History in the Midst of a Movement: Hamilton Controversy

Ever since Lin-Manuel Miranda released the long-awaited movie recording of the Hamilton Broadway show on July 3rd, there’s been an uproar of both immense praise and harsh criticism. Although Hamilton is frequently quoted as game-changing in the world of theatre and music, many viewers struggle with the idea that historical slave-owners are shown dancing and singing while mentions of their slaves do not take center-stage.

Hamilton fans will be able to quote multiple instances where slavery is mentioned, such as “Cabinet Battle #1,” where Alexander Hamilton calls out his colleague Thomas Jefferson for owning slaves.

A civics lesson from a slaver, hey neighbor, / Your debts are paid because you’re not paying for labor. / We plant seeds in the South. We create. Yeah, keep ranting. / We know who’s really doing the planting.

“Cabinet Battle #1,” Hamilton by Lin-Manuel Miranda

But can Alexander Hamilton really act like this was a mic-drop moment if he was also a slaver? As The Telegraph tweeted, despite the fact that most of their poll-responders believed that Hamilton also owned slaves, we don’t know for sure.

The Telegraph goes on to confirm that whether or not Hamilton was directly a slave owner, he was certainly involved in slave trades in his youth. While he lived in St. Croix, he clerked for a firm that traded slaves. Fans will remember that he was “ready to steal, borrow, or barter.” It seems that the currency in these dealings were lives.

However, many fans have argued that the musical doesn’t glorify or condone these behaviors or any of the historical figures it portrays. On July 6, Miranda tweeted a brief response to the criticisms he’s received, and many of the replies express this exact sentiment.

Miranda seems glad that this conversation is happening, but many still believe that he could have done more to address the darker side of Alexander Hamilton’s history.

Regardless of where a person stands on this issue, it’s hard to ignore how Hamilton was once the poster-child of diversity and is now under scrutiny. Can we appreciate Miranda’s work without glorifying slave owners, or would it be better to throw away this shot?

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