By Talia Belowich
I spent much of my free time in the eighth grade memorizing the lines to the Broadway Musical Hamilton. I’d sing it as I practiced my layups in the driveway, and — much to his dismay — blast it in my dad’s jeep on the way to dance rehearsal. As happens naturally over time, my obsession with Hamilton has ebbed and flowed through the years, but recently, I have fully welcomed this production back into my life.
Hamilton is unique because the whole production is music, so when you listen to the cast album, you hear the entire show. With each re-listen, I discover increasingly more about the play: a line I missed, a phrase I previously mispronounced, or some historical detail I had yet to consider. Even better, in each go around, I become a different version of myself. This time, my enthrallment with the production has lasted two months and counting. Along with the aforementioned historical nuances, I have also realized just how monumental this musical is. As I've gotten older, the true intention and meaning of the play has come to light. It’s not just a play about a founding father. It's a play about the human experience. These are the top life lessons I have taken away from my most recent listen of the Hamilton soundtrack:
It’s better to have an unfavorable opinion than no opinion at all.
“If you stand for nothing, Burr what’ll you fall for” — from the song: Aaron Burr, Sir
“For once in your life take a stand with pride. I don’t understand how you stand to the side.” — from the song: Non-Stop
Throughout the dialogues of Aaron Burr, Sir and Non-Stop, we see glimpses of how wishy-washy Aaron Burr was as a leader. Aaron Burr is portrayed throughout the work as Hamilton’s rival, and is ultimately the villain of the production; He refuses to take a stand, first during the independence of the United States and, later, during the creation and defense of the US constitution. When Hamilton approaches his then-friend Burr to write the federalist papers — a collection of documents that promote the articles of the United States constitution, Burr gives a series of excuses but ultimately refuses on the premise that he wants to “keep all of [his] plans close to [his] chest.”
This all came to a head in the 1800 presidential election, when the election’s deciding factor was Hamilton's endorsement of the presidential candidate. Hamilton (federalist), declares that he will endorse Jefferson (anti-federalist) over Burr (another federalist), despite the fact that “[he has] never agreed with Jefferson once.” His reason for endorsing Jefferson was simply because “Jefferson has beliefs. Burr has none.”
Burr’s indecisive and spiritless disposition ultimately cost him the presidency. Complacetness is not the quality people look for in a leader; through the character arch of Burr, and his negative portrayal in the work as a whole, we learn just this.
2. Sometimes, it’s best to mind your own business and focus on yourself
“A meddling in the middle of a military mess… if we try to fight in every revolution in the world, we never stop, where do we draw the line” — from the song: Cabinet Battle #2
In Cabinet Battle #2, there is a debate between Thomas Jefferson (Secretary of State) and Alexander Hamilton (Secretary of Treasury) in regards to the United States’ involvement in the French Revolution. Jefferson argues that the French helped the U.S. when we were at our lowest during the American Revolution, and we owe it to them to do the same during their own revolution. To make his argument, Jefferson alludes to their good friend and Frenchman, the Marquis De Lafayette, who is now in need of assistance, and the Treaty of Alliance, which they signed with the late King Louis XVI.
Hamilton, however, argues that, as a new nation, we are too weak and too vulnerable to start putting ourselves in the middle of sticky situations that we are not involved in. Washington ultimately agrees with Hamilton and signs a statement of neutrality, which served as a strong precedent in early American history.
3. Admitting one's wrongdoings is an act of nobility
“Have you ever seen somebody ruin their own life? His poor wife” — from the song: The Reynolds Pamphlet`
Alexander Hamilton wrote The Reynolds Pamphlet in order to confess to his affair with mistress Maria Reynolds. The song details what is known as the first scandal in American history, a scandal that ultimately ruined Hamilton’s name. The song highlights that with this confession, Hamilton can never be president (oh how things have changed — remember when corruption was a good enough reason for someone to lose power?). Yet, he cleared his name to the people that matter, his family, and what’s better, he can no longer get in any legal trouble or be blackmailed due to his affair. It was an honorable choice to come clean, albeit one that ruined his wife Eliza’s and his name and life.
4. You don’t owe anyone your business
“I'm erasing myself from the narrative. Let future historians wonder how Eliza reacted when you broke her heart” — from the song: Burn
Eliza’s beautiful soliloquy detailing her reaction to the now publicized affair, Burn, immediately follows The Reynolds Pamphlet in the soundtrack. From the lyrics, we can assume that there was little historical detail about Eliza’s reaction, and that she refrained from making her situation even more public.
Eliza shows us that, when it comes to private matters like relationships, keeping details quiet is an honorable choice even when it may be challenging. This lesson is especially prevalent today, when female celebrities and athletes are constantly bombarded for personal details about their relationships and love interests in interviews, which is often wildly inappropriate. Eliza refraining from sharing her reaction to the public is a respectable choice that is highlighted throughout the song.
5. Power is earned
“I wanna be in the room where it happens” — from the song: The Room Where It Happens
“The room where it happens” refers to political negotiations that happen behind closed doors — specifically the decision of where to put the U.S. capitol and payment of state debt — which Aaron Burr longs to be a part of. In the song, Burr complains about his desire for political power. However, political power has to be earned; politicians need to fight for what they want, which Burr was weaker at than the others.
This song teaches us that we can’t all get what we want. Desirable attributes like influence and control must be worked at, and are not simply handed out upon request.
6. Our legacy is out of our control
“You have no control who lives who dies who tells your story” — from the song: Who Lives Who Dies Who Tells Your Story
This is the last song in the Hamilton soundtrack, and it takes place after Hamilton’s death. The premise of the song is that Eliza told Hamilton’s entire story — all 46 songs in the soundtrack — because she was still alive after Hamilton was gone. It’s an important lesson, that you have no control over your legacy. It is up to others to keep your memory and legacy alive.