2.4 Political Debates Through Songs from Hamilton: An American Musical

Hamilton: An American Musical written by Lin-Manuel Miranda tells the story of Alexander Hamilton and the founding of the United States using hip hop, R&B, pop, and soul music as well as Broadway-style show tunes. It opened in February 2015 and won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Drama as well as numerous Tony Awards that same year.

Lin-Manuel Miranda described the musical as about "America then, as told by America now" (The Atlantic, September 29, 2015, para. 2).

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Hamilton is not the only musical to explore the Founding Era. 1776 which premiered on Broadway in 1969 and on film in 1972 was an amusing satirical take on the writing of the Declaration of Independence. It is returning to Broadway in Fall 2022 with a racially diverse cast of all women, nonbinary, and trans actors (It's No Hamilton. But Maybe Its ... Better? History Tech, September 16, 2022).

Explore how Hamilton portrays history and then write your own Hamilton-style lyrics in the following activities.

Activity 1: Analyze the Lyrics from Hamilton

  1. Listen to the songs from Hamilton:
  2. Listen to the songs again while reading the lyrics. Feel free to take a look at the way that Genius analyzes the lyrics after forming your own opinions and takeaways.
  3. Then, either:
    • Write a Yelp or Amazon review for each song based on the accuracy, credibility, relevance, and presentation of historical events and issues (see example Amazon Review template by Madeline Hill; make your own copy to remix).
    • Or, design a podcast, video, or website in which you discuss the following questions:
      • Are these songs factual? To what degree? Do they leave anything out? How do they complement what you’ve learned in social studies classes?
      • How is Manuel-Miranda able to make these historical moments contemporary? How does Manuel-Miranda utilize music and lyrics to convey history? 
      • Does seeing history in a more contemporary light aid your learning? How can this be applied to other disciplines and/or mediums?
      • What parallels can you draw between the points Hamilton and Jefferson bring up in these cabinet battles and contemporary political issues/debates?

Designing for Learning: Student-Created Activity Example

Hamilton Podcast Planning Sheet by Lydia Jankowski, Suhyun Shin, Emily Inman

Activity 2: Write Your Own Hamilton-Style Lyrics

Hamilton highlights the Federalist/Anti-Federalist debates of the time - a set of tensions between federal and state power that still dominate U.S. politics today as different levels of government seek to solve problems of racial justice and inequality, climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic, the struggling economy, and attacks on truth and democracy.

  1. Choose an issue that interests you and investigate how federal, state, and local government are dealing with it.
    • You could look at:
      • Pandemic policies such as mask mandates, vaccine requirements, or school reopenings.
      • Environmental and climate change initiatives such as plastic bans at grocery stores.
      • Automobile emissions and other fuel-saving transportation regulations.
      • Food safety and agricultural regulations.
      • Another area where there is disagreement between levels of government.
  2. Write your own Hamilton-style debate lyrics about the topic of your choosing. Focus on the tensions between federal and state power related to your issue.
  3. Bonus Points: Perform and record your rap song on TikTok, Snapchat, or Flipgrid.

Designing for Learning: Student-Created Activity Example

The Great Mask Debate by Lydia Jankowski, Suhyun Shin, Emily Inman

Additional resources:

Connecting to the eBook

Building Democracy for All: The Federalist-Anti-Federalist Debates

Connecting to the Standards