Washington opens the second Cabinet meeting introducing the issue that needs to be debated: “France is on the verge of war with England. Do we provide aid and our troops to our French allies, or do we stay out of it?” The Cabinet meeting to discuss the issue of neutrality occurred on April 19, 1793. Newspapers in the U.S. published France’s declaration of war against England and Holland by April 6th, although Washington and U.S. government officials heard rumors of war earlier than that date. (War was actually declared by France on February 1st.)
Washington tells his Cabinet that the decision on the matter “is not subject to congressional approval; the only person you have to convince is me.” This is a sketchy issue. According to the U.S. Constitution, although the President is the “commander-in-chief of the army and navy of the United States,” (Article II, Section 2), it is Congress who has the power to declare war (Article I, Section 8). It is likely, had Washington and the Cabinet decided to aid the French with troops and military support, Congress would have to be convinced to do so and grant their approval.
Either way, Washington probably didn’t need convincing. He wrote to Hamilton from Mount Vernon in Virginia on April 12th, “Hostilities having commenced between France & England, it is incumbent on the Government of the United States to prevent…all interferences of our Citizens in them.” He instructed Hamilton, “for the United States to maintain a strict neutrality between the Powers at war, I wish to have seriously thought of, that I may as soon as I arrive at the Seat of the Government, take such steps, tending to these ends.” On the same day, Washington wrote Jefferson a similar letter, writing, “War having actually commenced between France and Great Britain, it behoves the Government of this Country to use every means in it’s power to prevent the citizens thereof from embroiling us with either of those powers, by endeavouring to maintain a strict neutrality. I therefore require that you will give the subject mature consideration.”
The “battle” gets underway with Jefferson again going first: “We made a promise, we signed a treaty. We needed money and guns and half a chance; who provided those funds?” (Madison answers: “France.”) In return, Jefferson continues, the French only asked “that we’d lend a hand and stand with them if they fought against oppressors.” Jefferson is referring to the Treaty of Alliance with France which was signed in 1778, when the U.S. was still fighting Britain for independence. It doesn’t appear that Jefferson was as forceful in reality as he is in the musical in his belief that the U.S. absolutely had to back France. In a letter to Washington dated April 7, 1793, he wrote that it was his opinion “that we take every justifiable measure for preserving our neutrality, and at the same time provide those necessaries for war which must be brought across the Atlantic.”
When Hamilton gets his turn, he tells Jefferson, “You must be out of your goddamn mind” if he thinks the country should meddle “in the middle of a mess…where France is Queen and Kingless.” He reminds everyone that the treaty referred to by Jefferson was signed “with a King whose head is now in a basket.” The French monarchy was abolished on September 21, 1792. King Louis XVI was executed on January 21, 1793 by guillotine. (Marie Antoinette didn’t lose her head until October 16th.) Hamilton is arguing that the treaty was signed with the King and his nation of France, and not with whoever is now leading and running that country. Therefore, the U.S. is not required to honor the treaty.
Before hearing any more, Washington cuts off the debate, taking Hamilton’s side and saying, “We’re too fragile to start another fight.” The American army number just over 5,000 men in 1793. The Navy was pretty much nonexistent. Congress didn’t authorize the reestablishment of the Navy until 1794, and the first three ships weren’t launched until 1797. Washington was not exaggerating. Jefferson does not like Washington’s response, however, and presses Washington by asking, “Do we not fight for freedom?” When Washington responds, “Sure, when the French figure out who’s gonna lead em,” Jefferson replies, “The people are leading.” Washington cuts him off to say, “The people are rioting.” The people were rioting. Even before King Louis lost his head (but while he was imprisoned), the people in France (in Paris and in the countryside) were rioting, some over food shortages and others for political reasons. The King’s authority was stripped from him, but it took months before a semblance of stable government replaced him.
It isn’t surprising then, that Washington seems disappointed with Jefferson, telling him, “It’s a little disquieting you would let you ideals blind you to reality,” and then turns to Hamilton and tells him to “draft a statement of neutrality.” Jefferson sided with the French revolutionaries. As mentioned in part 11 of this series, he was minister to France from 1784 until returning home in 1789. Before leaving France, he helped drafting revolutionary France’s Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen and was present in Paris when the revolutionaries stormed the Bastille on July 14, 1789, kicking off the French Revolution.
The Proclamation of Neutrality was issued on April 22, 1793. As Secretary of State, Jefferson’s signature was on the paper. (It was written by the Attorney General, Edmund Randolph, who also gave a lengthy reply to Washington on the treaty with France in regards to staying neutral.) Following the issuance of the proclamation, Hamilton wrote a “Defense of the President’s Neutrality Proclamation.” After that, Hamilton and Madison published letters in newspapers under the assumed names of Pacificus and Helvidius, respectively defending and attacking the Proclamation of Neutrality.
After Washington steps away, Jefferson asks Hamilton if he forgot Lafayette. Hamilton retorts, “Lafayette’s a smart man, he’ll be fine.” Actually…although Lafayette was among the leaders of the National Assembly, and he presented the “Declaration of the Rights of Man,” and he led the National Guard of France, and he also tried to keep some sense of order, he protected the King and the royal family on a number of occasions, and when the Revolution turned, Lafayette looked to be a royalist to some in the rebellion. In fact, a mob attacked his home in 1791 due to the belief that he sympathized with the royals. The following year, he criticized the radical factions in a speech in Paris, but then realized the radical factions controlled Paris. Around the time the monarchy was abolished, Lafayette had become a wanted man. He attempted to escape to the U.S. but was captured by the Austrians and imprisoned until further notice. While imprisoned, the U.S. government sent money to Lafayette, but did not believe they could assist him in any other way. He remained imprisoned until 1797.
Following the Cabinet battle, Burr, Jefferson, and Madison get together to complain about how Washington always takes Hamilton’s side. In the end, they decide on a plan. That’s the premise of “Washington On Your Side.”
Jefferson signs, “Every action has its equal, opposite reaction.” This comes from Newton’s Third Law, which states, “To every action there is always opposed an equal reaction: or the mutual actions of two bodies upon each other are always equal, and directed to contrary parts.”
Then Jefferson blames Hamilton for the Cabinet being “fractured into factions.” He says, “We smack each other in the press, and we don’t print retractions.” Along with the Pacificus and Helvidius essays mentioned above, the men went at each other in the press, if not directly (under assumed names) through intermediaries. This continued even after both men left the Cabinet. It continued after Washington’s Presidency. It continues today, though with different actors.
Burr and Jefferson together sing, “Look back at the Bill of Rights,” and Madison chimes in, “Which I wrote!” and Burr and Jefferson say, “The ink hasn’t dried.” Madison did write the Bill of Rights in response to calls from some states for protection of individual liberties. Fellow Virginian George Mason, who refused to sign the Constitution because it lacked these rights, is also credited alongside Madison, though he rarely gets as much attention. Although the Bill of Rights was written and submitted to the States in 1789, it wasn’t ratified until December 15, 1791 after the 10th of 14 states approved the amendments.
Madison sings, “He’s doubled the size of the government; wasn’t the trouble with much of our previous government size?” I don’t know that Hamilton doubled the size of the government, but size wasn’t the trouble with the previous government. If Madison is referring to the government under the Articles of Confederation, the problem was that the central government did not have enough power over the States to be effective. If he’s talking about the British, which is what I assume, it wasn’t their size that was the problem. It may have been taxation without representation and other slights, but it wasn’t due to the size of the government. It seems Miranda took artistic license here in order to make some kick-ass rhymes.
Jefferson complains how Hamilton was “centralizing national credit and making American credit competitive,” and then decides, “I have to resign.” Madison and Burr try to talk him out of it, but Jefferson stops them, stating, “If there’s a fire you’re trying to douse, you can’t put it out from inside the house.” He follows up saying, “If Washington isn’t gonna listen to disciplined dissidents this is the difference, this kid is out.” Jefferson sent his letter of resignation to Washington on December 31, 1793. Washington accepted the resignation on the following day. Jefferson had written a lengthy letter in September 1792 stating that he wanted to resign, and wrote another at the end of July 1793 regarding the same. Although Washington followed some of Jefferson’s suggestions, he mostly sided with Hamilton, especially concerning Hamilton’s financial plans, which Jefferson opposed. (Some of this plan was covered in part 11 of this series.)
The men then bash Hamilton signing, “This immigrant isn’t somebody we chose,” and, “It’s time to show these Federalists who they’re up against (Oh!) – southern motherfuckin’ Democratic-Republicans! (Oh!)” Hamilton – the immigrant – wasn’t chosen by the people – he was appointed by Washington. Before the Constitution was passed, those in favor of its ratification were known as the Federalists and included Washington, Hamilton, and John Adams. Those opposed to ratification were known as the anti-Federalists, and included Jefferson and Madison. Burr was seen to be on this side as well. Following ratification, the anti-Federalists mostly lined up in opposition to Hamilton’s plans. Formed mostly around Jefferson and Madison, the party became known as the Democratic-Republicans.
They end the meeting determined to “follow the money and see where it goes,” and “look for the seeds of Hamilton’s misdeeds.” This refers to the money paid to Mister James Reynolds. As mentioned in part twelve of this series, according to Hamilton’s account in the Reynolds Pamphlet, he received a letter from Mr. Reynolds,” the essence of which is that he was willing to take a thousand dollars as the plaister of his wounded honor. I determined to give it to him, and did so in two payments.” The men didn’t know about any of this yet, but it is what Miranda is alluding to with these lines. (This will be covered more in depth in part 16 of this series.)
Before the songs ends, Jefferson says, “The emperor has no clothes.” This comes from the pen of Hans Christian Andersen in the short story, The Emperor’s New Clothes. The essence of the story is that two swindlers posing as weavers convince the king that they can make the finest clothes, but “clothes made of this cloth had a wonderful way of becoming invisible to anyone who was unfit for his office, or who was unusually stupid.” As the swindlers made believe they were weaving (because they really had no thread), the king and his ministers were too embarrassed to say they couldn’t see the cloth. When the swindlers were done, they helped to dress the king in his new clothes (which didn’t exist), and he goes out to parade in front of the town. Everyone in the town plays along until a little child says, “But he hasn’t got anything on,” and then the whole town agrees. Not having any other choice, the king continues as if he’s wearing the finest clothes and the people are too stupid or unfit to notice.
Unfortunately for Hamilton, Washington is determined to step down as President. When John Adams wins the Election of 1796, the downfall of Hamilton begins.