This year we are celebrating Independence Day by watching Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton: An American Musical, recently released on Disney+. Before lockdown due to Covid-19, I daily entered the lottery for a chance to win tickets to see Hamilton on stage. Me, and probably like 3 million others. So, for now, I’m thrilled to get this sneak preview.
Hamilton, based on Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton (that I’m slowing listening my way through), has also partnered with The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History to provide a wealth of educational resources that link this worldwide phenomenon to the history of the founding of America.
It is both ironic and genius that the characters in Hamilton, all of whom were white and many of whom were slave-holders, are played by people of color and that it is essentially a “rap musical”. Thomas Kail, director of the musical, shares in an interview with the Gilder Lehrman Institute that this was intentional from the beginning. Everyone involved in the project wanted Hamilton to be a story that all Americans could make their own; that they all could connect with. It is the story of our imperfect founding fathers who sought to create something that had never been envisioned in the history of the world. An ideal that, as history shows, was impossible for them to fulfill, but that perhaps one day, their ancestors would.
It’s been almost 250 years since the Declaration of Independence was signed and the Constitution was drafted, and yet, in many ways, we are still just babies struggling our way through the growing pains of becoming a mature nation. A nation who IS what we say we are.
I think of my children who might have an idea in their minds of who they are or who they want to be: strong, smart, brave, sure of themselves. But I know that they have a long way to go before they fully realize and prove who that person truly is and what their purpose might be in this world. In order to get there, there will be necessary trials, joys, heartaches, embarrassment, success, failure, fear, boldness, compromise, risk, and so much more. Eventually, Lord willing, they will become the person who they were created to be and will lives of deep conviction.
And so it is with America.
Our nation was birthed through bold, brave words which were regrettably backed with a whole lot of compromise and hypocrisy. Our founders chose to “go along” with certain ideologies so that all parties would “get along”. They were lofty in their philosophy but, in practice, were responsible for perpetuating the great divide that exists to this day with regards to issues of equality and liberty.
And so we work. We speak, we protest, we tear down, we build up, we cry, we listen, we learn, we grow, we act, we change. My hope is that each day is one that the divide narrows even more until we can all see ourselves penned in these words:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…”
Daveed Diggs played Thomas Jefferson in the original Broadway cast as well as in the film version of Hamilton. He admits that it is very hard for him, as it was for Frederick Douglass 168 years ago, to identify with Independence Day and the celebration of the founding of America, but that his role in the musical helped him, for the first time, feel like he was a part of it. “If a kid can walk away from Hamilton with a greater sense of place within America, that would be amazing.”
This is why the work of Miranda is brilliant. He takes these flawed yet visionary founders, has people of color bring them to life and brings our country to life in a way that exudes hope in a most unique way.
We have a long way to go, but I hope that each Independence Day will see more and more injustices being called out and America becoming more of what I believe it was created to be.