How Lin-Manuel Miranda and Hamilton Caused a Modern-Day Political Revolution
Originally published on February 2, 2018
Hamilton: An American Musical has truly been the greatest cultural phenomenon in the past few years. Created by lyrical genius Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton breathes fresh life into the history of the birth of America and the founding fathers who fought for the country’s independence. However, Hamilton has never been just a musical; it has been rooted in the realm of modern American politics since its inception. The first public performance of any Hamilton material was in 2009 at a poetry jam at the White House, just a few months after Obama’s inauguration. Lin-Manuel Miranda was among those invited to perform, and many expected that he would perform a song from In The Heights– the Tony-winning Broadway musical that Miranda had begun to write during his days at Wesleyan University. However, Miranda instead decided to perform an early version of what would eventually become Hamilton’s opening number, although at this point it was still just another track on the then-titled Hamilton Mixtape. In the years that followed, Miranda turned his mixtape into a musical that stormed its way onto Broadway in 2015. Since then, both Miranda and Hamilton have become political forces unto themselves, and the effects of such artistic genius on the modern political landscape are nothing short of incredible. Perhaps the most astounding achievement that can be attributed to the remarkable influence of Hamilton is the US Treasury’s decision to keep Alexander Hamilton on the ten-dollar bill. The original plan was to replace Hamilton with Harriet Tubman– a renowned African-American slave liberator for the Union during the Civil War– in an attempt to increase the diversity of those represented on the various printed dollar bills. As Hamilton was the nation’s first secretary of the Treasury, his removal from the ten-dollar bill would have been controversial to begin with. In a fateful turn of events, this plan was unveiled to the public during the height of Hamilton’s popularity, causing mass outrage amongst the general public who were familiar with the musical, a fan base that was expanding rapidly every day. Lin-Manuel Miranda himself eventually made contact with Jacob Lew, the Secretary of the Treasury at the time, who personally reassured Miranda that fans of Hamilton (both the musical and the man himself) would not be disappointed with the latest design for the ten-dollar bill. The Treasury’s response was to include the portraits of women who fought for women’s suffrage on the back of Hamilton’s bill and instead put Tubman’s portrait on the twenty-dollar bill, replacing Andrew Jackson in the process. Thanks to the influence of Hamilton and its fans, the US Treasury was forced to reevaluate its adjustments and preserve the legacy of its first ever Secretary.
Lin-Manuel Miranda and Hamilton have also had a positive effect on the American education system. Miranda created the Hamilton Education Program, more affectionately known as EduHam, in 2015. The program is run by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History and sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation, Toys R Us Children’s Fund, and the Annenberg Foundation. This program allows children to see Hamilton and learn more about America’s history free of charge, as the price of the tickets has already been covered by the program’s sponsors. Through this program, the students are able to reenact certain parts of Hamilton, play their favorite characters, and invent entirely new songs for historical figures who did not make it into the show. The influence of Miranda’s educational initiative goes beyond EduHam; schools across the nation are reconfiguring how they teach American history by forgoing traditional teaching techniques in favor of an approach inspired by the hip-hop and rap music Miranda so expertly tells the story of Hamilton with. By creating new and exciting ways to study the history of Hamilton and the other founding fathers, Miranda has revitalized a stagnant American education system for the younger generation.
Lin-Manuel Miranda’s own personal Hamilton-related accomplishments also deserve a significant amount of credit, particularly regarding those directly related to his home country of Puerto Rico. After Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, Miranda put together an all-star group of singers to record a single intended to provide assistance to the island and contribute to relief efforts. The single, “Almost Like Praying,” debuted in the top 40, and all the proceeds were donated to the UNIDOS Disaster Relief & Recovery Program. In addition to his humanitarian assistance, Miranda plans on reprising the role of Hamilton when the musical tours in Puerto Rico. He has not occupied the role since his Broadway exit in 2016. The amount of money that a Hamilton tour with a Lin-Manuel Miranda reprisal could generate would be incredibly significant and stimulating for Puerto Rico’s economy, thus supporting the legacy of Miranda’s positive influences on the modern world.
Hamilton is truly one of the most influential musicals to grace a Broadway stage in years. Not content with mere theatrical brilliance, the show and its creator have saved Hamilton himself from removal from the ten-dollar bill, provided a blueprint for students around the nation to learn American history in new and exciting ways, and generated an incredible amount of financial support for Puerto Rico during such a dangerous time for the nation. While some have criticized the show for glamorizing the lives of the founding fathers and conveniently forgetting to include Hamilton’s other more noticeable flaws, such as his sweeping elitism and disdain for the common people. It is important not to view Hamilton as a historical documentary, but rather view it as a groundbreaking work of art that has inspired millions of others to not throw away their shots at success.
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