Fact Check: What Changes Does Lin-Manuel Miranda Make to American History in His Hit Musical Hamilton?
Hamilstans rejoice! On July 3, the landmark Broadway show is hitting the small screen thanks to some Disney magic — and by that we mean the company’s Disney+ streaming service. For the very first time, your ticket to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s genius adaptation of historian Ron Chernow’s 2004 biography Alexander Hamilton will cost just $6.99 (the platform’s per-month rate).
If you’ve been living under a rock since 2015, we’ll bring you up to speed. Drawing heavily from hip hop, R&B, pop, soul and show tunes, Hamilton, the musical about the “ten-dollar Founding Father,” made waves for casting non-white actors as important historical figures, allowing the show to be about “America then, as told by America now.” With 11 Tony wins (out of its record-breaking 16 nominations) and a box office gross of $613 million already, the show is one of Broadway’s all-time most successful musicals. And it’s garnered quite the fan following. In fact, according to Variety, a premium-price ticket for Hamilton during the holiday season can run as high as $1,150 a seat. Needless to say, a more accessible way to “be in the room where it happens” has been a long time coming — and we’re happy more folks will get the chance to see Miranda’s musical.
But, whether you’re a Hamilton newbie or a longtime fan, it’s important to note that Miranda couldn’t possibly fit all of Alexander and co.’s life into a two-hour-and-forty-minute show. Important moments in history are cut, condensed or altered to fit within the logistical constraints, or to emphasize certain narrative beats. That said, in this Fact Check, we’re taking a look at a few of the ways Hamilton diverges from what’s written in the history books. So, whether you’re raising a glass to the film version of Hamilton or not, don’t throw away your shot to learn more!
Did Angelica Schuyler Regret Her Decision to Forgo a Romantic Relationship With Alexander Hamilton?
MAYBE: Every Broadway musical worth watching knows that an unrequited love story is a must. Full of drama, near misses and opportunities for songs about longing, love stories that don’t unfold with ease are the stuff of Tony Awards. When it comes to Hamilton, Miranda decided to hone in on the love triangle between Alexander and two of the Schuyler sisters, Angelica and Eliza.
While Eliza becomes Alexander’s wife, both in the musical and in real life, several of Angelica’s most standout musical moments center on her regret over not pursuing Alexander herself. But was Angelica really fated to “never be satisfied” when it came to romance? It’s hard to say. There has long been speculation among historians that a romantic relationship did exist between the two, and their correspondence, which is preserved in the Library of Congress, certainly illustrates a strong bond. So, who can blame Miranda for upping the ante a bit?
What does the musical get wrong when it comes to Angelica? Well, at the time of Alexander and Eliza’s marriage in 1780 — illustrated by the song “Helpless” and its Angelica-laments-what-could-have-been follow-up “Satisfied” — Angelica had already been wed to John Barker Church (a.k.a. John Carter). Moreover, contrary to what’s portrayed on stage, the Schuyler family had 15 children, several of whom were sons.
Was Philip the Only Child of Alexander and Eliza Hamilton?
NOPE: Speaking of kids who didn’t make it to the stage, Angelica, Eliza and Peggy’s siblings weren’t the only ones to end up on the Broadway version of the cutting room floor. In the musical, Alexander and Eliza seemingly have one son, Philip Hamilton, the child who is fated to die an early and tragic death in a duel, years before his father would face the same fate.
However, while Philip was the Hamiltons’ eldest child, he was one of eight children born to Eliza and Alexander. In the musical, he asks his parents for a sibling — in reality, things were quite crowded at home. In real life, Philip died at just 19 years old on November 24, 1801, and, a few months later, the youngest Hamilton child was born and named Philip II after him.
While the song “It’s Quiet Uptown,” which is all about the Hamiltons’ loss, certainly brings on the feels, it isn’t the show’s only song about the bonds between parents and children. Earlier on, Alexander and Aaron Burr sing about their newly born children — Philip and Theodosia. In “Dear Theodosia,” Burr sings that his daughter will, one day, “blow us all away.” Sadly, at just 29 years old, Theodosia was pronounced dead in 1813 after being lost at sea. While this detail is seemingly left out of the musical, it would have followed the fateful Hamilton-Burr duel of 1804.
Was Everything Really Legal in New Jersey?
NOPE: In the musical, as in real life, Alexander’s eldest son Philip challenges New York lawyer George Eacker to a duel. Why? Well, as Hamilton suggests, Eacker gave an Independence Day speech in which he reportedly disparaged Alexander, encouraging Philip to defend his father’s honor in a duel.
In reality, several months separated the Fourth of July speech and the fatal duel, but it did really take place in Weehawken, New Jersey. Why’s that? Well, in the musical, Alexander asks his son where the duel’s set to take place, to which Philip replies, “Across the river, in Jersey.” This prompts Alexander to utter one of the musical’s most-quoted lines, “Everything is legal in New Jersey!”
While this makes for a hilarious joke, especially coming from Miranda, a lifelong New Yorker, it isn’t true. Dueling was prohibited in both New York and New Jersey, but many duelists agreed to use the Weehawken grounds — in fact it was the site of 18 known duels between 1700 and 1845 — because New Jersey wasn’t as aggressive as New York when it came to prosecuting duelists.
Was Alexander Hamilton a Leader in the Fight for Abolition?
NOPE: In the musical, Alexander is portrayed as a fierce abolitionist, pro-immigrant and an egalitarian. While this portrayal of the once-“young, scrappy and hungry” ten-dollar Founding Father makes for a great reclamation of a bigoted and oppressive American past, it isn’t accurate. In “Correcting Hamilton,” an article for the Harvard Gazette, historian Annette Gordon-Reed points out these inaccuracies.
While Gordon-Reed admits to being a fan of the musical, she says, “The [Alexander] Hamilton on the stage is more palatable and attractive to modern audiences.” In reality, he wasn’t an abolitionist; like George Washington, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson and countless other Founding Fathers, Alexander “bought and sold slaves for his in-laws” and, according to Gordon-Reed, “Opposing slavery was never at the forefront of his agenda. …He was not a champion of the little guy, like the show portrays. He was elitist.”
While Gordon-Reed commends the diverse casting and reclamation of American history, she also wonders if this sanitization, or oversimplification, actually “submerges” the issue of slavery and, in effect, undoes the work historians are doing to spotlight America’s problematic history. “Artists have the right to create,” she says, “but historians have the right to critique.”
Did Thomas Jefferson Really Win the Election of 1800 in a “Landslide”?
QUITE THE OPPOSITE: In the musical, Thomas Jefferson goes toe-to-toe with presidential incumbent John Adams in the Election of 1800. Often referred to as the Revolution of 1800, this landmark election is portrayed as a landslide victory in Jefferson’s favor. But this is far from the truth.
In the election of 1796, the candidate who received the most votes became president, whereas the candidate who received the second-most votes became vice president, regardless of party affiliation. Unlike the prior presidential election, both parties, the Democratic-Republicans and the Federalists, nominated two-person tickets: Jefferson and Aaron Burr versus Adams and Charles C. Pinckney. In the end, Jefferson and Burr tied with 73 electoral votes, which meant the House of Representatives would have to decide. The House was firmly split down the middle as well — until Alexander swayed some of his fellow Federalists to back Jefferson.
Martha Washington Named Her Feral Tomcat After Alexander Hamilton, Right?
SADLY, NO: While so many quotable lyrics have come out of Miranda’s musical, many Hamilton fans have a soft spot for a bit of trivia about Martha Washington’s feral tomcat. In the show, Aaron Burr is describing Alexander as a bit of a ladies’ man, stating that the First Lady “named her feral tomcat after [Hamilton],” who, in turn, smugly says, “That’s true.”
According to the historians over at Mount Vernon, this humorous tidbit simply isn’t true. Apparently, Martha Washington befriended a cat at Morristown during the Revolution, and, while secondary sources claim she named the tomcat after her husband’s aide, the claims are unfounded. Despite being proven false, Miranda allegedly kept the bit in the musical because he felt it would be something Alexander would brag about. (That’s true.)
And Peggy — Was She Actually Just a Third Wheel?
ABSOLUTELY NOT: As the musical states, “who lives, who dies, who tells your story” factors into how you are remembered — not just as an individual, but in the annals of American history. Earlier on in the musical’s meteoric rise, the Schuyler Sisters’ eponymous jam gained a lot of traction. It’s a bop — and it’s one of the few songs in the show that puts women at its center.
In the song, the sisters introduce themselves as Angelica, Alexander’s intellectual sparring partner and potentially unrequited love interest; Eliza, Alexander’s devoted wife and passionate supporter; aannnndddd Peggy. That’s kind of it. Peggy is just there to round out the trio and act as a voice of dissent and fear as the sisters explore the revolutionary history that’s happenin’ in downtown Manhattan.
In reality, Margarita “Peggy” Schuyler was not just a background character. In 1781, she even had a particularly bada-s moment in which she saved her family. According to the lore, a group of Tories, a.k.a. British loyalists, barged into the Schuylers’ Albany mansion to make Peggy’s father a prisoner of war. In the scramble to hide, the then-pregnant Eliza and Angelica realized they had left their parents’ newborn daughter, Catharine, downstairs.
Peggy went to rescue the baby and, while downstairs, found herself face-to-face with one of the would-be raiders. When they asked where her father was, Peggy quickly replied he’d “gone to alarm the town,” causing the raiders to flee. In a last-ditch effort, the Tories threw a tomahawk at Peggy; the weapon left a mark on the banister, which, supposedly, the Schuyler family left in place as a reminder of the occasion. While this now-legendary moment was referenced in letters, it might not have been entirely accurate. Still, Peggy was more than just a third wheel.