National Archives News

Archives Displays Hamilton’s Documents in Exhibit Incorporating Musical’s Lyrics

By Kerri Lawrence  |  National Archives News

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The Featured Document exhibit, “Alexander Hamilton: An Inspiring Founder,” runs from June 7 through September 19, 2018 at the National Archives Museum in Washington, DC.  (National Archives photo by Kerri Lawrence)

WASHINGTON, June 7, 2018 — Records related to one of our nation’s Founding Fathers are coupled and displayed with lyrics from a smash Broadway musical in an innovative new exhibit at the National Archives Museum in Washington, DC. Original records from Alexander Hamilton’s life and legacy are paired alongside the rap lyrics from the highly acclaimed Broadway hit, Hamilton.

Alexander Hamilton was best known for his role as the first Secretary of the Treasury during the nation’s earliest years. However, until recently he was one of the lesser known Founding Fathers. His legacy includes establishing the first National Bank, the U.S. Mint, and the U.S. Coast Guard.

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s interpretation of Alexander Hamilton’s life story was inspired by the 2004 biography Alexander Hamilton, which author and historian Ron Chernow researched at the National Archives. Chernow's biography was influenced by the Alexander Hamilton Papers supported by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission. You can read transcriptions of Hamilton's letters on Founders Online.

Miranda’s musical sets itself apart from other Broadway musicals with a lively score containing songs heavily influenced by hip-hop and its recasting of America’s Founding Fathers with a diverse cast of actors. 

“I chose to pair the records that I selected for the exhibit with related lyrics from the popular musical to help visitors relate those moments to the real historical documents from Alexander Hamilton's life and legacy,” said Corinne Porter, a National Archives exhibits information specialist and curator of the exhibit, “Alexander Hamilton: An Inspiring Founder.”

The Featured Document exhibit, open from June 7 through September 19, 2018, includes Hamilton’s Statement of My Property and Debts, with Remarks. Hamilton penned the handwritten document in early July 1804, just days before he died from wounds suffered in his duel with lifelong arch nemesis Aaron Burr. He wrote it with hopes of explaining his financial circumstances, as he feared that his debts would be burdensome to his family after his passing. The document inspired the Hamilton song “Best of Wives and Best of Women,” in which his wife, Eliza, asks him, “Why do you write like you’re running out of time?”  

George Washington’s Nomination of Alexander Hamilton to be the First Secretary of the Treasury, written on September 11,1789, is also featured in the exhibit. As the first Secretary of the Treasury, Hamilton implemented an ambitious plan to strengthen the new nation’s economy. He consolidated individual states’ Revolutionary War debts into a single national debt, instituted a Federal excise tax to raise revenues, and created a national bank to improve the nation’s credit and transact Federal financial business.

An original copy of Hamilton’s letter to the Marquis de Lafayette describing his actions at the Battle of Yorktown d