The Corner

History

Larry Kramer and George Washington

Larry Kramer, gay author and agitator who died Wednesday, believed passionately that George Washington and Alexander Hamilton were lovers. The rhetoric of sensibility, popularized by Richardson and Sterne, and used by Hamilton and other young Revolutionary officers in their letters to each other, has led the curious and the interested to look for homo- and bisexuality, probably too zealously. But the notion of Washington and Hamilton being literal BFFs seemed new.

It is an old form of projection, and assimilation. Since Washington is the archetypal All American, if he is like me, then I am All American, too. So Shakers claimed that Washington conversed with them in their ecstatic trances. Catholic magazines of the early 19th century revealed that Washington not only prayed at Valley Forge but received a Marian vision. The descendants of West Ford, slave of Washington’s elder half-brother John, believe that he was Washington’s black child (I have met two such, who disarmed me by saying how much they liked my Washington bio). I have never read an argument that Washington was Jewish, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there was one out there.

In a recent interview in the New York Times Book Review, Kramer said that Gore Vidal first tipped him to the Washington/Hamilton romance. But when I interviewed Vidal for Michael Pack’s film Rediscovering Alexander Hamilton, Vidal told a different story. “Hamilton,” he said, “had a knack that many young men on the make have, of making older men fall in love with them. (Look of disdain.) I’m not talking about gay liberation. (Back to normal.) They supply a need in the older man.”

Need for what? Replication (I was like that when I was his age). Pride (I’m a good talent-spotter, aren’t I?) Relief, with a touch of self-pity (Finally, someone can help me get all this crap done!). And there we should leave the commander in chief and the young colonel.

Historian Richard Brookhiser is a senior editor of National Review and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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