About a month ago I saw the wildly popular musical Hamilton at the Ohio Theatre. Since then, I have been listening to the soundtrack non-stop and digging deeper into its message and significance. Here are some of the most important lessons I learned from the musical.
1. The Founding Fathers are not perfect
But this does not mean they are not admirable. Over the years I have realized this, outside of what we are taught in history class, and this musical goes in-depth about a specific founding father (I'm sure you know which one). The founding fathers had flaws, some extreme ones, and the American tendency to glaze over this and admire them with blind patriotism does them an injustice. They were human, and therefore their accomplishments are even greater if we do not treat them as saints.
2. The role of immigrants
As Hamilton and Lafayette clasped hands and said “Immigrants - we get the job done," the crowd went wild. Hamilton is an immigrant from the West Indies and Lafayette from France. History textbooks often only barely acknowledge the roles that people like these two and women, slaves, and minorities played in the success of the revolution and America's history. And of course, this was a politically charged comment on immigration policies and debate today, a reminder that immigrants help form the country we now get to live in.
3. A view of the American Dream
“In New York, you can be a new man" sings the chorus in the opening number. Throughout history, writers like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Upton Sinclair have criticized the concept of the American dream, and many have realized the futility of it. Hamilton takes a different view, both uplifting it and acknowledging its failures — through great sacrifice and hard work Hamilton achieved fame and created a legacy, he ultimately had to pay for this with his life.
4. The dangers of ambition
Hamilton had to pay for his lofty ambition with his life, and suffered during his life because of the consequences of this ambition. He worked “non-stop” and achieved success, but also overworked himself to the point of engaging in an affair that eventually nearly ruined his marriage and reputation. His pride prevented him from stepping out of the duel with Aaron Burr, the duel that resulted in his death.
5. Rap is poetry
Hamilton weaves together different musical styles including Broadway, hip-hop, and rap. Its usage of the latter two calls to mind the origin of them — a voice and outlet for expression of the underrepresented. This, along with its diverse cast, is representative of the voices of America today.
6. Believe in yourself and what you stand for
Hamilton had many haters and nay-sayers. His belief in his own ability and the revolution allowed him to overcome this and achieve his goals. He criticized Burr for not standing for what he believes in, and ignored others’ disbelief at his proposal of a new constitution.