Lisa Tucker is Associate Professor of Law at Drexel University. This interview is based on her new book, Hamilton and the Law: Reading Today’s Most Contentious Legal Issues through the Hit Musical (Cornell University Press, 2020).
JF: What led you to write Hamilton and the Law?
LT: My then-high-school-junior daughter and I were on a road trip, visiting colleges across the Northeast. It was a long week, with lots of miles covered, and we were listening to musical soundtracks and singing along to our favorites. This was the spring of 2018, and so Hamilton was still very much the darling of the moment.
As we listened for about the hundredth time, it suddenly occurred to me that the musical was really an evidentiary record, a narrative of events that led up to the duel in which Aaron Burr killed Alexander Hamilton. The various characters offer their various points of view about what occurred, what fostered and fueled the rivalry between these two men. As we drove, my daughter and I started taking notes: Who said what? Would their statements be admissible as evidence? Did the choreography give us any clues as to who intended what? What did the witnesses say?
For an entire week, we worked on our legal theories.
As we brainstormed, I began to realize that Hamilton, as a story about the Founding and the drafting of the Constitution, surely introduced other legal themes that other scholars with diverse interests would find intriguing. Once I started talking to lawyer and law professor friends about my idea, I found that I was right: they were almost as excited as I was. It turned out, they were, like me, obsessed with Hamilton: An American Musical.
I posted a call for proposals on Facebook, and I immediately got several dozen essay proposals. It looked like I had a book! This wasn’t just a fly-by-night idea; the musical was very meaningful to lawyers and law professors who studied the Founding and the America that followed.
JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Hamilton and the Law?
LT: Hamilton and the Law argues that the musical has many legal lessons to teach us, many debates to engage us. The word “duel” has multiple meanings in the musical; while a duel with pistols ends the musical, the entire three hours leading up to it consist of ideological duels about society, history, and liberty.
JF: Why do we need to read Hamilton and the Law?
LT: If you’re a fan of Hamilton: An American Musical, you’re probably gobbling up everything you can find about the musical, even five years after its Broadway premiere. And even if you aren’t a lawyer, you’ll be intrigued by the arguments the contributors make. The essays are short–around 2500 words each–and written in a style designed for smart, educated readers who aren’t necessarily lawyers. The essay authors are leaders in their fields: race scholars, gender and sexuality scholars, immigration law scholars, Constitutional law scholars, intellectual property experts, former Solicitors General of the United States. They are male and female; black, white, and brown; younger and older; famous and relatively unknown (yet); liberal and conservative; affiliated with prestigious and lesser-ranked institutions. Their perspectives make for a fascinating read about the Founding through the lens of the musical.
JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian? (Or if you are not an American historian, how did you get interested in the study of the past?)
LT: I am not an American historian, but a law professor who was a drama major in college. I love all things law and all things musical theater. When Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote Hamilton: An American Musical, it was like a dream come true. Although I knew a lot about the Constitution and the Founding, the musical inspired me to learn more.
JF: What is your next project?
LT: I’ve been writing for a few years about issues surrounding open adoption, gender dynamics in family law, and domestic violence. I have an article coming out next month about the role of contract law in open adoption arrangements. Last summer, I taught a course at the Chautauqua Institution about Hamilton and the law; I hope to develop that curriculum into something that can be adopted by high school and higher education teachers.
JF: Thanks, Lisa!