“If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, so that we can, with reverence, serve you.” Psalm 130:3,4
My daughter and I went to the play Hamilton last year. It is a cultural success and garnered many awards. It is fast paced. I regret that I didn’t do any homework beforehand to enjoy it even more.
Lin-Manuel Miranda created the musical based on the biography of Hamilton by Ron Chernow. The entire cast, save the villain King George III, are minorities – either African American, Black, Asian American or Latino – which made it a centerpiece for cultural conversation. It is now on Disney+ so it’s not necessary to mortgage your house to see it.
My daughter recently gave me Kevin Cloud’s book, God and Hamilton. It came at just the right time. I have pondered the latest push by progressives to revise American history into a single narrative of racism and slavery by things like The 1619 Project. Despite being widely rejected by historians as inaccurate, it is being taught in public schools.
This revisionist push puts the racial narrative over everything else. Yet the founding of our country faced many issues besides slavery in the formation of our country. It also ignores the disparate treatment of women’s rights. Some of those inequalities exist today.
Which brings me back to Hamilton, the man. He may have been the most important person in the founding of our country to never become President. The fact that he accomplished anything is miraculous.
An illegitimate child, Hamilton was born in the West Indies. Chernow notes Hamilton’s early life was filled with tragedies: “[His] father vanished, their mother had died, their cousin and supposed protector had committed bloody suicide, and their aunt, uncle and grandmother had all died.”
Not an auspicious beginning. Hamilton’s early writings caught the attention of local businessmen who sponsored him to go to America to be educated when he was seventeen. As Cloud notes, that was a picture of grace. Where would we be without the grace of God?
Throughout his life, Hamilton was ashamed of his illegitimate beginning. He felt like a leper from biblical times, an outsider. “Unworthy. Unaccepted. Unloved.” These are biblical themes: Grace and shame.
Hamilton’s faith started early, and he composed hymns while young. Chernow writes that “the faith of his youth returned to Hamilton in his final years.”
Hamilton’s life was a study of contrast, or as Cloud notes, he was both sinner and saint. Cloud says that he was a “brilliant, passionate and driven man”.
He served in the Army under George Washington during the American Revolution and then transitioned from the violence of a revolution to creating a peaceful and democratic form of government. No easy task.
The Founders drafted the Constitution which created the first federalist system. Several Founders wrote what is known as the Federalist Papers, 85 in all. Hamilton authored or co-authored most of them, a prodigious feat. They provide a detailed narrative into the considerations of why and how the Constitution is to work.
According to Cloud, all Founding Fathers “possessed significant flaws…in their lives and leadership”. For Hamilton, that included having an affair with Maria Reynolds. He was blackmailed by Maria’s husband. When found out, he did the unthinkable by writing “The Reynolds Pamphlet” about his failure, which inspired a song in the play.
Most Founding Fathers owned slaves. The statement that “All men are created equal” in the Declaration of Independence seems contradictory, but it is clearly aspirational.
Slavery was an embarrassment that seemed to violate the founding principles of our nation. Hamilton opposed slavery but realized that the founding of the nation required a compromise that could be fixed later.
But life is like that. Not everything is perfect out of the box. Our lives are like that. One historian said that we need to acknowledge both sides of these men’s lives. Even Washington, in his farewell address, painted himself as “human” and “capable of mistakes.”
What the Founders did was to produce “a more perfect union.” Not a perfect union, but one that could be made better in time. They created a system of government that could correct past failures in the future.
When the Civil War broke out, President Lincoln in his 1854 Peoria speech said that, while the Founding Fathers originally left the slavery question alone, they left the door open for its “ultimate extinction.”
That extinction came with Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation which set the stage to eliminate slavery in America in 1863 before the Civil War was complete. Our country has struggled with continuing racism, so the battle is not over.
Hamilton and the Founders set the stage for equality – for both women and minorities. There is still ground to gain, but we cannot be silent about a revisionist history that ignores how our country was started.
As Lynde Langdon writes, the play Hamilton “stays unashamedly patriotic, celebrating the U.S. political system despite the flaws of the people who built it.”
Our challenge is that the revisionist history is being taught in our school systems, and the next generation is being fed a false narrative. We need to counter that with historical truth. The story of Alexander Hamilton is a good example of historical accuracy.
MENTOR TAKEAWAY: The next generation would do well to watch Hamilton now that it is available on-line. Encourage your mentee to watch it or give them a copy of God and Hamilton to read.
FURTHER READING: How Lincoln and the Founders Viewed Slavery and the Constitution – NR
God and Hamilton – Kevin Cloud
Alexander Hamilton Ron Chernow
MUSIC: The Reynolds Pamphlet – From the musical, Hamilton.
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