See my last post to learn more about the song (you can listen to the full Hamilton tracklist here). This post is to break down the lyrics of Washington On Your Side, as I was sick the day of my presentation.
[There is a video shown on RapGenius’ page for this song where Lin-Manuel Miranda talks briefly about how Washington was like “the Wayne to [Hamilton’s] Drake”, the “Dre to [Hamilton’s] Em”, etc. I’m not going to elaborate on the (short) video, as readers can view it using the link.]
Washington On Your Side follows Jefferson’s diss at the end of Cabinet Battle #2, “Daddy’s calling!”. This is viewed as a diss for many reasons:
- Hamilton didn’t have a dad growing up; Jefferson could be trying to open an old wound and/or suggest he looks up to Washington as a father figure.
- Suggests Hamilton’s sexual submission to Washington (also with the line “You’re nothing without Washington behind you”) which was a huge insult due to homophobia and the idea that Hamilton was bribing his way up.
- Washington has called Hamilton “son” in Meet Me Inside (and Hamilton didn’t like that and told him so). Could be referring to Hamilton’s childishness/immaturity discussed.
This song starts with Burr provoking Hamilton’s enemies (Jefferson and Madison) by quietly suggesting how “nice” it is for Hamilton for Washington to be on his side. It’s noted that throughout the song Burr is repeatedly egging the two on. Though he has never really supported Hamilton, he never showed he was against him.
- The first line of Jefferson’s rap (“Ev’ry action has its equal, opposite reactions“) is also a statement of Newton’s Third Law of Motion.
- Jefferson: “Thanks to Hamilton, our cab’net’s fractured into factions” refers to Hamilton’s tenure as Treasury and how political factions began thanks to that.
- Jefferson: “As Wall Street…” is a reference to Hamilton’s financial schemes and the birth of the stock exchange.
- Jefferson: “I’ll pull the trigger on him…” foreshadows Hamilton being shot (though Burr is the one who pulls the trigger).
- Jefferson says “while we were all watching” even though he was in France doing who-knows-what.
- Jefferson/Burr: “Look back at the Bill of Rights” refers especially to the 10th amendment, which expresses the principle of federalism and how the federal government can only do what’s explicitly permitted Constitutionally.
- Burr: “Look in his eyes!” is another reference to Hamilton’s eyes. This time, however, it refers to the Democratic-Republicans seeing his intelligence and flirtation as deceitful threats.
- Madison: “Follow the scent of his enterprise” may be an allusion to Hamilton’s lower-class immigrant status. It can refer to the “politics of smell” (quoting George Orwell, “the lower classes smell”)
- Jefferson: “Centralizing national credit and making American credit competitive” = subject of Cabinet Battle #1.
- Jefferson: “I have to resign“, and he does.
- Burr: “Somebody has to stand up to his mouth!” is another reference to how Hamilton’s always talking and speaking his mind. Burr doesn’t believe in doing that (“Talk less. Smile more.”). Burr also doesn’t seem to have an ideological problem with Hamilton, which can be why he keeps referring to small things about Hamilton that he doesn’t like.
- Jefferson: “If there’s a fire…” “You can’t put it out from inside the house” may be Jefferson realizing he has to resign from his Cabinet position to change things. (and he does, in the next song).
- Jefferson’s next verse (from “I’m in the cabinet” to “this kid is out!“): Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote this passage exclusively for Daveed Diggs (original actor for Jefferson/Lafayette) and his “uncanny rapping abilities”
- In the same verse, the line “watching him grabbin’ at power and kiss it” suggests again Hamilton’s possible intimate relationship with Washington. Jefferson turns Hamilton’s spontaneity and turns it into a sort of sexual innuendo, implying he’s sucking up to Washington to get what he wants.
- Also in the same verse, the line “If Washington isn’t gon’ listen…” shows Jefferson’s realization that he has to break the cycle if Washington keeps playing favorites.
- And to end the verse, “this kid is out!” probably refers to Jefferson’s later resignation, but it’s pretty brassy how he referred to himself in third-person.
- Note: the entire verse is written in dactylic meter, with ninefold internal false rhyme on the “is-ih” sounds, with alliteration, assonance, and more. (Can we just praise the genius that is Lin-Manuel Miranda??)
- Jefferson/Burr/Madison: “This immigrant isn’t somebody we chose!” is true because Hamilton wasn’t elected; he was appointed (by Washington). Using the term “immigrant” throughout the song, however, is clearly to reduce Hamilton to his immigration status despite his accomplishments. (Not that being an immigrant makes you any less capable; I’m just explaining where this is coming from).
- Jefferson and Madison share the line “Southern – “, but they include Burr to finish with “Democratic-Republicans!“. (Because Burr was a Northerner). The term “Democratic-Republicans” is an anachronism, but it isn’t extreme; they adopted the name officially in 1798.
- Jefferson/Burr/Madison: “Follow the money..” refers to American political thriller film All the Presidents’ Men (1976)
- Jefferson/Burr/Madison: “Get in the weeds, look for the seeds of Hamilton’s misdeeds“. Lin’s 2009 performance at the White House refers to Hamilton’s enemies “waiting in the weeds for [him]”. Also, the Democratic-Republicans were suspicious that Hamilton was using insider information from the Treasury Department to look at/invest in risky government securities for profit (he wasn’t). It’s also noted that “seed” is slang for semen, which could, again, be a reference to the sexual nature of Hamilton’s indiscretions.
- Jefferson: “The emperor has no clothes” is an anachronistic reference to The Emperor’s New Clothes. The moral of the story is that people are often too scared to speak truth to power, which can refer to Jefferson, Burr, and Madison feeling as if they’re the only ones speaking up about Washington’s bias. It could also be a jab at Hamilton for his flashy clothes (Jefferson liked to make fun of Hamilton’s overdressing).
- Jefferson/Burr/Madison: “We won’t be invisible” means they are done with being shoved out of the spotlight by Hamilton. It could also be a pun to the “invisible” clothes, which is a reference to The Emperor’s New Clothes (I won’t explain the plot of that story here, but I did link it above).
Overall, this was a very interesting song to study, and I’m pretty happy with my choice. Can’t wait to work more with this musical!