More Than a Footnote in History

I have a problem you could call The Benny Conundrum. The Han Solo Paradox, if you will.

You see, my soft spot is usually not for the heroes. You can keep the spunky, daring young rebel making it against all odds. I’m looking out for the antihero. To hell with your insane, idealistic quest for treasure. Let him find the smart way to get the job done and give him the practicality of success. 

Rent’s Benjamin Coffin III. Star Wars’ Han Solo. Gone With the Wind’s Rhett Butler. And now, Aaron Burr. 

If you’ve heard about the musical “Hamilton,” you’ve probably heard:

  1. It’s a hip-hop musical about the Founding Fathers.
  2. It’s good. Really good. 
  3. “It’s Quiet Uptown” is the song that makes you cry. 

And that IS a powerful song. It’s heartbreakingly wistful and touching.

But “Wait For It” is the one that gets me crying. It’s not the lead’s song. It’s not even really a sad song. But it does it every time. 

Burr is just explaining how he faces life. He isn’t the star. He’s not flashy like Hamilton. He’s not the superstar. He’s just telling you why he is the way he is. He aches with will and passion and want. He wants to hope that all he’s done is worth it, even while he doubts.  

I know how he feels. And Lin-Manuel Miranda, the genius behind “Hamilton,” agrees. “I feel an equal affinity with Burr,” he told The New Yorker. “Burr is every bit as smart as Hamilton, and every bit as gifted, and he comes from the same amount of loss as Hamilton, but because of the way they’re wired, Burr hangs back, where Hamilton charges forward.”

This is not to say that Aaron Burr was someone to pity. On the contrary. He was a force to be reckoned with. He clearly gave the world something to think about. I mean, he was the subject of nineteenth-century anonymous erotic fanfiction. Who knew that even happened? Clearly this man was not a nobody. 

But history is written by the winners. So while those who knew him said he was “far superior to Hamilton, as much as a man is to a boy” – today we grew up knowing him as a punch-line and a footnote. 

The sensible part of me likes that “Hamilton” makes us care about history. But the emotional part of me likes that “Hamilton” makes us care about Burr. 

For more from Sarah Morgan, check out her website here.

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