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Artistic License History / Hamilton

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Even in a show as history-geeky as this one, a large number of things have inevitably been changed or compressed for dramatic effect.

  • Right off the bat, several characters have undergone dramatic physical and emotional reworks:
    • Alexander Hamilton is portrayed as a flawed yet ultimately well-meaning Nice Guy, but in real life he was an absolute Insufferable Genius that loved to hear himself talk. Well known for dishing out Too Much Information and being a complete Troll to people he didn't like, Hamilton was defined by his military aspirations and warmongering attitude, first during the Whiskey Rebellion by encouraging Washington to use the military on his own citizens and then during the Quasi-War with France where he was compared to Napoleon Bonaparte. Miranda himself has emphasized how different the real Hamilton was compared to the show's Hamilton several times since the show became popular.
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    • Hamilton is portrayed as a straightforward abolitionist in the play; one of his main condemnations of Jefferson is involvement in slavery, and he joins Laurens in saying "we'll never be free until we end slavery". In real life, his views on the matter were much less straightforward. Hamilton was left two slaves by his mother after her death, and his wife, Eliza, grew up with slaves in the household. Philip Schuyler, Hamilton's father-in-law, had slaves during the entire time Eliza and Hamilton were married, and Hamilton was involved in their management. In fact, new evidence at by the Smithsonian suggests that Hamilton was a slaveowner as well.
    • Aaron Burr's philosophy of "talk less, smile more" would actually fit Jefferson more than it would Burr. In real life, Burr was incredibly ambitious and wasn't afraid to fight; he was actually the first of the show's characters to join the Revolution, and in his political career he often engaged in very risky practices to undermine the Federalist Party, such as when he founded the Manhattan Company in order to break Hamilton's hold over New York's banks.
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    • Musical Eliza Hamilton is portrayed as demure, shy, and "helpless", singing, "I have never been the type to try and grab the spotlight". The real Eliza was noted to have been a tomboyish child and to never have lost her strong will and impulsiveness, also said to be suppressing a temper that periodically flared up (and, incidentally, she also preferred "Elizabeth" and was almost never called Eliza). But then, she is the one to tell this story...
    • George Washington is portrayed as a Humble Hero who doesn't necessarily want power but will take it if it means he can do his part to help. This is the image he gave off at the time (and this portrayal is incredibly common in modern America), but he was also noted to have very deceitful tendencies and used his humble image to hide a man who loved the power he had and worked to gain more of it. He was also a noted spymaster and expert manipulator, all of which is gone from the show. And, as noted by his own contemporaries, Washington had a nasty temper that he only barely restrained and on top of that, he was easily irked by even the smallest of perceived infractions. In one correspondence from Alexander Hamilton to his father-in-law Philip Schuyler, Hamilton recounts an incident in which Washington, having been kept waiting at the top of the stairs while Hamilton was preoccupied by a passing officer, scolds him, “Col Hamilton (said he), you have kept me waiting at the head of the stairs these ten minutes. I must tell you Sir you treat me with disrespect.”
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    • Thomas Jefferson's charismatic and flamboyant mannerisms in the show have little in common with the actual man, who was very socially awkward and nervous (to the point where many historians think he was on the autism spectrum). In a bit of Symbolism, his personality here is instead based on the larger-than-life language he authored.
    • James Madison was incredibly sickly, small, and frail, even by the standards of the time. While the show maintains his illness through his consistent coughing, the role is double-cast with Hercules Mulligan, so he's a lot taller and more muscular than in real life (his original actor was a former football player and subsequent castings have gone in a similar direction).
    • King George III is portrayed as a Card-Carrying Villain who gladly starts the war with the Colonies, but while George was obviously not a Laughing Mad maniac (at least not until later on in his life), he also was not responsible for the war starting. He certainly kept it going, but the incidents that led to the Revolution starting were entirely due to Parliament and British soldiers actually in the Colonies, not George himself.
  • In "Aaron Burr, Sir" Hamilton meets Burr, Marquis de Lafayette, Hercules Mulligan and John Laurens all at the same time in 1776. This was done for the sake of moving the story along and better establishing the quartet as the core group of the narrative. In real life, Hamilton met Mulligan in 1772 (Mulligan actually hosted him in his house for multiple years), he met Lafayette and Laurens in 1777 while he was working with Washington, and while no one can quite pin down when he met Burr, they most likely had met each other in passing by the time Hamilton joined the Army (their first documented meeting was in the late 1780s, but they moved in similar social circles while living in New York, so it's unlikely they didn't at least know of each other).
  • In the same song, Laurens enters the scene having consumed "two pints of Sam Adams." While Samuel Adams was made a partner in his father's malthouse in the 1740s, there is no evidence he was ever a brewer (one who actually brews beer). The beer that bears his name today did not appear on the market until 1985.
  • Mulligan was actually fifteen years older than Hamilton, and by some accounts was The Mentor to him (which may explain the in loco parentis line in "My Shot") rather than a peer roughly the same age as the play depicts. Additionally, while he definitely knew Burr since they were neighbors in New York, there's no evidence suggesting that he ever met Laurens and Lafayette; it's theoretically possible, but if it ever happened then no one chose to document it.
  • The show has Hamilton inspiring Mulligan to take a stand and become a revolutionary, while in real life it was actually the exact opposite; Mulligan, a longtime member of the Sons of Liberty, connected Hamilton with William Livingston, a prominent revolutionary, and by 1775 Hamilton had published his first essay arguing for independence.
  • In the bar scene, the revolution is described several times as "imminent," and Hamilton says "I wish there were a war," despite the narration putting it in 1776, when the fighting would have been well underway. In fact, if this scene does take place in 1776, then Burr would have already been part of the Continental Army - he enlisted in 1775.
  • The real Angelica was already married to John Barker Church when she met Hamilton. And rather than a loveless marriage of convenience, they eloped because she feared her father wouldn't approve of his British ties, meaning she wanted to be with him. Also, in "Satisfied" Angelica says that her father "has no son, so I'm the one who has to social climb for one", which was untrue; in real life she had three younger brothers (hence why she was able to marry for love). According to Lin, by the time he became aware of the Schulyer brothers, he decided to keep the line to emphasize the emotional sacrifice Angelica was making.
  • It's highly unlikely that Burr would have tried to become Washington's "Right Hand Man" as the titular song seems to suggest he did. While he did at one point serve on Washington's staff, he quit in June of 1776 to be on the battlefield and then quickly developed an antagonistic relationship with the General due to his lack of commending Burr's war efforts (thus denying him a promotion).
  • It's highly unlikely that anyone in the 1770s would call New York "the greatest city in the world" or evince any of the city pride for which it has become proverbial. While an important trade hub famed for its diverse population, Philadelphia and Boston both outclassed it in size and trade routes, and among the New World, Port-au-Prince in colonial Haiti was the larger city and more profitable one, and internationally of course, Beijing, London, and Paris exceeded it greatly in size, splendour, population, and political and social importance.
  • "A Winter's Ball" features Hamilton proudly admitting that the story that Martha Washington named a tomcat after him is true. At the time, this rumor did have a lot of followers, but in modern times it's largely considered to have been a false claim made to discredit Hamilton and his positionsnote . Miranda himself has admitted that the story is most likely false, but he kept it in on purpose to showcase Hamilton "at his peak cockiness".
  • "The Story of Tonight (Reprise)" sets Alexander and Eliza's wedding earlier than it actually was. It's implied that Hamilton was the first of his friends to get married, though historically he was the last (not counting Burr), and none of those friends were present at his wedding (Laurens was actually in British custody at the time). Also, Burr had just been promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, which actually happened a few years before Hamilton got married.
  • In the show the Battle of Monmouth, Laurens' duel with Charles Lee, and Hamilton's break with Washington are depicted as happening after Alexander and Eliza were married. Historically the Battle of Monmouth took place in 1778 while Alexander and Eliza were married in 1780. In the show the battle and the duel are moved to happen at a later date. Historically Washington and Hamilton's break was not caused by the duel and Hamilton resigned as aide while Washington wanted him to stay on.
  • Burr was not Lee’s second in his duel with Laurens. The real second was Major Evan Edwards, a commander of the Eleventh Pennsylvania Regiment and one of Lee's closest aides.
  • In "Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down)" the show places Laurens in South Carolina where he will later be killed in action, but historically Laurens was at the Battle of Yorktown; he fought side-by-side with Hamilton and helped negotiate the British surrender.
  • The battle in which Laurens is killed is portrayed as something like the Battle of New Orleans in the War of 1812- as a battle which only occurred because the combatants hadn't heard that the war was over. In actuality, the war wasn't over at that point- the final peace treaty wasn't signed until the following year.
  • "Dear Theodosia" has Burr singing to his daughter Theodosia around the same time that Hamilton receives word that John Laurens has been killed in action. Theodosia wasn't actually born until 1783, while Laurens was killed in August of the previous year.
  • While Burr and Hamilton really did defend Levi Weeks during the first recorded murder trial in Americanote , "Non-Stop" places this event shortly after the revolution and before Hamilton wrote the Federalist Papers. In real life, this trial didn't happen until 1800, but Burr and Hamilton are already on the outs by this point going by the show timeline If you're interested... .
  • There's no evidence that Hamilton asked Burr to help write the Federalist Papers, nor would he have likely done so; Burr, while still on friendly terms with Hamilton at that point, had already aligned himself with the anti-Federalist/Republican faction in New York.
  • In "Take A Break", a nine year old Philip at one point says "I have a sister but I want a little brother!" The real Philip actually had two younger brothers by this point, and would eventually have two sisters and five brothers.
  • The show has Jefferson's resignation as Secretary of State and his running to succeed Washington as occurring in close sequence, while in the real world Jefferson resigned in 1793, shortly into Washington's second term.
  • Washington's farewell address is incredibly condensed and paraphrased for the musical - an appropriate response, considering the actual document is 32 pages long and written in archaic English.
  • Aaron Burr didn't actually switch political parties in order to run against Phillip Schuyler as depicted in the show; he had been a member of the Democratic-Republican party for several years by the time he was elected to the Senate.
  • James Madison boasts about his writing of the Bill of Rights. While this is certainly true, it is unlikely that he would brag about it, as he was against the idea. Madison believed that the government's powers as listed in the constitution were few, limited and defined, and that a Bill of Rights, which illustrated specific things the government was not allowed to restrict, would be not only redundant but actually destructive, and raise the implication that the government had more power than its authors intended.
  • In "It's Quiet Uptown", Hamilton mentions taking his children to church on Sundays and making the Sign of the the Cross at the door. In reality, Hamilton was raised Presbyterian (the Sign of the Cross is a Catholic gesture), but became less religious as an adult and didn't regularly attend services.
  • In the 2nd Cabinet Battle, Hamilton is depicted as wanting to stay neutral in the French Revolution while Jefferson wants to send soldiers and aid, creating a clear-cut battle between the two. Ironically, while Jefferson did publicly support the revolutionaries and aided Lafayette as much as he could, the notion that America should stay neutral in the revolution was one of the few things the two ever agreed on in their entire livesnote .
  • The duel between Phillip and George Eacker went about as different in real life as it possibly could've gone. In the show, Phillip fires his shot into the air, but Eacker cheats and shoots him before the count is over. In real life, both turned around but neither one shot until Phillip slowly began to raise his gun, at which point Eacker shot first in preemptive self-defense; while it's possible that Phillip never intended to kill Eacker, there's no possible way to know.
  • Peggy Schuyler's death is moved up a few years so Peggy's actress can change into Maria Reynolds for "Say No to This". In real life, Peggy died in 1801, which would be much later in Act Two.
  • "The Election of 1800" has Hamilton emerging from mourning for his son Philip to place his vote for Jefferson, rather than Burr. In reality, Philip didn't die until 1801, when the election was long over.
  • There are multiple discrepancies with how the musical portrays Hamilton's affair with Maria Reynolds and the subsequent Reynolds Pamphlet.
    • "Say No To This" implies that the affair only took place for a few months. There's conflicting information over just how long the real life affair lasted, but the smallest amount of time generally considered to be plausible is still around a full year (summer of 1791 to July 1792).
    • The show places Hamilton negotiating with Jefferson and Madison to give Virginia the nation's capital after he begins his affair with Maria. While the two events did occur very close to each other, D.C. actually became the capital in 1790, while his affair didn't start until the next summer.
    • In the real life investigation into the Reynolds affair, Jefferson's role was more of a "behind the scenes" nature and Madison and Burr weren't involved at all, but because future president James Monroe doesn't fit into the rest of the narrative, his role was split up into the three already-established antagonists of the show.
    • In the show, the confrontation between Hamilton and the investigators occurs after the events of "The Adams Administration". Disregarding the fact that the real-life investigators were completely different people, the confrontation that this scene is clearly based on occurred in December of 1792, long before Adams became President.
    • "The Adams Administration" has Hamilton releasing his public response to Adams' comments about him ("Sit down John, YOU FAT MOTHERFUCKSTICK!") before the events that lead to the Reynolds Pamphlet begin. The Reynolds Pamphlet actually came first in 1797, while the Adams Pamphlet that the song hints to was released in 1800.
    • Eliza already knew about Hamilton's affair with Maria Reynolds long before he admitted it publicly; in the show she finds out along with everyone else when the Reynolds Pamphlet is published, maximizing the hurt and betrayal she feels. Although she didn't exactly cut him off during this time, as they conceived two children, a son and a daughter, in the years between the scandal breaking and Philip's death.
    • In real life, the situation that caused Hamilton to release the pamphlet was much more complicated than depicted in the showExplanation .
    • In the musical, Burr takes great pleasure in watching Hamilton's political career crumble due to the pamphlet. In real life, Burr was actually one of the few who sympathized with him and had served as Maria Reynolds' divorce lawyer in the past (indeed, Burr is generally the only person involved in the scandal considered to have behaved honorably during the shitstorm that followed the release of the pamphlet). Conversely, while Washington showcases his disappointment in Hamilton in the musical, the real Washington's opinion of Hamilton was reportedly unchanged by the pamphlet, with Washington still holding him in "very high esteem".
    • The Reynolds Pamphlet did next to nothing to Hamilton's political career. While "The Reynolds Pamphlet" portrays it as a career-ending scandal, in real life Hamilton's influence was pretty much untouched, with him still controlling many of John Adams' cabinet from behind the scenes. It was actually the "Adams Pamphlet", the pamphlet Hamilton wrote attacking Adams, that wrecked both his career and the entire Federalist Party (in essence, the pamphlets and their respective damage to Hamilton are flipped in the timeline).
    • The pamphlet is propped as a literal two page pamphlet - the actual document, including the supplementary letters and financial documents, is 95 pages long.
  • Hamilton becoming Commanding General of the Army during the Quasi-War with France is not even mentioned, even the though the first act of the play establishes Hamilton’s aspirations for military glory.
  • Hamilton's break with John Adams didn't occur until 1800, when he published a pamphlet attacking Adams on the eve of the presidential election. In the play, this happens before he publishes the Reynolds pamphlet, which occurred in 1797. "The Adams Administration" also claims Hamilton was "fired" by Adams - Hamilton had in fact resigned as Treasury Secretary in 1795, while Washington was still president, though he remained an unofficial adviser to Washington and enjoyed no such rapport with Adams. Indeed, Hamilton angered Adams by trying to influence policy through his cabinet members, whom Adams in turn fired, thus inspiring Hamilton to publicly denounce him. Adams had also undermined Hamilton’s military efforts by sending a second (successful) peace envoy to France, removing the need for a standing army and making Hamilton’s commission irrelevant. note 
  • "The Election of 1800" also greatly simplifies the political trainwreck that led to Hamilton having to choose between Jefferson and Burr. Explanation 
  • Burr's final challenge to Hamilton was not a direct result of the 1800 presidential race, although it was a contributing factor to Burr's anger. Hamilton actually censured Burr as a candidate in two races; in 1804 it was in New York's gubernatorial race. Then, in the same year, Charles Cooper revealed that Hamilton was slandering him further to his professional colleagues, and that is when Burr finally snapped and decided to duel himnote . This was all likely left out in the interests of time and not making Hamilton look like a complete Jerkass. This also has the unfortunate side effect of implying that the duel took place in 1800 instead of 1804.
  • After Jefferson wins the presidential election, he rejects Burr's position as Vice-President, claiming that as president he can now change the rule that states the person with the second most votes becomes Vice-president. In reality, this was not changed until the next election (1804). Aaron Burr actually did serve as Jefferson's Vice-President during his first term in office. The two did have an extremely frosty relationship, however, which led Jefferson to drop Burr as a running mate in 1804.
  • Disregarding whether or not the real Hamilton intended to kill Burr during their duel, we know that he didn't aim his pistol straight in the air and "throw away his shot"; the shot he fired ended up hitting a tree directly behind Burr, proving that he at least aimed in his general direction even if he intended to miss. The standard practice for "throwing away" one's shot (formally known as deloping) in a duel was to fire a pistol into the ground, making it nearly impossible either to harm one's opponent, or for the opponent to misinterpret his intent. Unless Hamilton's intentions were communicated to Burr beforehand (for which there's no evidence), Burr would have no reason to assume Hamilton, by aiming his pistol over Burr's head, wasn't in fact trying to kill him.
  • "The World Was Wide Enough" has two large examples of this. First, Burr in real life had next to no remorse for his killing Hamilton until much later on in his life (he really was quoted with the whole "world was wide enough" line, though there is speculation on if he was serious or sarcastic); indeed, close friends of his were downright concerned over how little he seemed to care. Second, the song overdramatizes the effects of Hamilton's death on Burr's political career. He was ruined internationally (Hamilton was much more popular overseas than he was in America) and did face severe backlash domestically, but he was never charged for the duel and he finished his term as Vice President without further incident.note  It wasn't until the 1807 Burr Conspiracy that his career was truly destroyed and he was forced to flee to England. It's really only in modern times that Burr is now mostly known as the man who killed Hamilton.
  • Jefferson, Madison, and Burr refer to their party as the Democratic-Republicans, in line with how the party is usually described by historians in order to avoid confusion with the modern-day parties. Circa 1796, the party was usually referred to as the "Republican" party; it changed its name to the Democratic party around the time Andrew Jackson was elected, with some parts splitting off into smaller splinter parties that were eventually absorbed into the modern Republicans.

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