Hamilton – An American Musical: The Facts Behind the Music Part 15: “One Last Time,” “I Know Him,” and “The Adams Administration”

Part fifteen will cover songs thirty-two through thirty-four: “One Last Time,” “I Know Him,” and “The Adams Administration.”  These songs cover Washington’s retirement and the downfall of Hamilton during the Presidency of John Adams.

 

“One Last Time” is about Washington telling Hamilton that he won’t be running for President again and asking Hamilton to help write his Farewell address.  At the start of the song Washington tells Hamilton “Thomas Jefferson resigned this morning.”  As mentioned in the previous part, Jefferson sent his letter of resignation to Washington on December 31, 1793.  Washington accepted the resignation on the following day.  When Washington asks for a favor, Hamilton says, “I’ll use the press, I’ll write under a pseudonym, you’ll see what I can do to him.”  Hamilton did take up his pen against Jefferson, but it wasn’t until 1796.  Hamilton published twenty-five essays in the Gazette of the United States under the name Phocion between October 14th and November 24th of that year.  Jefferson was running for President at the time, against John Adams.  Chernow wrote that these “essays contain the most withering critique that Hamilton ever leveled at Jefferson as a slaveholder, and they hint heavily at knowledge of the Sally Hemings affair.”[1]

Washington tells Hamilton, “I need you to draft an address.”  This refers to Washington’s Farewell address, which was delivered in 1796.  James Madison actually wrote a draft for a farewell address earlier, in 1792.[2]  When Washington decided not to retire, he didn’t need Madison’s address.  In May 1796, Washington discussed with Hamilton the preparation of a farewell address.[3]

Hamilton didn’t realize that Washington was retiring initially in the musical, and he said, “Yes! He resigned. You can finally speak your mind.” Washington told Hamilton, “No, he’s stepping down so he can run for President.”  Miranda plays with the timeline a bit here.  Jefferson resigned at the end of 1793.  He didn’t run for President until 1796, when it was known Washington was stepping down.

Washington tells Hamilton that he wants to “talk about neutrality,” and “warn against partisan fighting.”  He touched on both of these topics in his farewell address.  Hamilton tries to convince Washington to stay on, saying, “you could continue to serve.”  This was true.  There were no term limits from President at that time and Washington could have continue to be reelected as President as many times as the electors chose him.

Further along in the song[4] Washington quotes the Bible: “Like the scripture says: ‘Everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree and no one shall make them afraid.’”  This comes from Micah 4:4: “But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid: for the mouth of the Lord of hosts hath spoken it.”[5]

Then, beginning with “Though, in reviewing the incidents of my administration, I am unconscious of intentional error…” and ending with “…the ever-favorite object of my heart, and the happy reward, as I trust of our mutual cares, labors, and dangers” Washington’s real Farewell Address is proclaimed in the musical almost exactly word for word.[6]

“One Last Time” comes to an end, and King George comes back on stage to sing “I Know Him.” The King can’t believe that Washington is stepping down – “I wasn’t aware that was something a person could do,” he sings – and he’s further surprised when he learns John Adams will replace Washington.  He sings, “I know him. That can’t be. That’s that little guy who spoke to me all those years ago, what was it, eighty-five?”  Adams was named the first minister to Great Britain in 1785.  In June, as was the custom, Adams had to present himself to the King, “to make his Majesty some Compliments conformable to the Spirit of his Credentials.”  He wrote a letter to John Jay describing the experience.  Adams (who was about 5’7” in case you were wondering about “that little guy”) said he was led to the King’ Closet and

“the Door was shut and I was left with his Majesty and the Secretary of State alone. I made the three Reverences, one at the Door, another about half Way & the third before the Presence, according to the Usage established at this and all the Northern Courts of Europe, and then addressed myself to his Majesty.”

Check out this note ->[7] to see what Adams said to King George.  Adams believed the King’s response[8] was positive.

[An interesting side-note regarding King George and John Adams: At the Staten Island Peace Conference in September 1776, Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Edward Rutledge met with Admiral Lord Richard Howe to discuss a possible end to the hostilities.  Finding that Howe’s “Commission contains no other Authority, than that of granting Pardons,”[9] Adams responded that it was his determination “not to depart from the idea of independecy.”[10]  The meeting ended with no accommodations being made, and the war resumed.  Adams later found out that before leaving from England Howe had been given a list of American rebels who could be granted pardons, and Adams’ name was not on that list.  Adams would have been hanged.[11]]

To the delight of the audience, King George stays on stage for the next number, “The Adams Administration.”  Burr opens the song with, “How does Hamilton, the short-tempered Protean creator of the Coast Guard, founder of the New York Post, ardently abuse his Cabinet post, destroy his reputation? Welcome, folks, to the Adams Administration!”

Hamilton didn’t “create” the Coast Guard, per se.  Congress allowed for its creation with the Revenue Cutter Service (its name before it was called the Coast Guard), which was placed under the Department of the Treasury.[12]   It was Hamilton, though, who came up with the ideas of what exactly the Revenue Cutter Service should look like.  In a letter written by Hamilton to Washington in September 1790, a month after the Congressional act, he describes his vision.

As for founding the New York Post in 1801, Chernow wrote that the election of Jefferson “had spurred Hamilton and his friends to found a new Federalist paper, the New-York Evening Post, now the oldest continuously active paper in America….Of the ten thousand dollars of start-up capital, Hamilton likely contributed one thousand.”  Hamilton and other Federalists used the paper to attack Jefferson and other political enemies.[13]

And for abusing his Cabinet post and destroying his reputation, Burr is alluding to the Reynolds affair (which we’ll talk about in the next part of this series).

Burr sings, “Jefferson’s the runner-up, which makes him the Vice President.”  It wasn’t until the election of 1804, when Jefferson and Burr tied, that voting for President changed into what we know today.  Before ratification of the Twelfth Amendment in that year, Presidential electors simply casted two votes for President (as per Article II, Section 1, Clause 3 of the U.S. Constitution).  The candidate with the majority of votes from the electors became President and the candidate with the second most votes became Vice President.

Next Burr sings, “Adams fires Hamilton, privately calls him ‘Creole bastard’ in his taunts.”  The first part of this is not historically accurate.  Hamilton wrote to Washington On December 1, 1794 informing him that he would resign his position Treasury Secretary as of January 1, 1795.   Adams was not inaugurated until March 4, 1797.  The second part of this, as far as I can find, it only partially true.  I have been unable to find a primary source where Adams used the exact phrase “Creole bastard.”[14]  However, as Chernow noted, Adams was “preoccupied with Hamilton’s illegitimacy and foreign birth and could be quite heartless on the subject.”[15]  James McHenry, the Secretary of War under Washington and Adams, recalled a conversation he had with Adams, in a May 1800 letter to the President.  During this conversation, besides calling Hamilton, “an intriguant—the greatest intriguant in the World” and claiming he was “a man devoid of every moral principle,” Adams also referred to him as “a Bastard.”[16]  In a letter to Benjamin Rush in 1806 (when he was no longer President, and Hamilton was dead), Adams referred to Hamilton as “a bastard brat of a Scotch Pedler.”  In a letter written to Adams in 1811 by William Cunningham, the latter wrote, “Against Gen. Hamilton you have vented more, and fouler obloquy….You have said he was a bastard son of Scotch pedlar.”  And in 1815 Adams wrote a letter to Benjamin Waterhouse (a renown Massachusetts physician) in which he referred to Hamilton as “the Scottish Creolian of Nevis.”[17]

Burr sings, “Hamilton publishes his response.”  As insults and attacks piled on in private letters and public newspapers, it appears Hamilton was requesting the President of the United States answer his demands for an explanation of what exactly Adams had said, otherwise he would have to demand satisfaction.  Hamilton wrote letters to Adams on August 1, 1800 and again on October 1st.  Adams apparently never responded.  Hamilton being Hamilton, wrote a pamphlet against Adams which he thought he would privately pass around to influential Federalists, hoping to sway them to vote for Thomas Pinckney (a Federalist who it was hoped would be Vice President to Adams by a majority of the party).  Parts of Hamilton’s letter soon became public, however, and Hamilton decided to publicly publish the pamphlet.  The pamphlet, published October 24, 1800, and titled, Letter from Alexander Hamilton, Concerning the Public Conduct and Character of John Adams, Esq. President of the United States, was over 14,000 words and ran 54 pages.  Unfortunately, Hamilton did not write in it, “Sit down John you fat mother….”

Madison was elated.  In the musical he says, “This is great! He’s out of power. He holds no office. And he just destroyed President John Adams, the only other significant member of his party.”  Madison wrote to Jefferson on November 1st, “What an important Denoûment has lately been made! Hamilton’s Attack upon Mr. Adams….will be a Thunderbolt…. I rejoice with you, that Republicanism is likely to be so completely triumphant.”  On the 3rd he wrote to James Monroe of “the publication of a pamphlet by Hamilton, the object of wh. is to decry Adams, & throw the British or anti republican vote on Pinckney. I have not read it but am inclined to believe, from what I have heard of the work, it will do their whole party more harm than good.”

Jefferson counters, “Hamilton’s a host unto himself. As long as he can hold a pen, he’s a threat.”  In 1795 Jefferson wrote in a letter to Madison, “Hamilton is really a colossus to the antirepublican party. Without numbers, he is an host within himself.”  Later in the same letter he stated of Hamilton’s writing ability, “We have had only midling performances to oppose to him. In truth, when he comes forward, there is nobody but yourself who can meet him.”

Jefferson closes the song by saying, “Let’s let him know what we know.”  And that is what the next part will cover – “We Know,” “Hurricane,” “The Reynolds Pamphlet,” and “Burn.”

 

 

[1] Chernow, 512.  Hamilton also wrote nicer things about Adams in the essays.
[2] The draft was at Washington’s request, and was enclosed with a letter dated June 20, 1792 from Madison to Washington.
[3] Hamilton wrote Abstract Points to Form an Address on May 16, 1796.  For a brief explanation of the drafting of the address, see The Washington Papers.
[4] I initially typed “further down, further down” because I started singing it, but I didn’t want to confuse anyone.
[5] That’s the King James Version.  The New International Version says, “Everyone will sit under their own vine and under their own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid, for the Lord Almighty has spoken.”
[6] The real part of the farewell address quoted in the musical reads: “Though in reviewing the incidents of my Administration, I am unconscious of intentional error–I am nevertheless too sensible of my defects not to think it probable that I may have committed many errors. Whatever they may be I fervently beseech the Almighty to avert or mitigate the evils to which they may tend. I shall also carry with me the hope that my Country will never cease to view them with indulgence; and that after forty five years of my life dedicated to its Service, with an upright zeal, the faults of incompetent abilities will be consigned to oblivion, as myself must soon be to the Mansions of rest.  Relying on its kindness in this as in other things, and actuated by that fervent love towards it, which is so natural to a Man, who views in it the native soil of himself and his progenitors for several Generations; I anticipate with pleasing expectation that retreat, in which I promise myself to realize, without alloy, the sweet enjoyment of partaking, in the midst of my fellow Citizens, the benign influence of good Laws under a free Government–the ever favourite object of my heart, and the happy reward, as I trust, of our mutual cares, labours and dangers.”
[7] Adams wrote to Jay that he used the following words when addressing the King: “Sir, The United States of America have appointed me their Minister Plenipotentiary to your Majesty, and have directed me to deliver to your Majesty this Letter which contains the Evidence of it. It is in Obedience to their express Commands that I have the Honor to assure your Majesty of their unanimous Disposition and Desire to cultivate the most friendly and liberal Intercourse between your Majesty’s Subjects and their Citizens, and of the best Wishes for your Majesty’s Health and Happiness and for that of your royal Family. The Appointment of a Minister from the United States to your Majesty’s Court, will form an Epocha in the History of England & of America. I think myself more fortunate than all my fellow Citizens in having the distinguished Honor to be the first to stand in your Majesty’s roy[al] Presence in a diplomatic Character and I shall esteem myse[lf] the happiest of Men if I can be instrumental in recommendi[ng] my Country more and more to your Majesty’s royal Benevolen[ce] and of restoring an entire Esteem, Confidence & Affection, or in bet[ter] Words, the old good Nature and the old good Humour betwee[n] People who, tho’ separated by an Ocean and under different Gov[ern]ments, have the same Language, a similar religion & kindr[ed] Blood. I beg your Majesty’s Permission to add, that altho’ I ha[d ]some Time before been entrusted by my Country, it was never [in] my whole Life in a Manner so agreeable to myself.”
[8] If it matters to you, Adams wrote that the King replied something to the effect of, “Sir—The Circumstances of thy Audience are so extraordinary, the Language you have now held is so extremely proper and the Feelings you have discovered so justly adapted to the Occasion, that I must say that I not only receive with Pleasure the Assurances of the friendly Dispositions of the United States, but that I am very glad the Choice has fallen upon You to be their Minister. I wish you Sir, to believe, and that it may be understood in America, that I have done nothing in the late Contest, but what I thought myself indispensably bound to do, by the Duty which I owed to my People. I will be very frank with you. I was the last to consent to the Separation, but the Separation having been made and having become inevitable, I have always said, as I say now, that I would be the first to meet the Friendship of the United States as an independent Power. The Moment I see such Sentiments & Language as yours prevail, and a Disposition to give to this Country the Preference, that Moment I shall say, let the Circumstances of Language; Religion and Blood have their natural and full Effect.”
[9] “[Tuesday. September 17th. 1776.] ,” Founders Online, National Archives (http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Adams/01-03-02-0016-0189 [last update: 2015-12-30]). Source: The Adams Papers, Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, vol. 3, Diary, 1782–1804; Autobiography, Part One to October 1776, ed. L. H. Butterfield. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1961, pp. 420–431.
[10] Qtd. in McCullough, 157.
[11] McCullough, 158.
[12] Sec. 62 reads: “Be it further enacted, That the President of the United States be empowered to cause to be built and equipped, so many boats or cutters, not exceeding ten, as may be necessary to be employed for the protection of the revenue, the expense whereof shall not exceed ten thousand dollars, which shall be paid out of the product of the duties on goods, wares and merchandise, imported into the United States, and on the tonnage of ships or vessels.”  It’s on page 175 of the book if you click the link above.
[13] Chernow, 649.
[14] Chernow said Adams used the phrase, on page 522.  If anyone finds where Adams used it, please let me know.
[15] Chernow, 522.
[16] This conversation came at a time when Adams was forcing McHenry to resign, believing he was partial to Hamilton.  Adams did likewise to several other members of his Cabinet.  McHenry sent a copy of his conversation with Adams to Hamilton.
[17] On January 9, 1797,  Adams wrote to his wife of Hamilton, “Hamilton I know to be a proud Spirited, conceited, aspiring Mortal always pretending to Morality, with as debauched Morals as old Franklin who is more his Model than any one I know. As great an Hypocrite as any in the U.S.”  For her part, she wrote of Hamilton on the 28th, “I have read his Heart in his wicked Eyes many a time. The very devil is in them.”

 

Image credit: Alexander Hamilton, painted by John Trumbull. National Portrait Gallery

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