Hamilton is in the House

by Thomas Vinciguerra ’85CC, ’86JRN, ’90GSAS Published Winter 2015-16
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Not everyone agrees that Hamilton deserves to be in vogue.

“Hamilton’s stock hasn’t really risen,” says Andrew Burstein ’74CC, a professor of history at Louisiana State University and (surprise) an authority on Thomas Jefferson. “Looking at the historical Hamilton, we find someone who sucked up to the 1 percent and looked down on and betrayed the interests of ordinary Americans. As a politician he was an unstable partisan — he saw politics as a gladiator would, trying to eliminate any who stood in the way of his ambition.” Burstein also dismisses any depiction of Hamilton as “a modern economic planner, the father of Wall Street banking, sensible and pragmatic” as sheer “wish fulfillment.”

Granted, Hamilton “didn’t make modern America single-handedly,” says Freeman. And, yes, she acknowledges, Hamilton was ambitious. “You can’t deny he was committed to the interests of the rich and powerful. And rich and powerful men helped him along. But in his mind, he was trying to create a dynamic economy that could hold its own in the world.”

So while a Broadway hit may be pumping up the Hamilton cult, it could also be symptomatic of our growing awareness that the America we know is in many ways Hamilton’s. A potent executive branch, an independent judiciary, a professional standing army, and a dynamic industrial economy are just some of the Hamiltonian touchstones we have come to take for granted.

“It is an auspicious time to reexamine the life of Hamilton,” wrote Ron Chernow. “He was the messenger from a future that we now inhabit. We are indisputably the heirs to Hamilton’s America, and to repudiate his legacy is, in many ways, to repudiate the modern world.”

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