Alexander Hamilton has become more of a household name as of late due to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hit Broadway Musical of last year, “Hamilton.”
As a founding father and the nation’s first ever secretary of treasury, Hamilton was a fiery political spirit and he now resides on the ten dollar bill.
With all of this said, on Wednesday, Feb. 15, a Robert J. Christen Lecture occurred in Kelly Commons. The man of conversation was, of course, Alexander Hamilton.
The lecture was titled, “Alexander Hamilton: The Man, The Myth, The Musical,” as Joanne Freeman, a professor of history at Yale University, spoke for the Manhattan College Community that comprised of students, faculty and alumni.
“Freeman has done extensive work in the realm of public history,” the Manhattan College website, says. “She has worked as a historical consultant for the National Park Service in the reconstruction of the Alexander Hamilton Grange National Memorial, and she is thanked by Lin-Manuel Miranda in his annotated libretto for the musical Hamilton.”
Freeman greeted the Manhattan College community and began her lecture.
“The hunger for Hamilton has seemed unstoppable,” said Freeman. “I am going to offer a deeper understanding of Hamilton, even deeper than the play. I would like to leave you with a bread crumb trail of Hamilton.”
Freeman relayed a high praise for the Broadway show, but her focus was to go much deeper than the play needed to, in terms of describing who Alexander Hamilton actually was and why he acted the way that he did.
First on Freeman’s agenda was policy and personality.
Freeman shared that Hamilton believed in “dramatic and extreme politics,” while his personality was both “impulsive and aggressive.”
She continued to outline Hamilton’s aggression by sharing his actions during the 1794 Whiskey Rebellion.
“13,000 men marched to find 5 guys and flag,” said Freeman.
This type of extremism calls for those who study Hamilton, such as Freeman, to try and figure out why he acted as he did.
“You have to try and figure out his view, and that’s tough to do,” said Freeman. “He didn’t use many of his many words to describe himself. You have to hunt for Hamilton, he’s notoriously hard to figure out.”
Due to this reality that inspires Freeman, one of her books in the making will indeed be titled “Hunting for Hamilton.”
Freeman went on to offer a “quick and dirty” explanation as to why Hamilton acted as he did, sharing that he was born poor and illegitimate and also that he was brought to North America by means of charity so that he could attend school.
Upon arriving to America, Hamilton was desperate to make something of himself. He advanced to New York City to attend Columbia University, where he studied biology, but he also had a particular interest in religion.
While at Columbia, Hamilton also joined the debate club and military training clubs, shared Freeman.
“He was basically trying to cover all of the bases. These were all of the gentlemanly professions,” she said.
Freeman also mentioned the severity of his economic conditions, which played a large part in Hamilton’s studying. She mentioned his lack of family and money, which caused him to be very self driven.
“He was very systematic, he was operating without a safety net,” said Freeman. “This gives us a ground level reality that shaped Hamilton’s decisions.”
When the United States Constitution was formed, George Washington became the nation’s first president, and he chose Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison to his cabinet, among others, to help create policy. This action was made due to the difference in views held by Hamilton to those of Jefferson and Madison, who were his political rivals.
Through private and personal memos, Hamilton’s lack of faith in the stability of the nation’s future shined, as he foresaw a collapse in the newly formed republic.
“[Hamilton Memo’s] show us sincere fear on his part,” said Freeman. “This reveals his reasoning behind his politics. He shows fear and distrust.”
Freeman suggested that these fears created his “power happy political mind,” as he focused on political power and boosting the power of the president and national government.
But Hamilton’s contributions weren’t accepted by all, or even most.
As Washington retired from presidency, the downfall of Hamilton’s political career began.
“[Hamilton was] secretly advising [John] Adams’ Cabinet, until he got caught,” said Freeman, adding that he also wrote attacking letters to Adams and Aaron Burr, the man who later took his life in dual.
“Hamilton became involved in 10 near duels, probably a record for founding fathers,” said Freeman.
As a duel was approaching with Burr, Hamilton authored a private statement to be made public, in case he died in battle.
Freeman then explained why he wanted to battle in this duel, and also why he didn’t.
“I [Hamilton] said a lot of bad things about Burr, so now I really can’t get out this duel,” said Freeman. “He was predicting a major crisis to the republic, so he fought for what he believed in.”
Hamilton also relayed in his message that religion, his debts, and his family made him second guess the dual, but not to the degree that he wouldn’t fight.
“I’m not excusing him, but you can understand him better when you understand that America’s new Constitution was an experiment in government, his beliefs were of fear.”
Overall, the lecture aimed to teach people of Hamilton’s background, compare it to his actions as a political leader and finally discuss how this all lead to his death.
As her speech concluded, a question and answer session took place, which included questions involving Hamilton’s power expectations, his desire to create a national bank, and many more. Freeman seemed highly impressed at the level of intellect that the questions embodied.
Senior Matt Mattera attended and enjoyed the lecture.
“As a senior at MC, I have taken advantage of many of the opportunities to attend lecture series given on campus and today was no different,” Mattera said in an email statement. “I enjoyed listening to Dr. Freeman speak about Alexander Hamilton’s life and legacy and, as always, found it very insightful. I hope to see Hamilton live on Broadway one day. We had an awesome turnout,” he said.