Hamilton's True Foil
There are many things to like about Hamilton, but one of the things I respect the most is Lin-Manuel’s choice to not treat the audience with kid gloves. Rather than dumbing down the source material for a general audience, he references some relatively unknown aspect of Hamilton’s life. Which begs the question: of all the topics to cover in Hamilton’s life, how did the Federalist Papers not make the cut?
The omission is glaring for two reasons. The first is obvious: The Federalist Papers are one of Hamilton’s most impressive and lasting accomplishments. Still today, they are used to help understand and interpret the Constitution. Additionally, they’re simply incredible pieces of literature, completed at an amazing pace.
But the second reason is that the the Federalist Papers show the later feud between Madison and Hamilton in an entirely different light. The musical portrays Madison as Jefferson’s co-conspirator in countering Hamilton’s influence, omitting the close collaboration Hamilton and Madison had to replace the Articles of Confederation with the Constitution. Of course, the Federalist Papers are the embodiement of this relationship, but that was actually the last piece of the puzzle. Hamilton and Madison were two of the most vocal proponents of a new system of government, but a great deal of arm twisting was necessary just to get a plurality of colonies to acknolwedge that the Articles were flawed.
I believe that this close collaboration makes the later battle between the Federalists and the Democratic-Republicans all the more interesting. In many respects, it is actually James Madison, not Aaron Burr, who is the more natural foil to Hamilton. While Hamilton and Burr were quintessential New York lawyers, Madison was a Virginian planter. Hamilton was a brilliant administrator while Madison was a master legislator and cunning politican who effectively used his position in Congress to dog Hamilton during his time in Washington’s cabinet. While Hamilton was a renowned orator both in the courtroom and on the street, Madison was more withdrawn. They even were polar opposites sartorially—Hamilton wearing flashy clothes and Madison wearing all black. And it was Madison, the only intellectual firebrand within the Democratic-Republican party, who was continuously called upon to go toe-to-toe with Hamilton in the press.
Am I overemphasizing their animosity towards each other? Or was it simply too nuanced for a 2.5 hour play? If you’ve read Alexander Hamilton by Chernow, I’d love to know what you think. Hopefully, one day, I’ll be able to add citations for the relevant facts above.