The smash hit musical, Hamilton, created by Lin Manuel Miranda has made its way back into mainstream media with its summer debut on Disney+. With this digital release, more people have been able to watch the historically inspired musical than ever before. Although this musical is set in the late 18th to early 19th century, the themes and politics surrounding the creation of America ring truer than ever in 2020.
The story of an immigrant coming to the land of opportunity is a story that resonates with millions of Americans. A group of young people fighting for what they believe in and demanding the start of the American Revolution is not far from the Black Lives Matter Movement and the Progressive movements building up for the 2020 elections.
Even the specific issues argued by the founding fathers are the same discussions we are having today. The show leans into party polarity in Congress that formed between Federalists and Democratic Republicans during that time, which parallels our own two-party system. A direct quote from Hamilton in the musical is, “If we try to fight in every revolution in the world, we never stop. Where do we draw the line?”, which referenced the decision to not aid France in their revolution. This argument between Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson continues to run through the backbone of politics as the United States grapples with its level of involvement in international affairs and regimes.
In the show, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison are proponents of states’ rights and keeping the federal government out of the South as much as possible. Hamilton on the other hand, pushed for and created the National Bank as well as advocated for a “strong central democracy”. The push and pull between states’ rights and federal rule is just as demanding of an issue as it was at the nation’s creation. From marijuana legalization to gay marriage legalization, there continue to be arguments about how much influence the federal government should be allowed to have over state legislation.
In addition, the issue of slavery is brought up in Hamilton several times, highlighting the complicity of the founding fathers on this issue. Today, our country struggles with its history of slavery and racism, as well as with the morality of displaying statues of slaveowners and Confederate soldiers. Quotes from the show can be seen written across Black Lives Matter signs at protests such as, “History has its eyes on you”, “Immigrants, we get the job done”, and “This is not a moment, it’s the movement.” Thomas Jefferson is called out in the show for his prominent participation in the African Slave Trade, and the irony in his famously authored words, “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”, and “All men are created equal.” This sheds a light on the stark contrast that may exist between politicians’ private lives and public personas that both exist today as well as existed 200 years ago.
Unlike in the American Revolution we were taught in school, Hamilton gives voice to women of that time period. He puts their stories back into the narrative of America’s founding, specifically with Hamilton’s wife, Eliza, and her sister Angelica. The character Angelica sings, “You want a revolution, I want a revelation….and when I meet Thomas Jefferson, Imma compel him to include women in the sequel”, referencing the exclusion of women in talks of equality and democratic change. Although much has changed since then, women today are still fighting to receive equal rights in terms of pay, reproductive health rights, and much more.
The antagonist of the show, Aaron Burr, is characterized as a man who does not speak up about any issues, and often changes his public views in order to rise to powerful government positions. He is juxtaposed with Hamilton, who loudly states his beliefs, disregarding how it will be received. These two characters are widely seen on both sides of the aisle today, as some politicians’ primary goal is to gain power and wealth, while others’ goal is to fight for what they believe is right.
Although this musical is not a perfect depiction of history and must be taken with a grain of salt, it opens the door for Americans, especially young people, to take more of an interest in their country’s history and current events. Hamilton is a great place to start in educating oneself on the values this nation was based on and reflecting on where those values are being represented in politics today. It allows us to see the flaws and motivations of our founding fathers, which betters our understanding of how we arrived at our current state in politics, and whether or not we want to repeat history.