I recently looked up a show called Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson on YouTube. Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson is a punk/emo rock musical based on the life of our notorious sixth president, Andrew Jackson. Even though it predates the smash hit, Hamilton, it feels like a follow up piece and the two musicals beg for a comparison.
Both Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson and Hamilton seek to do a similar thing: tell a story of a figure from American history using a modern genre of music which highlights specific themes in that person’s life. Hip-hop is used to Hamilton to show Alexander Hamilton’s quick mind and skill with words and how his rise to the top and dramatic fall parallels many of the themes found in rap music. Punk/emo music in Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson characterizes the Jacksonian age as America’s angsty adolescence. Bloody Bloody Andrew also bares a lot of similarities to the Green Day rock opera, American Idiot; both are tales about an individual looking to rebel against society, only to have it backfire on them. Andrew Jackson is presented as an angry, chaotic, and rebellious figure (pretty much if St. Jimmy from American Idiot became president) who comes to power by appealing to the anger of America’s underclasses, who eventually turn against him.
Hamilton and Jackson both start off as kids from nowhere with something to prove who get their chance to make something of themselves: the American revolution and the shaky beginnings of American government and politics. But the Hamiltonian world of banks and big government is the world that Jackson believes is screwing the common man over and wishes to dismantle.
The relationship between Jackson and his wife, Rachel, is nearly identical to that of Hamilton and his wife, Eliza. Both men are shown as loving their wives and yet constantly putting their own needs and ambitions before them. But unlike the demure and devoted Eliza Hamilton, Rachel Jackson is an equally angsty Whatsername to her husband’s Jesus of Suburbia. She sings the angry, woman-scorned, breakup song “The Great Compromise” which is reminiscent of Green Day’s “Letterbomb.” Eliza and Rachel are presented as stabilizing figures who try to keep their husband’s grounded, with little success. Hamilton cheats on Eliza during a moment of weakness and blabs about it to the press to avoid embezzlement charges while Jackson goes against Rachel’s wishes and runs for president, which causes his enemies to rummage through his family’s dirty laundry.
The beautiful Rachel Donelson Robards Jackson was originally married to an abusive jackass named Lewis Robards when she met the dashing frontier lawyer, Andrew Jackson. Rachel wed Andrew in 1791, although their union was technically bigamous due to the fact that she had not yet obtained a divorce from Lewis Robards. She would later get the divorce and remarry Andrew in 1794, though their union was considered by many to be invalid. When Andrew Jackson latter ran for president, this dirty little secret came out and Rachel was ostracized in Washington society as a bigamist and adulteress. She died of a heart attack in 1828 soon after his election as president, possibly due to the stress of such a scandal.
Andrew Jackson, as portrayed in Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, is many negative things but is an objectively better husband than the more sympathetically portrayed Alexander Hamilton, although both of their marriages suffer from similar problems. The two men put their careers and reputations before their relationships with their wives and bring scandal and heartbreak on their families. But Jackson appears to be too immature to understand the consequences of his actions; Hamilton knows precisely what he is doing and how it could hurt those he claims to love but does it anyway. He jeopardizes a perfectly good marriage by cheating on Eliza and makes the situation worse by leaking the scandal to the press to beat his enemies to the punch. In contrast, Jackson turns down a crazed fan who throws herself at him by saying “my wife is mad enough at me as it is”, and jumps in to defend Rachel’s honor when the public starts calling her a whore. The real life Andrew Jackson famously challenged to a duel any man and the nearest male relative of any woman who insulted his wife.
Hamilton paints its protagonist as a flawed but ultimately admirable figure, whereas the central character of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson essentially behaves like a petulant teenager (which is even more hysterical considering the real life Andrew Jackson was in his sixties when he was president). Both musicals deal with how history and posterity remembers important figures. Alexander Hamilton was an unsung founding father with a checkered reputation and dismissed as an elitist jerk, but has re-emerged in recent years as an unlikely pop culture icon and the face of electoral reform. Meanwhile, Andrew Jackson was celebrated as a rugged man of the people in his own day and more many generations afterwards but our modern world view has condemned him as a genocidal tyrant. It is easy to deify or vilify historical figures, especially when they represent values which either mesh or clash with or own: a significant number of people despise Thomas Jefferson in particular for being a slaveholder and Andrew Jackson in particular for the treatment of the Native Americans. Reviling a specific individual in an attempt to distance ourselves from negative parts of our history is a lot easier than dealing with them.