After Joanne B. Freeman’s captivating talk on early congressional violence at the 2019 American Library Association Annual Conference, we sat down with the Yale University history professor to dive deeper into her scholarly interests and use of primary documents. We shared highlights with you in the most recent installment of Readex’s Scholars Speak series; however, no conversation with Freeman would be complete without a focus on Alexander Hamilton.
Decades before Lin Manuel Miranda’s inspiration for the Broadway smash hit, a teenager’s interest in this American enigma was struck in the biography section of her local library. Freeman—who calls herself that “crazy person” who knows more about Hamilton than anybody else—realized upon seeing the musical for the first time that her work was the basis for the song “Ten Duel Commandments.”
Enjoy this behind-the-scenes chat as Freeman discusses what first sparked her interest in this enigmatic founding father, why after decades of research he continues to fascinate her, and how she predicts “Hamilton Mania” will impact history.
Multiple choice: You’re Matthew Lyon, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives in 1801. On the occasion of your fifty-second birthday, you’re asked what your most enduring legacy will be, that for which you’ll be remembered in two hundred years. Which of the following answers do you choose?
You were the first person convicted for violating the Sedition Act of 1798, when you accused President John Adams in print of “ridiculous pomp,” among other things.
You were the first (and only) member of Congress to be reelected while imprisoned (for the above infraction).
You were the first member of Congress charged with “gross indecency” and were repeatedly threatened with expulsion from office, for spitting in the face of a fellow member of Congress, and for the physical violence that ensued.
You cast the deciding Congressional vote to elect Thomas Jefferson as President during the Election of 1800
With perfect hindsight from the twenty-first century, the election of Thomas Jefferson looms large in the list above, but all of these choices are notable for their impact on the course of early American history. Matthew Lyon was an Irish immigrant, an entrepreneur, and an (allegedly) disgraced Revolutionary War officer who served with Ethan Allen’s Green Mountain Boys. Lyon was a vehement anti-Federalist. The Federalists believed in a strong central government, whereas Lyon and his fellow Democratic-Republicans feared monarchy and favored states’ rights instead.