Shortly after meeting Aaron Burr, a group of rowdy men who would become Hamilton’s closest friends during the Revolutionary War barges into the bar where Hamilton and Burr are chatting. These men, unhappy with Burr’s thoughts regarding the American Revolution jeer him as Hamilton asks:
If you stand for nothing, what will you fall for?
Upon hearing this striking question, the men ask Hamilton who he is. Congruent with how I explained Hamilton’s identity in my post, Just You Wait, Hamilton answers the question of identity with his actions. He says:
I am not throwing away my shot.
Hamilton then goes on to foretell of the successes that he will have in his career and the aspirations he has for himself. My Shot is really inspiring to the listener, but the sentiment is also projected by the group on the stage as John Laurens, Marquis de Lafayette, and Hercules Mulligan join in with their own contributions to the song.
I really enjoy the energy and excitement of this song and the beginning of the musical in general. There is a strong feeling of optimism and potential as Hamilton looks forward to changing his life as he takes part in the founding of a new utopia. It is clear that the only way to make something of yourself and of your life is to take your shot. And if you take your shot today, tomorrow they’ll tell The Story of Tonight.
Later, Hamilton asks Burr to help him defend the case of the US Constitution. When declines to take part in that effort, Hamilton says:
What are you waiting for?
What do you stall for?
Hamilton cannot understand how Burr could have put so much on line by joining the Revolution but hesitate to take his place in the founding of the United States. When he finally gives up on trying to convince Burr to join him, he leaves, saying:
For once in your life, take a stand with pride.
I don’t understand how you stand to the side.
Hamilton’s drive to “build something that is going to outlive him” is certainly admirable, but Burr seems to have known something about the sacrifices of success that Hamilton did not know: Taking your shot comes with a potential consequence. Although his story was inspiring, Hamilton was not without fault. When they first met, Angelica Skylar knew that Alexander Hamilton was an ambitious man. Throughout the plot, Angelica accuses him, saying:
You will never be satisfied.
This phrase shows up with a couple different meanings, but, more than anything, Angelica is referring to the cost of success. Hamilton put so much of himself into his work that at times, his family–even his greatest Rival, Aaron Burr–acknowledged the rarity and unhealthy obsession that was Hamilton’s drive. He sacrificed many things, including his family relationships, in order to establish his cause and his legacy. In a twist of irony, Hamilton’s obsession with his legacy lead to it’s tarnishing. From there, it seems that Hamilton learned that sometimes, you should throw away your shot.
Near the beginning of the musical, Hamilton is asked to stand in as a second for a a duel. As he hands the pistol to John Laurens, he gives him this advice:
John, don’t throw away your shot.
Later in the play, Hamilton sees the consequences of never throwing away his shot. He sacrificed his family, his friendships, his reputation, his career, and his legacy. He learns that there is a world outside of his endeavors, and he begins to spend time building the relationships he lost and increasing his character rather than his station. But, his son, Philip, is a chip off the old block.
When Philip gets caught up in a duel of his own, he realizes he has no desire to participate in a duel and asks for his father’s advice. In what is one of the most emotional moments of the musical, for me, Alexander tells his son that he must uphold his honor and appear at the duel, but he should not attempt to take the life of his opponent. Instead, Hamilton instructs his son:
When the time comes, fire your weapon in the air.
To take the life of another man, that’s something you can’t shake.
This interaction with his son shows a new Hamilton who is not obsessed with his victories but realizes that there are some things in life of a higher value.
Later, Hamilton is faced with another test of his character in the climax of the musical when he is challenged to a duel by none other than Mr. Aaron Burr, Sir. My heart swells each time I hear the ensemble narrate Hamilton’s actions–the same actions he instructed his son to make:
He aims his pistol at the sky…
Hamilton’s final act was to throw away his shot in a duel. A duel that ended his life.
I almost find myself at a loss for words in describing how powerful a final statement that was. A man who prided himself on success, who built so much from so little chose to throw away his shot after seeing the dangers and regret that come from taking the wrong shots. He was still a man of honor: he attended the duel dutifully. But he refused to take the life of another man, even an enemy.
On the other side of the duel, Aaron Burr had to live with himself after killing an essentially unarmed man. Prior to the duel, Burr was so angry with Hamilton for the ways in which he had wronged him, that he wanted nothing more than to be the man who took Hamilton’s life. Only a few numbers ahead of Hamilton’s death, Burr recycles a phrase he had used previously, only this time he alludes to Alexander’s death:
I want to be in the room where it happens.
Even moments before the duel, Burr makes up reason to kill Hamilton, down to Hamilton wearing glasses to the duel. He was so overcome with his emotions that he loses sight of what really matters. It is not until after he takes Alexander’s life in anger that he realizes he had made a mistake. He realizes that his actions had taken him from victim to villain and that he would have to live with the shame and guilt of his actions.
I’m the damn fool that shot him.
I am nervous to share these words publicly because I know there are so many emotions, opinions, and so much hurt in the world that may lead people to seek violence. But I don’t think Lin Manuel Miranda “accidentally” wrote Hamilton. I think he chose every detail for specific purposes, and there is one BIG detail about the musical that should stand out quite prominently about Hamilton.
My heart goes out to those who have suffered. To those who have been abused, bullied, and mistreated in any way. To those who have been the victims of racism and violence. There are many things I don’t think I can comment on, so I won’t. But I do think the musical, Hamilton, provides some insight on how to make the world a better place. Alexander Hamilton made the world a better place. In his last moment, he chose an act of non-violence to be the final act of his legacy.
It is my sincere wish that no person would have to learn the lesson Aaron Burr learned. I wish no person had to say:
I wish I had known the world was wide enough…
I have the honor to be your obedient servant,