In the song Washington on Your Side from Lin Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton, Aaron Burr, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison are mockingly complaining about George Washington’s bias towards Hamilton. In the hook of the song, they imagine that “it must be nice, it must be nice / To have Washington on your side” (1-2). Burr, Jefferson, and Madison are all anti-Federalists or anti-centralized government, meaning that they believe that individual state governments should hold more power than the federal government. This is an ongoing debate between the Federalists, led by Alexander Hamilton, and the anti-Federalists, led by James Madison. At the end of Cabinet Battle #1, the Cabinet “agrees” to have America’s debt assumed, as opposed to having each individual state pay their own debt. Many southerners, including Jefferson and Madison, are opposed to this financial plan since the southern colonies had less or no debt due to a heavier reliance on slave labor; this financial plan is a big step towards a centralized government. Expectedly, the anti-Federalists are still unhappy with this decision, and they attribute the plan passing to Washington’s bias towards Hamilton. This song is crucial in the trajectory of the storyline since this is the point where Burr, Jefferson, and Madison’s anger builds up enough that they begin to actively work against Hamilton. They’re determined “to show these Federalists who they’re up against” by searching for evidence that Hamilton is doing anything immoral or treasonous (49). They spend hours investigating Hamilton’s financial records, in order to “follow the money and see where it goes” and eventually find records of Hamilton’s transactions to James Reynolds, which lead them to some rather troubling discoveries (54).
Connections to Historical Elements
As I discussed earlier, there has recently been a plan passed that would further centralize the American government; this is called the Funding Act of 1790.
This act is designed to help states pay off their debt from the war, but as mentioned, some states don’t have any remaining debt but still have to pay the taxes implemented. In order to pay off the debt, new taxes are implemented, such as a tax on whiskey; this tax is briefly mentioned in Cabinet Battle #1 when Jefferson tells Hamilton “when Britain taxed our tea, we got frisky / Imagine what gon’ happen when you try to tax our whiskey” (25-26).
When the anti-Federalists are concerned about Hamilton’s disregard to the Bill of Rights, they are mostly concerned with the Tenth Amendment: The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people. Since the majority of the Bill of Rights favours a centralized government, this final amendment is added to acknowledge the views of the anti-Federalists.
Big Idea: Disparities in power alter the balance of relationships between individuals and between societies
This song is about Burr, Jefferson, and Madison’s unhappiness with Washington’s favoritism towards Hamilton; Hamilton is never even elected, Washington appoints him after seeing potential in him. The anti-Federalists see Hamilton as an “obnoxious, arrogant, loudmouth bother”, and they are tired of watching him “be seated at the right hand of the father” as he gets glorified by Washington and the general public (A Winter’s Ball, 4-5). Burr, Jefferson, and Madison all hold the very new, American mindset that hard work and determination are required to hold certain positions, and seeing Hamilton get an abundance of power largely because of Washington’s faith in him is upsetting to them. Watching Hamilton’s financial plan get passed is the final straw for these three anti-federalists; they’re sick of seeing Hamilton get favored over them, and it’s damaging their relationship with him. The unearned power advantage that Hamilton is given upsets the majority of politicians. Hamilton is already a generally disagreeable personality, but his assisted road to success afflicts not only his kinship with other politicians but also his reputation and image among them.
This Big Idea also connects to the newly passed financial plan as well as the ongoing argument about centralized government. Essentially, the cabinet is split over who should hold more power: the country, or the state. There have been previous disputes about the imbalance of power between the state governments and the federal governments, which is the birth of the anti-Federalist vs Federalist battle for hegemony. The anti-Federalists believe that the state governments should hold an almost equal amount of power to that of the Federal government, essentially making America a group 13 colonies, as opposed to one country composed of 13 colonies. On the other hand, the Federalists believe that America should function as a group, and the states should make smaller, less impactful decisions for themselves. In other words, many are in disagreement about how the power should be distributed between the state and the country.
Look back to the Bill of Rights / Which I wrote / The ink hasn’t dried. (21-23)
The Bill of Rights is a newly signed document. The founding fathers all agreed on these rules, and Madison, one of the main writers, disagrees with the way that Hamilton is treating it. They say that Hamilton is abusing his power, and disregarding the Bill of Rights. This can be compared to the way that parliament felt towards King Charles before the English Civil War. Most politicians feel that Hamilton is abusing his power and therefore going against the Bill of Rights. The fact that Hamilton is an immigrant likely plays into his peers’ discontent. Since “the American dream” is still a relatively new concept, many don’t like the fact that Hamilton came from humble beginnings.
I’m in the cabinet, I am complicit in / Watching him grabbin’ at power and kissing’ it / If Washington isn’t gon’ listen / To disciplined dissidents, this is the difference: / This kid is out! (39-43)
This line shows that Jefferson is tired of watching Hamilton overpower himself. Jefferson feels that by watching Hamilton abuse his position without taking action, he’s complicit. He feels that he needs to take a stand in order to solve this injustice. Earlier in the song, Burr and Madison respond to Jefferson’s claim that “[he has] to resign” by telling him that “If there’s a fire [he’s] trying to douse / [he] can’t put it out from inside the house” (34, 36-38). They essentially mean to say that there’s no way to put an end to Hamilton’s wrongdoings without leaving the cabinet and pursuing a higher position. In this line, Jefferson states that he’s resigning from the cabinet by saying “This kid is out!” (42).
The emperor has no clothes. (63)
This line is an allegory describing the public’s refusal to publicly recognize Hamilton’s misdeeds. In Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale, The Emperor’s New Clothes, the emperor is given a suit and told that it’s invisible to anyone who’s incompetent or undeserving of their accomplishments. In reality, there’s no suit, but no one, including the emperor, is willing to admit that they don’t see it. It would just take one person to point out the lies at hand, but no one is willing to be the first voice heard. In Hamilton’s situation, this line implies that everyone sees that Hamilton is unfit, unqualified, and incapable of the role he’s been given, but no one is willing to publicly admit it in fear of seeming foolish. Throughout this song, Burr, Madison, and Jefferson are talking about how they’re all unanimously tired of Hamilton, and they’re willing to work against him. When Jefferson says this line, he is essentially saying that the public agrees with their view and Hamilton, they just haven’t said it yet.
These three lines all relate to Burr, Madison, and Jefferson wanting to undermine Hamilton. All three of these quotes demonstrate how much power and influence mean to the revolutionists. This theme is evident in Hamilton and is mentioned many times through discussions of legacy. There’s also an underlying tone of annoyance towards Hamilton, an immigrant, being so high in the political system. The American ideology of “work hard for success” is a new idea and despite the anti-Federalists’ agreement with this philosophy, it’s also implied that they feel small amounts of dismay towards a poor, illegitimate, orphan immigrant working his way up the system; in Britain, Hamilton would never have been given such an influential platform. This implication is woven into many lyrics in Hamilton as well as Lin Manuel Miranda’s other work and may be a subtle comment on the current political climate in America.