If you’ve yet to watch “Hamilton,” which is now streaming on Disney+, you should do so.
That’s it; that’s all I have to say this week. I’ll catch you next time, and I hope you have a great weekend.
Of course, I’m – sort of – kidding. I always have more to say, but you should really carve out a couple of hours to watch the film. It’s pieced together from a few different performances of the hit Broadway musical, and it’ll make you laugh, cry, and – most importantly – think.
We were fortunate to see the show live when the touring company came through New Orleans in 2019, and I was giddy with excitement Friday as I waited for it to start streaming. It was worth the wait, too, because I think it’s even better when you can watch it in high definition in your living room.
“Hamilton,” with music and lyrics by the brilliant Lin-Manuel Miranda, is an adaptation of the 2004 book “Alexander Hamilton” by historian Ron Chernow. The musical premiered in 2015, and it chronicles the uniquely American life of the founding father and first Secretary of the Treasury. Prior to the musical, Hamilton was perhaps best known for being the face on the back of the $10 bill, but he is quite an intriguing character and is worthy of such a detailed study.
Many people are aware of Hamilton because of the circumstances surrounding his death. He was mortally wounded during a July 1804 duel with Vice President Aaron Burr, who was his lifelong rival. While I find that story interesting, I’ve always been intrigued with other aspects of Hamilton’s life, including his crucial role in the construction of the United States Constitution in the 1780s and in the early functioning of the federal government in the 1790s.
Hamilton was a primary author of “The Federalist Papers,” a collection of essays that helped to explain and garner support for the proposed governing document. He wrote 51 of the 85 essays, and they were originally published in three New York newspapers before being collected into bound volumes. The essays pushed for constitutional ratification, and they are still used today to interpret the document and its many nuances.
He was also known for being a principal aide and adviser to George Washington, first during the Revolutionary War and later during the Washington presidency. As head of the new Treasury Department, Hamilton helped establish monetary policy, created a national bank and devised ways for the federal government to fund its operations. He functioned as a de facto chief of staff for the president and counseled Washington on a number of items outside of the purview of his department.
In his writings and throughout his time as a statesman, Hamilton advocated for a powerful federal government with limited powers designated to the individual states. These views were not widely popular, and he often faced conflicts with his colleagues, including future President Thomas Jefferson. Despite these conflicts, Hamilton is widely viewed as one of the key architects of the federal government and one of the reasons it survived its early and often tumultuous years.
Hamilton also helped define the meaning of the term “American” and many of the ideals we continue to hold true today, including hard work, determination and love for country. He was born out of wedlock in the Caribbean, and he used the stigma associated with that societal position to fuel his ambitions. He worked in various positions at a trading company throughout his youth and earned enough money to attend school in the North American colonies.
He studied law in New York City before joining a volunteer militia of American troops fighting for independence from British rule. His work ethic – along with his brilliance and his sense of patriotism for his adopted home – caught the eye of then-General Washington, who added Hamilton to his command staff and later made him chief staff aide. Hamilton was intensely loyal to the commander-in-chief and also truly believed in the cause behind the war. He served his new country in a noble fashion and became a war hero with a crucial win over a redoubt at Yorktown, Virginia, in 1781.
For all of his accomplishments and numerous positive attributes, Hamilton was also a human being and, thus, full of flaws. He was a known womanizer, and his trysts with a married woman, 23-year-old Maria Reynolds, left him open for blackmail and as the subject of the first American political sex scandal. He was also deeply arrogant with a consuming sense of personal honor, which led to the fatal duel with Burr and to his untimely death. Historians have also noted his impulsiveness, insecurities and ever-present concerns about his legacy.
We often make the mistake of idolizing our founding fathers, and we fail to see the very real flaws that were present in these vaunted beings. I think “Hamilton” does an excellent job of painting a balanced portrait of the statesman, and I’m glad to see it receive the acclaim it rightly deserves. Hamilton was, as I mentioned earlier, uniquely American, and I think his legacy is in good hands.