Joshua Jones, Book Review, Hamilton and the Law (Lisa A. Tucker, ed., Cornell University Press, 2020) @CornellPress

Hamilton and the Law


Joshua A. Jones




Lisa A. Tucker, Professor of Law at Drexel University Thomas R. Kline School of Law, offers an informative and provocative essay collection about Hamilton: An American Musical (“Hamilton”)[1] and the Tony-winning musical’s impact on American law.[2] Beginning with a social media inquiry, Professor Tucker sourced essays that “tell[ ] the story of how the legal landscape has been affected and changed by Hamilton  . . . .”[3] As editor, she has managed what must have been a daunting task to compile a wide variety of theses and viewpoints into a streamlined work that illustrates Hamilton is an important allegory about U.S. history, our current strife, and hopes for the future.


Thirty-three authors contributed to the collection, including Professor Tucker’s, Tragedy in the Supreme Court: “I’d Rather Be Divisive Than Indecisive.[4] Professor Tucker crafted seven groups for the essays, each titled with a quote from Hamilton lyrics. Part 1: “And so the American Experiment Begins”: The Constitution and the Three Branches of Government,[5] includes discussions about Hamilton’s influence on originalism and the development of each branch of government. Part 2: “America, You Great Unfinished Symphony”[6] reflects upon our current reckoning with race relations and our comfort with a mythologized view of the Founding Fathers. Other sections explore Hamilton’s potential impact on the Second Amendment, racial discrimination, women’s rights, and immigration.[7]


One might ask, “Why Hamilton?” Why did Lin-Manuel Miranda choose Hamilton, among all of the alleged founding fathers? And why cast only persons of color? Because Ron Chernow’s Hamilton[8] inspired him to tell the story that Professor Tucker now shares through this collection –the past is a myth, yet history informs and inspires the present.[9] As explained by Kermit Roosevelt III, in his essay, Hamilton’s America – and Ours:


The purpose of [Miranda’s choice of color-blind casting], and it’s a purpose Hamilton achieves brilliantly, is not hard to discern. It is to show modern America an image of the Founding in which we – and particularly people of color – can see ourselves. It is a story about America then, told by America now,’ according to Lin-Manuel Miranda, but it is perhaps more precisely a story about America then told for America now. Watching white slaveholders argue about their liberty (and fight against a nation that freed slaves) is alienating. That story of America excludes people of color. But in Hamilton’s reimagining, it’s people of color who create America.[10]


Miranda opens eyes with color-blind casting, shocking the audience awake from centuries of white-controlled narratives about the American experience.[11] Professor Tucker uses Miranda’s work to inspire realizations about current legal and cultural dilemmas, and through her careful choice and arrangement of the essays, she seems to urge an end to our polarized political climate. Hamilton was the perfect vehicle for her message. She explained, “There simply is no question that Hamilton has captured the American imagination in a way that no lesson on civics, government, the Founding of the nation, and the development of the U.S. Constitution has ever achieved.”[12]


And as Hamilton’s influence on a wide, international audience weren’t enough, remember that Alexander Hamilton wrote a large portion of the Federalist Papers,[13] which the U.S. Supreme Court has cited more than 324 times.[14] In his essay, Some Alexander Hamilton, But Not so Much Hamilton In the New Supreme Court, John Q. Barrett,[15] suggests, “Wise Supreme Court advocates, knowing the justices’ high regard for any view expressed in a Federalist essay, cite to them and quote from them in their written briefs, and sometimes they invoke them in their oral arguments.”[16] This collection reiterates that Hamilton’s legacy is a perpetual influence on American law.


The last section, “What Is a Legacy?”: Lessons from Hamilton Beyond the Libretto,” considers Hamilton’s lasting legacies, such as his influence on federalism, banking, and corporate governance. It includes work by Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, “Cabinet Battle #1: The Structure of Federalism,” a piece in which he lauds Hamilton’s song, Cabinet Battle #1,[17] to aid classroom discussions about debates surrounding the National Bank’s creation. Chemerinsky’s embrace of technology, apparently for the sake of employing Hamilton in the classroom,[18] should inspire any law professor to consider Hamilton. Each of these essays, and the collection as a set, could easily be adapted for specific lectures, including Constitutional law, trifurcated power, society, race, gender, immigration, etc. It is a book that will entertain any legal scholar but that could also serve as readings or a text for a variety of law school or other professional school courses.


Dean Chemerinsky does not stand alone as a legal scholar juggernaut among the fine scholars who contributed,[19] such as Gregory C. Garre,[20] our forty-fourth solicitor general who has argued more than forty cases before the Supreme Court, or M. Todd Henderson,[21] Michael J. Marks Professor of Law at University of Chicago. Yet, Professor Tucker, herself a Harvard Law alum,[22] did not play an elitist game in selecting the authors. They hail from schools in all parts of the country and from a wide range in “rank,” both public and private.[23] Professor Tucker prioritized pieces that support her message.


Among the essays, Elizabeth Keyes’s[24] Hamilton’s Immigrant Story Today,[25] calls for attention, given our current immigrant crisis that includes unnecessary and cruel family separations.[26] It exemplifies Professor Tucker’s consistency from which she chose essays that offer biography, U.S. civics, human rights, and Hamilton’s influence on law and current political dilemmas. Hamilton’s Immigrant Story Today uses Hamilton’s immigration story and rise to prominence to illustrate the collection’s theme that our perceptions about the past are drafted in the present, and conflicts between modern reality and founder myth can stall or inform necessary political action. Professor Keyes explains:


Hamilton’s story is possible because of the laws of his day. No immigration law prevented him from arriving in the United States in the early 1770’s. He was a British subject who could travel freely among all parts of the world that Britain controlled . . . there was no such thing as being “undocumented” . . . until the late nineteenth century, when our country started excluding Asians, then poor people, then LGBT people and so on. . . Hamilton could study without needing a social security number to register for classes, he could work without needing a work permit, he could join the military without proving his lawful status. He had challenges aplenty, but immigration law was not one.[27]


Professor Keyes highlights the dissonance between the myth that, despite Hamilton’s “immigration” status, ignores the privilege that a Scottish white man enjoyed in the 18th century. White narratives portray Hamilton’s arrival in the mainland colonies as an essential development for American independence; he was an immigrant patriot who pulled himself up by the bootstraps. Yet, those same voices argue that today’s child refugees and their desperate parents might disrupt “our” comfort (i.e. narratives that perpetuate white supremacy).


Professor Tucker clearly spent considerable time with Hamilton. She quotes lyrics throughout the book, as do the essayists, in her titles and her arrangement for the seven groupings. She also proves herself an Alexander Hamilton scholar. Professor Tucker successfully assembled thirty-three essays that, with completely unique theses, offer Hamilton’s biography and his role in Constitutional and U.S. History. She shows us a look in the mirror and asks – can we abandon the founder myths so that we can realize our present-day reality and strive towards substantive equity for all. Hamilton, adored by millions, may be the pop culture medium that helps us heal our inconsistent conceptualizations of America’s past, present, and future.


Applause to you, Professor Tucker.




More about the book here, at the publisher’s website.


Joshua A. Jones is Visiting Assistant Professor, Indiana University McKinney School of Law, and a member of the Editorial Board of Hedgehogs and Foxes.

[N.B.: Professor Jones received a free copy of Hamilton and the Law from the publisher in exchange for his honest review.–Ed.]

[1]   Lisa A. Tucker, Hamilton and the Law: Reading Today’s Most Contentious Legal Issues Through the Hit Musical, (ILR: Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY 2020).

[2]   Drexel University Robert H. Kline School of Law, Faculty Bio: Lisa A. Tucker, (last visited September 21, 2020); Kelly Lawler, How Many Tony’s Did Hamilton Win, USA Today (June 13, 2016)

[3]  Supra note 1, Preface at xii.

[4]  Id at 17.

[5]  Id. at 1.

[6]  Id. at 43.

[7]  See Id. at 67, 95, 119, and 143.

[8]  Id. at 82.

[9]  See Kermit Roosevelt III, Hamilton’s America – And Ours, in Lisa A. Tucker, Hamilton and the Law: Reading Today’s Most Contentious Legal Issues Through the Hit Musical, 45, 45-46 (Lisa A. Tucker ed., IRL: Cornell University Press 2020) (“The present often ascribes its values to the past, boto find normative footing in tradition and to tell a national story of continuity, progress, and success.)).

[10]   Id. at 47 (internal citations omitted).

[11]  See generally Id.

[12]  Supra note 1 at Preface p. xiii
[13]  John Q. Barrett, Some Alexander Hamlton, but Not So Much Hamilton, in Lisa A. Tucker, Hamilton and the Law: Reading Today’s Most Contentious Legal Issues Through the Hit Musical, 12, 12 (Lisa A. Tucker ed., IRL: Cornell University Press 2020)  (citing Buckner F. Melton, Jr., The Supreme Court and The Federalist: A Citation List and Analysis, 1789 – 1996, 85 Ky. L.J. 243 (1996-97); Buckner F. Melton, Jr. And Jennifer J. Miller, The Supreme Court and The Federalist: A Supplement, 1996-2001, 90 Ky. L.J. 415 (2001-2); Buckner F. Melton, Jr. And Carol Willcox Melton, the Supreme Court and The Federalist: A Supplement, 2001-2006, 95 Ky. L.J. 749 (2006-7); but see also Library of Congress, Research Guides: Federalist Papers: Primary Documents in American History, (last visited Sept. 21, 2020) (noting that many of the Federalist essays attributed to Hamilton could have been written by Madison, or by both; thus 51 may be questionable)).
[14]  Id. at 13.

[15]  Id. at 12.

[16]  Id. at 13, end notes 6 and 7.

[17]  Lin-Manuel Miranda and Cast, Cabinet Battle #1 on Hamilton: An American Musical, Original Broadway Cast Recording (Atlantic Records 2016)

[18]  Erwin Chemerinsky, “Cabinet Battle #1”: The Structure of Federalism, in Lisa A. Tucker, Hamilton and the Law: Reading Today’s Most Contentious Legal Issues Through the Hit Musical, 229, 229 (Lisa A. Tucker ed., IRL: Cornell University Press 2020).

[19]  For a list of contributors and short biographies see Supra nt. 1 at 257.

[20]  Latham & Watkins, LLP, Global Directory: Gregory G. Garre, (last visited Sept. 21, 2020)

[21]  The University of Chicago Law School, Faculty Directory: M. Todd Henderson, (last visited Sept. 21, 2020)

[22]  See supra note 2.

[23]  See supra note xviii.

[24]  University of Baltimore School of Law, Faculty Directory: Elizabeth Keyes, (last visited Sept. 21, 2020)

[25] See supra note 1 at 157.

[26]  See Christina Caron, June 19: Children Affected by the Crisis at the Southern Border, The New York Times and NYT Parenting (first pub. June 19, 2019, last updated April 20, 2020)

[27]  Elizabeth Keyes, Hamilton’s Immigrant Story Today, 137, 139 in Lisa A. Tucker, Hamilton and the Law: Reading Today’s Most Contentious Legal Issues Through the Hit Musical, 12, 12 (Lisa A. Tucker ed., IRL: Cornell University Press 2020).