By Emma Kaden
Three years ago, a new Broadway show took the United States by storm, redefining the way Americans interact with theatre and causing an ever-growing cultural sensation. That show is Hamilton, a hip-hop musical almost everyone knows about, if only because it’s nearly impossible to get tickets. Hamilton tells the story of Alexander Hamilton, “the ten-dollar Founding Father without a father,” America’s first treasury secretary, and the man who so heavily influenced the foundation of the United States. The musical, written and composed by Lin-Manuel Miranda, gives life to the Founding Fathers, making it easier for a general audience to connect to them. However, in creating a dramatic masterpiece, Miranda has altered history—and in doing so, made several Founding Fathers into villains.
Though there is one character who would primarily be considered the villain—that is, Aaron Burr, played by Leslie Odom, Jr., Burr really acts more as the narrator than as the villain. Another character who could be considered a villain is Thomas Jefferson, played by Daveed Diggs, and James Madison, played by Okieriete Onaodowan, who fights against the very principles Hamilton stands for.
Although Hamilton had some very good political ideas as a strong defender of the U.S. Constitution, a major contributor to the Federalist Papers, and an advocate for the creation of the U.S. Mint, he also laid the foundation for some of the worst federal policies. His policies on taxation and his funded debt program evolved into the high taxes and large national debt of today. Hamilton’s lengthy bill proposals influenced the leviathan laws and ever-growing bureaucracy to implement them that now “rules” our republic.
In Hamilton, Jefferson and Madison stand in direct opposition to Hamilton’s values, as evidenced in the songs “Cabinet Battle #1” and “Cabinet Battle #2,” where Jefferson and Hamilton ‘battle’ in President Washington’s Cabinet over Hamilton’s plan for the federal government to assume states’ debts and establish a National Bank. These battles also covered whether or not the United States should aid France, respectively. In both “Cabinet Battles” the hero-Hamilton wins the debate over the villain-Jefferson.
Moreover, Miranda conveniently twists history for dramatic effect. In Hamilton, he highlights an event from the Founding Father’s past when he has an extramarital affair with Maria Reynolds and is extorted by her husband. He paid the husband to keep quiet about it, and eventually three leading Republicans uncovered the payments— James Monroe, a former Speaker of the House, and a congressman. However, in Hamilton, the three people who uncover the payments are Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Aaron Burr, thus adding to their role as the enemies in Hamilton’s history.
Hamilton has been an international success, a testament to the exceptional founding of the United States, and the unsung story of an oft-forgotten Founding Father. In creating a dramatic and captivating musical, though, Miranda has twisted the truth, and turned a nuanced political history into a slanted, black-and-white depiction. As Hamilton’s popularity and success grows, fans of the hip-hop musical must keep in mind: politics is never as clear cut as the Broadway musical implies.