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Hamilton, An American Musical: A Reading and Resource List

The  Pulitzer Prize winning Broadway musical Hamilton has captured the attention of the populace in more ways than one. Inspired by Ron Chernow's biography Alexander Hamilton, the musical features a diverse cast and uses hip hop to lay focus on a man vital to American history yet virtually unknown to many Americans. The musical has also managed to make history, literally, by being the first contender to receive 16 Tony Award nominations. Creator of the musical, Lin Manuel Miranda, feels that this story was a necessary one.

‘‘We could all be dead tomorrow,’’ Miranda says. ‘‘Who tells our story? Will it be told? We have no way of knowing. In essence, that’s what the show is about. We are telling the story of someone who I don’t think would expect it to be told in this way, if he were alive. But he very much wanted his story told. He was outlived by all his enemies. The next four presidents—Jefferson, Madison, Monroe and John Quincy Adams—all hated Hamilton, and did their best, not even to assassinate his character, but to bury him by omission.’’ (New York Times)

Why was Hamilton so important that he deserves recognition today? Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804) is considered one of the founding fathers of the United States. He was the first Secretary of the Treasury of the United States and a primary contributor to The Federalist Papers. Among the founding fathers, he was the man whose vision was largely responsible for the creation of the American nation as it is today. Samuel Eliot Morison wrote in The Oxford History of the American People that it was Hamilton's genius that enabled the new government to function successfully.

Alexander Hamilton. Image ID: 1250073

Born on January 11 in the British West Indies, Hamilton was an illegitimate child. His father, an unsuccessful tradesmen, abandoned the family when he was 10. When his mother died in 1768, Hamilton was taken in by her family and later sponsored by them and other family friends to attend school in New Jersey and New York. During the American Revolution Hamilton joined the military. From 1777 to 1781 he served with General George Washington. After the war Hamilton became a lawyer.

Hamilton believed that the United States needed a strong national government. He supported the new U.S. Constitution because it set up such a government. Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay wrote a famous series of essays to explain the Constitution called The Federalist (later named The Federalist Papers).

In 1789 George Washington, now U.S. president, made Hamilton secretary of the treasury. Hamilton’s financial program strengthened the national government. Thomas Jefferson, the secretary of state, disagreed with Hamilton. He believed that the states should have more power. The two men and their supporters started the first U.S. political parties. Hamilton led the Federalist Party, while Jefferson led the Republican Party.

Hamilton resigned as secretary of the treasury in 1795. He stayed active in politics, however, and got involved in the presidential election of 1800. Jefferson and Aaron Burr were two of the main candidates. Hamilton and Burr did not like each other. Hamilton set aside his quarrel with Jefferson and helped him get elected.

In 1804 Hamilton supported Burr’s opponent in the election for governor of New York. Angered once again, Burr challenged Hamilton to a duel. Burr shot Hamilton on July 11, 1804. Hamilton died the next day. (Biography in Context)

Below is one of two farewell letters written to Hamilton's wife before the fateful duel, and a picture of his wife Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton.

Final Letter
Alexander Hamilton. Image ID: 1250231
Mrs. Alexander Hamilton (Ellizabeth Hamilton). Image ID: 1250154














Other Resources

Alexander Hamilton Papers
The Alexander Hamilton papers, dated 1775-1804, primarily consist of letters and documents either written or signed by Alexander Hamilton, and pertain to his career as a soldier, lawyer, statesman and United States Secretary of the Treasury. It is a synthetic collection of largely autograph material, combining gifts and purchases from various sources.

The Federalist (also known as The Federalist Papers)
Reproduction of the original from the American Antiquarian Society. The Federalist is a collection of 85 articles and essays written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay promoting the ratification of the United States Constitution.

Other Important Figures in Hamilton

While Hamilton is the titular character in the musical, there are many other's present from our nation's history. Below find information as well as books in our collection for further exploration.

Marquis de Lafayette

Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert Du Motier, marquis de Lafayette, 1757-1834.Image ID: 1551639

Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette (1757-1834), French general, statesman, and hero of the American Revolution, served France by endeavoring to smooth the transition from the Old Regime to the new order created by the French Revolution. (Biography in Context)

George Washington

George Washington (The Constable-Hamilton portrait). Image ID: psnypl_coll_003

George Washington (1732-1799) was commander in chief of the American and French forces in the American Revolution and became the first president of the United States. Rightly known as "the father of his country", no figure had a more central role during the American Revolution and early national period. Even after his death he remained the preeminent embodiment of national character. To understand the trajectory of Washington's career is to understand that of early American history. (Biography in Context)

Aaron Burr

Aaron Burr. Image ID: 1161242

American lawyer and politician Aaron Burr (1756-1836) was vice president under Thomas Jefferson. After his term of office he conspired to invade Spanish territory in the Southwest and to separate certain western areas from the United States. He is most famous for having killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel. (Biography in Context)

John Laurens

John Laurens, Image ID:EM3082

John Laurens (1754-1782) was an American soldier and statesman from South Carolina during the American Revolutionary War, best known for his criticism of slavery and efforts to help recruit slaves to fight for their freedom as U.S. soldiers. (Biography in Context)

James Madison

James Madison

James Madison (1751-1836), the fourth president of the United States, was one of the principal founders of America's republican form of government. He made a major contribution to the ratification of the Constitution by writing The Federalist Papers, along with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay. In later years, he was referred to as the "Father of the Constitution." (Biography in Context)

King George III

His Majesty King George III. Image ID: 424995

George III (1738-1820) was king of Great Britain and Ireland from 1760 to 1820. His long reign witnessed the American Revolution, the defeat of Napoleon, the founding of the "second British empire," and the decline of monarchical power. (Biography in Context)

Want more Hamilton?


Doug Reside's post HAMILTON: The Archive is a scene by scene guide to the library's collections.








Hamilton: The Revolution (Official Libretto) Offers a behind-the-scenes view of Hamilton the musical, detailing the many dramatic episodes in Alexander Hamilton's life.







Hamilton: Original Broadway Cast Recording
"Hamilton initially began as 'The Hamilton Mixtape,' a collection of songs about the man whom Lin-Manuel Miranda memorably christened the “10-dollar founding father without a father” at the White House in 2009. It then blossomed into a hugely successful Broadway musical, of course. But it’s worth remembering that the cultural phenomenon—the costumes and dancing, the sidewalk show, the memes, the late-night appearances, the celebrity endorsements, the Democratic fundraiser—started out as music." The Atlantic

"Hamilton Makes History with 16 Tony Nominations" New York Times


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Aaron Burr

I'm also finding a lot to like in the 1976 historical novel "Burr," by Gore Vidal. Know that it's not "history" per se, it be reads well and is very well researched. A good book about that time in downtown New York City as well. And, of course, lots of stuff about Hamilton and the rest of them.

Great suggestion!

Hi Tom, although I chose to focus on non-fiction, the Vidal suggestion is still a worthy one. A well researched novel can sometimes be just as illuminating as factual texts!

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