7. The Hamilton-Reynolds Affair became the nation’s first scandal of the “intimate” nature
During the summer of 1791, Alexander Hamilton, then Secretary of the Treasury, was approached by a woman identifying herself as Maria Reynolds. Maria informed Hamilton that her husband, James Reynolds, had abandoned her and their daughter, leaving them in abject poverty. She also claimed her husband had been physically abusive. Hamilton visited the young woman in her Philadelphia rooms later that day, with a gift of $20, then a fairly substantial sum. According to Hamilton’s later account of the affair, Maria made it clear she was willing to bestow explicit favors in return. The married Hamilton continued to visit Maria throughout the remainder of the year, despite it becoming apparent that her husband had not abandoned her. Instead of delivering money to Maria, her husband collected it from the Secretary of the Treasury, in return for his continued silence.
Hamilton continued the affair into the summer of 1792, when it became clear to him that Maria had been a willing accomplice throughout, and possibly the author of the scheme. In November, James Reynolds found himself under arrest for other illegal schemes, including counterfeiting and forgery. When Hamilton refused to intervene, Reynolds wrote to two Congressmen, as well as to James Monroe, then a Senator from Virginia. Reynolds hinted that he had evidence of financial improprieties committed by Hamilton in his role as Secretary of State. The blackmailer and forger implied Hamilton used federal dollars to avoid the revelation of his illicit affair with his wife Maria. Hamilton produced evidence which proved he had used his own funds, admitted the affair, and earned contempt from Monroe for years to come. But the affair remained unknown beyond the small circle of political entities who resolved it for the next few years.