This is a continuation of the second act of Hamilton, as the musical only has two acts. It is 1800 and President John Adams ran for re-election against Vice President Thomas Jefferson. Do you remember that Adams had just barely defeated Jefferson in the 1796 election? Well, this time Jefferson, representing the Democratic-Republican Party, defeated Adams, who represented the Federalist Party.
The musical has a song called “The Election of 1800” that tells the story of all this. At that time, presidents and vice-presidents were voted for separately, and Aaron Burr, that New Jersey politician who kept popping up in Hamilton’s life, was running for vice president for the same party as Thomas Jefferson. Unexpectedly, Burr tied Jefferson for the presidency. Burr and Hamilton were already political enemies, and Hamilton campaigned avidly for the choice of Thomas Jefferson as president. Aaron Burr became the vice president, but because of the campaign, Thomas Jefferson had come to believe that Burr was untrustworthy and had been involved in all kinds of secret plots to win the presidency. And Aaron Burr blamed Alexander Hamilton for his unpopularity and for his falling out of favor with the President.
Alexander Hamilton was a workaholic who was unwilling to hide his brilliance, unable to reign in his ambitions, and unsuccessful at hiding his origins. And Aaron Burr was not his only political enemy. Hamilton’s enemies sometimes called him a mustee, implying that his mother was ¼ black. She probably wasn’t black, but then again, there is no proof that she was white, either. Maybe Hamilton was criticized just because he was an outsider. His achievements are important; he was an important military, political and economic person in American history. He was a staunch abolitionist and a man who argued publically that blacks were mentally equal to whites and that slaves could be good soldiers. But he went too far with Aaron Burr. When Jefferson ran for re-election in 1804, he removed Burr from his ticket. Burr then decided to run for governor of New York, but lost. Soon after those two defeats, he read that Alexander Hamilton had publically called him “the most unfit and dangerous man of the community.”
Burr demanded an explanation or an apology, but Hamilton refused. Aaron Burr challenged Alexander Hamilton to a duel, and a song is sung that represents the exchange of letters that led to the duel, “Your Obedient Servant,” which is the way people used to sign formal letters. Hamilton accepted the challenge. New Jersey came into Hamilton’s life again, and they met there met at dawn on a summer morning. Curiously, it was the same site that Hamilton’s oldest son, Philip, had lost his life 3 years earlier in a duel in which he had hoped to defend his father’s honor against a young speaker who was a Burr supporter. There is a song that is both clever and sad that refers to duels; “Ten Duel Commandments,” and it actually describes duel rules accurately. Philip had followed his father’s advice and refused to shoot at his adversary. But no one gave the same gentleman’s advice to his adversary. After Philip died, Eliza forgave Hamilton for his sexual misconduct and both are heartbroken, a song comes in here called “It’s Quiet Uptown”.
Hamilton and Burr took separate boats across the Hudson River to a popular dueling spot in New Jersey, very early in the morning. Dueling was illegal, but New Jersey was known for not always prosecuting participants. When the duel began, Hamilton fired first and shot over Burr’s head, but Burr wounded Hamilton fatally. “Meet Me Inside,” which is about the actual duel and its aftermath is sung at this point. Hamilton was removed from New Jersey and brought back to Greenwich Village in New York City. He died there the next day, on July 12, 1804, at probably 47 years of age. There has always been speculation that Hamilton purposely missed hitting Burr, because of the philosophy that he had taught his son, Philip.
Aaron Burr was not pleased that he had killed Alexander Hamilton, as he knew that he would go down in history as the villain who had killed the hero. The song, “The World Was Wide Enough” depicts this feeling, and his prediction about his historical memory wasn’t far off base. As dueling was illegal, Burr was charged with murder in both New York and New Jersey but nothing ever came of it. He lay low for a while and then actually returned to Washington, D.C. after a time and finished out his term as vice president.
The musical ends when George Washington comes onto the stage and sings a song to remind the audience that we have no control over who lives, and who dies or about how we will be remembered. It’s called, “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story”. In the song, Aaron Burr asks all the important characters to speak, but he doesn’t have anything to say for himself. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison each admit that their rival and political enemy was a genius. Jefferson says “I’ll give him this: his financial system is a work of genius. I couldn’t undo it if I tried. And I tried.” Madison says “He took our country from bankruptcy to prosperity. I hate to admit it, but he doesn’t get enough credit for all the credit he gave us.”
Eliza joins in and tells the audience about what she does for the rest of her life. She thanks her sister, Angelica, and wonders what her husband would have done for the country if he had lived longer. She sings “I put myself back in the narrative” referring to the letters she had burned when she wanted to erase herself from his life. In one part, revealing what she was to accomplish in the future, she sings, “I speak out against slavery” and at that moment, George Washington takes a step back, ashamed. Washington was probably the greatest founder of America, but he never did anything to undo the evil system of slavery. She sang more about her future as a widow, “I stop wasting time on tears, I live another fifty years” – this song refers to time often, as Alexander Hamilton did not have enough time to do all he wanted to do, even though he spent his life racing against time. Lisa finds it ironic that she was to be given a lot of time, and her husband not enough. Time is a reoccurring theme throughout the musical: wanting more of it, wanting to make the most of it, not being able to speed it up, not being able to slow it down, running out of it, and not knowing how much time you have.
Just as a note, although the musical ended in the above paragraph, Alexander Hamilton left poor Eliza with serious debts. Their house in upper Manhattan was auctioned off the year of his death to pay those debts. However, the executors of his estate decided afterwards that Eliza should not have been publically dispossessed of her home and purchased it themselves, and then sold it back to her for half the price. She lived there for about 30 years more. When she got older, she began to live with her grown children, and finished out her life in Washington, D.C.
Eliza Hamilton founded the first private orphanage in New York City, along with some friends. The orphanage that she worked so hard at for 27 years still exists, although under a different name and has been repurposed. Nowadays it provides services to children who suffer neglect or abuse, and tries to place these children, along with orphans, in foster homes instead of orphanages. It currently provides services to over 4,500 children and their families. The former orphanage is now called Graham Windham. As it is a non-profit organization, Lin-Manuel Miranda and the Hamilton cast not only made a surprise donation, but they also held a couple of benefits and fundraisers on its behalf. This resulted in media attention, which in turn resulted in increased donations.
Besides have 6 surviving children and founding the orphanage after her husband’s death, Eliza defended her husband’s legacy, as many of Hamilton’s enemies were still actively criticizing him. She demanded public apologies for accusations against him, organized all of her husband’s writings and letters, and then petitioned Congress to publish them. She fought to get his biography published and for the rest of her life wore a small packet around her neck that contained a love sonnet that he had written for her during their courtship.
For those who are interested in this period of American history, this blog contains previous posts about Alexander Hamilton’s time.
Read The First First Couple posted 11/02/2017 to learn more about what George Washington’s presidency, his marriage and his conflicting views on slavery.
Read The Other Revolutionary President posted 18/12/2017 to better understand John Adams, the Revolutionary Era, his marriage to the still-famous Abigail, and his conflict with Thomas Jefferson.
Read The Third President posted 16/05/2017 to learn about Thomas Jefferson, his many slaves, including his favorite, Sally, and the conflicting values of that time.
Tattoos have been around for more than 5,000 years. Egyptians, for example, used tattoos to differentiate between peasants and slaves, a kind of social branding. But ink art, which is what some fans like to call tattooing, has really exploded in the past 25 years. But not all of us have succumbed to this fad. And many of us who don’t have a tattoo have a favorite mug. Having a tattoo or becoming attached to a mug are not dissimilar. According to research, 60% of Americans say they have an emotional attachment to a favorite mug. And about 40% said their special mug was irreplaceable, and about 1/3 of those said they would be devastated if it broke. Personally, I think that most of these people don’t have tattoos. Mugs and tattoos are both an extension of our personalities, and both express the way we would like the world to perceive us. That is not to mention, of course, that those of us who have tattoos or mugs are often irrationally attached to them.