A. Character Development
The song “The Election of 1800” is the 42nd song of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s award-winning musical Hamilton, between “It’s Quiet Uptown” and “Your Obedient Servant”. It follows the dramatic events leading up to and during the United States’ seventh presidential election. It focuses primarily on the campaigns of Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr, the two candidates most likely to win, as John Adams isn’t well liked during this time. The public continuously pressured Alexander Hamilton into sharing his opinion, however Hamilton is still grieving the loss of his son and wants to stay out of the eyes of the public.
The long, grueling process of campaigning has taken a toll on the candidates, especially on Burr who has taken a more involved approach to his campaign. When all the votes have been submitted, Jefferson and Burr emerge tied. When the outcome of the election is ultimately placed in Hamilton’s hands, he must make the decision to speak up. Due to him not having a particular fondness for either candidate, Hamilton has to make the difficult decision to promote Jefferson, as he believes Burr only cares about himself.
This endorsement puts the final nail in the coffin of Hamiton and Burr’s already shaky relationship, and the effects are clearly displayed in the next song, “Your Obedient Servant”.
Jefferson is surprised by Hamilton’s decision to promote him, but utterly relieved. That is until Burr approaches him. Burr congratulates Jefferson on his win and states he is looking forward to working with him as his vice president, as up until this point, the runner-up would assume that position. Jefferson, not thrilled to be working with his previous competition, and essentially tells Burr to get lost. Jefferson further rubs his victory in by saying he can change the rules; he is the president after all.
Thomas Jefferson wants to become president after being the vice-president for the past four years. After receiving advice from James Madison, Jefferson realises he would greatly benefit from the support of Hamilton. However, he is afraid his argumentative past with him has ruined his chances at this.
Aaron Burr is driven by his drive to become the president. It seems as though the ideals behind his political campaign are in stark contrast with the “talk less, smile more” and “lying in wait” attitude he has taken throughout the previous course of the narrative. He has learned that his previous philosophy hasn’t worked out for him, and takes a more Hamiton-esque approach to his campaign.
During most of “The Election of 1800”, Hamilton is still struggling to cope with his son Philp’s death. He wants to be left alone by the press, who keep pressuring him to pick a side. When he finally does, he must make the decision between two of his political rivals, and ultimately chooses Jefferson. It is clear his is fearful in having a leader who has ‘no beliefs’ and is so secretive of his motives and opinions.
B. Connections to Historical Elements
Historical Events and Ideas
The election that took place in 1800 was just as wild, if not more, as is described in the song. In fact, many of the issues that arose during this election caused the rules surrounding presidential elections to be revised for the following election in 1804 with the 12th Amendment (see below). When Jefferson and Burr both received 73 votes each (John Adams receiving 65, Thomas Pinckney receiving 64, and Jon Jay [who was not actually running] receiving 1), the House of Representatives were to make the tie breaking decision. They were unable to reach a consensus for a long time. Eventually, things began to look like Burr would be the winner, however Hailton’s endorsement came right before the vote and helped secure Jefferson’s spot as president.
Up until the Election of 1800, each of 138 members of the Electoral College would cast two votes. The candidate who received the most votes would become the president, and the runner-up would become the vice president. However, the voters could not specify which candidate they wanted for vice president, and which they wanted for vice president. This quickly became an issue as more political views began to surface, resulting in politicians who were just campaigning against each other now having to work alongside one another to run a country. The 12th Amendment allowed there to be separate elections for president and vice president which helped to decrease the previous issue.
I will not be going into too much detail with this as it isn’t explicitly mentioned in “The Election of 1800”, but it is important to touch on this subject. Hamitlon’s decision to endorse Jefferson, “a man he’s despised since the beginning” (Burr in “Your Obedient Servant”) is seen as an act of betrayal by Burr. This moment is what pushed Burr over the edge and pathed the way for their duel to come.
Socials Curriculum (Big Idea)
- Disparities in power alter the balance between individuals and between societies.
It can be seen through “The Election of 1800” that preexisting influence can have a big impact on current situations. Hamilton was well respected before the Reynolds Pamphlet was published, and his influence carried even through the scandal. His position of leadership was essentially the deciding factor of the election’s outcome.
We can also see disparities in power through the way votes were submitted. There were only 138 members of the Electoral College; only 138 decisions for a whole population. It is impossible to deny that the outcome could have been much different if only every American citizen had the ability to vote. This is still an issue that is being dealt with today, for example when it comes to felons and ex-felons in the United States; who should be allowed to vote and make decisions for us?
C. Thematic and Personal Connections
I like that Aaron Burr!
I can’t believe we’re here with him!
He seems approachable?
Like you could grab a beer with him!
The American Revolution was in many ways about getting away from the monarchy and having a say in the leaders of the country. The people could now choose who they wanted as president, and had the power to take their power away if they began to abuse it.
Now that there were elections, there had to be campaigning. Aaron Burr is often referred to as the ‘father of political campaigning’. Not only was he running as candidate that people could choose to vote for, he was making an effort to get to go out and mingle with regular people and to hear their concerns.
America was making a shift from absolute monarchy, to regular people getting a chance to lead, and an opinion on who should or shouldn’t be running the country.
Hamilton’s on your side!
Without a king, people had the freedom to express their own political views. Though this was a good thing, it also caused more conflict between multiple parties within the same country. The fighting between these different groups was something new the young nation never had to deal with while under King George’s rule.
However, these different parties had to learn to put their differences aside when necessary, for example Hamilton, a Federalist, having to choose between two Democratic Republicans.
The American Revolution gave people more freedom, but also put more responsibility on their shoulders to make sacrifices and do what was right for the group as a whole.
It’s 1800; Ladies,
Tell your husbands, vote for Burr!
The American Revolution allowed for the disenfranchised to stand up for their rights. One of the most notable was that women were starting to fight for their equal treatment. Though this line may not seem like the most feminist thing to say, but it was definatly an improvement for the time. Since women weren’t allowed to vote in America until 1920, Burr suggesting they give their political opinions to their husbands was unheard of.
The American Revolution was not only an oppressed group of people fighting against their oppressors, it was the minorities of that oppressed group finding their voices too.