We’re in Act II! I’m curious about the way the chorus gives the date this time, not in its usual straightforward way, but stuttered–“Se-se-seventeen, se-se-” until Burr cuts in and completes it. Anyone have any ideas why?

Of the several intros of the “How does a . . . ” variety, this is my favorite to sing along with, with its fast tempo and easy transitions between rapping and song. “You haven’t met him yet, you haven’t had the chance, ‘Cause he’s been kickin’ ass as the ambassador to France . . . You simply must meet Thomas, Thomas . . . !”

We’ve met the actor already; Act II ushers out four characters and bring in four new ones played by the same actors. Thomas Jefferson and the Marquis de Lafayette make a great pair of roles to be doubled because Lafayette is French, Jefferson a Francophile; each wrote his country’s declaration of independence, and just as the song says, Lafayette consulted Jefferson as he was writing “The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen”; Jefferson was, yes, ambassador to France before becoming the United States’s first Secretary of State. Oh, and the kicker, Hamilton was friends with one of these men, enemies with the other. It’s fun to hear Daveed Diggs move from one to the other, drop his French accent and drop into the slightly southern, distinctly condescending voice of Jefferson (I find his voice as Jefferson enjoyably annoying). It’s fun for us, that is; not so much for Hamilton, though he holds his own.

Anyway, we’re not to their first argument yet; that’s the next track. “What’d I Miss?” is just Jefferson coming home in a whirlwind of activity, to music that’s way out of date. He’s still doing boogie-woogie while the country he’s returning to has moved on to hip hop, which is one way Miranda tells us things are changing fast in the new nation. (In reality, Jeffferson did not miss the war on account of being “off gettin’ high with the French” (“Cabinet Battle #1”); he was quite busy stateside as governor of Virginia, a state that, according to Sarah Vowell, was notably stingy with support for the Continental Army, and therefore partly to blame for the soldiers’ having frequently gone shoeless and hungry even as they marched into battle right there in Virginia.)

His pal James Madison is another doubled role and another surprise and pleasure. Listening to Hercules Mulligan and James Madison side by side (so to speak) fills me with admiration for Okieriete Onaodowan’s versatility. His Mulligan is all roughness, toughness, and bluster, who mostly raps his lines and holds his own with the older* Laurens, Lafayette, Hamilton, and Burr, while his Madison is a soft-spoken second banana with a lovely singing voice.

You can see right away why Hamilton and Jefferson are not going to get along, even before we learn of the differences in their political philosophy. Both are arrogant, and two people this full of themselves are bound to clash (just look at Ed Koch and Donald Trump). Their arrogance takes different forms, each expressing their social class and status. Hamilton, the illegitimate, orphaned immigrant, knows he “amaze[s] and astonish[es]” (“My Shot”) with his hard work and genius; he’ll lobby George Washington to develop his gifts (“honor, a tolerance for pain, a couple of college credits and [a] top-notch brain,” as he says in “Helpless”), yet be tickled when they land him a spot as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention. He’s pushy, as you can see in the staging of this song. Listening to the bit where Washington sings “Mr. Jefferson, welcome home,” I figured Hamilton just stands next to Washington and eagerly, even politely, introduces himself, but not so: he cuts in on the president–the president–as Washington tries to shake Jefferson’s hand. Jefferson’s arrogance is no less, but has a different feel. He is to the manor born (pun intended) and he takes his honors as his due: “It says the president’s assembling a cabinet and that I am to be Secretary of State–great!” Jefferson is an aristocrat and a snob, predisposed to think himself superior to Hamilton because he was born to money and land. He no doubt despises Hamilton for being pushy, a failing Jefferson himself is not heir to because he’s always been on the top of the heap Hamilton wants to climb. (Later, in “Washington on Your Side,” he criticizes Hamilton’s “new money”–no one hates new money more than old money does.) And that “what’d I miss?” is so arrogant in itself, almost assuming that he can’t have missed much of importance. As if he just stepped out for a moment and can be filled in over a drink.

As a Unitarian Universalist, I want to like Jefferson–he was a quasi-Unitarian and praised the church highly in his time–so it’s a bit of a hair shirt at first to hear him being such a jerk. But it’s also fun to see him cut down to size. And although we shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking that Miranda’s Jefferson is the true Jefferson, or his Hamilton the true Hamilton, the real Thomas Jefferson totally deserves the dig here about the woman commonly called his mistress, but more correctly called the survivor of rape and sexual slavery at his hands, Sally Hemings: “There’s a letter on my desk from the president . . . Sally, be a lamb, darlin’, would you open it?” The most touching line in the song, the one where I feel the most affection and empathy for Jefferson, is “Looking at the rolling fields, I can’t believe that we are free”–how that must have felt after all of the work and dreaming and sacrifice! And it’s equally infuriating, because he’s just returned to his plantation full of slaves and has a hell of a nerve reveling in freedom. “What’d I Miss” delivers the whole complex package of Jefferson from the get-go: brilliant, patriotic, racist, revolutionary, reactionary, hardworking, respected, hypocritical.

 

*That’s in the world of the play. Miranda sketches his character as “a tailor’s apprentice,” with the others “in loco parentis,” but in reality he was considerably older than the other four.

 

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