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What is Disney’s Hamilton Based On?

July 3, 2020
5 min read

“The ten-dollar Founding Father without a father. Got a lot farther by workin’ a lot harder. By bein’ a lot smarter. By bein’ a self-starter. By fourteen, they placed him in charge of a trading charter.” These lines offer a glimpse into the powerful tale of Disney+’s ‘Hamilton’. Lin-Manuel Miranda plays the titular character while Phillipa Soo, Leslie Odom Jr., Renée Elise Goldsberry, Christopher Jackson, and several others serve as integral cast members. Viewers must have wondered why the movie is so hyped. What is it based on? Does it tell a true story?

Is Disney’s ‘Hamilton’ Based on a True Story?

It is no secret that ‘Hamilton’ is based on an actual historical figure: one of the founding fathers of the nation. The Disney+ movie is an adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s monstrously successful Broadway musical of the same name. ‘Hamilton,’ the play, in turn, is based on Ron Chernow’s biography of the titular figure, titled ‘Alexander Hamilton.’

The play was critically acclaimed. It won eleven Tony Awards out of a record 16 nominations. Obama and his family were one of the many high-profile people to have watched it. Lin-Manuel Miranda, apart from starring in the lead role, was also responsible for the play’s music. The play was lauded for telling a story of America’s past with modern storytelling methods. For instance, the music proves to be a memorable mix of vintage Broadway and more modern genres like hip hop, R&B, and even rap. Apparently, it took Miranda six years to compose the music and it shows.

Apart from that, the play has also received a warm response for casting actors of color in the roles of Founding Fathers and other Caucasian historical figures. “Our cast looks like America looks now, and that’s certainly intentional. It’s a way of pulling you into the story and allowing you to leave whatever cultural baggage you have about the founding fathers at the door,” Miranda told New York Times. This casting choice is also a subversion of racially discriminatory phenomena like blackface. On top of that, the fact that the play is scintillatingly acted makes the choice even more effective.

Last but not the least, Hamilton’s story is concisely presented too. For a life that was filled with controversy, the musical does a good job of breaking it down and adapting it into a compelling narrative format. There are twists. There are turns. As a viewer, there is confusion regarding who to support and who to oppose. But at the end of the day, all that matters is that one cannot take their eyes away from the action. ‘Hamilton’ is a seamless piece of infotainment that not only entertains thoroughly but also raises more awareness about a crucial juncture in national history, opening the period up to beyond-the-history-textbook exposition.

Hamilton’s Story

“Hamilton’s crowded years as treasury secretary scarcely exhaust the epic story of his short life, which was stuffed with high drama. From his illegitimate birth on Nevis to his bloody downfall in Weehawken, Hamilton’s life was so tumultuous that only an audacious novelist could have dreamed it up. He embodied an enduring archetype: the obscure immigrant who comes to America, re-creates himself, and succeeds despite a lack of proper birth and breeding” (‘Alexander Hamilton’ by Chernow).

Alexander Hamilton was born in Nevis on January 11, 1755/1757. His father, John Hamilton was not married to his mother, Rachel Fawcett Lavine at the time. John Hamilton abandoned his family in 1765. Alexander Hamilton’s mother moved to St. Croix and set up a small shop to support herself and her children. Hamilton would go on to become a bookkeeper for one of his mother’s relatives, followed by a manager. He would rise quickly to advance to preparatory school in Elizabethtown, NJ (sent by his friends and connections), and finally, King’s College in New York.

In 1776, Hamilton raised the New York Provincial Company of Artillery and became its captain. He led his men to stop the British crossing the Raritan River and attack George Washington’s main army. This caused Washington to make Hamilton his aide-de-camp. Hamilton seized this opportunity to forge closer ties with Washington. He also became a liaison officer between the French and Washington.

Hamilton would go on to become incredibly influential over the years. After the War for Independence getting over, he studied law and became a practicing lawyer. He would play an active part in the constitutional convention and American politics in general. “Like Washington, Hamilton had deplored parties, equating them with disorder and instability. He had hoped to establish a government of superior persons who would be above party. Yet he became the leader of the Federalist Party, a political organization in large part dedicated to the support of his policies…The political organization that challenged the Hamiltonians was the Republican Party (later Democratic-Republican Party) created by James Madison, a member of the House of Representatives, and Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson…This and other parts of Hamilton’s program led to a feud with Jefferson in which the two men attempted to drive each other from the cabinet.” (source).

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