “it was not love at first sight.” But at a second meeting, “the spark between them was instantaneous.” So began the relationship that would give Eliza her most enduring identity as the wife of a dueling Founding Father. The center of this biography is the affair Alexander confessed to having with Maria Reynolds. There has always been debate about the affair: Did it really happen, or did Alexander, who was Secretary of the Treasury at the time, invent the adulterous liaison to distract from more damaging rumors that he was committing insider trading? Despite the scandal, Mazzeo’s Eliza appears stoic, loyal, and canny. Indeed, the author argues compellingly that what we know about Eliza’s character suggests that the affair was a ruse. According to Mazzeo, Eliza stood by her man not because she was weak but because she was committed to protecting her family from the more serious downfall that would occur were Alexander found guilty of fraud. The narrative tends toward mostly charming yet sometimes flat vignettes—e.g., President George Washington sitting in Eliza’s parlor and watching the Hamilton kids play. Describing Eliza and Alexander’s wedding, Mazzeo casually mentions “family slaves…unwrapping a wedding cake,” but she devotes far more attention to the cake than to the Schuylers’ use of enslaved labor. The prose is by turns trite (“Eliza would bury another part of her heart there in the graveyard”) and breathless (“What happened next would change everything in her life and in her marriage and would force Eliza into making an agonizing decision”). The author devotes a scant 53 pages to the half-century after Alexander’s death. Readers may wish for a more detailed treatment of Eliza’s work, as a widow, with New York’s Orphan Asylum Society.
A middling biography of a worthy subject.