Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2713

Hamilton is entertaining—but seriously dodgy history

This article is over 3 years, 11 months old
The release of this hit musical to Disney+ sparked debate about its portrayal of its slave-owning hero. Antony Hamilton weighs in on Alexander Hamilton
Issue 2713
Lin-Maniel Miranda directs and stars as Hamilton
Lin-Manuel Miranda directs and stars as Hamilton

Most people will probably have heard of Alexander Hamilton because of the hit musical by artist Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Hamilton was a founding father of the United States, an immigrant and a radical fighter for independence. Hamilton’s story is one which was often in the shadows of George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson.

Miranda’s record breaking show has now been released as a film on Disney+.

From the very start of the show there is a tremendous energy. It is full of life and humour .

It also encourages a revolutionary zeal from the naive younger versions of Hamilton, John Laurens, Hercules Mulligan and the Marquis de Lafayette.

There was a buzz in the air that you can sense from the live audience.

There is a  feeling that—regardless of the historical misinterpretations—it embodies a sense of racial justice and black pride.

This comes partly by casting black people in the main roles.

It is a modern reimagining of the American dream with black people front and centre.

Along with the brilliant stage direction and choreography it is easy to get wrapped up in the story.

You end up cheering for Hamilton as he finds his confidence and fights for his place in history. But that feeling doesn’t last very long.

When I last looked at Hamilton I was critical of the way Miranda had rewritten history and aspects of historical characters to exaggerate or push a personal story. If anything I wasn’t critical enough.

The first hour covers the period of battles with the British. The rest of the show is swamped by tedious political machinations, hints of a historically inaccurate affair with his wife’s sister and the occasional acknowledgement that slavery still existed.

This leads to a major loss of energy making it difficult to stay engaged.

These figures who wrote “all men are created equal” did not believe it

The traditional archetypes are all at play.

There’s a fictional love triangle and the very real rivalry between  Hamilton and vice president Aaron Burr.

All depict Hamilton as a glorious, charismatic hero who can do no wrong. The whole show is built on this. It reflects a view of history with  superhuman individuals possessing wildly higher capabilities than most.

Only they are the ones who create change, and without them we lack the intellect to do it ourselves.

Seeing Hamilton as a hero of anyone but the newly independent ruling class is completely wrong.

Hamilton was a pioneering capitalist whose opposition to slavery was only because it didn’t serve his economic model.

He was an immigrant—but he made it more difficult for immigrants to enter the US, calling them “aliens”.

He also fought against the bill of rights referring to democracy as “the real disease”.

Even with the problems of Hamilton put to the side, there is a grotesque glorification of the other founding fathers.

The majority owned slaves including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, who were greeted with tremendous applause on stage.

Hamilton even uses this against Jefferson. But it only highlights his own hypocrisy—someone who used slavery as a political football.

These figures who wrote “all men are created equal” did not believe it. They shouldn’t be celebrated or re-written to be played by a black cast in order to sanitise their racist history.

We should celebrate people who fight for real justice, not those who used their power to maintain the systems of exploitation and oppression.

Hamilton is now available to stream on Disney+

Sign up for our daily email update ‘Breakfast in Red’

Make a donation to Socialist Worker

Help fund the resistance