“And the world’s gonna know your name –
What’s your name, man?
My name is Alexander Hamilton.
There’s a million things I haven’t done
But just you wait.
Just you wait…”
For the past four years, I have used Lin-Manual Miranda’s performance at the 2009 White House Poetry Jam to introduce my students to Alexander Hamilton. And every year, they demand a second viewing. Lin-Manual’s ability to tell Hamilton’s story through hip-hop is absolutely amazing and my students often sang the song weeks later.
Lin-Manual Miranda is the genius behind Hamilton the Musical, the hit musical that tells the story of the first treasury secretary and of our young nation. When tickets for the production went on sale I immediately bought them. I cannot explain how amazing the show is. Mr. Miranda not only does a remarkable job bringing Alexander Hamilton to life, he breathes life into the founding of our nation. After seeing it, I could not wait to bring it to my class.
While Act 1 does an amazing job focusing on Hamilton’s experience during the War of Independence, as a classroom teacher it is the second act that I feel could help illuminate the differences between the Jeffersonians (Democratic-Republicans) and the Hamiltonians (Federalists). Two of the songs in particular, “Cabinet Battle #1” and “Cabinet Battle #2” directly highlight the foundational differences between the beliefs of Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson.
For this lesson, I am going to focus on “Cabinet Battle #1” which focuses on core economic differences between the two secretaries. In this rap battle, President Washington mediates a discussion regarding Hamilton’s economic plan. The lyrics are fast and full of history! As my students would be overwhelmed with this at first, I need to back up and discuss the differences between the two men.
After an overview of the two men (as listening to Miranda’s performance at the White House above), my students completed a graphic organizer to help them understand the major differences between the two parties that the men led.
While students have a general understanding of the differences, the Enduring Debates activity from the Social Studies Techbook has students go a bit deeper into the ideals of the two parties. Students begin by looking at the central issue between the two men (which is also highlighted in Cabinet Battle #1) – the role of the federal government over the states.
After a brief biography, students hear from Jefferson and Hamilton on three aspects dealing with the central question.
Students then choose to align themselves with one of the men and explain their reasoning.
At the end, students look at the scorecard to see where they align. For the record, I always saw myself as a Hamiltonian (I even got married at a place called Hamilton Hall to celebrate that fact. And also my marriage.)
Now that students have a better understanding of the issues, students are ready to listen to and break down the lyrics from Cabinet Battle #1. The song is available on Amazon Prime (and can be easily found on YouTube). Disclaimer: There is also one curse word in this song. In the lyrics for students to annotate, I put “sh—“ and during the song, I made an audible “beep.”
If you haven’t yet listened to the song, please do! I’ll be right here.
Now for this activity (link to the Google Document), I am using two columns to provide support for students as they make it through the document. Students are answering the questions on the side as they read and making notes on the document to provide context for the history behind the lyrics. Students may work alone, in groups, or partner up and then compare and compile information. I have included the activity here which is freely available for download so you can modify it to work in your class!
Once students feel they have gotten as much as they can, you can compare your students work Lin-Manual Miranda (and others) work annotating the song on genius.com. I recommend previewing the website annotations on the site before deciding which you would like to share with them.
As a final activity, based upon their understanding of Hamilton and Jefferson’s opposing view students identified other areas of disagreement between the two. My students highlighted their feelings about a strict versus loose interpretation of the Constitution and their feelings towards France. For extra credit, students have the option of writing another verse illustrating those differences.
I am sure that many have different ideas for discussing Hamilton and Jefferson and for using music in the classroom. Let’s talk!