New Hamilton Exhibit Open at the National Constitution Center
Do not throw away your shot — learn all about the rise and fall of Alexander Hamilton, the conflicts that shaped our nation, and just try not to sing the musical’s libretto at every turn!
The National Constitution Center has just unveiled a special exhibit highlighting the life and legacy of the Founding Father who’s so hot right now—Alexander Hamilton.
“Hamilton: The Constitutional Clashes That Shaped a Nation” tells Hamilton’s story through his contentious relationships and ideological debates that contributed so enduringly to our political systems. “All of American history can be viewed through the lens of the constitutional clashes between Alexander Hamilton and his founding era rivals,” said Jeffrey Rosen, president and CEO of the National Constitution Center.
Of course, the exhibit also has plenty of nods to the smash Broadway musical, and fans of Hamilton definitely should not miss it! Here’s what you and the little history (and musical theater) buffs in your family can look forward to at this new exhibit, which runs through December 31, 2018.
Hamilton’s Clashes Brought to Life
Just call the Constitution Center’s Annenberg Gallery “The Room Where it Happens” for the rest of the year, because this is where all the artifacts detailing Hamilton’s truly vitriolic conflicts and eventual downfall can be found.
The exhibit is arranged by contrasting his constitutional vision with his legendary rivals James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Aaron Burr, in that order. Each conflict has its own section in the exhibit, with artifacts ranging from original letters between the foes to items like Hamilton’s portable writing desk and Jefferson’s inkwell.
The exhibit begins in 1789 when Constitution goes into effect, and shows his clashes with Madison, then moves on to arguments with Jefferson over the power of the national government as well as the formation of the National Bank. After these two cases, you’ll reach a “Hamilton vs. Hamilton” display containing The Reynolds Pamphlet, revealing his affair in an effort to get ahead of the story and defend his reputation against corruption charges. The 1790s find him again clashing with a major historical figure, President John Adams, but you’ll soon leave all these ideological debates behind and enter the Dueling Grounds!
The Dueling Grounds
Hamilton’s rivalry with Burr over the years deservedly gets its own room, showing heated letters between the two men, and eventually the original written rules of their duel and replicas of their dueling pistols. Guests can learn step-by-step instructions for a duel, and even walk the 10 paces — clearly indicated with footsteps of the opponents— to experience just how close and intense that fateful morning in Weehawken felt.
The Hamilton Experience does not end once you leave the main exhibit’s room. For the rest of the year, the entire building is immersed in all things Hamilton in hopes that guests can “see the Constitution with a Hamilton lens,” said Kerry Sautner, Vice President of Visitor Experience and Education.
In the Center’s “We the People” exhibit, as well as Signers’ Hall, look out for Hamilton Experience stickers, where you can stop and hear stories told by the staff’s expert storytellers.
You’ll find the upstairs Signers’ Hall looks a little different, with floor-to-ceiling graphics telling visitors more about Hamilton and Madison at the Constitutional Convention near their respective statues. You can “meet” Hamilton through his life-size statue and hear stories of his friendship with George Washington, both during the Revolutionary War, when he served as General Washington’s aide-de-camp, and later in forming our new government as his Secretary of the Treasury. It’s a somewhat sweet balance to the bitter conflict of the downstairs exhibit, and the storytelling is captivating. Don’t forget to get a selfie with Hamilton — seriously, just go for it.
In the exhibit itself, you’ll find a “Myth-Busting the Musical” graphic, correcting some of the facts Lin-Manuel Miranda may have taken some liberties with in his telling of the events. For example, while so much of the play is set in New York, many of the events of the play’s second act were actually in Philadelphia! Scandalous!
Outside the exhibit, you can take part in a game show style Hamilton trivia challenge. Topics include everything from biographical information and fun facts on Hamilton’s friends and foes, to trivia about the Broadway musical. You can play at the beginner or expert level. We’ll just listen to the soundtrack on a loop over here — that counts as studying, right?
Lobby Show: Hamilton’s Early Life
This interactive lobby show introduces visitors to the story of Hamilton’s early life, from growing up as an orphan in the Caribbean to and his journey to the United States, his struggle to obtain an education, and finally his time as a key figure in the Revolution. It’s basically the closest you’ll come to Act I of Hamilton (until the show arrives in Philly in 2019, that is). The lobby show will take place Mondays through Saturdays at 10 am, 11:30 am, and 2 pm; as well as Sundays at 2 pm.
Spring Break Kickoff and More
The exhibit’s opening coincides with Spring Break, so you’ll find lots of extra activities for kids every day through April 4. There will be dress up stations where kids can dress in period costumes and take one-of-a-kind photos, as well as make-and-take crafts including Hamilton hats! On days the weather is nice, there will also be Revolutionary-era lawn games like graces, hoop and stick, and nine pin.
Check back on the National Constitution Center’s website for more special events added throughout the year, including town halls and holiday celebrations.
“Hamilton: The Constitutional Clashes That Shaped a Nation” runs in the National Constitution Center’s Annenberg Gallery from March 23 through December 31, and is included with the cost of general admission ($14.50 for adults, $11 for kids ages 6-18, $13 for seniors and students; free for members, active military personnel, and children ages 5 and under). The National Constitution Center is located at 525 Arch St. in Philadelphia, and is open 9:30 am–5 pm Mondays through Saturdays, and from noon to 5 pm on Sundays.
Photographs by Laura Swartz.