- Associated Press - Saturday, April 29, 2017

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) - Even in death, Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton stand in opposition.

Each had a pen sharp as a sword and stood behind opposite ideals, but both Founding Fathers dedicated their lives to ensuring that their infant nation would stand the test of time. And a new tour at Monticello explores the differences - and sparse similarities - between the two firebrands through the rap lyrics of “Hamilton: An American Musical.”

When Lin-Manuel Miranda’s award-winning musical about Hamilton and the founding of the United States blew up Broadway, fans of the show made the pilgrimage to Monticello in search of the real-life Jefferson. So, Monticello decided to indulge them, according to Steve Light, manager of house tours.

The “Hamilton Takeover Tour” has been in the works for nearly a year, he said, and even though Jefferson could be considered one of the villains of the musical, the tour is not a response to Miranda’s story. Instead, the tour works to examine the idea of legacy and who gets to tell the story.

“The tour is a way to see history from different perspectives,” Light said. “We’re really asking visitors to consider the conflict between Jefferson and Hamilton, which is essential to understanding the legacy of fights in the capital and how they continue today.”

“It’s not necessarily something (where) we want people walking away, thinking one person was right and one person was wrong,” he added. “We want people thinking about their complexities. It’s not about getting answers; it’s thinking about how those legacies still reverberate today.”

With “Hamilton” particularly popular among middle- and high-school students, Light said the tour is similarly attracting a younger audience that is hungry for information about their favorite Founding Fathers. And by using historical portrait puppets and lyrics from the musical, the tour strives to get everyone involved.

“It’s a great intergenerational way to share and explore the history,” said Light.

In the entry hall of Jefferson’s 245-year-old home stand busts of Jefferson and Hamilton, staring each other down from opposite sides of the door. When his grandson asked him why he had a bust of his enemy in his home, Jefferson responded rather dramatically: “We will oppose in death as we opposed in life.”

In “Hamilton,” the two men bicker and disagree about almost everything. It was pretty much the same in real life, according to Sadie Troy and Carrie Soubra, guides on a recent tour. Jefferson, a man of the Enlightenment, wanted to put the majority of the government’s power into the hands of the people it served.

Hamilton, on the other hand, was cautious about giving the people too much power and wanted to leave leadership up to the wealthy to avoid mob mentality. In fact, his ideas of government were similar to that of a monarchy in that he believed the president should be elected for life - an idea Jefferson loathed.

Each man’s childhood experiences played a crucial part in their political ponderings, according to Soubra. Jefferson, who grew up in affluence as a member of Virginia’s gentry, experienced private tutoring, a spot at the College of William & Mary and the inheritance of his father’s 3,000-acre tobacco plantation. His grand ideas about how government should be run came from books and focused on granting the people their rights and liberties.

Hamilton, though, saw first-hand how quickly mob rule can destroy a community. Born on the island of Nevis in the middle of the Caribbean, Hamilton was born out of wedlock and worked for most of his young life after his father abandoned the family. It was only by the generosity of his community that Hamilton eventually made his way to New York City, where he received an education from Columbia University.

Slavery also played a key role in defining the differences between the two men. Jefferson grew up with every need met by the work of enslaved African-Americans - they were simply a part of his life. Hamilton, though, bore witness to the brutalities of the slave trade and grew up in the midst of the Middle Passage, leading him to join abolitionist groups when he made it to America.

“He is seeing people bought and sold, maybe dead bodies coming off of ships,” said Soubra. “This is the reality of slavery.”

Even during the Revolutionary War, Jefferson and Hamilton played dramatically different roles. While Hamilton was in the trenches, trying to defeat the British with limited weapons and supplies, Jefferson was governor of Virginia and blind to many of the logistical difficulties that the troops faced.

Jefferson was about the ideals,” Troy said. “For Hamilton, the world turned upside-down.”

In the musical, Miranda wrote about Hamilton’s struggles to get more funds from the Continental Congress but is disappointed by the response. To illustrate Hamilton’s frustrations, Madison Old, a Virginia Beach resident and an incoming University of Virginia first-year, held up a Hamilton puppet and rapped for the tour group.

“I have never seen the general so despondent,” Old read. “I have taken over writing all his correspondence/Congress writes, ‘George, attack the British forces.’

“I shoot back, ‘We have resorted to eating our horses/Local merchants deny us equipment, assistance/They only take British money, so sing a song of sixpence.”

Despite what look like polar-opposite viewpoints, Jefferson and Hamilton did share some similarities. Both went to college and practiced law. Both had big families - Jefferson with two children and 11 grandchildren, Hamilton with nine children. Both also experienced major losses: Jefferson lost his father at 14, later his wife and four of his children; Hamilton’s father abandoned him at a young age and he later lost his eldest son, Phillip, in a duel.

Both also lived through scandals.

While Jefferson was running for president, a political cartoon ran in the newspapers, mocking him about a reported relationship he had with one of his slaves. What is now believed to be a true story, based on DNA evidence, Jefferson fathered several children with Sally Hemings, one of the people he enslaved at Monticello. But Jefferson chose to ignore the rumors.

Jefferson’s response was to ‘talk less, smile more,’” Soubra said. “There’s not one word that he wrote that tells us anything about his relationship with Sally Hemings and, believe me, the (Thomas Jefferson) Foundation has looked.”

Hamilton, however, took a different course. When he was accused of appropriating government funds while he was the Treasury secretary, Hamilton could not stay quiet. Instead, he defended himself in a pamphlet titled “Observations on Certain Documents Contained in No. V & VI of ‘The History of the United States for the Year 1796,’ In Which the Charge of Speculation against Alexander Hamilton, Late Secretary of the Treasury, is Fully Refuted. Written by Himself.”

“That is Hamilton in a nutshell,” Soubra said, getting a laugh from her audience.

But he did not just refute that he was stealing money from the Treasury. He laid bare an affair and revealed he was paying off her husband with his personal money. That alone is one of the biggest differences between their two personalities, Soubra said.

In the end, though, the two founders were able to compromise for the good of their country over a secret dinner. In “the room where it happened,” Hamilton agreed to move the capital south to what is now Washington, D.C., and Jefferson agreed to leave the banks and Wall Street in New York City. This had immediate results but also created ripples of influence down the road, Troy said.

When Jefferson ran for president in 1800, Hamilton and the Federalists backed him over Aaron Burr because he knew Jefferson held strong beliefs, while Burr remained a political enigma, said Soubra.

Hamilton saw that, even though he and Jefferson fought on, like, 75 different fronts, Jefferson could always put the country first before his needs,” she said.

The “Hamilton Takeover Tour” is currently in its pilot phase, with tours running on selected Fridays and Saturdays in April, May and September, starting at 5:30 p.m. and 5:45 p.m. So far, the first few tours have attracted a wide array of guests, from youngsters searching Jefferson’s home for references to the musical to history buffs rediscovering their love of America’s founding.

“Sometimes, we get a little overly silly or we get a little overdramatic with our quotes,” Troy said, laughing. “You just get a lot of good involvement. I think sometimes you just see lightbulbs click a little more visually on these types of tours because people are so invested in the musical. That’s fun to watch.”

When Mike and Michelle McGrath, from Ohio, were trying to figure out what to do with their three kids - Brady, 9; Katie, 13; and Colin, 17 - during spring break, they decided to take some inspiration from “Hamilton” and visit Monticello for an authentic history lesson.

“I’ve got teenaged children and they’re all really influenced by the musical phenomenon right now, so they have been talking about it quite a bit,” said Mike McGrath. “I think anything that can get children to appreciate history that’s not in a textbook is something special.”

“This gave us a little taste of Hamilton before we get a chance to go to the play, but they listen to it all the time,” Michelle McGrath added.

On all of their tours, Troy and Soubra make it a point to present both sides of Jefferson and Hamilton to make sure guests don’t walk away thinking one of them “won.” At some points in the musical, Jefferson stands opposed to Hamilton as his enemy - echoing much of their real-life relationship - and Monticello does not shy away from that.

Jefferson’s downfalls, his failures are just as important to our country as his successes,” said Troy. “That was something we’ve always, always kept in mind. We’re here to present both sides - the good of Jefferson and the bad.”

“And kind of with Hamilton,” she added. “In the play, Hamilton is not the perfect hero. He doesn’t get out unscathed in the play, either. We happily address that in our tour.”

For more information about the tour or to buy tickets, visit monticello.org.


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