July 17, 2020
Thanks to Alissa Simon, HMU Tutor, for today’s post.
I would like to go back to July 11, 1804 and tell Hamilton not to engage, that Burr is not worth it. Of course, the famous duel between Burr and Hamilton is now a piece of America’s folklore. It is a story that I heard as a child, that lodged itself into the periphery of my mind and education. As a child, I did not dwell upon Hamilton’s importance in the way I do as an adult. In re-reading the Federalist Papers, I followed his voice everywhere.
As an adult, I think about the importance of the relationship between Burr and Hamilton. I used to focus on the duel as the most important (and tragic) part of their relationship, but now, I actually wonder if Hamilton would have been who he was without Burr. I enjoyed the way that the musical demonstrated their relationship, often pitting them head to head: Hamilton and Burr. Both had great egos which were particularly flared by the other. This challenge partially defined them.
The musical Hamilton ends with the duel in which Burr shot Hamilton. Obviously, this ended Hamilton’s career, but from that point his reputation soared whereas Burr’s essentially fell. Encyclopaedia Britannica notes that Burr’s rivalry with Hamilton basically ended Burr’s career. I used to be so frustrated by the way that Hamilton’s story was defined by Burr and vice versa, but now I think that it is the way of human paths, to be defined by those around us. Of course we have a voice, but we use it to carve our mind into existing global structures. Our societies define us (though usually in a less dramatic fashion than Hamilton’s). Now I think, there would be no Hamilton without Burr. Aaron Burr inspired something in Hamilton that made him write about human nature, virtue, and politics in a way that might not have arisen without Burr’s opposition or vices.
I do believe though, that many voices and communities, not just Burr’s of course, led to Hamilton’s identity. Eliza Schuyler, Hamilton’s wife, and well-known Schuyler family certainly affected Hamilton’s life. Because she came from a political family, Eliza was familiar with politics before meeting Hamilton. She became a steady hand in his life, one that he would rely upon again and again. The Schuyler family certainly changed Hamilton’s life as did George Washington and other political figures. Also, being an immigrant and coming from poverty most assuredly informed his views and words as well.
In the musical, the moving stage was particularly successful because it dramatized this very aspect of life. It demonstrated the way in which the world constantly spins and the audience watches firsthand as characters and scenes literally spin around Hamilton, and he spins around them. Center stage takes on a whole new meaning. This is the truth of the world during America’s founding and is certainly still true today.
Finally, it is important to bear in mind that at no time in history was man without controversy. The founding fathers fought each other with incredible orations, both in the media and out. As Hamilton says in Federalist #6, man is full of avarice and greed. He writes, “men are ambitious, vindictive, and rapacious. To look for a continuation of harmony between a number of independent, unconnected sovereignties in the same neighborhood, would be to disregard the uniform course of human events, and to set at defiance the accumulated experience of ages.” The musical demonstrates how all of the people involved in Hamilton’s life participated in good and bad deeds, Hamilton included, and how the world spins regardless of the control he wished to exert upon it. Hamilton felt this keenly, I am sure, but most especially in his errors and shortcomings.
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