Goliath: The Hamilton(?) Story
Since it graced people’s screens via Disney+ on July 3rd, a lot more people not able to make it to Broadway now have easy access to the smash hit play, Hamilton. For those not in-the-know (somehow), Lin-Manuel Miranda read “Alexander Hamilton,” a biography by Ron Chernow, fell in love with the story, and wrote (directed, and starred in) a rap-opera adaptation that race-swaps most of the cast.
For as amazing and entertaining as it is (and it really is), it has not come without controversy. One of the biggest controversies being the alteration of the story. In particular, the lack of racial awareness contextually in regards to slaves and slavery. There were a handful of things that were left out or altered in order to make Hamilton more of a good guy.
I’m sure most of you have heard the story of David and Goliath. Even if you aren’t Christian or read the Christian Bible, the thematic symbolism of David and Goliath has permeated culture. Everybody wants to be the underdog, to be David. Instead, we get the story of a David who becomes Goliath and then seemingly forgets his roots–Hamilton was an immigrant who fought in the American Revolution, became George Washington’s right-hand-man, and then proceeded to advocate as pro-monarchy and anti-immigrant. Aaron Burr was accepted into what is now Princeton at age 13, graduated at 16, and became a lawyer and politician who was seemingly thwarted at every turn by Hamilton. Granted, neither Hamilton nor Burr were devils nor angels in life, but an unfortunate set of events (as well as dislike from high places) more or less ruined Burr’s career and overall reputation.
The “short” version is this: Aaron Burr ran for U.S. Senate in New York and won. The problem? The guy he beat out was Hamilton’s father-in-law. This put a bad taste in Hamilton’s mouth. Burr, a quiet and suspicious man, was also seen as largely untrustworthy (in part because he didn’t trust anyone else) and as someone who would flip on his politics in order to not stir up problems. This is largely why Hamilton (and Jefferson) disliked him.
Hamilton, who was one of the big men on campus, began a multi-year smear campaign against Burr to tarnish his reputation. Then, in 1800, Burr and Thomas Jefferson ran against each other for President and tied. It came down to Hamilton to sway the vote, and he helped Jefferson win–despite disagreeing almost entirely with Jefferson’s politics. At the time, the runner-up became Vice President, though Jefferson was a little ticked off that Burr almost cost him the Presidency and didn’t trust him. Jefferson, too, joined Hamilton in smearing Burr’s name. This ultimately led to the 12th Amendment and how the President and Vice President are chosen.
Politically, though, Burr had the better ideals. Hamilton’s Federalist party did not sit well with Burr. Hamilton was pro-bank, pro-rich, pro-monarchy, anti-immigrant (despite being one), anti-voting-rights-for-all, and iffy-at-best on slavery (some praise his abolitionism, but if it didn’t help him politically, he didn’t care). Burr was highly progressive for his time. He tried to not only abolish slavery but also give equal rights to blacks. He was strongly pro-women’s rights, attempted to give women the vote, and educated girls (including his daughter) in subjects that were seen as men-only. He also fought to give voting rights to everybody in general, not just landowners. And he fought for freedom of the press.
Burr, hearing about all the slander against him over the years, became fed up with Hamilton and asked him to apologize. Hamilton basically replied “what for?” This led to the infamous duel. Nobody knows for sure how it went down, only how it ended: Burr shot and killed Hamilton. Dueling being illegal at the time, Burr (who was sitting VP) was being accused of murder, tarnishing whatever was left of his political career. He was never sentenced. It was, however, his hatred from the Republicans for the vote in 1800 and his hate from the Federalists for killing Hamilton that combined to create a life-destroying scheme.
He was tried for treason. Again, nobody is quite sure the truth of the matter, but rumor had it that Burr was raising an army in the frontier. Some signs point to him attempting to go against Mexico for Texas, but people of the time tried to push that he was trying to go against Jefferson and the U.S. by taking land around the Louisiana territory and creating his own nation (hence, treason). Either way, there was never any adequate proof of his treason, looking more like Jefferson trying to knock him down more. (Many years later, Texans would pretty much do what Burr said he was attempting, thus liberating Texas and adding a new State to the list.)
Burr couldn’t even leave proof of a positive legacy, as the majority of his writings were destroyed in a shipwreck, while Hamilton left quite a bit behind (as well as the good word of his wife). Therefore, Hamilton was left in a more positive light against Burr. (Though all three, including Jefferson, died in massive debt.)
Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr (sir) fell perfectly into the Dark Knight quote: “You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” Hamilton died, leaving a relatively positive legacy, enough to create a slightly historically inaccurate rap-opera about him. Burr, on the other hand, lived long enough to become a villain in the eyes of history–a two-faced, treasonous murderer. What is and isn’t true is hard to determine, and neither man comes off well. David killed Goliath but could never quite become Goliath himself since, in this case, everyone liked Goliath more.