Even in the 1770s, rich people went slumming. So says Aaron Burr, and why should we doubt it? Major General Philip Schuyler’s daughters are rich, but they want to be “downtown . . . at the college,” where things are hopping.

We’ve met Hamilton and Burr and each has his musical signature; now we meet the two other main characters with signatures, Eliza and Angelica Schuyler. (Eliza’s signature gets on my nerves, one of the reasons it took me a long time to warm to this song, which I have since come to love.) Their sister, Peggy, is hardly heard of after this song, but the actor will return in Act II as the third important woman in the story, Maria Reynolds–one of the ways doubling of roles enhances themes and characters. When Eliza, Angelica, and Maria declare “I loved him” in “Alexander Hamilton,” the opening song, we’re hearing from the three actors who play the Schuyler sisters.

The star here is Angelica. Peggy is nervous, Eliza is curious, but Angelica is “looking for a mind at work” (a shout-out to The West Wing? Friends who are fans of the show say  Hamilton alludes to it frequently). She’s got a pretty sharp mind herself, and like intellectual women of many times and places, she has to push back against men who want to reduce her to an object of their desire.

Eliza: Angelica, remind me what we’re looking for . . .
All of the men on stage: She’s looking for me!

Burr tries some lines:

Burr: Excuse me, miss, I know it’s not funny
But your perfume smells like your daddy’s got money
Why you slummin’ in the city in your fancy heels
You searchin’ for an urchin who can give you ideals?

Angelica: Burr, you disgust me

Burr: Ah, so you’ve discussed me
I’m a trust fund, baby, you can trust me!

His finesse at turning rejection into potential is impressive (“So you’ve discussed me”), but she’s more than a match for him, and brings the topic back to what matters to her. She’s been reading “Common Sense,” as a revolutionary should, with the result that this is the way men regard her: “I’m intense or I’m insane.” She doesn’t care. Nothing intimidates Angelica, including the most prominent men of the day. As I said, it took awhile for this song to grow on me, but these were lines I loved the first time I heard them:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal”
And when I meet Thomas Jefferson, I’m ‘a compel him to include women in the sequel!

Was she or any influential woman of the time really that outspoken about full equality? Before this is all through I may be reduced to reading the letters of Angelica Schuyler Church, and other women of the revolutionary era, just to find out. Abigail Adams famously wrote to her husband,

remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the Ladies we are determined to foment a Rebellion and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice or Representation,

but when, a few months later, the Declaration of Independence was signed without including a word about women, and then the constitution was ratified without guaranteeing women “voice or Representation,” she did not make good on her threat.

On the Sunday after Inauguration Day, when many folks in my congregation (and I) were acutely afraid of the ways our democracy was already under siege, I began my sermon with Eliza’s frequently-repeated words, “Look around, look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now!” For me, one of the greatest sources of hope at a grim time is to look at history and realize that they, too, were afraid. They didn’t know how it would all end. We still don’t; the American experiment could end here, now, after only 240 years; but it gives me some hope to remember that to the colonists, things looked very uncertain in the 1770s, and they prevailed. And what Miranda imagines here is that they also found joy and purpose in being alive at such a crossroads. Maybe it is how he feels himself, despite–or because of?–the racial turmoil of the 21st century United States. The play opened on Off-Broadway in 2015, six months after the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO and the rise of Black Lives Matter; when, in “My Shot,” Hamilton says, “This is not a moment, it’s the movement / Where all the hungriest brothers with something to prove went,” he’s explicitly quoting a BLM slogan.

I think that like the Schuyler sisters, we are lucky to be alive right now, when our country teeters between disaster and possibility, and so what we do matters intensely.

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