What ‘Hamilton’ Forgets About Alexander Hamilton
By JASON FRANK and ISAAC KRAMNICK
ALEXANDER HAMILTON is all the rage. Sold out for months in advance, the musical “Hamilton,” Lin-Manuel Miranda’s remarkable hip-hop dramatization of this founder’s life, is arguably the most celebrated American cultural phenomenon of our time. Reported on from every conceivable angle, the show has helped keep Hamilton on the $10 bill and prompted a new nickname for this weekend’s Broadway awards ceremony: the “Hamiltonys.”
Central to the musical’s power is the way it and its extraordinarily talented multiracial cast use Hamilton’s immigrant hustle to explain the most important political episodes of his life. “I am not throwing away my shot,” Mr. Miranda’s Hamilton sings early on, and it is this motif that animates everything that follows.
In Hamilton’s tumultuous life, Mr. Miranda saw the drive and promise of the immigrant story of America. Already in 1782 the French immigrant Crèvecoeur had defined “the American, this new man” as one who moved to a land in which the “idle may be employed, the useless become useful, and the poor become rich.” Hamilton announces this entrepreneurial ambition early in the show: “Hey, yo, I’m just like my country/I’m young, scrappy and hungry.” The night’s biggest applause line, “Immigrants: We get the job done!,” proclaims that, contra Donald J. Trump, immigrants are the source of America’s greatness and renewal, not its decline.
Mr. Miranda’s depiction of Hamilton as resourceful immigrant and talented self-made man captures an important aspect of his character. But the musical avoids an equally pronounced feature of Hamilton’s beliefs: his deeply ingrained elitism, his disdain for the lower classes and his fear of democratic politics. The musical’s misleading portrayal of Hamilton as a “scrappy and hungry” man of the people obscures his loathing of the egalitarian tendencies of the revolutionary era in which he lived.