I’ve recently become obsessed with the Hamilton soundtrack, much like many of the other GeekDads and GeekMoms here. I don’t think I need to stop to explain what Hamilton is or why it’s become so popular. Often I find times when I can listen to it on my own, such as when I’m running or when I’m in the car. That way, I can belt out the songs out loud and truly immerse myself in the music and amazing storytelling.
Last month I drove my sons 2/3 of the way eastward across the United States (to visit family on the east coast) and I found this was a perfect time to load up the soundtrack on my Amazon Prime music app plugged into the AUX audio-in port in our Honda Pilot. While my older son wished I was playing Nirvana instead, my 11-year-old youngest son and I were enjoying the music. My 11-year-old’s favorite Hamilton song right now is “You’ll Be Back” and he can really belt out the line “And when push comes to shove / I will send a fully armed battalion to remind you of my love.”
One of the things I realized while listening to the soundtrack on Interstate 70 and Interstate 40 is just how LARGE our country is now is compared to the 13-colonies of the younger, scrappier, and hungrier America. There were many things in the Hamilton soundtrack that led to some interesting discussions while driving across America.
We crossed Kansas on I-70. Thank you for your sympathy. Kansas is a lovely state with a wonderful visitor’s center off I-70 on the western end. They gave us sunflower seeds to plant in our garden! But that didn’t change the fact that it took us about 7 hours to cross Kansas… and there isn’t a ton to see from I-70. Farms and billboards.
Besides sunflowers, many students are taught about Kansas in history class in the context of a series of uprisings known as “Bleeding Kansas,” where Kansas’s decisions about whether to become a slave state or a free state in the 1850s led to numerous violent incidents. This is an important precursor to some of the decisions that led to the Civil War. My sons and I had a discussion about that when we saw a billboard on I-70 advertising a museum in one of the towns that was near a “Bleeding Kansas” battle site.
We were able to continue the discussion about slavery and its impacts on the growth of the United States when we continued across Missouri on I-70. The Missouri Compromise of 1820 specified slave- vs. free-states based on their locations and whether the new states bordered Missouri.
John Laurens, a South Carolina statesman who raised a brigade of slave soldiers during the Revolutionary War (and who is also one of the characters in Hamilton), was a staunch opponent to slavery. There are several lyrics sung by Laurens in the play emphasizing his opposition to slavery. It was a good discussion to have with my sons when we heard those lyrics.
Part of our travels took us through Virginia from south-to-north. We took U.S. 29 up from North Carolina until we picked up Interstate 64 near Charlottesville, not far from Thomas Jefferson’s home at Monticello. Montpelier, James Madison’s estate, is also nearby. Having grown up in Virginia, a visit to Monticello is a popular field trip option for middle- and high-school students. I have been several times. While we didn’t stop this year, it did lend a discussion of Jefferson’s life. If you go to school in Virginia, you WILL learn a lot about Thomas Jefferson. I could fill in some gaps from the context presented in the Broadway play, where Jefferson isn’t introduced to the story until he returns from his ambassadorship in France. We discussed Jefferson’s roles with the Declaration of Independence, his life as a slaveholding plantation owner, his founding of the University of Virginia, and my sons remembered that he was pivotal with the Louisiana Purchase during his presidency (which occurred within weeks of Alexander Hamilton’s death in July 1804).
As it happens, I’m married to a New Yorker. My husband learned more about Hamilton, Burr, and the Schuyler family than I had simply through his state history classes while growing up, while I learned a considerable amount about Jefferson, Madison, and George Washington in terms of his impacts in the state of Virginia. So over the past several weeks, I would be telling my husband about these things I had learned about the New York statesmen through the play’s song lyrics and it turned out he remembered quite a bit of it from school.
I would like to express my appreciation to Lin-Manuel Miranda for his amazing lyrics, storytelling, and helping to inspire a new generation of Americans to explore history in a fresh light.
If you are interested in listening to the soundtrack, Amazon Prime customers can stream or download the soundtrack (in limited ways) for free into the Amazon Music player or mobile app. Otherwise, buy a copy from Amazon or download the music through iTunes or Google. If all else fails, there’s a Spotify playlist here with this NPR review.