Okay, that title is likely misleading. The truth is, after seeing the show and Hamilton’s America, the special about the show, and reading Hamilton: The Revolution, the book about the show, I completely understand why the cast of founding fathers and Schuylers and more is purposefully diverse. Lin Manuel Miranda was, to paraphrase Eliza Hamilton, putting minorities into the narrative of the birth of our nation.
The United States of America is still an experiment, a nation built on an idea, not an identity built around a nationality. That freedom is for all. That opportunity is for all, and it’s an idea that attracts all. But the fact is, the country and its founders didn’t live up to its own ideal, and many Americans today don’t feel like this country is really theirs. If Hamilton The Musical can make more Americans relate to the founders, as monumental men with great intellect and bravery, but also with flaws, and thereby feel more rooted in our country then that’s a truly monumental thing in its own right.
And I’m not going to try to tell Lin Manuel Miranda how to make his show better, but I do wonder about what impact a different take on the story would inspire? After reading the biography of Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow, the book the show was largely inspired by, I have to wonder what the show would be like if only Alexander Hamilton was played by an immigrant.
Lin Manuel Miranda recognized that Hamilton lived the life of an immigrant, even as he rose to become a founding father. He was born on the island of Nevis of the British West Indies and raised on the island St. Croix, then ruled by Denmark, and was never really accepted as a true American by some of his fellow founders. He was accused of being a Brit at heart and conspired to Make America British Again (sorry, I could resist) by the leaders of the opposition party like Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. And John Adams, the man who succeeded George Washington as the second President of the United States and de-facto leader of the Federalist Party that Hamilton helped create, thought of him as a foreigner who didn’t belong in the high seat that Hamilton earned. But despite facing this constant barrage from all sides, Hamilton persevered and achieved more and had a bigger role than perhaps any other founder in shaping this nation.
So what would that show have looked like with Hamilton being played by an American minority, while the other roles are played by white people? As some white people try to tear this immigrant down, through sheer talent and effort that is recognized and rewarded by other white people who care only about the character of a man, he rises to be the right hand man of George Washington as America is fought for, won and built from the ground up. It would put the focus on the fact that, from the very beginning of this nation, there have been people who said “outsiders” are dangerous to this country. That from the beginning, there have been people who didn’t buy into that. And from the beginning, there have been “outsiders” who brought tremendous value and did great things for this country.
Now, I’m not saying that story is better than what Lin Manuel Miranda has done. I’d boo myself if I said that. But I think this side to the Alexander Hamilton story would also provide something valuable to today’s dialogue.