Doug Ambrose, the Carolyn C. and David M. Ellis Distinguished Teaching Professor of History, was a guest in Boston for a TEDxBeaconStreet talk. His presentation was titled “Perils of Posterity: Alexander Hamilton and a Sex Scandal.”
According to Ambrose, Founding Father Alexander Hamilton shocked many, including his wife, Eliza, by confessing publicly of his affair with Maria Reynolds. But Hamilton and Eliza shared an obsession with his legacy. He did not want people to think he violated their trust in a vulgar way to enrich himself and did not want that to be his legacy.
In his talk Ambrose contends that “Understanding why Hamilton would risk his marriage makes us appreciate how deeply Hamilton—and his wife—valued how posterity would judge him. For both Hamiltons, being remembered as an unfaithful husband was far preferable to being thought a corrupt public servant—one who used his government office to enrich himself. Only by openly acknowledging his failures as a spouse could Hamilton preserve his reputation as a virtuous public servant deserving of posterity's gratitude.”
Ambrose has taught at Hamilton since 1990. His teaching and research interests include early America, the Old South, and American religious history. His publications include The Many Faces of Alexander Hamilton: The Life and Legacy of America’s Most Elusive Founding Father (NYU 2006), a volume he co-edited with Hamilton colleague Robert W. T. Martin, and Henry Hughes and Proslavery Thought in the Old South (LSU 1996).