New York Public Library
Stephen A. Schwarzman Building
Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III Gallery
476 Fifth Ave. at 41st St.
Daily through December 31, free
So what would Alexander Hamilton himself have thought about the controversy surrounding the cast of Hamilton confronting incoming vice president Mike Pence during the curtain call at a recent performance of the hit musical at the Richard Rodgers Theatre on Broadway? It’s hard to know, as the current New York Public Library exhibit “Alexander Hamilton: Striver, Statesman, Scoundrel” reveals. Consisting of a densely packed amount of materials gathered from the library’s holdings, the exhibition focuses on the unpredictability of the Founding Father and his ever-evolving views as the new nation set its course. “Hamilton was at best a complicated hero and, at worst, an admirable scourge,” the wall text explains, pointing out several of Hamilton’s seemingly inconsistent beliefs involving states’ rights, finance, slavery, support of France, and the Constitution itself. “Alexander Hamilton: Striver, Statesman, Scoundrel” features letters, books, illustrations, and official documents from throughout Hamilton’s life and career, following him from Nevis-born orphaned immigrant to secretary of the Treasury to his death in a duel against political rival Aaron Burr. Among the books and papers on view are Hamilton’s “Plan of a Constitution for America,” his original draft of President George Washington’s Farewell Address alongside the final version, various pamphlets he published, newspaper articles he cowrote under pseudonyms, and a copy of The Federalist: A Collection of Essays, Written in Favour of the New Constitution, by Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay. There are also engravings of Hamilton Grange, a look at his relationship with his wife, Eliza Schuyler, and her powerful family, and a wall mural of Hamilton and Burr dueling. There’s a lot to read and the room is very dark, so bring reading glasses if you have them. “How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a / Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten / Spot in the Caribbean by providence, impoverished, in squalor / Grow up to be a hero and a scholar?” Burr asks at the beginning of the Broadway musical. “Alexander Hamilton: Striver, Statesman, Scoundrel” provides a fascinating, if brief, investigation into that very question.