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What you need to know about American history before seeing 'Hamilton'

Founding Father Alexander Hamilton and Hamilton musical creator Lin-Manuel Miranda share similarities. They’re both from island nations. They were both “young, scrappy, and hungry.” And they both changed the way we see the world.

The hip-hop musical dramatises the life and political career of Alexander Hamilton. It's a story of America's past told by America today, and earned Lin-Manuel Miranda a Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

While you don’t need to be an American history buff to follow the story, there’s some historical references you may want to know about ahead of seeing Hamilton. Before seeing Hamilton, here are some fun facts about American history and Alexander Hamilton.

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Hamilton was an immigrant

Alexander Hamilton was born on 11 Jan. 1757 in the West Indies. After his mother died, he moved to the United States in 1772 in search of opportunities. Hamilton proves that the United States is a country of immigrants. Immigrants, we get the job done!

Hamilton wanted to go to battle

When the Revolutionary War started in 1775, Hamilton served as an aide to George Washington — the then commander of the Continental Army. George Washington then went on to serve as the United States’ first President.

All Hamilton wanted was to be on the battlefield serving his country instead of writing correspondences from the war. Ultimately Hamilton joined the fight and helped win the war, but he wasn’t initially a soldier.

Hamilton wrote documents supporting the U.S. Constitution

While James Madison is the father of the U.S. Constitution and Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, Hamilton collaborated on the Federalist Papers, a series of documents defending the Constitution, America’s governing document.

Even though he’s not considered one of the main authors, his work was crucial to creating the Constitution, which is the foundation of U.S. law-making and policy even today.

Hamilton was in the media

In addition to writing 51 Federalist Papers, the Founding Father was always writing like he was running out of time, whether they be financial plans, letters, or government documents. He also founded The New York Post, America’s oldest continuously published daily newspaper. He launched the publication as the New York Evening Post in 1801.

Hamilton was a member of the Federalist Party

Today, the United States has two major parties: the Republican Party and the Democratic Party. During the post-Revolutionary period of the United States, the two major parties were the Democratic-Republicans and the Federalists.

The Federalists (like Hamilton and John Adams) believed in a strong, centralised government and tended to be from bigger manufacturing cities.

The Democratic-Republicans (like Thomas Jefferson and James Madison) prioritized states’ rights and were likely to be from agricultural states.

Hamilton was never President

While many of the Founding Fathers — George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison — went on to become the leader of the U.S., Hamilton served a different role in the founding of the country: developing the Department of the Treasury and the United States financial system, much of which is still in use today.

Hamilton is on the U.S. $10 bill.

If you’ve ever seen an American $10 bill, then you’re closer to Alexander Hamilton than you may realise. And if you’ve been singing along to the Hamilton cast recording, you’ve probably heard about the “10-dollar Founding Father.” That’s Lin-Manuel Miranda’s moniker for Hamilton, as he appears on the U.S. $10 bill.

As an ode to the financial foundations he set, Hamilton is one of the few individuals who appears on American currency. 

Most of the people on American currency are men: Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, George Washington, Andrew Jackson, and Ulysses S. Grant. Sacagawea appears on the silver dollar.

There is currently a bill in congress to get Harriet Tubman, the leader of the Underground Railroad which helped end slavery, on the $20 bill, replacing former president Andrew Jackson.

Hamilton’s tax system was divisive

The American Revolution freed the U.S. from British rule, and one thing the Founding Fathers hated about the British was taxation — even dumping tea in Boston because they didn’t want to pay taxes.

When Hamilton proposed new tax laws so that the government would have money for their budget, many leaders were not a fan. Some of those Congressional arguments between Hamilton and Jefferson come to life through onstage rap battles in Hamilton.

The duel between Hamilton and Aaron Burr was in New Jersey

Aaron Burr was a contemporary of Hamilton, who later became a U.S. Senator and Vice President. He challenged Hamilton to a duel when Hamilton didn’t endorse Burr in his run for office. The dueling grounds where Aaron Burr fired the deadly shot are “across the river in New Jersey.” There’s still a plaque there today in Weehawken, New Jersey, to mark the spot.

Hamilton lived and died in New York

While the capital of the United States is in Washington D.C., New York City was the first capital when the constitution was ratified. There was a compromise (cue “The Room Where It Happens”) where Jefferson and Madison traded to move the capitol to their native Virginia in exchange for supporting Hamilton’s financial plan. However, Hamilton kept the financial seat in New York.

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Photo credit: Hamilton in Australia (Photos by Daniel Boud)

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