The basic premise of this song is Aaron Burr, Thomas Jefferson, and James Maddison (Democratic-Republicans) scheming to investigate Hamilton, while also lamenting the fact that they lack Washington’s respect. It serves as a method of explaining the Democratic Republican’s plan to “look for the seeds of Hamilton’s misdeeds” – to find the origin of Hamilton’s supposed malfeasance. This song is propelled by the frustration of the Democratic-Republicans, as shown by the ever-increasing intensity of the music and the frequent “Oh!”-s. This song demonstrates the complexity of the relationships in the musical- Jefferson and Madison grew to despise Hamilton and the Treasury Department, but still crave Washington’s respect and view him as a fatherly figure. They also feel alienated by political differences.
Taking a closer look at the lyrics, intensity, and vocals of the song can demonstrate a lot about plot points and relationships in the musical. One can examine this by looking closer at the parts that Aaron Burr sings- he starts off the song and joins in on the chorus, but he never joins in on the rapping where Jefferson and Madison do most of the scheming- showing how he was involved in the investigation, but not driving it. He is motivated by his need for validation, power, and respect from others- as shown in “Schuyler Defeated”. His want for validation is not being sufficiently fulfilled, so he takes out his frustration on Hamilton. In Hamilton, Burr is portrayed as a character without strong principals or beliefs, saying that he will “wait for it” and “talk less, smile more”. He feels slighted by Hamilton, who is very brash and “has nothing to lose”- Burr has constantly been compared to Hamilton and has lost many opportunities because of this personality difference. This envy over differing personalities leads to one of the major plot points in Hamilton.
While Jefferson, Madison, and Burr are on the same side, Jefferson and Madison’s motivation for investigating Hamilton is quite different. Hamilton was a Federalist (The Federalists were one of the two major political parties during America’s early years, who supported a fiscally sound, central government. They were mostly upper-class elites and supported good relations with Britain), and Thomas Jefferson and James Madison were Democratic-Republican (The Democratic-Republicans, favored the rights and governments of the individual states as opposed to the main government. They supported individual farmers and favored France over Britain, and believed in the principals of republicanism and feared the Federalists would end up forming an oligarchy if left unopposed.). This tension between the elites and the common folk is a common conflict in history and was something that consumed politics in Washington’s America. In Hamilton’s effort to consolidate state debt, he fought for the Treasury Department’s resources (Hamilton had over five hundred employees in the Treasury compared to Jefferson’s eight employees at the State Department). This inflation of the financial department served as a potential warning of the possibility of an over-bearing federal government.
As noted in “The Dark Side of Hamilton” by Tom Cutterham, Hamilton was an “anti-democrat” who believed that “Nothing but a permanent body […] can check the imprudence of democracy”. Many Democratic-Republicans feared the consolation of power into the hands of a few, wealthy, elites. Jefferson viewed Hamilton’s financial plans as a plot to accomplish this. As Madison states, “So he’s doubled the size of the government / Wasn’t the trouble with much of our previous government size?” He is questioning how different would this future really be from a British-controlled state.
A major theme in Hamilton is the difference maker in the world, their ‘legacy’. Jefferson feels as though his opinion is not being respected by Washington. Instead, he is being stifled as Hamilton’s ‘disastrous’ financial plans are implemented. He is unable to make a difference. Out of this frustration, Jefferson reaches an epiphany- “If we don’t stop it we aid an abet it / I have to resign”. He feels that his concerns are not being properly heard by Washington, and his efforts go to waste if he does not “stop” Hamilton. In the next presidential election, Jefferson campaigned against Washington’s successor John Adams.
Respect is another theme in “Washington On Your Side”. As the chorus goes, “It must be nice, It must be nice to have Washington on your side.” This is Burr, Jefferson, and Madison wistfully thinking of how simpler their political endeavors would be if they had Washington’s political clout behind them. They hate to oppose Washington, as they feel that they owe him loyalty and respect as the president. But, Washington is not on their side, so they have no choice but to oppose him. In addition, they envy Hamilton as he has gained a sizable amount of Washington’s respect.
Context: *See plot summary
The characters that are signing in this song are Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Aaron Burr. Other characters that are mentioned in this song are Alexander Hamilton and George Washington.
Thomas Jefferson— Jefferson wants a better life for American citizens and worries that this future is being corrupted by Hamilton. Jefferson remarks that “Our poorest citizens, our farmers, life ration to ration / as Wall Street robs them blind in search of chips to cash in”. He is saying that the economic status and poverty of some Americans (notably farmers) is being compromised because of the heavy tax burden. On the flip side, Jefferson fears the Goliath of the American Government, the Treasury Department, with gain even more power and strength. He laments that “every second the Treasury grows”, meaning that the Treasury is getting bigger and bigger, and Jefferson feels that he lacks control of the situation and his opinions aren’t being respected. Thomas’s background as a founding father influences this song He as he has seen conflicts that the previous, British-run government had created. He worried that the American government would end up in a vicious cycle where the federal government took more and more power from the populace.
James Madison— James Madison was another driving member of the Democratic-Republican Party- who were concerned with keeping the power in the hands of the people. He had similar wants and fears as Jefferson- he wanted to have respect from Washington but feared Hamilton’s plan to consolidate national debt, as it could lead to the formation of a monarchy. “Washington On Your Side” also shows how Madison’s loyalties have changed over the course of Hamilton. Madison was originally a Federalist- he wrote 29 of the 85 essays in the Federalist Papers. But as the Federal government grew and grew, he became concerned about government size. He had a verse, which was later removed, “I used to write with him/Imbibe with him and ride with him/I find myself on this side of a sizable divide with him./We used to fight for the right to be left alone./But left alone to his own devices, he’s a crisis all his own”. Madison is saying that they used to be friends and comrades, but Hamilton has spiraled out of control when “Left to his own devices”. This knowledge of Madison’s concerns contributes to our understanding of the conflicts in the second act.
Connections to Historical Elements
“I’ll pull the trigger on him, someone loads the gun and cock it”
What Jefferson is referencing is opposition research. By loading the gun and cocking it, Jefferson is pleading for someone to find evidence of Hamilton’s supposed wrongdoing- hence oppo research. The concept of opposition (oppo) research has existed for a very long time. It was first proposed as a war strategy by Sun Tzu and is still in use today. In the late 1700’s and the early 1800’s, this tactic took the form of spreading rumors through highly partisan newspapers, using pen names. One example of this is when Alexander Hamilton used this technique to discredit Thomas Jefferson. He wrote under the pseudonym “Phocion,” and accused Jefferson of having an affair with a slave. These partisan newspapers held massive sway in elections- they have even been compared to today’s super PACs.
“Look in his eyes / See how he lies”
This ties in with the practice of mudslinging. While Jefferson, Burr, and Madison have no “real” evidence of Hamilton’s crimes, they still allege that he is dishonest. Mudslinging is where rumors, lies or “alternate facts” are spread about the opposition, typically through the media. This practice is still used today to discredit the opposition.
“Thanks to Hamilton, or cab’net’s fractured into fractions”
This quote demonstrates the political parties being formed; something that Washington was very much opposed to. He even mentioned it in his farewell speech, saying “The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism.” Even though Washington campaigned against partisanism, his policies reflect his Federalist leanings.
“Wasn’t the trouble with much of our previous government size?”
This is a reference to colonial America under British rule. One of the reasons for the American Revolution was the size of the British Government and the disenfranchisement of Americans. Many people feared that history would repeat itself, and the new American government would deprive “Americans” (the rich, white, land-owning males who could vote) of their newfound freedom.
BIG IDEA: Disparities in power alter the difference between individuals and societies.
This big idea connects to “Washington on Your Side” because of both talks about the relationship between power and individuals and different demographics in society. In “Washington On Your Side”, Madison notes that “Wasn’t the trouble with much of our previous government size?” He is questioning what was the point of returning to a government with an immense amount of power. The Federalists believed in a more Hobbes-type of government. While it was still democratic, it removed power from individual citizens and placed it in the hands of the electoral college, who didn’t have to vote the way the people voted. This disparity in power (the Federalist party was comprised of elites who had more power), tipped the scales and caused the society and government to have more power than the individual. This power struggle between the state and the individual caused tension between the two political parties with opposing ideals.
Thematic and Personal Connections
I found looking at the tension between the political parties very interesting. Political science is a topic that I am passionate about, and I enjoyed bringing that passion into Hamilton. Included in this is the struggle over government organization, and I had a lot of fun researching the different political parties and synthesizing the data as concisely as possible. One line that particularly resonates with me is, “So he’s doubled the size of the government / Wasn’t the trouble with much of our previous government size?”. This line resonates with me because I am able to identify persuasive strategies used to argue a point, and there is a history behind this topic.
“It must be nice, it must be nice / to have Washington on your side”- The catchphrase of this song, it shows how while all of the younger founding fathers have an immense amount of respect for Washington, they are beginning to question Washington’s supposed non-partisanship. This is a result of Washington seeming to favor Hamilton. This lead to the widening of the rift between the two major political parties- the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists (the ‘jacobins’ or Democratic-Republicans).
“If Washington isn’t gon’ listen / To disciplined dissidents, this is the difference: / This kid is out!”- After repeated disputes between Jefferson and Washington, mostly over their positions on major issues (Jefferson was a top member of the Democratic-Republicans, and Washington had Federalist leanings), Jefferson decided that he would resign from his position of Secretary of State. He did this in 1793, and in 1796 he ran for president. When Jefferson left Secretary of State, he had more time and freedom to oppose Federalism.
“If we follow the money and see where it leads / Get in the weeds, look for the seeds of / Hamilton’s misdeeds” – This quote references the decision of Jefferson, Madison, and Burr to investigate Hamilton. The practice of researching political enemies to gain an advantage or edge in the next referendum. When Jefferson, Madison, and Burr say “Get in the weeds”, they presumably mean to analyze the small but important details, in hopes that they could find evidence linking Hamilton to a (financial) crime. This continues on in “look for the seeds of / Hamilton’s misdeeds,” as they are looking for a concrete origin of a supposed crime. Also, this is a reference to Hamilton’s affair with Maria Reynolds.