I finally got around to watching Richard Brookhiser’s film on PBS about the life of Alexander Hamilton. Rediscovering Alexander Hamilton is a fascinating effort to dramatize Hamilton’s life in ways I thought were very effective. Filmed in the settings in which Hamilton was born, lived and died, historical images and interviews with historians were mixed with more contemporary takes on the story.
For example, three enormous Baltimore gang bangers were asked how they would have responded to being called “despicable,” as Hamilton called Aaron Burr. One said that would not have bothered him at all. “Despicable” is something Daffy Duck would say. But if he had called him a “bitch,” that would have been different. All three agreed that Hamilton should never have “wasted” his first shot in the duel. If you went to duel, then you needed to do the deed.
A tour group of prospective Princeton students and their parents was taken to the building that was fired upon by Hamilton’s artillery unit while occupied by the British. (Princeton Professor Robbie George was among the group, though incognito.)
Paul Clement and Seth Waxman recreated their Supreme Court argument on the writ of habeas corpus in the Georgetown Supreme Court Institute’s moot courtoom before a three judge panel including Judge Brett Kavanaugh of the DC Circuit. Both Clement and Waxman relied on different Federalist Papers by Hamilton, and Judge Kavanaugh asked Clement why we should care what the Federalist Papers had to say about the Constitution.
As the closing credits rolled, an excerpt from this rap song by Lin-Manuel Miranda about Alexander Hamilton performed at the White House was played. I thought readers who had not seen it before would enjoy it.
I am not a big Hamilton fan, but all the major Founders were both great and flawed, brilliantly insightful and deeply mistaken. As one historian noted during the film, the United States is still divided between Hamiltonians and Jeffersonians. But this film is a terrific introduction to Hamilton that would be most accessible for anyone with an interest in the Founding. Here is the ad for the show: