I sat down to write programme notes for The Print Room’s production of The Last Yankee today, determined to fit in all this cool stuff I had just learned about Alexander Hamilton, a founding father that I really knew nothing about, except that he got killed in a duel with Aaron Burr in 1804. But not a word about the founding father made it in the programme notes, and now I’m sitting on all this information wondering how much I’ll be able to fit into a talk and how much will be lost in the ether. That Hamilton died leaving seven children and was terribly in debt surely won’t get mentioned, as well as the fact that one of his sons had died a few years previously in a duel and he went into this duel determined to fire into the air. It all sounds a bit suicidal and pretty irresponsible, and yet he won a martyrdom from the event, with his surviving wife dedicating the next FIFTY years of her life to sustaining his memory. I probably won’t mention that he actually admitted to having an affair with a married woman, nor that he seemed to think most people were wrong about most things and felt uncomfortable in the new America all his life.
That is of course why Miller chose for his carpenter in The Last Yankee to be a descendant of this particular founding father. The carpenter Leroy Hamilton turns his back on the respectability acquired from his august heritage. But the founding father himself was the illegitimate son of a Scottish laird and came to America practically penniless, and the halo that surrounds his name largely derives from Burr’s bullet, his wife Eliza’s efforts and the fact that most Americans have no idea that Hamilton was a monarchist who wanted the U. S. Congress comprised of wealthy men elected for life. Alexander Hamilton revered the respectability that he himself never had.