A: Character Development
The Election of 1800 is a very important song in Hamilton, even referred to as the second “climax” of the musical in class on Friday. It helps advance both the plot and the characters involved in the song, as well as incite a major event in the play: Hamilton’s death. It’s a narrative of the Presidential Election of 1800, adapted so it contributes to the theatrical plot of Hamilton.
In the song, Thomas Jefferson is in the running for presidency against Aaron Burr, them both having outvoted John Adams and tied in the previous round of the election. The song begins with James Madison and Thomas Jefferson conferring about the election and the differences between Jefferson and his opponent Burr, even breaking the fourth wall and acknowledging the personal (and saddening) tone of the previous few songs in the beginning. Burr later joins in with his campaign and slogan of “talk less, smile more”. The song emphasizes the fact that he openly campaigned, even telling women to promote him to their husbands. He tells Hamilton that he’s “chasing what he wants”, which is to become the third President of the United States.
The voters in the song responded positively to Burr because he was amiable and seemed “like you could grab a beer with him”, but this worked against him in terms of the election because many politicians thought him unprincipled. This was one of the many reasons Hamilton disliked Burr, and it was due to this distaste that Hamilton supported Jefferson and validated his presidency despite their history of disagreement with one another. Hamilton’s support for Jefferson led him to win the election and become President, much to the anger and dissatisfaction of Burr. The animosity Burr felt for Hamilton following the electoral vote is the driving force in the song “Your Obedient Servant” as well as one of the reasons Burr and Hamilton engage in their epic duel.
Immediately following the outcome of the election, Burr congratulates Jefferson on his newfound position and expresses his content in working in partnership with him in the future as Vice President. Jefferson, however, doesn’t trust Burr and brushes off his congratulations. He says that he wants to change the rules so Burr doesn’t get to be Vice President (something he wouldn’t
even have the power to do)
This song showcases the wants and fears of both Burr and Hamilton exquisitely. Hamilton, even after facing much loss and hardship in his personal life, will still not let someone whom he feels doesn’t embody the ideals necessary to be a true leader of the United States rise to presidency. He continues to be stubborn and even pig-headed in his beliefs, not swaying even when he sees how much the election means to Burr. Burr adopts Hamilton’s approach and fights for the presidency, even telling Hamilton that he had learned something from him. This reversed roles in the relationship between Hamilton and Burr. Hamilton had always wanted to be more like Burr, graduate early from college and accumulate the wealth that the man had. As the play went on and Hamilton started to grow and make a name for himself, Burr found himself on the outside looking in (“I wanna be in the room where it happens”). Jealousy and distaste had bloomed between the men, this song serving to push it over the edge.
B: Connections to Historical Events
In The Election of 1800, the song itself is a major historical event. The final candidates of the election were Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr from the Democratic-Republican party and John Adams and Charles Pinckney from the Federalist party. During John Adam’s presidency (second President of the USA), Jefferson fed Republican dissent for Adam and deemed his policies “unconstitutional” (the Alien and Sedition Acts). When it came time for the next election, Adams received 65 votes while Burr and Jefferson received 73 each, making it a tie between the two. The presidential election of 1800 was one laced with political intrigue and social tension. The Federalists and Democratic-Republicans spread rumours and attacked each other’s candidates, causing the election to head with a tie and the final vote to go to the House of Representatives.
This is where Hamilton comes in. The song insinuates that he’s missing from the political event because of the death of his son and other personal matters when in reality in 1800 Hamilton was busy being the de-facto commander of the undeclared Quasi-War. After the French monarchy crumbled following the French Revolutionary War, the US refused to continue repaying the debt to France it had accumulated through the American Revolution. America claimed that the debt had been owed to the previous hereditary monarchical regime, but the French were outraged. This war was fought almost entirely at sea, the navies of the two parties attacking each other’s ships and trading shipments.
Regardless of Hamilton’s occupancy, he still wrote letters about his opinion on the election. Despite his political career’s downfall from scandals like the pamphlets written against John Adams and the Reynolds affair, people still want to know Hamilton’s opinion. He convinced a few Federalists who had previously been on Burr’s side to turn in blank ballots. The final result was ten votes for Jefferson, four for Burr, and two blank ballots.
I believe that the Big Idea for this song is “Emerging ideas and ideologies profoundly influence societies and events” because the original vote for presidency led to a tie between Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr. This was due to the unpopularity of John Adams, a Federalist who favoured relations with Britain and a man who had angered many Americans with the unjust laws that he had passed. Thomas Jefferson worked as his Vice President, and with his encouragement of the unrest that grew towards Adams, he was able to make his rise to power. This was possible due to the movement that Jefferson himself had co-created: the Democratic-Republican party. This party was created to oppose the Federalists, a group of people that were responsible for things like high taxes and the unjust laws that Adams passed during his presidency.
These Democratic-Republicans were worried that the Federalists would develop into an oligarchy and counter everything that they had worked to achieve during the Revolution. They were a voice for the people who would never see the inside of Congress. This ideology was taken on by many, and even Hamilton, whom the party specifically opposed, could see the potential of Jefferson in office. The outcome of the election was influenced by many different ideas and individuals, the Democratic-Republican party being a mere one of them.
C: Thematic and Personal Connections
There is a lot in this song that I find intriguing, but I think the most interesting thing about this song is that despite the fact that the election of 1800 was a major political event, the theme of the song, at least to me, is almost entirely about Hamilton and Burr. The relationship between the two men is the main conflict in Hamilton, even representing the turmoil that happens both during and following the revolution between warring factions: those who are ready and willing to take fate into their own hands and fight for what they believe in for the good of their nation, and those who are more cautious and calculating, wary of the consequences that come with rebellion. The relationship between the two men is strong and seemingly warring, but I think that they complement each other in a way that only opposites can.
My first line is “Ev’ry action has an equal, opposite reaction.” In this quote, Jefferson references Newton’s Third Law of Motion. This statement also applies to the election. Hamilton has faced a rapid decline in popularity due to the controversy that surrounded him following his cheating scandal and the pamphlets he published against John Adams. It was through this political turmoil that Burr gathered his forces and tried to achieve his goal: winning the presidential election. Throughout not only the song but the musical itself, the choices and actions that characters have made shaped the outcome of the future and were rewarded with equal consequences.
My second line is “Is there anything you wouldn’t do?”. New York is the land of promise, a place where one can achieve the American dream and find success despite their beginnings. Hamilton has always had this mindset, and this is something Burr has always advised him against, saying in “Aaron Burr, Sir” that “fools who run their mouths off wind up dead”, because he believes outspoken people make more enemies. However, Burr really wants this presidency and is willing to adopt Hamilton’s approach if it means he can achieve his goal.
My third line is “For the country is facing a difficult choice”. The presidential elections are relatively new to America, and following their decision to elect John Adams (which wasn’t necessarily the best thing for their country at the time), this election is crucial. The final say in the song goes to Hamilton, and he holds the power where previously he had been put down and insulted by Jefferson and Madison.
(Including the sources provides in the text above)