When I first started listening to the Hamilton soundtrack, it was more listening than singing along, because I didn’t know the words. The more I began to listen to them, the more I began to like one particular song called “Take a Break.” This is the third song of the second act and takes place when Alexander Hamilton is writing letters to Angelica. Angelica Schuyler is Hamilton’s sister-in-law; he is married to Eliza, her sister. In the middle of the song, Angelica’s letter to Hamilton is heard. She says:
“The letter I received from you two weeks ago I noticed a comma in the middle of a phrase. It changed the meaning. Did you intend this?”
I didn’t realize the correlation between these few lines and the Declaration of Independence until after singing it aloud and hearing it from my own mouth. According to Professor Danielle Allen from the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, there is a controversy in the famous sentence written by Thomas Jefferson about “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” In the transcript of the Declaration, a period follows directly after the “pursuit of happiness,” but almost definitely not in the actual document. Without the period, it makes the self-evident truths of equal weight as the rest of the sentence intended by Jefferson “Instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” Without the punctuation between the two sentences, the second piece is seen as not as important as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Although there is no question whether or not Hamilton put a comma in his letter to Angelica, the power of simple punctuation is evident and very important in both the letter and the Declaration of Independence. It took Lin-Manuel Miranda almost 10 years to finish writing the score and script for Hamilton. Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote the score and played the part of Hamilton up until recently. With all the thought and research put into writing the show, I can’t help but wonder if Miranda knew of the punctuation controversy and included the bit with Angelica’s letter on purpose. Intentional or not, this is Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hidden genius.
To read the New York Times article on the Declaration of Independence, click on this link: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/03/us/politics/a-period-is-questioned-in-the-declaration-of-independence.html?_r=0
At many people’s requests here is the link to “Take a Break.” The quote seen above occurs at about 2:18 minutes into the song. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RZCkko_t_rs