Hamilton Explained: Ten Duel Commandments

We’re still listening to Hamilton non-stop, and it’s time to break down another song. Last time it was The Schuyler Sisters, and today I chose Ten Duel Commandments. As before, lyrics are in italics and lines that we’re expounding on are in bold. If I didn’t get an idea or fact out of the (finally not-so-useless) history and rap references swirling around my brain, the source is credited.

[MEN]
One, two, three, four

[FULL COMPANY]
Five, six, seven, eight, nine…

  • References not just the “ten duel commandments” but also the count to ten paces before turning and firing.
  • Repeated in Take A Break, The World Was Wide Enough, Blow Us All Away. [source: genius.com]
  • But also: the 1-9 count is repeated in French – only by Eliza with Philip – in Take A Break and Stay Alive (Reprise).

[BURR/HAMILTON/LAURENS/LEE]
It’s the Ten Duel Commandments

  • We all know this one:
  • But also: dueling WAS super-codified and regimented. A Code Duello was a treatise explaining rules in hand-to-hand combat, and the 10 Duel Commandments is just the last in a long line, after a few centuries’ break.

[FULL COMPANY]
It’s the Ten Duel Commandments
Number one!

[LAURENS]
The challenge: demand satisfaction
If they apologize, no need for further action

 

  • Satisfaction, in a dueling context, refers to restoring your honor after a slight or an offense.
  • But Lin Manuel Miranda wouldn’t just leave it there, of course. Notice how he weaves satisfied/satisfaction in other contexts throughout the show: in Angelica’s assertions in Satisfied, as well as Hamilton’s. There’s a running theme that Hamilton’s greatest strength and downfall is his inability to be satisfied with his station at any given point.
  • This extends to Burr, always clawing his way up the political ladder; as well as Angelica, who made a calculated choice to pass on Hamilton;  Phillip, who couldn’t let an insult rest; and, in later years, Eliza:

  • I’m not crying, you’re crying.

[COMPANY]
Number two!

[LAURENS]
If they don’t, grab a friend, that’s your second

[HAMILTON]
Your lieutenant when there’s reckoning to be reckoned

  • “The seconds’ duty, above all, was to try to reconcile the parties without violence. An offended party sent a challenge through his second.” [Source: PBS]
  • Laurens grabbed his friend Hamilton as his second in his duel against Lee. [source: Founders Online archive]
  • Double meaning time: a lieutenant is a subordinate acting in their superior’s stead.. but also, Hamilton was a Lieutenant Colonel.

[COMPANY]
Number three!

[LEE]
Have your seconds meet face to face

[BURR]
Negotiate a peace…

[HAMILTON]
Or negotiate a time and place

  • A part of every duel: in the Lee/Laurens duel, it was Edwards and Hamilton who met and negotiated a time and place (“half past three,” in a “wooded situae.” Quaint). [source: Founders Online archives]

[BURR]
This is commonplace, ‘specially ‘tween recruits

[COMPANY]
Most disputes die, and no one shoots

 

  • Burr’s right: dueling was downright trendy in the 18th century, especially among the young men of the British gentry. I’m picturing 1700s-style Rich Kids Of Instagram who would be wearing pastel shorts and Oxford shirts with rolled sleeves today. Just a couple bros, their firearms, and their tender, tender egos.
  • By the late 18th century, dueling was particularly popular among members of the military. ‘Tween recruits.

Number four!

[LAURENS]
If they don’t reach a peace, that’s alright
Time to get some pistols and a doctor on site

[HAMILTON]
You pay him in advance, you treat him with civility

[BURR]
You have him turn around so he can have deniability

  • Part of the typical Code Duello included having a surgeon on site, preferably one with experience with gunshot wounds. Again, the goal was not to have one guy shoot the other guy dead, just to prove that you had the balls to face getting shot dead to uphold your “honor.” BROS. EGOS.

    [Source: Pistols At Dawn: A History Of Dueling]

  • Dueling was illegal, and by turning around the doctor could not be called as a witness (or, presumably, hailed as an accessory).

[COMPANY] Five!

[LEE] Duel before the sun is in the sky

  • Before the sun is in the sky: duels were conducted at dawn for a few reasons. First, to prevent rash decisions: from the Irish Code Duello – “Challenges are never to be delivered at night, unless the party to be challenged intend leaving the place of offense before morning; for it is desirable to avoid all hot-headed proceedings.”
  • Second, at dawn, neither party had the advantage/disadvantage of the sun being in their face.
  • Third, police were often in bed.
  • And finally, it would be harder for witnesses to spot the duelers.

[COMPANY] Pick a place to die where it’s high and dry

  • Hamilton and Burr’s duel site – also used by Hamilton’s son Phillip – fits the description. This might be an old-school application of the mom-tested rule that when splitting a piece of cake, one person gets to cut it and one gets to choose. In the Code Duello, one party chose the ground and the other the distance. If you choose soggy oceanfront property to duel on, you just up your own chances of getting stuck in the mud or staggering into the water.
  • The Weehawken site, for instance, was chosen because it was a high ledge only accessible by water – choosing a high location might have meant that a Colonial villager didn’t accidentally stumble upon your duel.
     
  • “This line mirrors Biggie’s line of “Don’t get high on your own supply.”” [Source: genius.com]

Number six!

[HAMILTON]
Leave a note for your next of kin
Tell ‘em where you been.

Pray that hell or heaven lets you in

  • Two drafts of Hamilton’s final note to Eliza exist. You wouldn’t want to tell your wife beforehand, because (a) no way is she going to let that go down, and (b) plausible deniability.
  • From Hamilton’s letter: “Heaven can preserve me and I humbly hope will; but, in the contrary event, I charge you to remember that you are a Christian. God’s will be done! ” [source: Trinity Wall Street.org]
  • And also: “Fly to the bosom of your God and be comforted.  With my last idea; I shall cherish the sweet hope of meeting you in a better world. Adieu best of wives and best of Women.  Embrace all my darling Children for me.” [source: it’s hamiltime!]
  • Great, now we’re all crying.

[COMPANY]
Seven!

[LEE]
Confess your sins.

Ready for the moment of adrenaline when you finally face your opponent

  • The colonies, at this point, are mostly Mainline Protestant – just Catholic-y enough that absolution before death was kind of a thing.
  • The opponents would arrive separately to the site so only saw each other shortly before go time.

[COMPANY]
Number eight!

[LAURENS/LEE/HAMILTON/BURR]
Your last chance to negotiate
Send in your seconds, see if they can set the record straight…

[BURR]
Alexander

[HAMILTON]
Aaron Burr, sir

  • Just a nice little callback to Aaron Burr, Sir earlier in the show.
  • As we mentioned earlier, Edwards was actually Lee’s second, but whatever, this works.

[BURR]
Can we agree that duels are dumb and immature?

[HAMILTON]
Sure
But your man has to answer for his words, Burr

[BURR]
With his life? We both know that’s absurd, sir

  • Fun fact, unless you’re Alexander Hamilton: the man was not that keen on dueling. In the Lee/Laurens duel, he tried to advocate against it and then successfully stopped a second shot from being fired after Lee was injured. [Source: Founders Online archive.]

[HAMILTON]
Hang on, how many men died because Lee was inexperienced and ruinous?

[BURR]
Okay, so we’re doin’ this

  • Oh, when he shit the bed at the Battle of Monmouth (see: Stay Alive)? Literally hundreds, all because Lee wouldn’t follow directions. From George Washington. Who by all accounts was pretty good at leading things … you know, like revolutions and America. [Source: History Net]

[COMPANY]
Number nine!

[HAMILTON]
Look ‘em in the eye, aim no higher
Summon all the courage you require
Then count

[MEN]
One two three four

[FULL COMPANY]
Five six seven eight nine

[HAMILTON/BURR]
Number

[COMPANY]
Ten paces!

[HAMILTON/BURR]
Fire!

  • The Code Duello said that you couldn’t play chicken and fire at the air.
  • But of course, Hamilton threw away his shot, and even stated his intent to do so before the duel.
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12 thoughts on “Hamilton Explained: Ten Duel Commandments

  1. I understand the need for recognized characters, but its interesting that Miranda chose to include Burr in this duel since he was not present. Lee’s second in command was Edwards.

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    • Yes, I really could have been more clear… I only mentioned Edwards in the early stages of the duel! I see how Miranda used Burr instead to further the Hamilton/Burr rivalry, as foreshadowing, and maybe just to avoid introducing a minor character, but it’s still super interesting because he stuck more closely to history in a lot of other parts. Glad you brought it up!

      Like

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  6. In addition to the “place to die where it’s high and dry” line, the title and intro of this both also reference Notorious BIG’s “Ten Crack Commandments” from his album Ready to Die.

    Like

  7. I LOCE HAMILTON!!!! One thing I would suggest for the future is to be more literal and explain what goes on because I’m lost the song made it sound like Alexander and burr’s duel and who won? But other wise I love the great now we are all crying part! Yay 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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