History of Hamilton — The Musical

The Set Up

Who’s Who

Washington, Jefferson, Madison, the French Marquis de Lafayette, King George III of England, and Hamilton’s killer, Aaron Burr are all on stage. But likely not as you’ve known them. In the show I saw the diverse cast was “race-blind,” made up almost entirely of people of color; the only white actor was King George III. I must say that Burr in this show was a terrific character, reminding me of the angry Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar.

Conflicts

Despite my enjoyment of the musical, as a historian, I had several intellectual problems as I watched the show in New York.

Hamilton as an Abolitionist

  • Hamilton married into a slave-holding family that was famous for making money off the slave trade. He conducted transactions for the purchase and transfer of slaves on behalf of his in-laws, and as part of his assignment in the Continental Army.
  • He took actions to retrieve a slave for General Washington, for whom he served during the Revolutionary War.

Hamilton vs. Jefferson

Secondly, the play portrays Thomas Jefferson as a political tool — silly, petty, and manipulative. I know they were playing it for laughs, but I think they trivialized him. Jefferson was successful for many reasons, but petty politics was not one of them. Big politics, on the other hand….

Hero of the Little Guy?

Finally, despite being portrayed as a champion of the “little guy,” he was anti-immigration. At the time of the play, the Constitution had qualified his birthplace as legitimate for citizenship. He was a monarchist; he would have had Washington be President for life, and the Senate serve for life. He believed in big banks, mistrusted the masses and democracy, claiming instead at the Constitutional Convention that power should go to the “rich and well-born.”

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