Hamilton Summary

Act I

The musical opens with the ensemble giving a summary of Alexander Hamilton’s childhood in the middle of the 18th century, before the American revolution. Various cast members describe how a series of misfortunes set Hamilton on his path to fame. After a hurricane destroyed his island, his mother died, and his father abandoned him, Hamilton wrote about his traumatic experience. Impressed by his facility with language, people from his island raised money to send him to America to get an education. After catching the audience up to speed on this exposition, the play proper begins.

Arriving in New York, the ambitious young Hamilton seeks out Aaron Burr and asks for advice on obtaining an accelerated course of study like Burr did. Burr advises Hamilton not to talk so much, but Hamilton insists that he talks so much because he has passionate opinions. The two characters are established as foils for one another; where Hamilton is brash, outspoken and opinionated, Burr is careful, strategic, and less principled. When the two new acquaintances go to a bar, they meet John Laurens, Hercules Mulligan, and the Marquis de Lafayette. All except Burr are excited about the imminent American Revolution, cheering, “raise a glass to freedom.”

We are next introduced to the Schuyler sisters, who wander through downtown New York City enjoying the excitement of the changing social tides. Aaron Burr hits on Angelica, but she shuts him down. She then states that she has been reading Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, and is looking for a “revelation," expressing a desire for female equality.

We meet Loyalist Samuel Seabury, a farmer who is condemning the revolutionary Continental Congress (and all patriots in general). When he encounters the farmer, Hamilton criticizes Seabury’s condemnations. A message from King George arrives in America, warning the colonists that the king will do whatever he needs to do to keep the colonies under his control. The king sends General Howe and 30,000 troops to the New York harbor, challenging the colonial Americans' desire for independence.

Next we are introduced to General George Washington, who recognizes that the colonists are at a severe disadvantage to the British troops. He is frustrated that the rebel troops keep retreating. When Hamilton steals the English troops’ canons, showing that he is willing to take risks and break the rules for the sake of America, he wins favor with Washington. Meanwhile, Aaron Burr introduces himself to Washington, offering assistance and advice, but ends up offending Washington by criticizing the current state of the colonial troops. Washington asks Hamilton to help him with war plans, and Hamilton recruits John Laurens, Hercules Mulligan, and Lafayette to aid the rebellion. He sets Mulligan up on the British side as a spy and writes to Congress to convince them to send supplies. He wants to use an element of surprise to defeat the British.

Some time later, Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton are at a winter ball, and Burr tells Hamilton that if he marries a Schuyler sister he will become rich. Eliza Schuyler sees Hamilton and falls in love with him at first sight. She tells her sister, Angelica, that Hamilton is the one, so Angelica introduces them. Alexander and Eliza write love letters for the next two weeks, and then get engaged.

On the day of the wedding, Angelica reveals to the audience that she is also in love with Alexander, but gave him to Eliza because he was poor and she was expected to marry rich, and because she knew Eliza was in love with him. As Hamilton’s friends congratulate Hamilton on his marriage, they ask Burr about a woman he has “on the side.” Burr admits that he loves a woman named Theodosia, who is married to a British officer. Hamilton tells him to go after her, but Burr says he is “willing to wait for it.” Burr compares his life to Hamilton’s, noting that “Hamilton faces an endless uphill climb,” and he “wastes no time,” but Burr will wait to see what his own purpose is before acting.

Later, the American troops are dangerously low on supplies. Washington plans a surprise, night-time attack against the British, hoping for some help from the French. Washington makes Charles Lee second in command, but Lee proves unable to lead an army. When Lee criticizes Washington, Laurens challenges Lee to a duel, even though Washington has forbidden it. In the duel, Laurens shoots Lee in the side, so Lee yields. Washington is upset with Hamilton, who acted as Laurens’ number two. When Hamilton insists that he should be in charge of a battalion, Washington disagrees, saying it is too risky and that he needs Hamilton to stay alive, sending him home.

When Hamilton arrives home, Eliza tells him she is pregnant and that she wrote to Washington, asking him to send Hamilton home. Meanwhile, Lafayette secures aid from France, ensuring that the colonists will be able to defeat the British at Yorktown. Washington invites Hamilton back, and offers him a position in command.

1781—The Battle of Yorktown. Hamilton, worried about the possibility of a stray, accidental gunshot, orders his men to remove the bullets from their guns as they make a surprise attack. After a week of fighting, the British surrender. King George returns to the stage to reprise his warnings, and challenges America: “What comes next?” He tells them they don’t know how to lead or be independent.

Aaron Burr, who has married the woman with whom he was having an affair following her husband's death, meets his first and only child, a daughter named Theodosia. Simultaneously, Hamilton meets his son, Philip. The two new parents have a similar hope that they can build a country their respective child can “come of age with.” Both return to New York to study law, but Hamilton progresses much further and faster than Burr, becoming a lawyer and working on the very first murder trial in independent America. Given his talents, Hamilton is chosen to participate in the Constitutional Convention, a group tasked with forming the legal framework for the new nation. He shows up at Burr’s house in the middle of the night, asking if he will help defend the new constitution, admitting that Burr is a better lawyer than him. When Burr refuses to help write the Federalist Papers, Alexander calls him out for never having opinions and always standing to the side. Later, Hamilton recruits John Jay and James Madison to help write the Papers. Washington asks Hamilton to run the National Treasury Department. Angelica tells Alexander that she has married a rich man, and is spending time with him in London for a while.

Act II

We meet Thomas Jefferson, who has been the ambassador to France, abroad for the duration of the war. He returns to his home in Monticello, a plantation in Virginia. Washington has asked him to be the Secretary of State, and he is already Senate-approved by the time he returns. He goes to New York City, where James Madison asks him to help stop Hamilton’s financial plan, which, he believes, would allow too much government control. Hamilton wants the federal government to “assume state debts and establish a national bank.” Jefferson and Hamilton debate the plan. Jefferson argues that since some states, such as Virginia, already paid their war debts, they shouldn’t have to pay for other states’ debts too. He also points out that since America just escaped a government with too many taxes, it does not make sense that they should want to establish federal taxes in America. Hamilton responds that assuming the debts would make America wealthier in the long run, and then condemns Jefferson for supporting slave labor in the South. Washington tells Hamilton he needs to find a compromise and gain more Congressional approval, or he will most likely be asked to leave Washington’s cabinet.

Eliza implores Hamilton to take a break from work. She and Angelica are going upstate for the summer and they want him to join them, but Hamilton insists that he can’t vacation with them because he needs to get his plan through Congress.

When Eliza and Angelica are gone for the summer, Hamilton meets Maria Reynolds, who appeals to Hamilton for help, claiming she is being mistreated by her husband, James Reynolds. Alexander lends her some money and walks her home. When she offers herself to Hamilton, the two begin an affair that lasts for a month. Soon after, Hamilton receives a letter from Maria’s husband blackmailing him. Hamilton pays James Reynolds to not tell anyone (especially Eliza) about the affair.

Later, Hamilton, Jefferson, and Washington have a private meeting to discuss Hamilton’s financial plan. Jefferson and Washington agree to the plan, as long as the national capital, which was in New York City at the time, is moved further south (just north of Virginia, to modern-day Washington D.C.). Aaron Burr bemoans not being in the room when the deal took place. James Madison, who was working with Jefferson, gets the votes Hamilton needs to push his deal through Congress.

Aaron Burr defeats Eliza’s father, Philip Schuyler, in a Senate race, switching to the Democratic Republican Party in order to win. Hamilton considers Burr's running against Schuyler a personal attack, but Burr insists he was only taking an opportunity to advance his career.

Congress debates whether or not to aid French citizens in their Revolutionary War. Jefferson argues that France provided aid during the American Revolution and America promised to aid France. He furthers his argument, saying that France did not ask for land, only help with their revolution. Hamilton counters that France is too much of a mess after going through their own Revolution, so getting involved could harm America. He also argues that America received aid from and signed a treaty with the King, who is now dead. Washington agrees with Hamilton that the people of France don’t know who will lead them in the wake of the Revolution, making the situation too dangerous. Jefferson accuses Hamilton of betraying Lafayette. Burr, Jefferson, and Madison are upset that Hamilton “got Washington in his pocket.” The three agree to try and find some dirt on Hamilton by following the money to and from the treasury to see where it goes.

Washington tells Hamilton that Jefferson resigned from the cabinet in order to run for president, and that Washington is stepping down. But John Adams wins the presidency, and fires Hamilton immediately. Hamilton publishes a response, in which he criticizes Adams. Meanwhile, Burr, Jefferson, and Madison discover Hamilton's payments to James Reynolds, which, they believe, are evidence of some sort of illegal political deal. Hamilton proves to the men that he did not spend the treasury’s money and that he was paying to cover a sex-scandal. Worried about what his dissenters could do with this information, he publishes “The Reynolds Pamphlet,” in which he publicly admits to the affair. Angelica confronts Alexander about the pamphlet, telling him she stands by Eliza. When she finds out, Eliza burns the letters she wrote to Hamilton, in order to maintain her privacy and to write herself out of the historical “narrative.”

Later, Philip, Hamilton's son, defends his father from the criticism of another young man, George Eacker. Philip challenges Eacker to a duel, and Hamilton advises his son to fire his gun in the air when it comes time. At the duel, Philip starts to do as his father said, but Eacker fires before the count of ten, hitting Philip right above the hip. Eliza and Alexander are both at Philip’s side when he dies in the hospital. After the tragedy, the two reconcile.

The Election of 1800. Americans are disappointed with Adams’ presidency. Jefferson and Burr both run against him. Since it is clear that Adams will not be president, the race is between Jefferson and Burr. Madison suggests that Jefferson should try and get an endorsement from Hamilton. Burr openly campaigns against Jefferson, something unheard of at the time. When the time comes, the Federalist Party looks at Hamilton to see which way they should vote. Hamilton endorses Jefferson, stating, “Jefferson has beliefs, Burr has none.” Upset, Burr challenges Hamilton to a duel.

At the duel, Burr is paranoid that Hamilton is out to kill him. He notes that Hamilton “methodically fiddled with the trigger,” and was wearing his glasses “to take deadly aim.” Though Hamilton points his gun at the sky just as he told his son to, Burr shoots him. In a soliloquy, Hamilton contemplates the legacy he leaves behind and his imminent death. Burr regrets killing Hamilton, saying, “the world was wide enough for both Hamilton and me.” Both Eliza and Angelica are at Hamilton’s side when he dies.

The musical ends with Eliza telling the story of the Founding Fathers. She relates how she lives 50 years longer than Hamilton and works to uphold his legacy. She opens an orphanage in his name and sings the song, "Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story."