Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution, adopted 1791


On Friday night, the creator and producers of the Broadway show Hamilton delivered the following message to Vice President-elect Mike Pence. The message was spoken by one of the cast members, Brandon Victor Dixon, after the show finished and after curtain call.

“You know, we have a guest in the audience this evening–Vice President-elect Pence, I see you walking out but I hope you hear just a few more moments. Sir, we hope that you will hear us out.

“We, sir, are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us–our planet, our children, our parents–or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights, sir. But we truly hope this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us. All of us.”

This post is not intended to consider why some Americans may be alarmed and anxious. Rather, it examines the Hamilton statement an interesting example of political speech. The content is straight-forward and wouldn’t have made news if it were sent in a letter sent to the Indiana Governor’s Office. But the who, whenwhere, and how’s of the statement are what make it notable:

  • Who  The statement was written by the show’s creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, as well as its director and producer. The cast reportedly had input.
  • When  After the close of a Broadway show set around the time of American’s founding. After curtain call, as the audience was leaving, but–we presume–many others were present as well.
  • Where  In a private venue, open to ticket-holding members of the public.
  • How  With clarity and respect. The compact statement uses an honorific and requests that the Vice President-elect listen. The underlying concerns are made clear, on behalf of the vulnerable, the shared environment (or perhaps world civilization), and the future good. The statement finally conveys a shared hope in the work of the administration.

A brief statement, packed with meaning, delivered with respect in a semi-public venue has the power to impact.

Mike Pence responded, in an interview with Chris Matthews:

“I heard the remarks that were made at the end…and I wasn’t offended by what was said. I’ll leave it to others whether it was the appropriate venue to say it, but I want to assure people who were disappointed with the election results, people that are feeling anxious about this time and life of our nation that President-elect Donald Trump meant exactly what he said on Election Night: that he is going to be the president of all people of the United States of America.”

The citizen-author of this blog is one person saying, “Yes, it was the appropriate venue.” The statement was a perfect example of the free speech the First Amendment protects, and it had impact because of its thoughtful content, respectful tone, and unexpected setting.

This post serves as recognition of the attitude and action of good citizenship displayed by Mr. Miranda and his associates.

2 thoughts on ““Hamilton” and the First Amendment

  1. What if VP-elect Pence went to the Red Lobster for dinner (http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/10/10/the-pences-visit-manhattan) and his waiter, upon bringing the check also delivered said statement with thoughtfulness and respect as an expression of his first amendment rights?

    Or if VP Pence came in to your hospital for surgery and you saw him as your patient in the operating room? Would it be an appropriate exercise of your first amendment rights to deliver said statement to him before inducing anesthesia (with clarity and respect in an unexpected setting)?

    These are the sort of thought experiments we expect from you. Thought experiments and event horizons.

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  2. The waiter has every right to do so, but I would recommend waiting until after the check is paid and tip added.

    The hospital, unlike the theater, is not a mostly public venue. Such a statement would distract from the core of the doctor-patient relationship. The exercise of liberty can and should be constrained by the rights of others, and in this case, it would be the patient’s extra-constitutional, but ancient, right to a physician-advocate. But you’re right, it would score highly on the “unexpected setting” metric.

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