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Andrew Porwancher – Alexander Hamilton


Wick Cary Associate Professor, University of Oklahoma

Ernest May Fellow, Harvard's Belfer Center 2020-2022


Selected Works:

  • The Jewish World of Alexander Hamilton (Princeton, 2021).


“A major contribution to our understanding both of Hamilton

and of Jews in the early American republic” – Professor Jonathan Sarna


  •  The Devil Himself: A Tale of Honor, Insanity, and the Birth of Modern America 


Episode #1

Q: Jewish World of Alexander Hamilton – Professor Andrew Porwancher – Intro:


  • Teacher of Constitutional History

  • Look to personalize study of history

  • People behind the Federalist Papers

  • Interested in Alexander Hamilton

  • Began exploring Hamilton’s Caribbean roots

  • Received a grant to study archives

  • Hamilton & Torah in Hebrew

Episode #2

Q: What is Alexander Hamilton’s Jewish World?


  • Two parts to the thesis

  • #1 Genealogical Roots

  • #2 Analysis of origins impacting American Hamilton

  • Likelihood of Hamilton’s Jewish birth

  • Jewish upbringing as a child

  • Cultivated close ties with American Jewish Community

  • More than any other Founding Father

Episode #3

Q: Jewish Caribbean 18th Century:


  • Rich History of Jewish Caribbean

  • Overshadowed by Jewish Europe & Israel

  • More Jews in West Indies than in American Colonies

  • Center of Jewish life in Americas

  • Some islands up to 40%  Jewish

Episode #4

Q: Alexander Hamilton – Jewish?


  • Jewish question starts with mother

  • Rachel Levine marries Danish Merchant, Levine

  • Son Peter – not baptism records

  • Conclusion: Rachel converted

  • Alexander born out of wedlock

  • Sent to Hebrew school in Nevis

  • Recitation of 10 Commandments in Hebrew

Episode #5

Q: What were Hamilton’s religious beliefs?


  • Young Hamilton notes on Book of Genesis

  • Believed in activist G-d

  • Was not a Deist as some claim

  • Was not active in organized church

  • Conception of G-d more kin to Jewish view

Episode #6

Q: Why did Hamilton hide his Jewish roots?


  • Matter of speculation

  • Moved to St. Croix with small Jewish community

  • Orphaned and penniless

  • Natural to severe ties with Jewish communal life

  • Prudent to adopt Christian identity in America

Episode #7

Q: Was what special about Hamilton’s Character?


  • Incredible challenges as a youth

  • Orphaned at 15

  • Comes to America alone

  • Rises to eminence

  • Becomes iconic figure

  • Intellectual prowess

  • Tremendous fortitude; walk thru walls

Episode #8

Q: Was Hamilton’s world view, Judaic?


  • Hamilton possess versatile mind

  • Can no say he came from purely Judaic viewpoint

  • But vision of modernization

  • Emphasis on urban future

  • And understanding of lack of homeland/roots

  • Can say they was a Judaic outlook

Episode #9

Q:  Was Hamilton’s relationship with Jews unique among the Founders?


  • Founding Fathers had mixed record vis-à-vis Jewish Community

  • Find sympathy and maligning at the same time

  • Hamilton stands alone among the Founders

  • Developed strong personal relationships

  • As a lawyer, financier and alumnus of Columbia U.

  • Absence of any malice, prejudice, whatsoever

Episode #10

Q: Alexander Hamilton & Slavery?


  • Somewhat mixed picture

  • New York, largest Northern urban slave numbers

  • Married into slave owning family

  • Perhaps owned a slave, not clear

  • But leading abolitionist among Founders

  • Slavery& Freedom – contradiction of Republic

Episode #11

Q: What was Hamilton’s Personality?


  • Beloved by his admirers

  • Hated by his detractors

  • Entertaining personality

  • Incredible depth of intellect

  • Spoke his mind – too much

Episode #12

Q:  Hamilton / Burr Deadly Duel: What Happened?


  • Hamilton never shot intending to kill

  • Was defending hid honor

  • Two possibilities

  • #1 Shot first & intentionally missed

  • #2 Shot was reflexive reaction to bullet

Episode #13

Q: Who Was Gershom Seixas?


  • Chazan of Shearith Israel

  • NY Jewish Leader

  • Hamilton reforms Columbia University

  • Seixas appointed to Board of Columbia

  • Cardozo, next Jew on Board 100 years later

  • Benjamin Cardozo a Seixas descendant

Episode #14

Q: Was the Musical, “Hamilton”, an accurate portrayal?


  • Enjoyed the Hip Hop Musical

  • Surprised at its success

  • Artistic license taken is OK

  • Some inaccuracies

  • But spot on in focus on Hamilton’s origins

  • Impact of Caribbean youth on American success

Episode #15

Q: Where does Hamilton rank among the Founders?


  • Ranked #1 among the Founding Fathers

  • Bold visionary of America’s future

  • Financial foundations of Hamilton set the course

  • No enduring Republic without Hamilton’s actions & vision


Full Interview - Andrew Porwancher

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