April 30, 2018 (REVISED Aug. 8, 2018) Letters to Lyrics: Library Displays Alexander Hamilton's Papers Linked to Hit Musical

Display Features Hamilton’s Writings on War, Constitution and Correspondence with the Schuyler Sisters

Press Contact: Brett Zongker, (202) 707-1639
Website: Alexander Hamilton Papers

Detail of a full-length portrait of Alexander Hamilton by artist T. Hamilton Crawford (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)

Letters and documents from the papers of Alexander Hamilton will be displayed at the Library of Congress this summer, offering a glimpse at the original source material for key themes and lyrics in the hit musical “Hamilton” as the show visits the Kennedy Center.

Ten items were selected for the display, “Letters to Lyrics: Alexander Hamilton at the Library of Congress,” which opens May 19. They include Hamilton’s writings on the Revolutionary War, the formation of the U.S. Constitution, his role as treasury secretary, his correspondence with the Schuyler sisters, including his wife, Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton, and his fatal duel with Aaron Burr. The display is part of a citywide series of exhibitions and programs, “Hamilton in D.C.,” showcasing Washington’s unique collections that tell Hamilton’s story. Items will remain on view on the first floor of the Library's Thomas Jefferson Building through Sept. 17.

Visitors who are familiar with the musical “Hamilton” by Lin-Manuel Miranda will find the ideas and some of the language for the musical come from Hamilton himself. His writings and correspondence with friends and family, colleagues and rivals, including Burr, the Marquis de Lafayette and George Washington, have been preserved. Visitors will find connections between the letters and lyrics for such songs as “Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down),” “Helpless,” “Non-Stop” and “Best of Wives and Best of Women.”

The Library of Congress holds the world’s largest collection of Hamilton’s papers, totaling 12,000 items dating primarily from 1777 until his death in 1804, as well as portraits of Hamilton and his contemporaries. Hamilton’s papers include drafts of his speeches, a proposal for how to structure the federal government and letters to his wife, among other writings.

The Hamilton papers – many in Hamilton’s own hand – were digitized and made available online last year. They are available at loc.gov/hamilton.

One special item that will be on display from the Library’s Rare Book and Special Collections Division is James Madison’s copy of The Federalist Papers. Madison annotated the copy to show the authors of each essay: Madison, John Jay and Hamilton. Hamilton proved to be a prolific defender of the Constitution, penning most of the essays himself.

Letters and other handwritten items in the display include:

  • A letter Hamilton wrote as a 12-year-old clerk in St. Croix to his friend Edward Stevens, describing his wish to raise his station in life;
  • A letter Hamilton wrote as an officer in the Revolutionary War to the Marquis de Lafayette, reporting on the Battle of Yorktown, which was the last battle of the war;
  • An outline for a speech Hamilton delivered at the Constitutional Convention in 1787, describing the flaws of the Articles of Confederation that preceded the Constitution;
  • A letter Hamilton wrote July 4, 1804, to his wife shortly before the fatal duel with Burr in which he says goodbye.

In 1848, Congress appropriated $20,000 to buy Hamilton’s papers from his family. The Library has held the papers since 1904, when they were transferred from the U.S. Department of State at the direction of President Theodore Roosevelt. The collection has grown over time with additional gifts and purchases, and it covers almost every aspect of Hamilton’s career and private life, from growing up in St. Croix to serving alongside George Washington in the Revolutionary War, serving as U.S. treasury secretary and working as a lawyer in New York.

The Hamilton Papers are part of the Library’s Manuscript Division, which also holds the papers of 23 U.S. presidents ranging from George Washington to Calvin Coolidge, along with many other figures who have made history. The Library holds 72 million manuscripts in total.

The Library of Congress is the world’s largest library, offering access to the creative record of the United States—and extensive materials from around the world—both on-site and online. It is the main research arm of the U.S. Congress and the home of the U.S. Copyright Office.  Explore collections, reference services and other programs and plan a visit at loc.gov, access the official site for U.S. federal legislative information at congress.gov and register creative works of authorship at copyright.gov.  

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PR 18-058
2018-04-30
ISSN 0731-3527