- - Friday, July 24, 2020

It’s no secret: America is in the midst of an identity crisis.

Recent weeks have seen developments that would have seemed unimaginable as little as 10 or 20 years ago — from widespread demands to remove memorials dedicated to Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, to coordinated efforts to erase their names from colleges and universities. As our republic finds itself torn by countless questions surrounding the Founding Fathers and how their legacies should be remembered today, perhaps no better moment exists for Americans of all political stripes to become absorbed in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s masterpiece, “Hamilton: An American Musical.”

With two hours and 50 minutes of wildly provocative wordplay, outstanding overtures and painstakingly precise historical references, one might feel as though they’ve been siphoned through an operatic timewarp straight to 1776 (with every bit of the revolutionary spirit one should expect). And make no mistake: With a storyline so refreshingly cognizant of the difficult questions society faces today, “Hamilton” is just as timely as it is masterfully made.

Often in the form of rap battles, awe-struck audiences can see Mr. Miranda’s take on the adoption of the Virginia Compromise, the early (and still-relevant) objections to interventionist foreign policy, and the enduring debates on government finance and national debt. While the musical doesn’t necessarily appeal to conservative or libertarian convictions in every way (for instance, Hamilton’s impassioned support for a central banking system), many such ideas are still celebrated on stage.

For instance, in the show’s account of George Washington’s life from his time as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army to the end of his presidency in March 1797, one can see the honor, nobility and composure with which the Father of His Country conducted himself. In an era wherein it seems as though magnifying Washington’s flaws has become a popular trend, the musical’s ballad “One Last Time” presents a new opportunity to visualize and admire his willingness to relinquish power — a decision that shattered every precedent established by history.

Moreover, it’s no secret that America’s youth are tragically apathetic to politics — and uninformed about our history. In 2019, the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation surveyed 41,000 Americans and found that “only 27 percent of those under the age of 45 … demonstrate a basic knowledge of American history.” Moreover, a 2018 YouGov poll found that only 13 percent of high school students could pass a simple, five-question test on basic American history. Considering that the creation of this country is a story written by courageous, brilliant young people, this is even more problematic. Thomas Jefferson (a main character in the second act of “Hamilton”) was only 33 when he wrote the Declaration of Independence. James Madison (already a member of the Virginia House of Delegates) was only 25; at the time he wrote the U.S. Constitution in 1787, he was 36.

And Alexander Hamilton was only around 19 (sources conflict as to his year of birth) when he became Gen. Washington’s right-hand man, assuming responsibility for handling written correspondence amongst Continental officials and military officers.

While many have been swift to point out the show’s shortcomings (with some even flocking to Twitter to push the #CancelHamilton hashtag), “Hamilton” ultimately reminds us that we fought a revolution because a handful of young Americans decided that liberty was worth dying for. Their war was between a nation of unbreakable patriots and an empire that sought to rob them of their liberties and livelihoods.

As America undergoes such a tense and uncomfortable period of transformation, reflecting on our history is vital. This means both celebrating the achievements and learning from the mistakes of those who came before us. 

To my libertarian and conservative friends: Watch the musical. While you may disagree with some of Alexander Hamilton’s ideas, realize that this is the first piece of art in decades that is encouraging young Americans to explore our country’s founding. If nothing else, perhaps this musical represents an opportunity to rediscover the long-lost American tradition of young people advancing the cause of liberty.

• Cliff Maloney is the president of Young Americans for Liberty (YAL).

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