You'll be back like before
I will fight the fight and win the war
For your love, for your praise
And I'll love you 'til my dying days
When you're gone, I'll go mad
So don't throw away this thing we had
'Cause when push comes to shove
I will kill your friends and family to remind you of my love
Hamilton is a rousingly, unabashedly patriotic work; “American exceptionalism [set to] hip-hop,” as Terry Teachout put it in his Wall Street Journal review. Since audiences first jumped to their feet to applaud the show, the history Miranda relied on has been toppled like so many statues. The New York Times has endorsed the view that the nation’s birth celebrated in the play occurred not in 1776 but in 1619, with the arrival of the first African slaves on American shores. Following the curriculum now endorsed by the paper of record, educators are preparing to teach the young that the American Revolution was fought for the primary purpose of protecting slavery, and that the revolutionaries Miranda celebrates eventually signed the Constitution, whose main purpose was to codify black people’s enslavement. Can millions of teenagers and their parents continue happily to sing the name of one of the Founding Fathers in good conscience?
Equally problematic for the current moment is Miranda’s embrace of the American dream. “[T]he ten-dollar Founding Father without a father / Got a lot farther by working a lot harder / By being a lot smarter / By being a self-starter;” the cast raps in the opening scene. But every red-blooded progressive knows that the American dream of upward mobility is a myth, designed to blame the poor for their own sorry condition. “[A]nother immigrant, comin’ up from the bottom?” Sounds like fake news—or false consciousness.That’s the way a number of black scholars viewed the show from the beginning. Soon after the musical opened, Harvard historian Annette Gordon Reed listed its sins. Hamilton was no man of the people, she argued; he was an elitist and crypto-monarchist. Nor was he innocent of racism; he bought and sold slaves for his in-laws and, though a founder of the Manumission Society, had, at best, a tepid interest in abolition. Moreover, the musical is silent about the fact that George Washington owned slaves, an omission that even third-graders will have no trouble spotting these days.
It is self-evident that all persons are created equal, and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, [and] that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness -- That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.
And let's not forget what comes next:
That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness (emphasis added).
It is time to focus, in other words, on the actual work of transforming our nation into a nation worthy of the Declaration that proclaimed the ambitions and aims of this nation, right at the very start. The characters we see portrayed in Hamilton - imperfect people - can provide us with both an inspiration and a warning. Let us be both inspired and warned!
The warning is that we must actually accomplish, now, what we have said we would do from the beginning. We must not flinch if we find that we are ruled by a government that is destructive of the purposes that we have proclaimed are our own. If that is true, then it is time to alter or abolish it.
Let is never forget: The past is not dead. It is not even past.
Therefore, the time to achieve the purposes of the American Revolution is now. That's the message I got from watching Hamilton on July the Fourth.
And let us not forget the famous phrase from the Declaration that comes at the end of that document. We tend to remember the opening, with its dramatic claim that all persons are created equal. We must look also to the end of that Declaration, at another dramatic statement, to remind ourselves that if we truly intend to fulfill our promises, promises made to ourselves and to our posterity, that this will require that we pledge "our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor."
After you watch Hamilton, when you turn off the television, when the final credits roll, I'd like you to keep that in mind!