Title: Hamilton and the Law
Editor: Lisa A. Tucker
Publisher: Cornell University Press
Published: 15 October 2020
I received an advanced copy of this book from Cornell University Press through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. (Yes, it is passed the date of publication but moving got in the way).
Edited by Lisa A. Tucker, comprising of 33 essays by leading legal minds. From two former U.S. solicitors general to leading commentators on culture and society, they all contribute wonderful, coherent essays.
I absolutely love reading books that combine two of my favorite things. In this case, it was Hamilton: An American Musical and the law/political science. The book is divided into 8 sections, that cover areas from the constitution to race to women to dueling, copyright, and legacy. The first two sections were a bit repetitive for me since learned most of what they said in my undergrad political science classes.
The essays on race and women were especially interesting to me since those are topics I care deeply about. I loved the essays on “When Your Job is to Marry Rich: Marriage as a Market in Hamilton” and “‘Love’ Triangles: Romance and Domestic Violence.” Both of these looked at the difficulties of being a woman during the time of revolution.
I also loved the essays “Race, Nation, and Patrimony, or, the Stakes of Diversity in Hamilton” and “Hamilton and the Power of Racial Fables in Examining the U.S. Constitution.” There’s a dived among POC about having a diverse cast play historical figures who were slave owners, but also the idea that through this POC can reclaim a part of America and its founding that never belonged to them before.
In Hamilton: The Revolution, Daveed Diggs (who originated the roles of Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson) remarks about how Hamilton affected his relationship to America despite having “always felt at odds with this country. . . . You can only get pulled over by police for no reason so many times before you say, ‘Fuck this.’ (Chapter 10). Similarly, Leslie Odom Jr. (the original Aaron Burr) reflected on how the portrayal of these historical figures as people of color affected him: “In the first two minutes of the show, Lin [Manuel Miranda] steps forward and introduces himself as Alexander Hamilton, and Chris steps forward and says he’s George Washington, and you never question it again. When I think about what it would mean to me as a 13-, 14-year old kid, to get this album or see this show-it makes me very emotional” (Chapter 10).
It’s fascinating how many people this musical has touched and made think about America and myths and legacies and race and women in different ways or re-think about them. It’s also amazing that this younger generation gets to grow up with the idea that they can make their own story, legacies, and take their own shots. They are knowledgeable in the idea that Hamilton, Washington, Burr, and the other founding fathers are not myths or legends or unattainable ideals. They were human, they made mistakes, and they did the best they could with what they had. They made mistakes and yes, they were slave owners. No one is denying that they were great men, the best we can do is acknowledge that they were men. They were fallible. I think this text will help people place what Lin-Manuel Miranda did with Hamilton in the context of American law and policy.