Poor old Philip Schuyler. He gets short shrift in Hamilton, appearing only very briefly in one number — and he doesn’t get to sing a single word in a show with about a million words. But that’s not the worst of Philip Schuyler’s problems.
Lately there’s been a lot of controversy in Albany over Schuyler’s slave ownership, a complicated fact that makes our view of his legacy a little blurry. In Albany, they recently decided to take Schuyler’s name off an elementary school, and the city is now removing the heroic statue of Schuyler that stands before city hall.
Like a lot of prominent people in colonial times, Schuyler’s legacy is patchy. Research by a historian at the Schuyler Mansion historic site estimates that Schuyler owned something like 40 slaves at one time or another to run his household and property. There’s also solid evidence that he facilitated slave ownership by his daughter Elizabeth and son-in-law Alexander Hamilton. Yes, Hamilton.
This really complicates our view of the ten-dollar founding father and his father-in-law.
Not an easy one.
We can’t compare our world today to what was common in the late 1700s, when the people fighting our war for liberty were slave owners, most notably George Washington.
So let’s consider this for a second: If we’re going to remove the Philip Schuyler statue from in front of Albany City Hall, next have a look at the statue of Washington across from the Alfred E. Smith building. Yeah, and rename Washington Avenue. And Washington Park, Washington County, Washingtonville, the Washington Tavern. Washington D.C., too. Let’s get his ass off the quarter and dollar bill, while we’re at it. Time to wipe that wig wearing, wooden toothed, slave-owning motherfucker right off the map.
Yes, let’s do all those things and more, because it will change… nothing.
I’m not going to pretend to have any answers here. History is full of people that did great things, but whose hands are stained with stuff that can’t be washed off.
This may be going out on a limb, but I’d bet you that most people couldn’t tell you who that statue depicts, but if it makes everybody feel better, let’s pack Schuyler on a truck and drag him away. The Schuyler Mansion would be a good place for him; at least there, people would know who’s up on the pedestal and what he was all about — good and bad.