The Jewish World of Alexander Hamilton
By Andrew Porwancher
JMC fellow Andrew Porwancher has recently written a book, The Jewish World of Alexander Hamilton:
In The Jewish World of Alexander Hamilton, Andrew Porwancher debunks a string of myths about the origins of this founding father to arrive at a startling conclusion: Hamilton, in all likelihood, was born and raised Jewish. For more than two centuries, his youth in the Caribbean has remained shrouded in mystery. Hamilton himself wanted it that way, and most biographers have simply assumed he had a Christian boyhood. With a detective’s persistence and a historian’s rigor, Porwancher upends that assumption and revolutionizes our understanding of an American icon.
This radical reassessment of Hamilton’s religious upbringing gives us a fresh perspective on both his adult years and the country he helped forge. Although he didn’t identify as a Jew in America, Hamilton cultivated a relationship with the Jewish community that made him unique among the founders. As a lawyer, he advocated for Jewish citizens in court. As a financial visionary, he invigorated sectors of the economy that gave Jews their greatest opportunities. As an alumnus of Columbia, he made his alma mater more welcoming to Jewish people. And his efforts are all the more striking given the pernicious antisemitism of the era. In a new nation torn between democratic promises and discriminatory practices, Hamilton fought for a republic in which Jew and Gentile would stand as equals.
By setting Hamilton in the context of his Jewish world for the first time, this fascinating book challenges us to rethink the life and legend of America’s most enigmatic founder.
Andrew Porwancher is the Wick Cary Associate Professor of Constitutional Studies at the University of Oklahoma. From 2020–2022, he is serving as the Ernest May Fellow at Harvard’s Belfer Center. Aside from The Jewish World of Alexander Hamilton, Porwancher is the author of The Devil Himself: A Tale of Honor, Insanity, and the Birth of Modern America (Oxford, 2016), which was adapted into a theatrical presentation in Dublin, and John Henry Wigmore and the Rules of Evidence: The Hidden Origins of Modern Law (Missouri, 2016), an inaugural volume in the series “Studies in Constitutional Democracy.”
Porwancher previously served as the Horne Fellow at Oxford and the Garwood Fellow at Princeton, and held senior research fellowships at the Straus Center (Yeshiva) and Clements Center (Texas). In 2017, he won the Longmire Prize for innovation in teaching. He is now at work on his fourth book, Theodore Roosevelt and the Jews (under contract with Princeton), and his fifth, The Legal Legacy of James Bradley Thayer (under review).
Professor Porwancher is a JMC fellow.
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