Alexander Hamilton was the first Secretary of the Treasury for the United States of America, a position he used to conduct the first sex scandal involving a cabinet member in American history. It included a secretive sexual relationship with a married woman followed by bribery to keep her husband from making it known to the public after the husband learned of the affair. Before it was over Hamilton was induced to admit to the affair in order to avoid being implicated in yet another scandal. It did not involve a duel between the two men, as would have been expected of that time, though it nearly led to a duel between Hamilton and James Monroe.
Alexander Hamilton was of illegitimate birth himself, a fact with which he struggled all of his life. He also struggled with controlling his libido. In 1780 he married the daughter of General Philip Schuyler, Elizabeth, and in a short time the gossip was of his conducting an affair with his sister-in-law, Angelica Schuyler. By 1791 Hamilton and his wife had four children and he was serving in the administration of George Washington as his chief financial adviser. That summer Elizabeth and the children left Philadelphia for Albany, while Hamilton remained behind.
Hamilton was approached by Maria Reynolds, who asked him for money after knocking at his door, claiming that she had been abandoned by her husband and needed to get to New York, where she had friends and family. Hamilton promised to bring the money to her boarding house that evening. When Hamilton arrived the young woman brought him to her room, and according to Hamilton, “Some conversation ensued from which it was quickly apparent that other than pecuniary consolation would be acceptable.” For the next several months they met frequently, usually at Hamilton’s home.
Maria’s husband James Reynolds was soon on the scene, aware of the affair, and demanding payment from Hamilton, whose wife and children returned that fall. Hamilton paid Reynolds in small amounts until the husband demanded a larger payment. At that point Hamilton refused to pay any more. By the late summer of 1792 Elizabeth Hamilton gave birth to their fifth child, and Reynolds was arrested for scamming payments from the government meant to be made to Revolutionary War veterans, claiming the funds intended for another. Reynolds partner in the scheme told three congressmen, one of whom was James Monroe, they were innocent and that Hamilton had been paying Reynolds illegally.
When confronted Hamilton told the whole story of the affair, stating that it wasn’t government corruption, but an illicit affair and blackmail. In 1797 the entire affair was reported in a newspaper, probably leaked to the writer by Monroe. Hamilton responded with a pamphlet now known as the Reynolds pamphlet. He later confronted James Monroe and the angry meeting led to a challenge to a duel, issued by Hamilton and accepted by Monroe. In one of early America’s great ironies, a third party intervened to soothe both sides and avoid a duel. The third party was Aaron Burr, who would kill Hamilton in a duel a few years later.