Alexander Hamilton Makes Headlines

Newest exhibit at the George Washington Museum and The Textile Museum showcases the founding father’s appearances in contemporaneous media.

Contemporaneous newspaper sources reveal where citizens got their ideas about Alexander Hamilton. (Images via The George Washing
Contemporaneous newspaper sources reveal where citizens got their ideas about Alexander Hamilton. (Images via The George Washington Museum & the Textile Museum/Wikimedia Commons)
April 09, 2018

By Ruth Steinhardt

DIED, at New-York, on the Afternoon of Thurſday laſt, General ALEXANDER HAMILTON, of a wound which he received on the morning of the preceding day, in a duel with Col. BURR. Never was a death more ſincerely and juſtly lamented…In him were united the moſt ſplendid talents and the ſtricteſt political integrity. There was no man more univerſally beloved by those who knew him, and in whom ſuch unbounded confidence was placed.

That was how the Boston Centinel broke the news of the death of Alexander Hamilton, famously killed in a duel with Aaron Burr, in its edition of July 18, 1804. The spread included funeral details, eulogies and firsthand deathbed reports (“I saw him again this morning, when with his last faltering breath he expressed a strong confidence in the mercy of God,” wrote Benjamin Moore, Episcopal bishop of New York and president of Columbia College).

The article is one of several now on display in “Breaking News: Alexander Hamilton,” an exhibit at the George Washington University Museum and The Textile Museum drawn from Antonia M. Chambers’ collection of historical newspapers.

The exhibit covers more than Hamilton’s death. An article from the March 5, 1801, Salem Gazette analyzes the previous year’s presidential election, when, after an unprecedented tie between Aaron Burr and Thomas Jefferson, Hamilton reluctantly influenced his allies in Congress to select Jefferson. And an edition of the Gazette of the United States from March 2, 1791, contains his full Congressional act proposing the incorporation of a national bank.

“The exhibit also highlights Alexander and Eliza Hamilton’s influences on the city of Washington," said Anne Dobberteen, assistant curator of the museum’s Albert H. Small Washingtoniana Collection. "Although he never lived here, Hamilton ensured the capital’s longevity in its current location."

A complementary exhibition at the museum, “Greetings from Washington,” showcases over a century of postcards depicting Washington, D.C. They range from the classic (the Washington Monument surrounded by cherry blossoms) to the playful (“What Time Should I Call You?”) and the documentary (a photo of the “White House cow”).

"The two exhibits are meant to stand on their own, but one link between them is the nature of the items being displayed," Ms Dobberteen said. "Both feature ephemera, or items that were designed to be used once or twice and then discarded. Postcards are great for looking at social history because they show how people once communicated and created memories of places, while old newspapers reveal how citizens got their news and engaged in politics."

The exhibits are on display through summer 2018.