Very good friends treated us to “Hamilton: An American Musical” recently (yes, it really is as good as they say, even better). An extraordinary evening, both entertaining and educational. Like its predecessor by four decades, the musical “1776,” this hugely popular play uses historic facts of the American Revolution as background for the stories of real human beings – warts, faults, sins and all – who were present at, and responsible for, the birth and successful infancy of this great nation. It is a joyous celebration of a life of consequence.
It has become fashionable these days to dismiss, diminish and even demonize the men who organized, led and fought the Revolutionary War, then argued, fought, negotiated, passed and amended the Constitution. We’ve become so politically correct that we can no longer refer to them as the Founding Fathers (even though they were in fact all men) because that might suggest that women played no important role in creating and sustaining the Great American Experiment. I have no issue with the new term, Founders, but I’m saddened that we spend time on these issues rather than on the larger point: these were men, and women, who took extraordinary risks and accomplished extraordinary things under extraordinarily difficult circumstances. I’m particularly saddened that we no longer teach these historic truths in our schools.
Two cases in point: The 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence in effect autographed their own death warrants. They were taking a stand against the ruler of the most powerful nation on earth who would spare no expense to relieve them of their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor. John Hancock’s florid signature was a digital act of defiance, large enough to ensure that King George III could read it without his glasses. That took courage. And a victorious George Washington refused to be made a king and, even more remarkably, voluntarily stepped down from office after his second term. This latter act of humility and grace was so incredibly beyond the expectations of human nature – and of George III – that it merits special treatment in one of the funnier moments in the play.
If I could be king for a day (bad pun), I would restore American History to the core curriculum in our schools so that current and future students might come to appreciate the historical anomaly that is the United States. We should celebrate what we have become while acknowledging the reality of our becoming. And learn more about the colorful and complicated men and women who made it possible – more than just that George Washington had dentures (not wooden, as it turns out).