Hamilton on Broadway and the Founding in American Culture: an introduction.

Author:Brown, Matthew
 
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The Broadway musical Hamilton (2015) has become the rare theater event that takes a prominent place in American popular culture and political discourse. (1) Its runaway commercial and artistic success has created a unique place of renewed prominence for its central character, Alexander Hamilton, America's first Treasury secretary. It has also provided a uniquely influential voice for the musical's creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and his interpretation of the American Founding, its players, and its legacy. I organized this symposium and arranged for a group of thoughtful scholars of the American Founding, economics, and financial history to attend the Broadway show and contribute papers to this volume. The goal is to help us better understand what legacy might emerge from this cultural phenomenon and how it might influence our understanding of the American Founding well into the twenty-first century.

Over the course of American history, veneration of the Founding and Founding Fathers has become something of a regular feature in American culture, politics, and even business. But its uses have gone well beyond the mere act of celebrating patriotism and American freedom that most people consider when thinking about the Founding. In the 1790s, Thomas Jefferson and his allies sought political advantage by working to solidify his status as the author of the Declaration of Independence as part of their ongoing battle for influence against Hamilton's Federalist Party and its contender for leading "author of Independence," John Adams (Maier 1998). The trend of elevating the Founders to the status of American saints and using them to cast judgment on contemporary events and figures emerged clearly in the 1820s during the lead-up to the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence in 1826. This celebration coincided with the beginning of what is now an almost two-hundred-year-old successful business model of commercially popular biographies of the Founders (Wills 2002).

In 1876, America's first World's Fair, the Centennial International Exhibition, was hosted in Philadelphia in conjunction with the Centenary of the Declaration of Independence and combined a celebration of America's one hundredth anniversary with displays of new inventions and technologies. The event helped reintroduce and promote a popular narrative of American dynamism, power, expansion, and success following the devastation of the Civil War (see, e.g., Rydell 1987)...

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