Hamilton Explained: Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story

It’s Hamilweek, and Hamilweek means another Hamilton Explained… but not just any Hamilton Explained. This time around, we’re taking a look at the show’s closing number. It’s our last chance to cry during our Hamilton listening sessions, and we take it every time. (Just kidding. We both carefully select which Act II numbers we’re capable of listening to based on our emotional fortitude at the given moment.) Grab some tissues and Visine, we’re taking it to the finale!

 

[WASHINGTON]

Let me tell you what I wish I’d known

When I was young and dreamed of glory

  • Taking it back to History Has its Eyes On You:

You have no control:

[WASHINGTON AND COMPANY]

Who lives

Who dies

Who tells your story?

  • Continuing the reference to History Has Its Eyes On You. Then it was foreshadowing, now it’s a callback. By this point the dead include Alexander, Phillip, Laurens, and others not specifically mentioned in the show (RIP and Peggy). The living: on one hand, Burr (who continued to refer to Hamilton in frenemy-type terms for the rest of his life) and on the other, Eliza.
  • Then, there’s the casting of Hamilton, which Lin-Manuel Miranda has explained in a number of interviews: the concept is that it is a story about America then, told by America now. Hamilton and the other founding fathers had choices in setting up the American political and monetary systems, but what happened next (what became of America next, who became America next) was out of their hands. Even living the best life, full of the most worthy deeds, is not a guarantee that you will be talked about in centuries’ time – and you have no control over who does the talking, either.

 

[BURR]

President Jefferson:

[JEFFERSON]

I’ll give him this: his financial system is a

Work of genius. I couldn’t undo it if I tried

And I tried

  • This, you already know from the rest of the play. Just call it one of the first great federalist vs states’ rights debates: should there be a national bank (Hamilton) or should money be left to the states’ control (Jefferson)? Will America be built on urban commerce (Hamilton) or an agrarian foundation (Jefferson – and yes, we know who’s really doing the planting)? Since you use the same $$ in all 50 states, you know what happened when Jefferson tried to oppose Hamilton’s financial system. Not to mention, Jefferson hoped for a French/parliamentary system of government, and feared that Hamilton wanted a more English government (constitutional monarchy).

[WASHINGTON AND COMPANY]

Who lives

Who dies

Who tells your story?

[BURR]

President Madison:

[MADISON]

He took our country from bankruptcy to prosperity

I hate to admit it, but he doesn’t get enough credit

For all the credit he gave us

 

  • The US fell into a financial slump after the Revolutionary War (contrast with our postwar economic booms in the 20th century: WWI followed by the prosperous 1920s; the economic success of the 1950s, the ostentatious 1980s (only a good time for the wealthy, granted) following Vietnam. Hamilton’s response was to consolidate state debts and subsume them into the national bank, preventing future catastrophes after war drained the nation’s coffers. He dealt “a new line of credit” via the National Bank – the credit he gave us. Today we see this in large scale – maybe larger than Hamilton would have liked? – in the Federal Reserve.

 

[WASHINGTON AND COMPANY]

Who lives

Who dies

Who tells your story?

[ANGELICA]

Every other founding father story gets told

Every other founding father gets to grow old

 

  • Before this musical and Chernow’s bio, your average American knew about the Aaron Burr duel, the $10 bill, and probably some slivers of recollection about the National Bank and Constitutional Convention from high school history class. The other founding fathers are celebrated in everything from monuments to children’s school pageants: George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, John Jay and James Madison. I didn’t even have to look them up – the only one non-legal-types sometimes forget is John Jay, who may be due for his own hit musical (Jay was our first Chief Justice and helped negotiate the Treaty of Paris, BTW).
  • The other Founding Fathers also lived a really long time – most of them were in their 80s when they died, except Hamilton and Washington (who still lived longer than Hamilton, at 67). Maybe it bears mention that most of those low average lifespans for past centuries were skewed by high infant – and to an extent, child – mortality. If you made it to your kid years, there was a good chance you were going to live a full life, not die at 35 or whatever. Hamilton’s death looked tragically young in the 19th century, too.
  • I remember reading – forgive me, I don’t remember where – that in the early 19th century the popular portraits of the founding fathers were of them in later life instead of during their younger years because America was such a young country that having older leaders gave an air of stability, permanency, and history to the fledgling nation.

 

[BURR]

But when you’re gone, who remembers your name?

Who keeps your flame?

  • In Burn, Eliza takes fire to Hamilton’s letters – incinerates them; destroys them. In Who Lives Who Dies Who Tells Your Story, Eliza keeps the fire of Alexander’s legacy alive – fans the flames, but this time it means something different.

 

[BURR AND MEN]

Who tells your story?
Who tells your story?

[ANGELICA AND WOMEN]

Who tells your story?

Your story?

[WOMEN]

Eliza

[ELIZA]

I put myself back in the narrative

 

  • Full circle: let me be part of the narrative (That Would Be Enough); I’m myself from the narrative (Burn); I put myself back in the narrative.
  • In an interview (one of Phillipa Soo or LMM’s Theater People episodes maybe?? Correct me if you know), they discussed that the “narrative” theme didn’t emerge until they were writing one of the later songs – I want to say this one, but possibly Burn – then LMM retroactively worked it into That Would Be Enough.

 

[WOMEN]

Eliza

[ELIZA]

I stop wasting time on tears

I live another fifty years

It’s not enough

  • Eliza died in 1854, long enough to see interstate railroads, the admission of over 30 states, the California Gold Rush, and the growth of the abolitionist movement. She was 97, and much celebrated as the “last living link to the Revolutionary era” 

[COMPANY]

Eliza

[ELIZA]

I interview every soldier who fought by your side

  • Eliza was dedicated to preserving Alexander’s legacy by creating an honest biography of him – he was still a somewhat maligned character in those days. Her son John Church Hamilton edited her papers, publishing them after her death in 1861.

[MULLIGAN/LAFAYETTE/LAURENS]

She tells our story

[ELIZA]

I try to make sense of your thousands of pages of writings

You really do write like you’re running out of

  • Also true – thousands of Hamilton’s papers survive to this day, and Eliza considered it her life’s work to document and organize them.

[ELIZA AND COMPANY]

Time

[ELIZA]

I rely on—

[ELIZA AND ANGELICA]

Angelica

  • Angelica lived abroad for much of the years that Hamilton took place (you can read her letters too). By the time Alexander dies, she is living much closer to Eliza – though still a trip in 19th century terms – in the Southern Tier of New York (in a town, Angelica, that is still named after her.  I used to go through it on the way to see my grandparents as a kid. You can still see her house.)

[ELIZA]

While she’s alive—

[ELIZA AND ANGELICA]

We tell your story

[ELIZA]

She is buried in Trinity Church

[ELIZA AND ANGELICA]

Near you

Here. 

 

[ELIZA]

When I needed her most, she was right on—

[ELIZA AND COMPANY]

Time

  • As I said above, from 1797 on, Angelica was in the United States.

[ELIZA]

And I’m still not through

I ask myself, “What would you do if you had more—”

 

[ELIZA AND COMPANY]

Time

  • Time is a theme throughout the play – wanting more of it, wanting to make the most of it, not knowing how much of it you have, not being able to speed it up or slow it down. Write like you’re running out of time, don’t throw away your shot, non-stop (unless you’re the other type, and you’re willing to wait for it).
  • 1804 or 2016, this is what you spend every day trying to answer when you love somebody and they die too soon. 

[ELIZA]

The Lord, in his kindness

He gives me what you always wanted

He gives me more—

[ELIZA AND COMPANY]

Time

 

[ELIZA]

I raise funds in D.C. for the Washington Monument

  • Just as Hamilton didn’t live to see the full effects of his financial plan, Eliza didn’t live to see the monument, which opened in 1888 (I refer to The World Was Wide Enough: What is a legacy? It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see)

[WASHINGTON]

She tells my story

 

[ELIZA]

I speak out against slavery

  • Here, Washington takes a step back, ashamed: he was maybe our greatest founder, but he may have had it in his power to undo the greatest systemic evil of our country, and he did not.
  • Incidentally, this number was the last one to be staged, it became apparent that the most logical staging was to have the cast stand and surround Eliza.

You could have done so much more if you only had—

[ELIZA AND COMPANY]

Time

 

[ELIZA]

And when my time is up, have I done enough?

[ELIZA]

Will they tell our story?

[COMPANY]

Will they tell your story?

[ELIZA]

Oh. Can I show you what I’m proudest of?

[COMPANY]

The orphanage

  • In case you’re wondering, this is the point in the soundtrack where over 70% of listeners begin crying (fake statistic; feels likely).

[ELIZA]

I established the first private orphanage in New York City

  • “On March 15th, 1806, Elizabeth and a small group of women had gathered to form the Orphan Asylum Society to care for children who were orphaned from epidemics of cholera and yellow fever. Their mission was clear, “To help the afflicted and the needy others have forgotten; to provide them with the education and training they need to become productive, contributing members of society: to help them realize their capacity for happiness and success which belongs to all human beings.…” On May 1, 1806 they opened the doors of the Society’s first home, a rented two-story frame house on Raisin Street. Twelve orphans were admitted in the first six months and by the end of the year, 200 orphaned children had been admitted.”(http://39hwwr39mt3mqsp5fnf1q714zb.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Read-More…Elizabeth-Schuyler.pdf)
  • Children may be our most vulnerable population, but they also carried the fewest legal protections in the 17th, 18th, 19th and early 20th century – childhood as a concept didn’t really exist, and children were barely better than property. There were not consistent systems in place to care for and house orphaned and abandoned children, and those that existed were poorly regulated. The children’s rights movement didn’t take off in earnest until a few decades after Eliza’s death, when a woman named Etta Wheeler appealed to the ASPCA for help securing protection for a beaten foster child — there was a society to protect animals, but not children. All this to say that an orphanage aiming to educate children and release them into adult society – rather than just house them and work them – was relatively revolutionary and Eliza and her friends were ahead of their time.
  • I know this is a tangent, but it matters: you can read more about Etta Wheeler, and little Mary Ellen McCormack here. The fight for children’s rights and protection is an important chapter in American social history and jurisprudence, but it just isn’t taught.
  • By the way, Eliza did this less than two years after her husband’s death while raising 8 children alone.

[COMPANY]

The orphanage

[ELIZA]

I help to raise hundreds of children

I get to see them growing up

[COMPANY]

The orphanage

 

[ELIZA]

In their eyes I see you, Alexander

I see you every—

[ELIZA AND COMPANY]

Time

[ELIZA]

And when my time is up

Have I done enough?

Will they tell my story?

[COMPANY]

Will they tell your story?

[ELIZA]

Oh, I can’t wait to see you again

It’s only a matter of—

[ELIZA AND COMPANY]

Time

[COMPANY]

Will they tell your story?
Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?
Will they tell your story?
Who lives, who dies—

[COMPANY]

Time…

Time…
Time…

[FULL COMPANY]

Who tells your story?

See also: 

Hamilton Explained: The Schuyler Sisters

Hamilton Explained: Ten Duel Commandments

Hamilton Explained: Cabinet Battle #1 (As Kanye Rant Tweets)

Hamilton Explained: Appointing A Supreme Court Justice (using Hamilton lyrics to explain the process of nominating and confirming a new SCJ)

Hamilton Explained: Guns and Ships 

 

Advertisements

3 thoughts on “Hamilton Explained: Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story

  1. Pingback: HamilTour in the Greatest City in the World | Cookies + Sangria

  2. Pingback: OK Ladies, Now Let’s Get In Formation: #WomensMarch Style | Cookies + Sangria

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s