Premium tickets for the Broadway mega-smash Hamilton are approaching the $1,000 mark, and, of course, they are way more expensive when scalpers get involved. And yet that has not stopped the hype.
The show, created by theater wunderkind Lin-Manuel Miranda, was the big winner at the Tony Awards on Sunday night, which will only point more tourists, millionaires and millionaire tourists in the direction of the Richard Rodgers Theatre to see the big, pricey show.
One of many reasons Hamilton has been such a smash is Miranda himself. He is a passionate advocate for not only theater, but for the contributions immigrants have always made to America.
In speeches, interviews, as well as the Hamilton songs, Miranda reminds folks that Hamilton was a poor, downtrodden immigrant. This is a message some may or may not want to hear in this angry election season. But you can’t deny the relevance, even if Hamilton died 212 years ago next month.
As the show's first and title song notes of Hamilton: “The ship is in the harbor now/See if you can spot him/Another immigrant/Comin’ up from the bottom.”
In a recent interview with Jorge Ramos, Miranda was asked about today’s politics and said, “What you’re seeing is a particular virulent strain of a virus that has always affected our American politics, and it’s one in which when times are difficult, politicians point at the newest people in the room and say they’re the reason you don’t have a job.”
Miranda, of course, could not avoid the orange-headed elephant in the room: “I think [Donald Trump] has done an amazing job at harnessing discontent particularly.”
There’s one problem here. Alexander Hamilton may be a neat symbol of what ambitious immigrants can accomplish in America. But he was no fan of immigrants himself.
In fact, his own political party supported and passed the first (but certainly not the last) notoriously anti-immigrant laws in American history, which were aimed, in part, at the Irish.
Hamilton biographer Ron Chernow -- in the book on which Hamilton the musical is based – writes, “Fearing an American fifth column, (Hamilton) now wanted to throttle the flow of immigration.”
According to Chernow, Hamilton himself said, “My opinion in that the mass (of aliens) ought to be obliged to leave the country.”
Chernow writes that this is a “disappointing stance from America’s most famous foreign-born citizen and once an influential voice for immigration.”
Hamilton became embroiled in an intense debate over immigration and naturalization which unfolded in the 1790s. Hamilton’s Federalist Party (which also included George Washington as well as the second president John Adams) ultimately supported what came to be known as the Alien and Sedition Acts, a serious of laws designed to clamp down on what were seen as radical foreign elements and excessive political dissent.
One source of dismay to the Federalists was the French Revolution. Even though the American colonists had launched their own revolution just a decade earlier, many Federalists were unnerved by the radical turn the French had taken.
The Naturalization Act changed voting rights for immigrants, demanding that they be in the U.S. 14 years rather than five in order to obtain the same rights as the native born. The Alien Act, Chernow adds, “gave the president the power to deport, without a hearing or even a reasonable explanation, any foreign-born residents deemed dangerous to the peace.”
Here’s where the Irish come in.
The Federalists were “betraying an unbecoming nativist streak” and “wanted to curb an influx of Irish immigrants, who were usually pro-French.”
So, it’s tempting to want to upbraid Miranda, and point out that Hamilton was actually quite a hypocrite when it comes to immigration. But maybe Miranda really is on to something.
Maybe Hamilton is actually a typical American. So many of us know about our grandparents’ immigrant journey and even speak of it with pride. And yet, so many of us want to now build a wall.
Think about this the next time you talk to a Trump supporter named Murphy or O’Neill or Dugan. Or even Hamilton.