October 2016: The Man Behind the Musical: Discovering “Hamilton”
If you didn't know much about Alexander Hamilton before the hit show "Hamilton" took Broadway by storm in 2015, odds are good that you are now quite familiar with the Founding Father who helped create our fiduciary system.
An American political philosopher and the author of the majority of the essays that comprise the Federalist Papers (a series of 85 essays urging the citizens of New York to ratify the new US Constitution), Hamilton was also the first secretary of the US Treasury.
What inspired “Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda to tell the essential story of the Founding Father, which he began developing into a musical in 2008?
Scroll down for more information about Hamilton, the musical, and more. And be sure to watch our video interview with Liam Strain, a historian and district ranger for a collection of individually legislated units of the National Park System — including Alexander Hamilton’s New York City home.
Here’s to restoring enthusiasm in American history for kids, and adults! — David Bruce Smith, founder, and Hope Katz Gibbs, executive producer, Grateful American™ Foundation
Alexander Hamilton is one of the few American figures featured on US currency who was never president. He’s on the $10 bill for good reason, historians agree. He served under George Washington throughout the Revolutionary War, then was selected to take on the challenge of directing federal economic policy as secretary of the Treasury.
“Hamilton is a fascinating character whose ambition fueled tremendous success as a self-made man,” according to researchers at ushistory.org. “Born in the West Indies to a single mother who was a shopkeeper, he learned his first economic principles from her and went on to apprentice for a large mercantile firm. From these modest origins, Hamilton would become the foremost advocate for a modern capitalist economy in the early national United States.”
The paramount problem facing Hamilton was a huge national debt.
He proposed that the government assume the entire debt of the federal government and the states. His plan was to retire the old depreciated obligations by borrowing new money at a lower interest rate. Public credit was another issue that he tackled as secretary of the Treasury.
Governments at all levels had taken on so much debt during the Revolutionary War. The commitment to pay them back was not taken very seriously. By the late 1780s, public securities were worth only a fraction of their face value. In other words, state IOUs — the money borrowed to finance the Revolutionary — was practically worthless.
Hamilton issued a bold proposal. The federal government should pay off all confederation debts at full value. Such action would dramatically enhance the legitimacy of the new central government. To raise the money, Hamilton would issue new securities (bonds). Investors who purchased them could make enormous profits when the time came for the United States to redeem the new debts. He presented the idea of a central Bank of the United States, modeled after the Bank of England, to help make the new nation’s economy dynamic through a more stable paper currency.
Fast forward to Broadway: 2016
Hamilton’s financial finesse reverberates in the success of the Broadway show that bears his name, which according to The Hollywood Reporter, earns $1.5 million weekly in sales ($500,000 of which is profit). As of April 2016, the production had generated more than $62 million.
It’s estimated that the musical could pull in more than $1 billion in New York alone. (For the sake of comparison, “Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace” generated a little more than $1 billion in worldwide sales, according to the research organization The Numbers.)
Hamilton's life is surely worthy of being a Broadway hit.
“Hamilton was a genius by most standards,” says Liam Strain, a historian and district ranger for a collection of individually legislated units of the National Park System — including Alexander Hamilton’s New York City home, The Grange, Grant's Tomb (the General Grant National Memorial), and the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site.
“His talents were recognized very early on in his youth. He came from very humble circumstances. He was born out of wedlock and raised on a small Caribbean island in the West Indies. He was effectively orphaned at about the age of 11 when his mother passed away, and his father had abandoned the family.
“Normally, someone struggling with those circumstances never would have risen to the heights that he did. But he was determined and able to succeed because of his skills and tenacity,” says Strain, noting that Hamilton commissioned architect John McComb, Jr., to design his country home, The Grange, which was originally a 32-acre estate in upper Manhattan. The two-story, framed, Federal-style house was completed in 1802 — just two years before Hamilton's death, which resulted from his infamous duel with Vice President Aaron Burr in 1804. The day after the duel, Hamilton died from his wounds.
The internal force that propelled Hamilton to accomplish so much drove "Hamilton" creator, actor, and composer Lin-Manuel Miranda (pictured right) to tell the essential story, which he began developing into a musical in 2008.
Even before reading Ron Chernow‘s “Alexander Hamilton,” Miranda discussed the idea for the hip-hop musical with theater critic Jeremy Carter — who in 2011 joined the artistic staff at The Public Theater in New York City, and he recommended the musical as a potential show.
But in 2008, the show was still just the spark of an idea, which started to crystallize when Miranda was vacationing in Mexico.
After gobbling up the book by Chernow (pictured below), the actor began writing the rap songs in the sequence as he envisioned them in the show. The following year, he was invited to the White House to perform a rough version of the first song that would eventually open the musical.
It took another few years for the show to come to fruition.
In 2013, Miranda performed the first act and a couple of other songs at a workshop at Vassar. Eventually, the actor pulled in several cast members — Daveed Diggs, Chris Jackson, and Javier Muñoz — to help him perform in the Off-Broadway and Broadway productions.
By 2015, investors had put up $12.5 million. The investment turned out to be a great business move. According to Broadway Journal, if the musical hits the expected payday of $1 billion, it will have returned about $300 million in profit.
"Hamilton" seems destined to hit that pinnacle.
Not only is it one of the most coveted tickets on Broadway, it also won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, a 2016 Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album, and 11 Tony awards, one of which was for Best Musical. A behind-the-scenes book, “Hamilton: The Revolution was published this year as well.
All this success has made tickets to the show a hot commodity: Go to StubHub for the latest bargains.
If you’re lucky enough to be a public school student in New York, City, you may be able to snag a $10 ticket to a Wednesday matinee because of a program run by the Gilder Lehrman Foundation that was funded with a $1.46 million donation from The Rockefeller Foundation. The NYC pilot program is expanding (with another $6 million from The Rockefeller Foundation) to bring the musical to 100,000 school kids throughout the country during its 2017 national tour.
Click here to listen to the hit song “My Shot” from “Hamilton.”
And don’t despair if you can't get hold of the hottest ticket in New York — you can still learn more about the life and times of Alexander Hamilton in this Q&A by the Grateful American™ Foundation’s David Bruce Smith and Hope Katz Gibbs.