Harvard Historian Has Lots of Problems with Hamilton

'A Broadway show is not a documentary.'

Lin-Manuel Miranda

Photo via AP

The Broadway smash-hit Hamilton has won 11 Tony Awards, clogged up your social media feeds, and made Lin-Manuel Miranda not only a very, very wealthy man, but a Pulitzer Prize winner who pals around with the leader of the free world.

Annette Gordon-Reed, a historian and law professor at Harvard, thinks Miranda’s hip-hop celebration of the perennially underrated Founding Father, while inspired by Ron Chernow’s biography of Hamilton, is a bit problematic.

“A Broadway show is not a documentary,” Gordon-Reed said, speaking at a recent student-sponsored Hamilton event in Cambridge. “Artists have the right to create, but historians have the right to critique.”

While Thomas Jefferson is the only Founding Father shown to own slaves in Hamilton, Gordon-Reed—who won a Pulitzer Prize in 2009 for her book about the family of Sally Hemings, Jefferson’s slave and mistress—noted that George Washington, James Madison, and yes, even Hamilton were slaveowners. She also wondered if the show’s multiethnic casting helped “submerge” the issue of slavery.

“He was not an abolitionist. He bought and sold slaves for his in-laws, and opposing slavery was never at the forefront of his agenda,” Gordon-Reed said of Hamilton. “He was not a champion of the little guy, like the show portrays. He was elitist. He was in favor of having a president for life.”

To be clear, Gordon-Reed said she enjoyed Hamilton, calling Miranda a “genius,” and hopes the musical sparks a renewed interest in this country’s early history.