Calls have been made to ‘cancel Hamilton’ just days after the Broadway musical’s streaming debut on Disney+, after a renewed focus on it’s lead character, Founding Father Alexander Hamilton.
The show, created by Lin-Manuel Miranda, portrays Hamilton as a ‘young, scrappy, and hungry’ immigrant and someone who was passionate about the abolition of slavery.
However, in light of recent Black Lives Matter protests, the story has now come under greater scrutiny – with some pointing out that Hamilton was a slave trader.
The Founding Father married into a prominent New York slaveholding family, and managed the sale of slaves for his in-laws. He also did accounting for a Caribbean trading company that engaged in the slave trade.
However, it does not appear that Hamilton ever directly owned any slaves himself.
Set during the American Revolution, the musical does not discuss the central role that slavery played during that particular moment in history while also failing to mention that most of the Founding Fathers were slave owners
Some have taken to social media to call for the cancellation of the show overall
The show portrays Alexander Hamilton as a ‘young, scrappy, and hungry’ immigrant and someone who was passionate about the abolition of slavery, but he traded slaves although he doesn’t appear to have ever directly owned any enslaved people
The Hamilton musical, which won 11 Tonys for its Broadway run and has grossed $1 billion worldwide, cast many non-white actors in roles as historical white figures.
But the production glosses over the issue of slavery, making few references about the profits that some Founding Fathers made from it.
Ajamu Baraka an international human rights activist, organizer, political analyst wrote: ‘The play & now movie Hamilton is racist buffoonery & revisionist history meant to make liberal white folks feel good about their collaboration with the colonial project know as the U.S. & its racist imperialist project abroad. Miranda should concentrate on feeing (sic) Puerto Rico.’
The true story behind the show has seen the hashtag ‘CancelHamilton’ grow on Twitter.
Alexander Hamilton’s connections to slavery
Hamilton was a penniless orphan from the Caribbean who was so brilliant — and so good at self-promotion — that he rose through the ranks in the Revolutionary War to become George Washington’s right-hand man.
In 1780, he married Elizabeth Schuyler, the daughter of a wealthy and influential New York landowner and military officer. The couple went on to have eight children. She was a source of loyalty and stability over the years.
Although it does not appear that Hamilton ever directly owned any slaves himself, he did marry into a prominent New York slaveholding family, and managed slave sales for his wife’s family.
It’s believed the Schuyler family owned between between 8 and 13 slaves at their Albany, New York estate over the years with a further 15 at the Saratoga, New York home.
The slaves consisted of a handful of men, several women and their children.
The male slaves would moving materials between the Schuyler’s properties while the women carried out household chores including cooking, washing, and looking after the children.
Born and raised in the West Indies, Hamilton was orphaned in his early teens. Taken in as an apprentice to an international shipping company based on his home island, his talents were recognized by local benefactors who created a fund to provide him with a formal education.
Hamilton came to New York in 1772 at age 17 to study at King’s College (now Columbia University).
While he lived in the city he was exposed to American Patriots became a supporter of their cause. As a student, he wrote defenses of the revolutionary cause and published in local newspapers.
Soon afterwards, Hamilton was commissioned as a Captain of Artillery at the beginning of the Revolutionary War; and later his abilities were again recognized and he was invited to become an aide-de-camp to General George Washington.
After the war, as a member of Congress, Hamilton was instrumental in creating the new Constitution. As co-author of the Federalist Papers, he was indispensable in the effort to get the Constitution adopted.
As the first U.S. Treasury Secretary (1789-95), Hamilton created a modern financial system, funded the national debt, founded a bank and established a mint with the dollar as currency.
He defended the Constitution in the Federalist Papers, a series of 85 essays. They would become his best-known writings.
Hamilton also founded the New York Post, and was even involved in a sex scandal, the Reynolds Affair.
In the infamous ‘Reynolds Pamphlet,’ published in 1797, Hamilton went public about an affair with a married woman, Maria Reynolds.
He did so in order to clear his name from any suspicion of illegal financial speculation involving her husband, James.
It was America’s first prominent sex scandal and ultimately dashed any hopes of achieving higher office.
Hamilton also had a lifelong rivalry with Aaron Burr, the vice president under Thomas Jefferson. Hamilton and Burr had been political opponents since the debate over the Constitution in 1789.
Burr claimed Hamilton insulted him and in July 1804 challenged him to a duel. Each man fired one shot; Hamilton missed, and was killed.
‘How is Hamilton not canceled? Alexander Hamilton owned and traded slaves. I think we need to cancel Hamilton,’ wrote one Twitter user.
‘Hamilton was a slave trader. Tear down the statues NOW and #CancelHamilton,’ added another.
Some of the tweets appeared to be tongue-in-cheek, and mocking of ‘cancel culture’ which has seen shows and movies removed from streaming sites for their depictions of racism.
Classic film Gone With The Wind was removed from the HBO Max streaming platform after after coming under criticism for romanticizing slavery, amid a nationwide re-evaluation of cultural values.
And episodes of TV shows including Scrubs, Golden Girls and 30 Rock have been pulled from online platforms for their portrayal of blackface.
Former Fox News and NBC Today host Megyn Kelly asked if the show could survive.
‘Can Hamilton – a show that celebrates America and her founders – survive cancel culture?’ she asked in a tweet.
And conservative political commentator author Nick Adams tweeted: ‘Alexander Hamilton bought and traded slaves. Is Broadway going to cancel one of the top-grossing shows of all time?
Another user tweeted: ‘Can’t believe Disney is showing a show about a slave trader in times like this. Also the actors aren’t the same color as the people they are portraying. How dare they. #CancelHamilton’.
Other have sprung to defend show creator Miranda.
‘To those of you using #CancelHamilton, you need to learn to separate fact from fiction. Hamilton is a god damn Broadway musical, not a history lesson. To those of you trying to cancel Lin, give me one reason why. Your reasoning is that he made the founding fathers look like good people. It’s BASIC AMERICAN HISTORY that the founding fathers were not good people. 2 years ago you wouldn’t shut up about the musical. Now you want to cancel it? Yeah, you guys are dumb asses.’
Set during the American Revolution, the musical does not discuss the central role that slavery played during that particular moment in history while also failing to mention that most of the Founding Fathers were slave owners.
In an interview with NPR last week, Miranda admitted that the show does not deal with the issue of slavery in a way that it deserves.
‘Although he voiced anti-slavery beliefs he remained complicit in the system. And other than calling out Jefferson on his hypocrisy with regards to slavery in Act 2, [the show] doesn’t really say much else over the course of Act 2. And I think that’s actually pretty honest.
‘He didn’t really do much about it. None of them did. None of them did enough. And we say that, too, in the final moments. So that hits differently now because we’re having a conversation, we’re having a real reckoning of ‘How do you uproot an original sin?”
When the Broadway musical became hugely popular in 2016, historian Annette Gordon-Reed wrote: ‘In the musical, only Jefferson is shown as a slave holder. But Madison owned slaves too, and so did George Washington.’
‘[Hamilton] was not an abolitionist,’ Gordon-Reed notes the Harvard Gazette. ‘He bought and sold slaves for his in-laws, and opposing slavery was never at the forefront of his agenda.
‘He was not a champion of the little guy, like the show portrays,’ she said. ‘He was elitist. He was in favor of having a president for life.’
‘In the sense of the Ellis Island immigrant narrative, he was not an immigrant,’ Gordon-Reed said. ‘He was not pro-immigrant, either.’
Last month, the creator took to social media to apologize for not speaking up sooner over the Black Lives Matter protests and the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Miranda posted an apology on the official Hamilton Twitter account and delivered a contrite message.
‘We spoke out on the day of the Pulse shooting. We spoke out when Vice President Mike Pence came to our show 10 days after the election.
‘That we have not yet firmly spoken the inarguable truth that Black Lives Matter and denounced systematic racism and white supremacy from our official Hamilton channels is a moral failure on our part,’ Miranda said in the 90 second video.
‘As the writer of the show, I take responsibility and apologize for my part in this moral failure.’
Miranda apologized for ‘not pushing harder and faster for us to speak these self-evident truths under the Hamilton banner which has come to mean so much to so many of you.’
‘Hamilton doesn’t exist without the black and brown artists who created and revolutionized and changed the world through the culture, music and language of hip-hop. Literally, the idea of the show doesn’t exist without the brilliant black and brown artists in our cast, crew and production team who breathe life into this story every time it’s performed,’ he went on to explain.
‘It’s up to us and words and deeds to stand up for our fellow citizens. It’s up to us to do the work to be better allies and have each other’s backs,’ he said. Miranda is pictured in 2016
‘It’s up to us and words and deeds to stand up for our fellow citizens. It’s up to us to do the work to be better allies and have each other’s backs,’ Miranda said as he thanked company members and fans for ‘holding us accountable.’
A producer with the show, Jeffrey Seller also echoed similar thoughts in a second video.
‘I’m not a politician. I’m not an activist. I’m not an expert. I’m a theater producer. But what I realize today is most importantly I’m an American citizen and silence equals complicity and I apologize for my silence thus far,’ Seller began.
Lin-Manuel Miranda, 40, issued an apology to fans of Hamilton for the Broadway show’s failure to publicly denounce systemic racism sooner
A producer with the show, Jeffrey Seller also echoed similar thoughts in a second video
‘African Americans have always and will always be integral to our success as a nation, as a culture and as a people. … I must make it my effort to work with all of the organizations who are doing so much to support the welfare, livelihood, safety and liberty of African Americans.’
The Hamilton Twitter account followed up the videos by posting links to Black Lives Matter and the NAACP of Minneapolis, along with the Minneapolis Freedom Fund, which people can donate to to help bail out protesters in the Twin Cities.
The Hamilton Twitter account followed up the videos by posting links to Black Lives Matter and the NAACP of Minneapolis, along with the Minneapolis Freedom Fund, which people can donate to protesters in the Twin Cities; pictured in January 2019
Miranda and Seller’s statements came days after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May.
Floyd was killed when a white police officer, Derek Chauvin, pressed his knee into his neck for nearly nine minutes, including two minutes beyond when he stopped breathing and became unresponsive.
So far, the four officers involved in the arrest have all been fired from the Minneapolis Police Department, and Chauvin has been charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
Creator, Miranda, said he was proud of the musical’s influence on nationwide anti-racism protests that followed Floyd’s death in police custody last month.
‘I know that when I see a sign at a protest out in the street that says ‘History Has Its Eyes On You,’ or ‘Tomorrow There’ll Be More Of Us,’ I know that the language of the show is connecting in a way that makes me incredibly proud,’ Miranda said, referring to popular lyrics from the show.
‘I can’t even wrap my mind around that,’ he told an online press conference.
When Hamilton premiered in 2015, it was groundbreaking in its blend of hip-hop musical numbers, color-blind casting and political revolution.
With theaters closed due to the pandemic, and the initial cast having long ago moved on to other productions, the streamed movie on Disney+ offers a rare chance to see the original run of the show.
The musical tells the story of Alexander Hamilton and fellow Founding Fathers with rap and hip-hop numbers mixed in with traditional show tunes.
Since its first Broadway run, the musical has been performed across the country and abroad, casted with mostly non-white actors.
That diversity, and its message of risking everything for a noble cause, means its timing could not be more apt, said original cast member Renee Elise Goldsberry, who played Angelica Schuyler.
‘We get to remember what those young people felt like, at that time when ‘laying down your life to set us free’ meant something,’ said Goldsberry, referencing one of the musical’s lines.
‘The diversity of this country can be claimed by all of the people that created it — that’s one of the many things this show celebrates and I think it’s so needed right now,’ she added.
Its release comes at a time when historic statues and monuments are being removed across the country, as Americans grapple with the legacy of racism.
Fellow cast member Okieriete Onaodowan said he was excited ‘to see how this affects young black people today.’
‘Young kids who are out there, who are upset and angry… can watch this and realize that they can put their energies through writing, through challenging the people who are telling you things that you don’t like to hear, like Hamilton did,’ said Onaodowan, who played Hercules Mulligan and James Madison.