Tuesday, July 12, 2016


I have not seen 'Hamilton,' the now legendary Broadway musical yet.  It doesn't look good either. My daughter now tells me that it doesn't matter anyway. Lin Manuel Miranda, the creator and star of the show, is no longer in the show so the show no longer matters.  I offered to get tickets  to see 'Hamilton' in Chicago (traveling show) but she declined.  The only show she would see was the real deal in New York City and at $800 a ticket, backed up for months, it just was not in the mix. I hear now that Manuel has stepped aside, prices have subsided.

With that said, it was 212 years ago today that Aaron Burr shot Alexander Hamilton in their famous duel. Hamilton died the next day.  Hamilton gone from the republic early had done much. He had been instrumental in the nation writing and ratifying our Constitution. He wrote 51 of the 78 Federalist Papers, which still provide scholars, judges and lawmakers with interpretations for our basic laws.  He is, as the Broadway show tries to show (so I have heard) a giant majestic figure in American history who is critically important to the basic ideals the country continues to struggle with today. 

Since his recent cultural ascent, I have wondered what it is about him that a clinician interested in equal justice and the rule of law could impress upon his students?

Well, for one, I could remind them that Alexander Hamilton was an immigrant, a man born on the island of Nevus in the West Indies, who convinces George Washington of the importance of a federal bank and financial policy controlled mostly by the federal government and not individual states acting outside of the federal government. This view, of Hamilton, that the federal government was ultimately the supreme power in the U.S. over certain affairs, was endorsed in 1819 in the case of McCullough v. Maryland long after his death.  That was when the U.S. Supreme Court held that the federal government ultimately had supreme authority over the nation's national bank rather than the state of Maryland. Maryland, the state, had been trying to impose its own laws upon the national bank; the U.S. Supreme Court nixed it. 

This ruling is one of the most important rulings in U.S. judicial history. For me, it says, there is a unspoken pact between the people and the federal government. It might be a metaphorical pact that has to be acted upon but ultimately, the governed, the people should have the last word on how the affairs of the nation will be conducted. If the Court does not make it clear who has the power for the people, there will be fifty separate nations in the U.S. and none of this will matter anymore.  

Lately, we haven't had such clarity.  Everything from interpretations of the Affordable Care Act to privacy rights, this subtle battle most of us take for granted goes on and on.  Texas tries to squeeze abortion rights.  States threaten to secede over immigration.  Individuals are killed in encounters with police and some of us scream for the Department of Justice to act boldly, to get more involved. 

Hamilton's concepts for a clinician like me are important and I plan to incorporate him in some way into my teaching. Equal justice for all is what guides my work. Hamilton, at least, provides possibilities.  It hardly matters if I agree with him in whole; what does matter is he believed in the whole rather than the individual pieces freelancing for their own selfish gain.  Everything from the Flint Water crisis to the current debate over infrastructure across the nation tells me, it is that unspoken pact which shall make our society great not selfish ideals.

Now, if only I can see that show somewhere.   


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