Friday, July 8, 2016

Lookin' For A Mind at Work

Three ways I soak it in.
Alexander Hamilton
I'm deep into ** Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow. The fact is, we're a family obsessed. An appropriate summer read to honor July 4th while preparing for the upcoming Presidential election, Chernow's biography overflows with dreams, ambition, intelligence, despair, happiness, and (as its Broadway musical poetically points out) helplessness. It is the ultimate living history book; revealing the nitty-gritty of the characters and events surrounding the Revolutionary War and the birth of our "young, scrappy, and hungry" country.

Alexander Hamilton

But what really piqued my interest and enticed me to begin this 700 page history lesson was the soundtrack of * Hamilton - An American Musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda. To say that this is a work of genius would be an understatement. Musically, it's addicting. Lyrically, it's fascinating. After my first listen, I couldn't wait to know more about this crucial time in American history, the people who were part of it, and their connections to Hamilton.

Mulligan, Hamilton, LaFayette, and Laurens

Mulligan/LaFayette - "We fought with him."
Laurens - "Me? I died for him."
Washington - "Me? I trusted him."
Eliza/Angelica/Maria Reynolds - "Me? I loved him."
Burr - "And me? I'm the damn fool that shot him."

Taking few liberties with the facts, Miranda incorporated a vast amount of information concerning the conception and creation of the United States into about 2 and 1/2 hours of spellbinding enjoyment. I'm totally captivated by the way he skillfully worked the book's narrative into his work of art.

Hamilton - An American Musical is education at its finest; one that leaves the student begging to return. I've been layering the story behind this musical to my daughters as I read the book. They are curious and intrigued. What more could a homeschooling mom want?

So now, in the words of Miranda's George Washington, "Ladies and gentlemen, you coulda been anywhere in the world tonight, but you're here with us in New York City. Are you ready for a cabinet meeting???"  I'm taking it a step further... "Are you ready for living American history lesson?"

* (Burr) How does a xxxxxxx, orphan, son of a xxxxx and a Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean by providence, impoverished, in squalor, grow up to be a hero and a scholar?
** Hamilton probably did not have formal schooling on Nevis - his illegitimate birth may well have barred him from Anglican instruction - but he seems to have had individual instruction.

* (Eliza) When he was ten his father split, full of it, debt-ridden, two years later, see Alex and his mother bed-ridden, half-dead sittin' in their own sick, the scent thick, and Alex got better but his mother went quick.
** Alexander probably never set eyes again on his vagabond father, who stayed in the Caribbean, either lured by the indolent tropic or ground down by poverty...  Mother and son must have been joined in a horrid scene of vomiting, flatulence, and defection as they lay side by side in a feverish state in the single upstairs bed. The delirious Alexander was probably writhing inches from his mother when she expired at nine o'clock on the night of February 19.

* (Hamilton) I'm 'a get a scholarship to King's College. I prob'ly shouldn't brag, but dag, I amaze and astonish. The problem is I got a lot of brains but no polish. I gotta holler just to be heard. With every word, I drop knowledge! I'm a diamond in the rough, a shiny piece of coal tryin' to reach my goal. My power of speech: impeachable. Only nineteen but my mind is older.
** After mounting the platform, the slight, boyish speaker started out haltingly, then caught fire in a burst of oratory... He endorsed the Boston Tea Party, deplored the closure of Boston's port, endorsed colonial unity against unfair taxation, and came down foursquare for a boycott of British goods... When his speech ended, the crowd stood transfixed in silence, staring at this spellbinding young orator before it erupted in a sustained ovation. "It is a collegian!" people whispered to one another... From that time on, he was treated as a youthful hero of the cause...

* (Laurens) But we'll never be truly free until those in bondage have the same rights as you and me, you and I. Do or die. Wait till I sally in on a stallion with the first black battalion have another - Shot!
** From the time he joined Washington's family, Laurens unabashedly championed a plan in which slaves would earn their freedom by joining the Continental Army... Laurens offered more than lip service to his scheme, telling his father that he was willing to take his inheritance in the form of a black battalion, freed and equipped to defend South Carolina.

* (Hamilton) Oh, am I talkin' too loud? Sometimes I get over excited, shoot off at the mouth. I never had a group of friends before, I promise that I'll make y'all proud.
** Hamilton and Laurens formed a colorful trio with a young French nobleman who was appointed an honorary major general in the Continental Army on July 31, 1777. The marquis de LaFayette, nineteen, was a stylish, ebullient young aristocrat inflamed by republican ideals and eager to serve the revolutionary cause. "The gay trio to which Hamilton and Laurens belonged was made complete by LaFayette," wrote Hamilton's grandson later. "On the whole, there was something rather suggestive of the three famous heros..."

Eliza, Angelica, and Peggy Schuyler

* (Angelica) Eliza, I'm lookin' for a mind at work... I've been reading Common Sense by Thomas Paine. So men say that I'm intense or I'm insane. You want a revolution? I want a revelation so listen to my declaration: "We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal" And when I meet Thomas Jefferson, I'm 'a compel him to include women in the sequel! Work! Look around, look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now!
** She was to serve as muse to some of the smartest politicians of her day, including Thomas Jefferson, Robert R. Livingston, and, most of all, Hamilton. Angelica was one of the few American women of her generation as comfortable in a European drawing room as in a Hudson River parlor, and there was a gossipy irreverence about her that seemed very European. Unlike Eliza, she learned to speak perfect French. Where Eliza bowed reluctantly to the social demands of Hamilton's career, Angelica applauded his ambitions and was always famished for news of his latest political exploits... Angelica never met a famous, intelligent man she didn't enchant, and she soon befriended Benjamin Franklin. She prayed that Hamilton might someday sail to Europe and succeed him as American minister... In the end, Angelica Church spurned Jefferson's coy overtures, and nothing came of the flirtation. The feud between Hamilton and Jefferson forced Church to choose between the two men, and, inevitably, she chose her brother-in-law.

Angelica Schuyler Church

* (Angelica) Handsome, boy does he know it! Peach fuzz, and he can't even grow it! I wanna take him far away from this place, then I turn and see my sister's face and she is...Helpless... But when I fantasize at night it's Alexander's eyes, as I romanticize what might have been if I hadn't sized him up so quickly. At least my dear Eliza's his wife; at least I keep his eyes in my life...
** He was slight and thin shouldered and distinctly Scottish in appearance, with a florid complexion. reddish-brown hair, and sparkling violet-blue eyes... The attraction between Hamilton and Angelica was so potent and obvious that many people assumed they were lovers. At the very least, theirs was a friendship of unusual ardor, and it seems plausible that Hamilton would have proposed to Angelica, not Eliza, if the older sister had been eligible. Angelica was more Hamilton's counterpart than Eliza. (Aha! She was already married.)

George Washington

* (Hamilton) I have never seen the General so despondent. I have taken over writing all his correspondence.
** He had plenty of combat officers, but nobody could match Hamilton's French or his ability to draft subtle, nuanced letters. After almost hourly contact with Washington for four years, Hamilton had become his alter ego, able to capture his tone on paper or in person, and was a casualty of his own success.

George Washington

* (Hamilton) "Sir, entrust me with a command," and ev'ry day, (Washington) No. (Hamilton) He dismisses me out of hand. Instead of me, he promotes Charles E. Lee. Makes him second-in-command.
** On the other hand, Hamilton believed that he has been asked to sacrifice his military ambitions for too long and that he had waited patiently for four years to make his mark. And he was only asking to risk his life for his country.

* (Washington) Let me tell you what I wish I'd known when I was young and dreamed of glory: you have no control: who lives, who dies, who tells your story. I know that we can win. I know that greatness lies in you. But remember from here on in, history has its eyes on you.
**  Despite their often conflicted feelings for each other, Washington remained unwaveringly loyal toward Hamilton, whom he saw as an exceptionally able and intelligent, if sometimes errant; one senses a buried affection toward the younger man that he could seldom manifest openly... All mankind was watching the republican experiment: "The world has its eye upon America. The noble struggle we have made in the cause of liberty has occasioned a kind of revolution in human sentiment." ("Second Letter from Phocion," A. Hamilton, April 1784)


The battle of Yorktown

* (Company) The battle of Yorktown. 1781. (LaFayette) Monsieur Hamilton. (Hamilton) Monsieur LaFayette. (LaFayette) In command where you belong. (Hamilton) How you say, no sweat. Finally on the field. We've had quite a run. (LaFayette) Immigrants: (Hamilton/LaFayette) We get the job done.
** Alexander Hamilton never needed to worry about leading a tedious, uneventful life. Drama shadowed his footsteps. When his ship caught fire during his three-week voyage to North America, crew members scrambled down ropes to the sea and scooped up seawater in buckets, extinguishing the blaze with some difficulty. The charred vessel managed to sail into Boston Harbor intact, and Hamilton proceeded straight up to New York... Like Hamilton's life, his (LaFayette's) life was shadowed by early sorrow: his father had died when he was two, his mother when he was thirteen, making him an orphan at the same time as Hamilton.

Eliza Schuyler

* (Hamilton) I imagine death so much it feels more like a memory. This is where it gets me: on my feet, the enemy ahead of me. If this is the end of me, at least I have a friend with me, weapon in my hand, a command, and my men with me. Then I remember my Eliza's expecting me...not only that, my Eliza's expecting. We gotta go, gotta get the job done, gotta start a new nation, gotta meet my son!
** Two days before exposing himself to enemy fire, Hamilton wrote to Eliza, now five months pregnant, a lighthearted letter that attempted to assuage he worries. He chided her for not not matching his output of twenty letters in seven weeks and said she could make amends only one way: "You shall engage shortly to present me with a boy. You will ask me if a girl will not answer the purpose. By no means. I fear, with all the mother's charms, she may inherit the caprices of her father and then she will enslave, tantalize and plaque one half (the) sex."

Guess who?

King George III

* (King George) What comes next? You've been freed. Do you know how hard it is to lead? You're on your own. Awesome. Wow. Do you have a clue what happens now? Oceans rise. Empires fall. It's much harder when its all your call. All alone, across the sea. When your people say they hate you, don't come running back to me.
** The full truth of Hamilton's motivation for defending loyalists is complex. He thought America's character would be defined by how it treated its vanquished enemies, and he wanted to graduate from bitter wartime grievances to the forgiving posture of peace. Revenge had always frightened him, and class envy and mob violence had long been his bugaboos... The Revolution had unified sharply disparate groups. Without the bonds of wartime comradeship, would the divisive pulls of class, region, and ideology tear the new country apart?

* (Hamilton) Oh Philip, you outshine the morning sun. My son. When you smile, I fall apart. And I thought I was so smart. My father wasn't around.
** In all, Alexander and Eliza produced eight children in a twenty-year span. As a result, Eliza was either pregnant or consumed with child rearing throughout their marriage, which may have encouraged Hamilton's womanizing... The second he got home, he shed his office cares and entered into his children's imaginative world. Son James said, "His gentle nature rendered his house a most joyous one to his children and friends. He accompanied his daughter Angelica when she played and sang at the piano. His intercourse with his children was always affectionate and confiding, which excited in them a corresponding confidence and devotion."

Aaron Burr
Aaron Burr

* (Hamilton) Burr, we studied and we fought and we killed for the notion of a nation we now get to build. For once in your life, take a stand with pride. I don't understand why you stand to the side.  
(Burr) I'll keep all my plans close to my chest. I'll wait here and see which way the wind will blow. I'm taking my time, watching the afterbirth of a nation, watching the tension grow.
*** Later on, Hamilton said that in their early relationship they had "always been opposed in politics but always on good terms. We set out in the practice of the law at the same time and took opposite political directions. Burr beckoned me to follow him and I advised him to come with me. We could not agree."... Throughout his career, Hamilton was outspoken to a fault, while Burr was a man of ingrained secrecy. He glorified in his sphinxlike reputation and once described himself thus in the third person: "He is a grave, silent, strange sort of animal, inasmuch that we know not what to make of him."... Hamilton asked rhetorically about Burr, "Is it recommended to have no theory? Can that man be a systematic or able statesman who has none? I believe not."

* (Burr) Why do you assume you're the smartest in the room? Soon that attitude's gonna be your doom! Why do you fight like you're running out of time? Why do you fight like history has its eyes on you...
** With his hyperactive mind, Hamilton was already fleshing out a rough draft of America's future government... However impressive it was that Hamilton could compress three years of legal training into nine months, he juggled several other balls at once... "With other men, law is a trade, with him it was a science"... He forced other lawyers to fight on his turf, starting out with painstaking definition of terms and then reciting a long string of precedents. He brought into court lengthy lists of legal authorities and Latin quotations he wished to cite. His sources were varied, esoteric, and unpredictable.

I've only read the first 200 pages of this epic saga, making it necessary for me to stop here at the end of Act I. This entertaining musical doesn't even scratch the surface of Chernow's engrossing book.

I'm anxious to read about Hamilton and Jefferson's relationship... * (Jefferson) I know that Alexander Hamilton is here and he would rather not have this debate. I'll remind you that he is not Secretary of State. He knows nothing of loyalty, dresses like fake royalty, desperate to rise above his station, everything he does betrays the ideals of our nation...

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson and Hamilton in a rap debate.

...the years between 1783 and 1789, the drafting of our Constitution, Hamilton's involvement in the first political sex scandal... * (Hamilton) I wish I could say that was the last time. I said that the last time. It became a pastime. A month into this endeavor I received a letter... (Jefferson/Madison/Burr) Well, he's never gon' be President now. Well, he's never gon' be President now. That's one last thing to worry about. Hey at least he was honest with our money!

 ... the infamous duel, and Eliza's numerous accomplishments after her husband's death. * (Eliza) In their eyes I see you, Alexander, I see you every time. And when my time is up, have I done enough? Will they tell my story? Oh, I can't wait to see you again. It's only a matter of time. Will they tell your story? Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?

My brain is ticking. On the lighter side, I'm chuckling as I envision our Founding Fathers attending this musical. I'm sure that this modern rendition of their historical story would get them hip-hopping all the way down Broadway. But on a more serious note, I'm mulling over this year's upcoming election and wondering what will become of our great nation established by such intelligent and educated people. These individuals all had their weaknesses, but each also possessed not only strong beliefs but forward thinking attitudes. They knew where they came from and put together a melting pot of hardworking immigrants; people our country needed and relied on. When I go to the polls in November, I will definitely be "lookin' for a mind at work!" and reminding myself to look around at how lucky I am to be alive right now. History has its eyes on ALL of us.