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Hamilton, Character, and Statesmanship: A Conversation with Dr. Zachary German


On Friday, July 21, The Institute of World Politics invited Dr. Zachary German to speak with the undergraduate students participating in IWP’s American Statecraft Fellowship and Internship Program. This event was sponsored by the Jack Miller Center.

IWP Adjunct Professor, Dr. Tim McCranor, introduced Professor German, who delivered a lecture on “The Story of Statesmanship: Hamilton: An American Musical and the Character of Leaders.”

Professor German began his presentation by asking his audience who, with a show of hands, had seen, or listened to, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway phenomenon Hamilton: An American Musical. Most raised their hands, corroborating the fact that, since its debut in 2015, Hamilton: An American Musical has generated a remarkable amount of attention for a historically-based Broadway production. At the same time, Professor German also noted, for all of its accolades and popularity, the musical has also received its fair share of criticism. For example, some fault the production for offering a “Great Man” version of American history.

But Professor German proceeded to make the case that such criticism tends to overlook a key civic lesson contained in the musical. Miranda’s work conveys that statesmen play an important role in American civic life and that the character of leaders is, therefore, a significant factor in promoting the public good. He then showed how Hamilton presents several character studies – Washington, Hamilton, Jefferson, Madison, and Burr – that represent different combinations of attributes. In doing so, he contended, the musical invites us to reflect on the importance of leaders and their character, the character traits that we should want our leaders to possess, and the institutional, cultural, and educational conditions that are conducive to leaders with those traits.

Professor McCranor then facilitated a conversation between Professor German and the audience providing deeper insight into the musical’s contemporary relevance. In his final remarks at IWP, Dr. German shared why James Madison is his favorite founding father and thanked IWP for co-hosting this event with the Jack Miller Center as part of a growing partnership to advance the core texts and ideas of the American political tradition.

Zachary German is an assistant professor in the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership at Arizona State University, where he has taught since 2017. He studies American political and constitutional thought, as well as early modern thought. His research addresses questions of statesmanship, civic education, political culture and civic character, politics and religion, and constitutional design. Related to the subject of this talk, his article, “‘America, You Great Unfinished Symphony’: Hamilton: An American Musical and the Challenge of Civic Education,” was published in American Political Thought, and he delivered a Constitution Day talk at Texas A&M-Commerce titled “Hamilton: An American Musical and the Constitution’s Place in the Founding Story.”

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IWP interns and fellows at a lecture with Dr. Zachary German