Happy birthday to the founding father without a father! On January 11, 1757, Alexander Hamilton was born in uncertain circumstances on the island of Nevis in the West Indies. However, by sheer brilliance, luck, and a relentless drive and ambition, Hamilton became (among many other accomplishments) an influential Revolutionary thinker, invaluable aide-de-camp to General Washington, creator of the Federalist Paper, Secretary of Treasury, and a celebrated lawyer
When Hamilton was 12, he wrote to his friend Edward Stevens who was studying in King’s College and described the extent to which his ambition made him unable to accept the circumstances of his birth as something that could limit him to a menial position for the rest of his life:
“my Ambition is prevalent that I contemn the grov’ling and condition of a Clerk or the like, to which my Fortune &c. condemns me and would willingly risk my life tho’ not my Character to exalt my Station. Im confident, Ned that my Youth excludes me from any hopes of immediate Preferment nor do I desire it, but I mean to prepare the way for futurity. Im no Philosopher you see and may be jusly said to Build Castles in the Air. My Folly makes me ashamd and beg youll Conceal it, yet Neddy we have seen such Schemes successfull when the Projector is Constant I shall Conclude saying I wish there was a War.”
In describing Hamilton’s ambition to John Adams in September of 1798, George Washington stated:
“By some he is considered as an ambitious man, and therefore a dangerous one.—That he is ambitious I shall readily grant, but it is of that laudable kind which prompts a man to excel in whatever he takes in hand.—He is enterprising,—quick in his perceptions,—and his judgment intuitively great:—qualities essential to a great military character, and therefore I repeat, that his loss will be irreparable.”
Image from Mental Floss
The AHA Society is putting on a series of events this weekend to commemorate Alexander Hamilton’s birthday on January 11. If you’re in the New York City area this weekend, check out the event description here.
I’ll be giving a talk on the Manhattan Well Murder trial Saturday, January 9 at 12 pm at Hamilton Grange, which has an interesting connection to the case itself. Hope to see some of you there!
Other great events include:
- Dr. Tom Oller’s talk on Monday, January 11th at Federal Hall at 11 am entitled “From Colleagues to Rivals: Hamilton and Jefferson in Washington’s Cabinet and Beyond”
- Dr. Stephen Knott’s keynote speech at Trinity Church at 1:15 pm on “Washington and Hamilton: The Alliance That Forged America.”
My January 9, 2015 talk on Rutgers v. Waddington at the Museum of American Finance is available on Youtube now, via the AHA Society’s Youtube channel.
In the case, newly minted 27-year old lawyer Alexander Hamilton controversially defended Loyalist merchant Joshua Waddington in a case brought by widow Elizabeth Rutgers under the Trespass Act. The Trespass Act was the most aggressive in a series of anti-Loyalist legislation passed by the New York State Legislature at the close of the Revolution. Hamilton argued that the Trespass Act was inconsistent with the Treaty of Paris and with the law of nations, as articulated by Hugo Grotius and Emer de Vattel. Hamilton also believed that specifically targeting the Loyalists for their participation in the war would be detrimental to the economic rebuilding of post-war New York. In all, Hamilton argued approximately 47 Trespass Act cases on behalf of Loyalists before the law was partially repealed in 1787.
Thanks to the AHA Society for again putting on a fabulous program of events and to the Museum of American Finance for hosting my talk! Special thanks to Sergio Villavicencio for recording and editing the video.
After seeing Hamilton for a second time on Friday, January 23, 2015, a few additional aspects of the show stood out to me:
- The choreography: Watching the show for a second time allowed me to take in more of the exuberant, dynamic choreography. The amount of movement on stage and the use of all aspects of the set made the Newman Theater seem large enough to set the stage for the American Revolution and the battles over the American founding. Quite an accomplishment for choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler, who also did the choreography for In the Heights and Bring It On. Blankenbuehler gave a brief interview published by Dance Magazine this month that provides some additional insight into his process for developing the show’s choreography
- The ensemble was extremely talented and their performances contributed significantly to the dynamism of the performance. Everyone moved seamlessly, enabling the show to transition rapidly through three decades of American history. The performers in the ensemble included: Carleigh Bettiol, Ariana Debose, Sydney James Harcourt, Sasha Hutchings, Thayne Jasperson, Jon Rua, Seth Stewart, Betsy Struxness, and Ephraim Sykes.
- Burr as the narrator- Odom’s Burr was a complex, morally ambiguous, and undeniably charismatic narrator. The show furthered his role as narrator by inserting him into various events in Hamilton’s life, Forrest Gump style (i.e. the Laurens-Lee duel, Hamilton’s wedding, the Reynolds Affair). Odom did an incredible job of humanizing Burr and expressing his inner conflicts.
- Angelica Hamilton- Renee Elise Goldsberry (who also played the recurring role of ASA Geneva Pine on the CBS show Good Wife) brought her great voice and stage presence to several songs. The deep friendship and affection between Hamilton and his sister-in-law has long been a subject of historical speculation, and although the show took some liberties with history to bolster artistic effect (Angelica Schuyler eloped with John Church in 1777, three years before Alexander Hamilton met both sisters), I thought Angelica’s character worked very well and I enjoyed Goldsberry’s moving performance Friday night.
- I thoroughly enjoyed the score and all of the songs and am already excited for the album. Some of my absolute favorites (without giving anything away) were:
- “Alexander Hamilton”- way to start off with a bang. Loved this opening.
- “You’ll Be Back”- Brian d’Arcy James had insane chemistry with the crowd as the hilarious yet manically sinister King George
- “In the Room Where it Happens”- Leslie Odom Jr.’s rendition of the song during the second act was incredibly catchy and also made for some great character development. This is one I’ll be humming all the way back to Los Angeles.
- “The Reynolds Pamphlet”- Daveed Diggs’ cocky exuberance made this song.
- “It’s Quiet Uptown”- incredibly moving. #allofthefeels
- “Finale”- Phillipa Soo owned this. #welloftears
On Wednesday, January 21, I had the opportunity to watch the second showing of Hamilton at the Public Theater. Alternately hilarious and tragic, the show took a rapt audience on an emotional roller coaster ride through Hamilton’s life. While the show took some artistic liberties with Hamilton’s story, I was impressed by how much history was squeezed into the production. The show clocked in at just under three hours, and I was on the edge of my seat the whole time.
The multi-talented cast had great chemistry. Every cast member truly embraced his or her role. As Hamilton’s crew of friends before and during the Revolution, Daveed Diggs (Marquis de Lafayette), Anthony Ramos (John Laurens), and Okierete Onadowan (Hercules Mulligan) captured the upstart ambitions of young revolutionaries on the precipice and in the throes of war. Brian D’Arcy James (who originated the role of Shrek on Broadway) made a hysterical King George and the audience was in stitches every time he came on stage. Phillipa Soo was incredibly moving as Eliza Hamilton, and brought me to tears with some of her numbers towards the end of the play. Leslie Odom Jr. played Aaron Burr with a captivating combination of moral ambiguity, insecurity, ruthlessness, and charisma. Lin-Manuel Miranda, who was incredibly battling a sinus infection during the performance, truly inhabited the role of Hamilton and brought his sense of ambition. Renee Elise Goldsberry brought an elegant pathos to the role of Angelica Schuyler, and her voice was amazing. In a brief, but memorable role as Maria Reynolds, Jasmine Cephas Jones (who also played Peggy Schuyler), brought to life Hamilton’s femme fatale. Christopher Jackson played George Washington as a reluctant but committed leader, and the dynamic between Jackson and Miranda was fascinating. Daveed Diggs brought a hilariously cocky energy to his role as Thomas Jefferson, and the rap battles between Miranda and Diggs (MC’d by Jackson’s George Washington) over key issues of the day were both enlightening and uproarious.
The orchestra was off-stage, but the music was breathtaking and set the pace of the alternating emotions of the show (cannot wait to buy the soundtrack). The set was elaborate, and the venue at the Public Theater was intimate. The crowd rose to its feet after the three hour production, and the emotion exuding from both the cast and audience was palpable.
Props to the entire cast and crew for creating theater magic! I am torn between wanting everyone in America to see this play immediately and wanting to preserve the magic of this cast, in this venue, in Hamilton’s city. I’m already excited to see the January 23rd Friday performance before heading back to Los Angeles.
If you get a chance to see Hamilton during its run at the Public Theater, post your impressions in the comment section below!
Congratulations to Hamilton at the Public Theater for extending its run to April 5. The musical starts next Tuesday, January 20! I will be attending the performances on January 21 and 23! Lin-Manuel Miranda did a brief preview of one of the songs in the musical at the Museum of American Finance Gala on January 13, 2015, and it was excellent! Can’t wait to see the show next week.
The Alexander Hamilton Awareness Society is putting on its annual program of Hamilton events in New York City on January 9-11, 2015. The flyer with a description of all the events is available here. The schedule of events is citywide and open to the public. All of the programs are extremely interesting and offer some new perspectives into Hamilton’s life.
I will be presenting two talks on January 9 and 10 (descriptions below). The first talk will be at the Museum of American Finance about Hamilton’s experience as a young lawyer fighting discriminatory laws directed at the Tories of New York. The second talk will be at Morris-Jumel Mansion in Harlem and discuss the high-profile criminal trial for which Hamilton and Burr teamed up to defend accused murderer Levi Weeks.
A ‘Bar Fight’ That Changed America: Alexander Hamilton, the Trespass Act, and the Case of Rutgers v. Waddington