Over the past few years we’ve seen controversies arise when ministers consider denying communion to unrepentant politicians. But there once was a time when pastors were so hardcore they were willing to refuse to give the sacrament to a contrite Founding Father . . . on his deathbed!
Although I’m an enthusiast of the history of the founding era, Jonathan Rowe relates a story I hadn’t heard before: Two ministers—an Episcopalian and a Presbyterian—refused to give communion to Alexander Hamilton (though one later relented on the condition that, if Hamilton lived, he would stop letting Vice Presidents shoot at him):
The scholars who have most meticulously studied Hamilton’s religion conclude that though he probably had a conventional religious youth, during the time in which he acted as a “Founder” (from 1776-after 1800) he was not conventionally religious. In other words, he was not an orthodox Trinitarian Christian. (For more see here.)
After his son Philip died in a duel in 1801, Hamilton, understandably grief stricken, converted to a less generic/more concrete religion — orthodox Christianity.
What follows are some primary sources on Hamilton’s death. Interestingly though he had accepted the truth of the orthodox Christian religion by his death in 1804, he had never gotten around to joining a church, which suggests the “newness” of Hamilton’s orthodox faith.
Also of note, Hamilton converted to a form of orthodox Christianity that, understandably, held communion to be a central sacrament. Yet, when he begged for the Lord’s Supper on his deathbed, Hamilton appeared naively unaware of the rituals surrounding administering the sacrament in the two churches from which he sought communion: The Episcopalian and the Presbyterian. As we will see, Hamilton was TWICE refused communion on his deathbed before, finally, having it administered.