‘Hamilton’ The Rage–But What Do Scholars Think?

The hardest ticket to come by in New York City is for the play Hamilton.   It is loved by fans and is the topic of news stories and talk shows.   But what about the historical fact-checking that some historians and others are doing into the man at the center of the play?

Why this struck me–other than Hamilton is my favorite Founding Father–is not that there are those who have something to say about this matter–but that it made its way to the front page of The New York Times.

In articles, blog posts and Facebook threads, scholars have debated whether “Hamilton” over-glorifies the man, inflating his opposition to slavery while glossing over less attractive aspects of his politics, which were not necessarily as in tune with contemporary progressive values as audiences leaving the theater might assume.

The show, for all its redemptive and smart aspects, is part of this ‘Founders Chic’ phenomenon,” said David Waldstreicher, a historian at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York who last September sounded an early note of skepticism on The Junto, a group blog about early American history.

Annette Gordon-Reed, a professor of history and law at Harvard and the Pulitzer-Prize-winning author of “The Hemingses of Monticello,” put it more bluntly.

“One of the most interesting things about the ‘Hamilton’ phenomenon,” she wrote last week on the blog of the National Council on Public History, “is just how little serious criticism the play has received.”

Ms. Gordon-Reed was responding to a critical essay by Lyra D. Monteiro, in the journal The Public Historian, arguing that the show’s multiethnic casting obscures the almost complete lack of identifiable African-American characters, making the country’s founding seem like an all-white affair.

“It’s an amazing piece of theater, but it concerns me that people are seeing it as a piece of history,” Ms. Monteiro, an assistant professor of history at Rutgers University, Newark, said in an interview.

The founders, she added, “really didn’t want to create the country we actually live in today.”

Ms. Gordon-Reed — who is credited with breaking down the resistance among historians to the claim that Thomas Jefferson had a sexual relationship with Sally Hemings — wrote in her response that she shared some of Ms. Monteiro’s qualms, even as she loved the musical and listened to the cast album every day.

“Imagine ‘Hamilton’ with white actors,” she wrote. “Would the rosy view of the founding era grate?”

Want To Feel Old(er)?

I now understand why there are classes at technical schools for how to use email.

“I’m more of an adult now that I send email,” says Sumanth Neerumalla, a junior at the University of Maryland. He says becoming a person who sends emails felt like a bigger rite of passage than registering to vote.

You might think a generation as tech-savvy as this one, which can hardly remember a time before smartphones, Facebook, Snapchat or Instagram, would have embraced email in its infancy.

But progress has inverted the order in which Generation Z encounters many technologies, relative to their older peers. Many used tablets before laptops, streaming before downloads and chat before email. For them, email is as about as much fun as applying to college or creating a résumé.

“The way I first perceived email was, it was something my parents did for work,” says Zach Kahn, a 21-year-old senior at George Washington University.

I heard variants of this sentiment from 15 young adults, ages 16 to 21: Email is for communicating with old people, the digital equivalent of putting on a shirt and tie.

“I would never even think of emailing my friends, they would just react super weird,” says Tanya E. Van Gastel, a 21-year-old senior at University of Antwerp, in Belgium. “They would be like ‘Why don’t you text me?’ ”

Abigail Adams May Not Have Been Mother Of The Year

John Ellis has a new book out on his beloved topics of the Founders.   By all accounts this latest offering is as rich in detail and punchy writing as his previous must reads. James Traub wrote a review of John Quincy Adams: Militant Spirit which included this portion about  Abigail Adams.

The mature Adams, with all his sharp edges and impossible standards of perfection, was very much a product of the parenting practices of Abigail and John. Many American boys — now also girls — are raised to believe that they can grow up to become president of the United States. John Quincy was raised to believe that anything less rendered him an abject failure. Abigail was actually tougher on him than John, and one can only wince at her admonition, written after her 10-year-old son had completed a risky voyage across the Atlantic with his father: “For dear as you are to me, I had much rather you should have found your grave in the ocean you have crossed . . . rather than see you an immoral profligate or a graceless child.” John Quincy never had a childhood, nor was he raised to be a happy man. He was instead fashioned like a hardened steel projectile, aimed at the center of American history.

Without doubt this book will be making its way to our home.

Political Polling–1892 Style

Hat Tip To Dan.

This is an amusing story.

Polling methods certainly have changed over the years, and I recently found an example showing one of the old ways.

The 1¢ Ulysses S. Grant paid reply postal card (Scott UY1) is addressed to the ‘“Chairman, Democratic Committee, Norwood, Mass.”

The message on the card is dated Oct. 27, 1892, two days after the card’s Oct. 25 issue date.

The message reads: “Dear Sir: Will you kindly send us by the next mail, on accompanying return postal, your estimate (in round figures, if you have not figured more closely) of the Republican vote and the Democratic vote in your town at the coming election. The courtesy will be much appreciated, Very truly, BOSTON JOURNAL.”

The postscript message asks, “Please write the name of your town and the party on your reply.”

The card was postmarked Oct. 28 in Boston.

The committee apparently never responded because the reply part of the card is still attached.

In the 1892 election, former 22nd president Grover Cleveland (a Democrat) defeated the 23rd president Benjamin Harrison (a Republican) to become the 24th president, by 5.552 million votes (277 electoral votes) to 5.179 million votes (145 electoral votes).

This was sweet revenge for Cleveland because he had been defeated in the prior election by Harrison.