Portrait of founding father Alexander Hamilton by John Trumbull, ca. 1806.
National Gallery Of Art /The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images
By Olivia B. Waxman
August 29, 2017

To answer the question posed by the musical Hamilton — how did a “bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a Scotsman” become one of the Founding Fathers of the United States? — you don’t need to score a ticket to the hit show.

Thanks to a new project at the Library of Congress, it just became easier to figure it out online.

The world’s largest collection of Alexander Hamilton papers, housed at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., has been digitized, the library announced Tuesday. There are about 12,000 items in the collection, mostly dating from the Revolutionary War era in 1777 to the 1804 death of the Founding Father whose fame was renewed in the last few years by the Broadway show that bears his name. The online archive also includes 55 letters that the library recently bought at auction from a private collection, so there are some items that have not been publicly seen before.

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One example of Hamilton’s drive and ambition can be found in a letter that a 12- or 13-year-old Hamilton wrote to his friend Edward Stevens on Nov. 11, 1769: “Ned, my Ambition is prevalent that I contemn the grov’ling and condition of a Clerk or the like, to which my Fortune &c. condemns me and would willingly risk my life tho’ not my Character to exalt my Station…I mean to prepare the way for futurity. Im no Philosopher you see and may be jusly said to Build Castles in the Air…I shall Conclude saying I wish there was a War.”

The letter now reads as prescient, given that he would make a name for himself during the Revolutionary War. And it was through his involvement in the American Revolution that he met the New York powerbroker who helped him take his career to new heights: Philip Schuyler, whose daughter Elizabeth he fell for and wed.

Other items that historians may find significant, says Julie Miller, a historian of early America and curator in the Manuscripts Division, include letters that shine new light on Hamilton’s affectionate relationship with his father-in-law and others in which Schuyler expresses his concerns about yellow fever, which his daughter Elizabeth and Hamilton came down with when they were in Philadelphia while Hamilton was Secretary of the Treasury. That latter material may prove useful to scholars studying the history of epidemics.

The collection can now be found online at the Library of Congress’ Alexander Hamilton Papers website.

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