Hamilton has a special place in my heart. Katherine and I love the musical so much that when we got engaged last year, the first big purchase we made together was a set of tickets to go see it when it came to Tulsa. (We also played a song from the soundtrack as the walk-in music at our wedding!) And so we were ecstatic when, a couple of weeks ago, we finally got the chance to see Hamilton live.
The show was amazing. It’s like an opera in that there’s no dialogue, only singing (and a lot of rapping), so I already knew every word. But seeing it performed live and acted out on stage really brought the music to life and made the experience of hearing it that much more powerful. We laughed, we cried (literally), and we had just the best time seeing our favorite show.
I’m still reeling from the experience. It was something I won’t soon forget. And so I thought I’d take the time this week to share my love of Hamilton with you in the form of the biggest lesson it’s taught me. I’ve spent a lot of time with the soundtrack to this show, and it’s had a profound impact on me both emotionally and intellectually. While there’s a lot to be taken away from it, there’s one thing that I keep coming back to:
I’ve never felt more patriotic than I do when I listen to the Hamilton soundtrack. That may sound strange, especially coming from me, but let me explain.
If you’ve been around here for long, you know that I’m not shy about criticizing my country. We have a lot of issues right now, and we’ve gotten a lot of things wrong throughout our history that are still hurting countless people today. But the older I get and the more I learn about the world, the more I appreciate the unique things that the U.S. has contributed to the world and especially the ideals behind those contributions.
As you’d imagine, Hamilton tells the story of Alexander Hamilton, the immigrant founding father who served as George Washington’s secretary, argued for the Constitution, founded the first national bank, and is now commemorated on our $10 bill. But in telling his story, it also covers a good deal of the history surrounding the Revolutionary War, the founding of the United States, and the growing pains the nation faced in its infancy. I knew the gist of this story from school, but seeing and hearing it played out through the characters in the show shed a different light on the history for me.
It forced me to imagine what it was like for the actual people living at the time—not just the big names, but for the common people whose names are lost to time. In a period of unrest and uncertainty, these people were growing up, getting married, having children, working to provide for themselves, and trying to find their place in the world. Real people with real concerns and real stakes were living out this story that we hear and celebrate all the time but have become so distanced from ourselves.
For them, this wasn’t a story. It was real, everyday life. Their very lives and livelihoods were at stake. And they chose to undergo such danger and uncertainty because they believed in ideals that to them were worth fighting for.
Ideals like democracy, giving everyone a voice in the way that they’re governed. And religious liberty, the freedom for individuals to worship however they see fit. And equality, the belief in fundamental rights guaranteed to every single human being. Hamilton and others—real people—fought for these ideals. They founded the nation on them. And that is something to be proud of.
To be clear, their implementation of these ideals was not perfect. Not by a long shot. And we still have yet to fully live up to them today. But one thing I learned from the musical is that, even at the time, there was debate. There were people who were pushing for these ideals to be taken to their fullest extent all the way back then.
Of course, Hamilton was one of them, but there were others. People like his sister-in-law Angelica Schuyler Church, who sings about gender equality in “The Schuyler Sisters”:
We hold these truths to be self-evident
that all men are created equal,
and when I meet Thomas Jefferson,
I’mma compel him to include women in the sequel!
And people like John Laurens, Hamilton’s fellow patriot who spoke out against slavery and tried to helped enslaved people win their freedom by taking part in the revolution. In “My Shot,” he raps,
But we will never be truly free
until those in bondage have the same rights as you and me.
You and I, do or die, wait ‘til I sally in
on a stallion with the first black battalion.
And then there’s Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton, my favorite character of all. Not only does Eliza show herself to be, as Hamilton calls her, “the best of wives and best of women,” but she also represents the American ideal that I most value: compassion for those in need. In the final song (“Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story”), she sings about her greatest accomplishment:
Can I show you what I’m proudest of?
I established the first private orphanage in New York City.
I help to raise hundreds of children.
I get to see them growing up.
And when my time is up, have I done enough?
Will they tell my story?
I’m happy to say that Eliza’s story is being told through this musical. Her story and the stories of these other trailblazers who fought to form this nation into a place where everyone is free, valued, and treated equally—these stories are so inspiring to me. These people are my heroes. And when I hear about them, they instill in me a pride for my country that I haven’t ever felt before.
Hamilton teaches me that I live in a country founded not just by the typical, powdered-wig-clad founding fathers we see depicted all the time, but also by immigrants who wanted to found a place better than where they came from, poor people looking to make a life for themselves, women seeking equality, and slaves fighting not just for freedom from England but for freedom from their slavedrivers right here at home.
America is a place where the poor, the oppressed, and the forgotten can change their lives and change the world. Where we can all work together to ensure that every single person has a chance to thrive. Where ideals like equality, democracy, and compassion aren’t just ideas we believe in, but realities we’re actively working towards. That’s the America that Hamilton strove to create, and I find it beautiful.
We aren’t there yet, but I believe we can get there. If we allow ourselves to be reminded by stories like Hamilton what we’re working towards, then we can make it a reality. It won’t be easy. We’ll need great minds like Alexander’s, bold personalities like Angelica’s, and big hearts like Eliza’s, but our generation has an opportunity to be great, like theirs was, and make a positive impact on history.
This show inspires me to take pride in this unique place I’m blessed to live in. It also inspires me to love this place enough to try to make it better, to push it to live up to what it was meant to be. And I am so grateful to the musical, to its cast, and to its creator Lin-Manuel Miranda for that gift of inspiration.
Hamilton means so much to me. It’s taught me a lot, and I’m better for having heard it and seen it. My hope is that I can take what it’s taught me and use it to make my country and the world a better place. That’s a lot to ask of a musical, but this one certainly lives up to it.
As Alexander reminds us over and over throughout the show, we each only have one shot at this life. One shot to make a difference, to improve things for others, to form the world into what we want it to be. He used his chance to make the world a better place. I want to do the same
Hamilton didn’t throw away his shot, and neither will I. Will you?