The Rooms Where It Happened


Review of Hamilton: An American Musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda (Richard Rodgers Theatre, New York City) and Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter

New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2016

First things first:  

(1) Yes, it is brilliant.

(2) Tickets purchased last September, nearly seven months before the date of the performance that I attended, were merely expensive, not fisc-shattering.  

(3) The book, published in April, stands as a piece of the total work of art.

Since its debut at New York’s Public Theater in February 2015 and its subsequent move uptown to Broadway six months later, Hamilton: An American Musical has cut an exuberant swath through American culture. Like the Continental light infantry swarming over the redoubts at Yorktown, the show and its creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, have laid successful siege to a battery of prestigious awards: MacArthur, Pulitzer, Grammy, and – virtually inevitably, given its record-setting number of nominations – Tony. This haul of prizes rewards a work that powerfully celebrates both history and the challenges of the historian’s trade.

Whether one is absorbing it from the seats in the Richard Rodgers Theatre, the original cast recording, or the deliberately patina-ed pages of the companion volume, Hamilton is important because it is, as Miranda has said, “a story about America then, told by America now.” It delivers complex, forceful messages about the power of words, the historian’s craft, and the legacy of the founders. Indeed, Hamilton may be most superlative as an artwork that depicts what it means to be a teller of history.  

To watch Hamilton is to experience a total work of art – a Gesamtkunstwerk, in which different forms are combined into a single unified whole. The production brings together a staggeringly wide array of musical styles, including hip-hop, ragtime, Broadway musical theatre, jazz, and baroque harpsichord. The tableau unfolds dynamically – actors are perpetually in motion; an ensemble of dancers surrounds the main characters with intricate, sharp choreography; at various points in the show, two turntables revolve, often in opposite directions, turning the singing actors and placing them in ever-changing speed-tableaux. The costumes manage to be elegant and period appropriate while also avoiding caricature. There are no wigs, except for one that accompanies the occasional warble from the peruked George III. 

But the most astonishing artistic weapon that Hamilton unleashes is the power – in both force and quantity – of its words. The two-and-a-half-hour show comprises 20,000 words, nearly all of them delivered in some form of song or rap. The show is “sung-through,” a phrase whose new frequency among the general public is yet another consequence of Hamilton-mania. The fastest song in the show, “Guns and Ships,” is reported to clock in at a rate of 6.3 words per second – most of them fired in French-accented rap cadences by the Marquis de Lafayette (Daveed Diggs). Quite simply, the audience is fusilladed with words. On and on they come; one tries in giddy vain to remember the last set long enough to savor them before the next wave arrives. Indeed, this is one reason that consultation of the printed lyrics is necessary: because the ear is incapable of processing the words as they hurtle forth. Happily, the lyrics are included in the booklet accompanying the original cast recording, and – with photographs and extensive annotations – in Hamilton: The Revolution.

One such moment comes in “Cabinet Battle #1,” in which Hamilton (Miranda), Thomas Jefferson (Diggs again), George Washington (Christopher Jackson), and James Madison (Okieriete Onaodowan) debate Treasury Secretary Hamilton’s proposal for the federal government to assume the states’ wartime debts. In response to the russet-velvet-clad Jefferson’s preening self-citation of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” (“These are wise words, enterprising men quote ’em/Don’t act surprised, you guys, cuz I wrote ’em”), Hamilton bursts forth:

Thomas. That was a real nice declaration

Welcome to the present, we’re running a real nation

Would you like to join us, or stay mellow

Doin’ whatever the hell it is you do in Monticello?

If we assume the debts, the union gets

A new line of credit, a financial diuretic.

How do you not get it? If we’re aggressive and competitive

The union gets a boost. You’d rather give it a sedative?

The stakes of late-eighteenth-century debates about debt assumption, the federal union, and a national bank are thus conveyed within the context of a post-millennial rap battle. We care how this clash will turn out; we want to know who will win – even though we already know, as we knew before we heard the first bars of music: Hamilton’s financial system will ultimately be established; the federal government will assume the states’ debts; and the Union will become more robust and centralized. The genius of Miranda’s words, however, is that they make us forget that we know how it will all end. The national bank, the strong judiciary, the encounter at Weehawken – we already know. And yet we watch and listen as though we don’t. Because while we know what happened to the faces on the currency and the portraits in the museum, we don’t know how it will all unfold for these particular people whom we are watching and listening to.

The words are the components of the barrage issuing from Miranda and his fellow performers on stage. But the words are more than just a medium. In the world of the show, they are also the impetus behind those volleys, for Hamilton is above all about the power of words, both the purposeful and the uncontrolled, to shape individuals’ destinies. We see the young Hamilton propelling himself out of the raw Caribbean periphery of the British Empire to New York City and a scholarship at King’s College (the predecessor of Columbia University). As Madison describes it in the first song, “Alexander Hamilton,”

Then a hurricane came, and devastation reigned,

Our man saw his future drip, dripping down the drain,

Put a pencil to his temple, connected it to his brain,

And he wrote his first refrain, a testament to his pain.

Twenty-two songs (or, in actual historical time, fifteen years) later, in “Non-Stop,” the final number of Act I, we see the mature Hamilton, clad in a gleaming bottle-green silk suit, scribbling with a quill pen atop an off-kilter wooden plan held by eight ensemble members in buff waistcoats and breeches. The scene is Hamilton at work on his towering fifty-one Federalist essays, as we are told by narrator Aaron Burr in tones of mixed awe and horror. Burr is typically played by Leslie Odom, Jr., but Odom’s understudy Austin Smith gave such an outstanding performance in the show that I saw that I did not realize until days later that I had not seen the original Burr. Such is the formidable depth of the Hamilton cast. While Hamilton feverishly writes, the chorus sings with urgent speed:

How do you write like you’re

Running out of time?

Write day and night like you’re

Running out of time?

How do you write like tomorrow won’t arrive?

How do you write like you need it to survive?

How do you write ev’ry second you’re alive?

Ev’ry second you’re alive? Ev’ry second you’re alive?

Earlier in the same song, Hamilton chants with childlike glee, “I was chosen for the Constitutional Convention!” The moment is an all-too-rare popular culture triumph for constitutional law professors.  

Federalist 78 is one of the earliest theorizations of American judicial review – a practice that had existed under the British Empire, that was not specifically named in the Constitution itself, and that was extended in the early nineteenth century by the Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Marshall. Some scholars posit that Federalist 78 was essentially a restatement, albeit with Hamiltonian flourishes, of a preexisting colonial belief in popular sovereignty.  

But Miranda is depicting something more than just codification of prior practice here, and this image seems historically apt. Who better than a “bastard brat of a Scots pedlar,” to borrow John Adams’s epithet, to draft the fundamental structural justification for federal judicial authority? Federalist 78 married the divided authority characteristic of federal structures dating back to the seventeenth-century Anglo-Scottish union of crowns with the novel institution that Article III of the Constitution called “the judicial power of the United States.” As Hamilton wrote in Federalist 78, “No legislative act . . . contrary to the constitution can be valid.” Rather, he argued, judges “ought to regulate their decisions by the fundamental laws, rather than by those which are not fundamental.” Popular sovereignty was a part of the story, to be sure. But what Federalist 78 invoked was something new: the Constitution as both a source of authority for governing, and as the governing power itself.  

Hamilton’s version of Hamilton writing is consistent with the picture that emerges from the primary sources. In his 2004 biography of Hamilton, which famously served as Miranda’s inspiration, historian Ron Chernow provides vivid contemporary accounts of the process by which Hamilton composed his Federalist essays. (The appellation Federalist Papers came later, in the twentieth century.) Chernow notes that Hamilton’s friend Robert Troup recalled seeing a newspaper publisher “‘in [Hamilton’s] study, waiting to take numbers of The Federalist as they came fresh from’ his pen ‘in order to publish them in the next paper.’” Another account described Hamilton as “walk[ing] the floor as he formed sentences in his head.” At other times, “having slept six or seven hours,” Hamilton “rose and having taken strong coffee, seated himself at his table, where he would remain six, seven, or eight hours. And the product of his rapid pen required little correction for the press.”  

As in the show, Hamilton: The Revolution portrays the writing of The Federalist as a climactic moment in Hamilton’s rise to the status of a capital-f Founder. In the book, however, Miranda notes the gulf between his scene of Hamilton’s heroic, frenetic style and more familiar modern-day modes of creation, including his own: “I wish writing were really like the way [choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler] staged it here: Me in a mania at a desk while a group of people stand around cheering in awe. More realistically, it’s me pooping around on Twitter until I get an idea” (143). Miranda has frequently mentioned the challenge of writing songs that are sufficient to demonstrate Hamilton’s genius; he has said that it took him a year to compose the character’s first, song, “My Shot.” Here again, Hamilton shows rather than simply telling.  

Hamilton insists on Hamilton’s essential character as a relentless word producer. Midway through the second act, the show shifts mood to depict the devastating consequences of its protagonist’s mistaken belief that he controls his words. Confronted by Jefferson, Madison, and Burr with evidence of his extramarital affair with Maria Reynolds and accused of using government funds to satisfy her husband’s blackmail demands, Hamilton enters into a final frenzy of writing. He begins by cataloging the triumphs wrought by his pen:

I wrote my way out of hell

I wrote my way to revolution

I was louder than the crack in the bell

I wrote Eliza love letters until she fell

I write about the Constitution and defended it well

And in the face of ignorance and resistance

I wrote financial systems into existence

And when my prayers to God were met with indifference

I picked up my pen, I wrote my own deliverance.

But Hamilton, our heretofore reliable narrator, is wrong about this. The product of this storm of writing, the “Reynolds Pamphlet,” might exculpate him from charges of corruption, but it is a confession of infidelity and adultery. In Miranda’s telling, the pamphlet dooms Hamilton’s political career and damages his marriage nearly beyond repair. The ensuing musical number enacts the apocalypse, with cast members tossing dozens of flapping copies of the pamphlet around the stage – even handing one down to the orchestra pit – while Jefferson, Madison, and Burr intone, “Well, he’s never gon’ be President now/Never gon’ be President now.” The publicly shamed Eliza Hamilton (Philippa Soo) retaliates by literally taking her husband’s words into her own hands, setting his letters to her afire and dropping them into a metal bucket while singing, “You and your words, obsessed with your legacy/Your sentences border on senseless/And you are paranoid in every paragraph/How they perceive you?/You, you, you.”  

Eliza’s actions proceed not only from hurt at her husband’s betrayal but also from a determination to create gaps in the historical record. The absence of words will shape the legacy. “I’m burning the memories/Burning the letters that might have redeemed you,” she sings. And, more chillingly: “I’m erasing myself from the narrative./Let future historians wonder how Eliza/Reacted when you broke her heart.” The invocation of silence is striking in a show overflowing with words and music. But throughout the show, even when characters refer to erasures or quiet, there is still music. The only exception is the penultimate song, “The World Was Wide Enough,” in which Hamilton realizes as he faces Burr on the dueling ground that death is accompanied by “no beat, no melody.” But there are still, at least for a few more seconds, words.

With Eliza’s reference to the power of erasure, Miranda permits one of his characters to raise the interpretive stakes from the question of what happened to the deeper question of how we know what happened. Eliza’s act stops the transmission of words between generations. The words exist on paper; then they are charred ash in a bucket; and then they are the unknown unknowns that silently devil historians.  

I suspect I am not the only historian who, at this point in Hamilton, has a fleeting but potent urge to rush the stage, douse the bucket with the nearest bottle of water, and salvage those words for the twenty-first century. But to no avail, surely: Eliza is in control here. Indeed, in the final song of the show, “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story,” Eliza takes over as narrator to describe her work over the decades after Hamilton’s fatal rencontre with Burr. “I stop wasting time on tears/I live another fifty years/It’s not enough,” Eliza sings. She becomes the dynamic figure racing to sort through Hamilton’s papers, interview his wartime comrades, and establish New York’s first private orphanage.

If Eliza is the powerful keeper (and sometimes destroyer) of the archive, another character is the historian, piecing together an account from scraps and silences. But this figure is ultimately not content to tell a story; he insists on inserting himself into the action. He is, of course, Aaron Burr, the show’s chief narrator and villain.  

Aaron Burr, historian? Yes, briefly. As evidence, consider the showstopping fifth song in Act II: “The Room Where It Happens.” Miranda has called the song one of the two “best songs I’ve ever written in my life.” It involves, inter alia, a piano, a sampled trumpet, a vibraphone, and a banjo. And it captures the yearning of the historian for even a momentary glimpse of what really went on at the key moment. This number gives us a cocksure Burr meeting Hamilton on the street in early republican New York, only to be left in mid-sentence as the newly ascendant Treasury Secretary strides off to a private dinner with Secretary of State Jefferson and Congressman Madison. Cue horn as Burr begins:

            Two Virginians and an immigrant walk into a room.

            Diametric’lly opposed, foes.

            They emerge with a compromise, having opened doors that were

            Previously closed, bros.

            The immigrant emerges with unprecedented financial power

            A system he can shape however he wants.

            The Virginians emerge with the nation’s capital

And here’s the pièce de résistance:

No one else was in

The room where it happened.

The room where it happened.

The room where it happened.  

The room in question is the dining room of Jefferson’s house at 57 Maiden Lane in New York. The date is thought to be Sunday, June 20, 1790. What happened there is known to historians as the “dinner table bargain,” or, more grandly, the “compromise of 1790.” Its details are elusive. At the dinner, Hamilton, Jefferson, and Madison struck a deal according to which the nation’s permanent capital would be located on the Potomac River, and the federal government would assume state debts. Many northerners had opposed a southern capital, while many Antifederalists and southerners had opposed Hamilton’s financial plan, with its centralizing tendencies and its requirement that all states – even Virginia – contribute to paying off the debts of their less pecunious fellows. The survival of the Union depended on both controversies’ resolution. As historian Joseph Ellis puts it, “The congressional debate over Hamilton’s financial plan and the location of the national capital had produced total legislative paralysis. If this was the first test of the viability of the new federal government under the Constitution, the government was failing miserably.”

The only surviving record of the dinner comes from Jefferson, who described it two years later in a letter to Washington:

They came. I opened the subject to them, acnoleged that my situation had not permitted me to understand it sufficiently but encouraged them to consider the thing together. They did so. It ended in Mr. Madison’s acquiescence in a proposition that the question [of debt assumption] should be again brought before the house by way of amendment from the Senate, that he would not vote for it, nor entirely withdraw his opposition, yet he would not be strenuous, but leave it to its fate. It was observed, I forget by which of them, that as the pill would be a bitter one to the Southern states, something should be done to soothe them; and the removal of the seat of government to the Patowmac was a just measure, and would probably be a popular one with them, and would be a proper one to follow the assumption.

A few weeks after the dinner, Congress passed the Residence Bill, then the Assumption Bill. Jefferson observed in his letter to Washington that the deal had been the greatest “of all the errors of my political life.”  

Hamilton’s Burr, watching the events in Maiden Lane from a distance, expostulates: “My God!/In God we trust./But we’ll never really know what got discussed./Click-boom then it happened./No one else was in the room when it happened.” Hamilton, now back from the dinner and facing Burr, is defiant: “God help and forgive me,/I wanna build something that’s gonna/Outlive me.” The chorus asks Burr: “What do you want,/Burr?/What do you want,/Burr?” And Burr croons with barely suppressed gulps of longing:


            Wanna be in

            The room where

            it happens.

            The room where

            it happens.


            Wanna be


            the room where it happens. . . .



Accompanying this text in Hamilton: The Revolution is Miranda’s note: “Burr unbound!” For Burr “answers the company’s question in the most Burr-like way possible. What do you want? What do you believe in? Burr: I want to be in the room. For the sake of it” (189).

The Burr of Hamilton wants to be in the room because he does not want to be left out of it. The historian is unable to be in the room and yet must reconstruct the room, its occupants, and their conversations as best she can. To do so, she must sift through the documentary evidence, assembling a picture that demonstrates sufficient skill and good faith so that a reader will follow her. Burr at least knows that there is a room in which something happened. The historian, by contrast, must in many cases begin by building the room itself – sometimes by acknowledging that there was no physical space where her actors ever met – and then looking for surviving indicia of what might have happened in that notional space of conversation, causation, and contingency.  

Even more difficult, the historian sometimes wants to understand not only what happened in the room, but what the individuals were thinking about what was happening. If actions are difficult to trace centuries later, pinning down thoughts and ideas presents an even more forbidding prospect. For we only can know about thoughts and ideas to the extent they were committed to paper, either by their creators or – even more unreliably – by their creators’ auditors and interlocutors.

One historical uncertainty is whether Burr is right: was there in fact no one else in the room where the meeting among Hamilton, Jefferson, and Madison took place? Jefferson’s New York household included a coachman, a house servant, possibly a dedicated manservant, and a chef. The chef was James Hemings, the older brother of Sally Hemings and, like Sally, a half-sibling of Jefferson’s late wife. Also like Sally, James was Jefferson’s slave, despite several years’ sojourn in France, which abolished slavery in 1789. James and Sally’s brother, Robert Hemings, was also enslaved and was briefly present in the Maiden Lane house; according to historian Annette Gordon-Reed, however, Robert had left New York before the dinner took place. But James, who had become an accomplished chef during his time in Paris, likely prepared the meal on which Jefferson, Hamilton, and Madison dined while they hammered out their compromise. “Over Jefferson’s good wine and the meal James Hemings prepared for them, the men discussed the fate of the nation’s capital,” Gordon-Reed writes in The Hemingses of Monticello:

Hemings had seen James Madison in Jefferson’s home before and would do so many times again. Alexander Hamilton was more likely a new face to him. Over the course of the next few years, especially in Philadelphia, where Jefferson and Hamilton grew ever more hostile to one another, Hemings probably heard the name Hamilton quite a bit, though in tones less friendly than the ones likely used during the fateful evening in Jefferson’s home.

Was James Hemings or one of the servants in the room where the bargain took shape? Beginning during his time in Paris, and continuing when he was at home at Monticello, Jefferson famously used individual “dumbwaiters.” These were not walled food elevators but rather multi-shelved étagères placed next to each guest “so as to make the attendance of servants entirely unnecessary, believing as he did, that much of the domestic and even public discord was produced by the mutilated and misconstructed repetition of free conversation at dinner tables, by these mute but not inattentive listeners,” as one visitor to the Jefferson White House later remarked.

Hemings and the rest of the Maiden Lane staff might have loaded these shelves with the full dinner for Jefferson, Hamilton, and Madison and then repaired to the kitchen to await the cleanup. Did Jefferson pour the wine? Did the others think it odd not to be attended by slaves or servants during dinner? These are difficult, perhaps impossible, questions to answer. The scraps of paper have been burned in the bucket, if they ever even existed. Unlike Burr, the historian would like to have had someone else in the room, or – even better – to herself have been in the room, not in order to participate and to accrue power, but instead to gather evidence of the beliefs and arguments of the principals. To assemble such an account would be to use words to build something that outlived those individuals.

“Go on reading until you can hear the people talking,” the English historian G.M. Young exhorted his fellow scholars. Sally Hemings makes a brief, wordless appearance in Hamilton; we know her only because Jefferson addresses her: “There’s a letter on my desk from the President/Haven’t even put my bags down yet/Sally be a lamb, darlin’, won’tcha open it?” Young’s advice is difficult to follow in this instance. We do not hear Sally talking; we do not have written sources that tell us whether James was in the room where the dinner-table bargain happened. Sally is the only nonwhite character – as distinguished from the predominantly nonwhite cast – to appear in the show. For his next production, Miranda might consider repopulating some of the rooms of American history with people whose stories were erased not through their own action, but through the gaps created by others. Perhaps a retelling of the founding from the perspective of the Hemingses?  

The question of how twenty-first-century Americans should remember, and bring forward, the founders suffuses Hamilton. One of the most touching songs in the show, “Dear Theodosia,” features Burr and Hamilton addressing their newborn children (Theodosia Burr and Philip Hamilton, respectively). “You will come of age with our young nation/We’ll bleed and fight for you, we’ll make it right for you,” the new fathers sing. “If we lay a strong enough foundation/We’ll pass it on to you, we’ll give the world to you/And you’ll blow us all away.” Both Philip and Theodosia died violent deaths and predeceased their fathers. Philip died in 1801 of wounds sustained during a duel (depicted in Act II of Hamilton), and Theodosia was lost at sea in 1813. Hamilton’s numerous other children survived him, but Burr had no other legitimate offspring. Hamilton ends with a different legacy, placing Eliza’s contributions to her husband’s legacy at the center of the story. The show thus concludes by emphasizing continuity between the Revolutionary period and the generation that, by the time of Eliza’s death in 1854, was confronting disunion and war.

One hundred eighty-six years to the day before I saw Hamilton, another famous dinner in American history took place. This time, the room was inside the Indian Queen Tavern at Sixth Street and Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. The date was April 13, 1830; the occasion was the Jefferson Birthday Dinner, a gathering of the Democratic-Republican Party to honor its founder, who had died just four years earlier. In attendance were President Andrew Jackson, Vice President John C. Calhoun, Secretary of State Martin Van Buren, and large numbers of other politicians and dignitaries. As was customary, the main event of the dinner was a series of toasts. Jackson led the salutes: “The federal Union: it must be preserved!” Calhoun followed, with “The Union: next to our liberty the most dear; may we all remember that it can only be preserved by respecting the rights of the states, and distributing equally the benefit and burden of the Union!”

Scholars disagree on the question whether the nullifier Calhoun was seeking to provoke with his reference to states’ rights, or whether Jackson and Van Buren had staged the whole event in order to drive Calhoun from power. By 1830, however, it was clear that the party founded by Jefferson contained a volatile combination of unionist and states’ rights opinions. Jackson, aided by Van Buren, used Jefferson as a symbol to build party loyalty and ideology, in contrast to the supposedly neo-Federalist Whigs. By 1830, Democratic-Republican ideology emphasized yeoman agrarianism, suspicion of banks and other federal institutions, and decentralized governmental power. In the early twentieth century, Jefferson’s Birthday celebrations became Jefferson-Jackson Day dinners, annual gatherings of the Democratic Party aimed at celebrating democracy, equality, and populism.  

In recent years, however, increasing numbers of state Democratic parties have stopped referring to these gatherings as Jefferson-Jackson Day dinners. According to the New York Times, party members say “the two men no longer represent what it means to be a Democrat.” Both the founder of the party and his political heir are experiencing a transformation in their legacies. The wheel of memory turns. (Perhaps the fortunes of John Quincy Adams are due to ascend: the sixth president was an outspoken opponent of slavery and an advocate of a robust national government.)

Within a week of my visit to the Richard Rodgers Theatre, the Treasury Department announced that it was removing Andrew Jackson from the twenty-dollar bill and replacing his image with that of Harriet Tubman. Hamilton is to remain on the ten-dollar note, and the portraits of several women’s rights and civil rights leaders will be added to the five- and ten-dollar bills. Jackson was lionized by earlier generations of Americans for his appeals to equality and the “common man,” and for his identity as an opponent of monopolies and interests. Those who celebrated Jackson, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., were willing to overlook his support for, and participation in, slavery and his policy of Indian removal. These facts about Jackson were well known in previous decades, but they were somehow not viewed as salient by most mainstream scholars and by the general public. Today, they have become significant, and they are being worked into a different narrative about American history. Not a narrative of forgetting or glossing over, but one that is open to more rooms in which more things happened. The archetypal American founder need not be white or male; American-ness presumes neither.

In its style, its casting, and its entire approach, Hamilton compels twenty-first century audiences to reconsider the founders and their complex, sometimes heroic, sometimes ugly legacies. Some critics have faulted the show for telling a pretty story about the founding – in particular, for avoiding the brutality of slavery and the unequal treatment of women by casting nonwhite actors in the majority of the roles. The criticism seems to be that Hamilton is “a story” about “the founding,” and that the story is tricking us into believing that the founding was something that it was not – inclusive, antislavery, and redistributive.  

But instead of viewing Hamilton in this way, perhaps one should understand it as a story that starts with the founding, but that is ultimately about the founding read through the lens of today. Miranda and his collaborators have produced a work of art in the here and now. Hamilton is a story of the founding told in a twenty-first century idiom; who tells it is important. It avoids treating the founding as a static event to be worshiped. Instead, the production argues that the reception of the founding is at least as important as the nature of the founding itself – a nature that, like the burned scraps of paper, might well be unknowable.  

The room where what happened? Not just the founding, but the reception and re-narration of the founding. Excavating the stories of those who were in the eighteenth-century room is difficult, yet historians must and will continue to try. On Jefferson’s birthday evening this year, the 1,319-seat Richard Rodgers Theatre felt like nothing so much as a room: an intimate, electric – and, yes, selfie-snapping – space of communal artistic fervor. In the room with Hamilton, twenty-first-century Americans come face to face with different, revolutionary, saucy, modern versions of their eighteenth-century selves. All those selves, who were there all the time, not just the ones who have traditionally dominated portrait galleries.

Posted on 23 May 2016

ALISON L. LACROIX is Robert Newton Reid Professor of Law at the University of Chicago Law School and an Associate Member of the University of Chicago Department of History. She is the author of The Ideological Origins of American Federalism (Harvard University Press, 2010) and has also written on the election of 1800 and dueling.