What Would Hamilton Do?

King George was in a rage at the start of 1774.

The previous December, a band of revolutionaries calling themselves the Sons of Liberty had descended on Boston Harbor where three ships sailed by the British East India Company were moored. The 90,000 pounds of tea aboard the ships were to be sold with an added tax which, though the Company’s tea was still cheaper than smuggled tea, would undercut colonial smugglers (men like John Hancock, who’d been at the meeting earlier that night) and reinforce the crown’s right to tax the colonies without representation. Dressed as Mohawk warriors to disguise their identities and emphasize their ties to the New World, the radicals stormed the ships and, over the course of three hours, dumped today’s equivalent of $1.7 million worth of tea into the frigid waters.

News of the event didn’t reach London until January, but when it did, Parliament fired off a quintet of laws meant to punish the colonies and discourage further acts of rebellion. The port of Boston was closed until damages were repaid, and the proud government of Massachusetts was stripped of its autonomy, giving the royally appointed governor broad powers to restore order. The crown also passed an amendment to the Quartering Act, enforcing the requirement that colonists provide proper housing for occupying Redcoats. These mandates, known to Patriots as the “Intolerable Acts,” only succeeded in further incensing the colonies.

Alexander Hamilton was only 17 (maybe 19) at the time, completing his studies in mathematics at King’s College (now Columbia) in New York. Learning of the “party” in Boston, and responding (again) to the Loyalist arguments of an Episcopal bishop, Hamilton penned one of his first essays — vindicating the Sons of Liberty:

Call to mind one of our sister colonies, Boston. Reflect upon the situation of Canada [the province of Quebec had likewise seen its autonomy weakened]; and then tell whether you are inclined to place any confidence in the justice and humanity of the Parliament. The port of Boston is blocked up, and an army planted in the town. An act has been passed to alter its charter; to prohibit its assemblies; to license the murder of its inhabitants; and to convey them from their own country to Great Britain to be tried for their lives. What was all this for? Just because a small number of people, provoked by an open and dangerous attack upon their liberties, destroyed a parcel of tea belonging to the East India Company. It was not public, but private property they destroyed. It was not the act of the whole province, but the act of a part of the citizens. Instead of trying to discover the perpetrators, and commencing a legal prosecution against them, the Parliament of Great Britain interfered in an unprecedented manner, and inflicted a punishment upon a whole province, ‘untried, unheard, unconvicted of any crime.’ This may be justice, but it looks so much like cruelty. …

Does not your blood run cold, to think that an English Parliament should pass an act for the establishment of arbitrary power[?]

As the Grammy- and Pulitzer-winning creator of the musical Hamilton, many view Lin-Manuel Miranda as something of an authority on one of America’s most underrated founders. As a Puerto Rican, his comments on the crises plaguing the island are followed closely by the media and in the halls of Congress. So I’m not quite sure what to make of a tweet Miranda sent out yesterday seemingly praising the Senate’s passage of a bill that would install a colonial oversight board to manage the finances of debt-ridden Puerto Rico. As I wrote back in April:

The Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act, otherwise known as PROMESA (as in, ‘I promise this won’t sting too much’) …. would create a federal oversight board that would effectively usurp whatever responsibilities Congress has delegated to San Juan. The board — whose seven members would be appointed by the president and leaders in Congress, and of which only one member would either have residency or a business headquartered on the island — would be in charge of Puerto Rico’s economy and finances. Governor García Padilla, nominally the head of government in Puerto Rico, would be an eighth, non-voting observer on the board (just as Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi is a non-voting member in the House).

The board’s primary goal will be to pay back Puerto Rico’s debt — or, more accurately, the debt created in Puerto Rico by the U.S. government. Any law or action taken by the Puerto Rican government that conflicted with the board’s mandate would be automatically scrapped. Mainly the board will function as example for the Puerto Rican people on how to effectively and efficiently govern, since, as one House speaker candidly averred, ‘the people of Porto Rico have not the slightest conception of self-government.’ (I omit the specifics of who uttered this and when on purpose; such details are trivial.)

Miranda may feel “relieved and grateful” to see his people kicked while they’re down — the colonial screws further tightened so that Puerto Rico forgets any dreams of real self-government. But I ask him: How would Hamilton feel seeing his colony treated this way? More important, what would Hamilton do?

Featured image: Lin-Manuel Miranda as the eponymous lead in the musical ‘Hamilton’ (Steve Jurvetson/Flickr)