Unless you are really into musicals or history, you may not know that there has been a wildly successful musical on Broadway about one of our most important, but not first tier, Founding Fathers aptly named Hamilton (coming soon to a Civic Center near you!). It should come as no shock that this musical was a worlds-colliding situation for me. I mean, I studied BOTH music AND history in college. My historical focus is the US Constitution for Pete’s sake!
But I was never really a fan of Hamilton. You know how people say you’re either a Beatles person or a Rolling Stones person? Well it’s the same for Hamilton and Jefferson, and I am absolutely with Jefferson who was a true Renaissance man. He invented machines, could write beautifully and played the violin. He was an underdog guy, standing up for farmers.
In the opposite corner stood Hamilton. He was an elitist. He considered having a monarchy in the US. He stood up for the bankers and lenders and was pro-British even when they were kidnapping sailors and inciting fights with Native American tribes. I could never be on that guy’s side! But the most well-known fact about him to most people is that he was shot by Aaron Burr.
“Aaron Burr,” you say. “Yes I do remember that he shot Hamilton.” And what else?
Not much. But after reading Hamilton by Ron Chernow and listening to Hamilton on repeat for a few years, I determined it was time to learn more about this man. In looking for a well-researched biography of the man, pickins were slim. In fact I only found one—Nancy Isenberg’s Fallen Founder.
Were I doing a book review, I would elaborate on why I did not think the book treated its subject fairly, going so far as to defend some of his more notorious actions. I argued with the book in her characterization of Jefferson, Hamilton and others, feeling they were vilified to bolster her thesis that Aaron Burr was a victim of narrow-minded thinking.
But a more frustrating statement comes right at the top. Fallen Founder?? Since when does Aaron Burr deserve the term “founder?” He was not at the US Constitutional Convention, did not sit in either the First or Second Continental Congress, nor did he argue in state ratifying conventions for the Constitution. He penned no important documents and authored no definitive legislation. He did fight in the Revolutionary War. He deserves the title “veteran” and maybe “war hero,” but not “founder.”
One doesn’t just get to be a Founding Father because they were alive during the Revolutionary and Founding periods. Especially when that person subsequently attempts to raise an extralegal army to provoke a war, and solicits an outside nation for support in that protowar!
On this Independence Day, we have a LOT for which to be grateful in the United States. We should be celebrating the men (because yes they were all men) who founded this nation. Just don’t include Burr in that list.