Six Ways “Hamilton” Directly Impacted American Politics

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s American musical revolutionized more than Broadway

July 2, 2020 8:41 am
Hamilton musical cast members Lin-Manuel Miranda, Daveed Diggs, Leslie Odom Jr., Okieriete Onaodowan, and Anthony Ramos
Lin-Manuel Miranda [center] as the title character in the musical "Hamilton."
Walt Disney Studios

Before Lin-Manuel Miranda read Ron Chernow’s book about Alexander Hamilton, the 800-page tome that would inspire him to write the Pulitzer Prize-winning musical Hamilton, he didn’t know much about the Founding Father.

“My feeling when I was reading his biography was like, why is the only thing I know about him is that he died in a duel?” Miranda said on a recent episode of Fresh Air.

As a filmed version of Hamilton: An American Musical hits Disney+ for Fourth of July weekend, there’s a good chance even those who haven’t seen it on stage know more about the “ten-dollar Founding Father” now than they did when the show premiered on Broadway in 2015.

The musical rekindled an interest in the eponymous immigrant and statesman, popularizing lesser-known touchpoints from his life, from his outsized contribution to the Federalist Papers to his creation of a national bank. That interest extended to the larger picture of our country’s origins, and the musical continues to spark new conversations and criticism as the U.S. reckons with its history of racial injustice during the current Black Lives Matter movement.

Although, if you think Hamilton’s only political influence lies in a reconsideration of the past, you’d be dead wrong. The hip-hop musical has changed the modern American political landscape in a variety of ways, some of which have made the headlines while others crept under the radar.

Before you stream Hamilton at home and dive back into the recasted world of 1776, take some time to learn about how the musical revolutionized this century.

The Mike Pence incident 

Politicians, artists and other celebrities have flocked to productions of Hamilton on Broadway and around the world. One of the most memorable visits was from Mike Pence, not necessarily for his title as for the controversy that followed his attendance on November 18, 2016, 10 days after he was elected vice president. During the curtain call, Brandon Victor Dixon, who replaced Leslie Odom, Jr., in the role of Aaron Burr, delivered a message to Pence which was written by Miranda, Director Thomas Kail and Producer Jeffrey Seller, with input from the cast, according to The New York Times. He said, in part, “We, sir — we — are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents, or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights, sir. But we truly hope that this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us.”  

For his part, Pence went on “Fox News Sunday” and said, “I can tell you I wasn’t offended by what was said.” But that clarification only came after President-elect Donald Trump tweeted that Pence was “harassed” at the “highly overrated” musical and that the cast and producers “should immediately apologize.” This led to supporters on Twitter calling for a boycott of the show, despite it being sold out for months in advance and nearly impossible to get a ticket at the time.

Obama and Clinton vs. Trump 

President Barack Obama has been inextricably linked to Hamilton and its progressive view of the U.S. since the beginning. Famously, Miranda performed a song from the show publicly for the first time at the Evening of Poetry, Music, and the Spoken Word held at the White House on May 12, 2009, less than four months after Obama was inaugurated. Then, in March 2016, the cast and musicians visited and performed at the White House; a video of the emotional rendition of the song “One Last Time” was shared on Hamilton’s YouTube page in the final days of Obama’s presidency. In essence, Hamilton was to the Obamas as Camelot was to the Kennedys.

The musical was behind multiple fundraisers during the 2016 presidential election cycle, including one for the Democractic Hope Fund in November 2015, attended by President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, as well as one explicitly in support of Hillary Clinton. An extra performance was added in July of 2016 to the already sold-out schedule to raise money for Clinton, with tickets ranging from $2,700 to $100,000, according to Entertainment Weekly. Clinton even concluded her Democratic National Convention speech two weeks later by quoting the musical.

The $10 bill redesign 

In June of 2015, Obama’s Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew announced a plan to put the likeness of a woman on the $10 bill that has historically featured Alexander Hamilton. But after the musical’s rise to fame, and after Lew saw the show and met Miranda, the plan was scrapped. Instead, the Treasury Department decided to feature a woman — Black abolitionist leader Harriet Tubman — on a much more prominent note, the $20 bill, and move Andrew Jackson to the back. That currency drama played out back in 2016, so where is the new Tubman bill? According to New York Times reporting in June, “Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said … that a new $20 bill would not be released until 2030 and that a future secretary would make the decision about whether Andrew Jackson would be replaced as the face of the note.”

New political discourse

It wasn’t just Clinton who has used Hamilton to her oratorical advantage. As the Los Angeles Times reported during President Trump’s impeachment proceedings, “Hamilton, the man and the musical, continues to be a running theme for both political parties throughout the trial,” with Democratic and Republican lawmakers pilfering quotes to strengthen their arguments. Of course, our country’s original statesmen are often referenced in political discourse, but as the Times wrote, “Hamilton has always been a prominent founding father. But it was Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical that put him in the pantheon of ‘great’ founding fathers such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, said Sam Erman, a USC law professor.”

Puerto Rico: Hurricane Maria and statehood

In January of 2019, Hamilton was performed in Puerto Rico for a three-week limited run. Lin-Manuel Miranda, who is of Puerto Rican descent, brought the show to the island and reprised his role as the titular character in hopes of “[stimulating] the U.S. territory’s economy and cultural tourism” in the wake of Hurricane Maria, as NPR reported at the time. It was not without controversy, with the engagement reigniting debates about statehood and colonialism, and whether or not “a Nuyorican like Miranda had the authority to speak for Puerto Rico,” as The Atlantic wrote. In the end, the Miranda continued to be a staunch supporter of Puerto Rico and its recovery efforts, going so far as saying President Trump is “going straight to hell” for his bungling of the response to the hurricane.

John Bolton’s White House memoir

In the aforementioned Fresh Air interview, when asked how he heard that former National Security Advisor John Bolton was naming his highly anticipated Trump tell-all after a Hamilton song, Miranda said, “I’m not 100 percent certain that [it is]. I’m certainly not the first person to put those words in that order.” Bolton has not confirmed the reference was taken from the musical, but the book is called The Room Where It Happened and the song is called “The Room Where It Happens,” so you can put two and two together yourself.

Republicans, Democrats — they all love Hamilton. The question is, will Trump finally see it now that it’s on Disney+?

The InsideHook Newsletter.

News, advice and insights for the most interesting person in the room.