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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Hamilton Explained: The Schuyler Sisters

True to our promise, we’re becoming a Hamilton blog. Okay, maybe not full time, but you didn’t really think we’d stop at one post, did you? We’ve both been playing the cast recording nonstop, and new references and allusions rise up in the songs every time we listen. I’m sure we’ll keep discovering more, but we’re ready to start unpacking some of the many-layered references in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s lyrics.

First up – our introduction to the O.G. Kardashians, the Destiny’s Child-Made-Entirely-Of-Beyonces, the It Girls Of The Eighteenth Century… the Schuyler Sisters. Lyrics are in italics, the lines that I’m elaborating on are in bold, and our comments are next to bullet points.

The Schuyler Sisters

[BURR]
There’s nothing rich folks love more
Than going downtown and slumming it with the poor
They pull up in their carriages and gawk at the students in the common
Just to watch ‘em talk

  • In 1773, Alexander Hamilton began studying at King’s College – now Columbia University – in New York. King’s College was “overwhelmingly loyalist” at the time. [source]
  • The Liberty Pole in the Common (City Hall Park) was a popular site for debates between the Loyalists and Patriots. [source]
  • As a student, Hamilton wrote treatises, delivered speeches, and was known to frequent the Liberty Pole in the common. [source, source]
  • From genius.com: similar in flow and topic to Melle Mell’s verses in Grandmaster Flash classic The Message. [source, source]

Take Philip Schuyler, the man is loaded

  • The Schuylers were a prominent Dutch American family, and Philip’s wife was Catherine Van Rensselaer of the absurdly-wealthy-and-influential Van Rensselaers. Colonial power couple, right there. [source]
  • And his house was pretty legit:schuyler

Uh oh, but little does he know that
His daughters, Peggy, Angelica, Eliza
Sneak into the city just to watch all the guys at

  • The Schuyler sisters, raised in the pretty good mansion pictured above, stayed with their aunt and uncle for a time in Morristown, NJ. At the time, Philip was serving in the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. [source] They met officers in Morrisown, a revolutionary hotspot. [source]

[COMPANY]
Work, work
[ANGELICA]
Angelica!
[COMPANY]
Work, work
[ELIZA]
Eliza!
[PEGGY]
And Peggy!
[COMPANY]
Work, work
The Schuyler sisters

  • The repeated “work, work” in the chorus is a bit reminiscent of Do You Love Me by The Contours – possible coincidence. [source]

[ANGELICA]
Angelica!
[PEGGY]
Peggy!
[ELIZA]
Eliza!

[COMPANY]
Work!

  • A Rap Genius user suggests that this might be a tribute to the roll call in Hairspray’s The Nicest Kids In Town. [source]

[PEGGY]
Daddy said to be home by sundown
[ANGELICA]
Daddy doesn’t need to know
[PEGGY]
Daddy said not to go downtown
[ANGELICA]
Like I said, you’re free to go

  • I haven’t tracked down evidence of the Schuyler sisters gallivanting through New York – although TBH if it was a stealth sneak-out like Angelica’s describing, I guess I wouldn’t find that anyway. But since New York City was occupied by the British during the war, Philip Schuyler probably wouldn’t have wanted his daughters there. [source]
  • But—look around, look around
    The revolution’s happening in New York
    [ELIZA & PEGGY]
    New York
  • The repeated New York, New York sounds a bit reminiscent of the Alicia Keys chorus in Empire State Of Mind.

[COMPANY]
Angelica
[SISTERS & COMPANY]
Work!

[PEGGY]
It’s bad enough Daddy wants to go to war

  • Gen. Philip Schuyler was chosen as a major-general by the Continental Congress in 1775, and went on to aid the colonists in their instrumental victory at the Battle of Saratoga.[source]

[ELIZA]
People shouting in the square

  • During the Revolutionary War era news and treatises were often read in public (town criers, anyone?) and public debates were common, as mentioned in the first verse. Imagine a live-action internet comments section.

[PEGGY]
It’s bad enough there’ll be violence on our shore
[ANGELICA]
New ideas in the air

[ANGELICA & MALE ENSEMBLE]
Look around, look around—

[ELIZA]
Angelica, remind me what we’re looking for

[ALL MEN]
She’s looking for me!

[ANGELICA (COMPANY)]
Eliza, I’m looking for a mind at work (work, work)
I’m looking for a mind at work (work, work)
I’m looking for a mind at work (work, work)
Woa-oah
[SISTERS]
Woa-oah
[SISTERS & COMPANY]
Work!

  • A twitter user pointed out that “looking for a mind at work” seems to be a West Wing reference:

This was also mentioned on genius.com. [Which I always thought was called Rap Genius??]

  • Lin-Manuel Miranda has confirmed West Wing as an influence in writing Hamilton. [source]

[BURR]
Ooh, there’s nothing like summer in the city
Someone in a rush next to someone looking pretty

  • Potential allusion: The Lovin’ Spoonful’s Summer In The City – Hot town, summer in the city / Back of my neck getting dirty and gritty

Excuse me, miss, I know it’s not funny

  • Potential allusion: Jay-Z’s Excuse Me Miss. Not convinced because the flow sounds nothing like that one, but this verse definitely sounds like … something? Right? Anyone?

But your perfume smells like your daddy’s got money
Why you slummin’ in the city in your fancy heels?
You searchin’ for an urchin who can give you ideals?

[ANGELICA]
Burr, you disgust me

[BURR]
Ahh, so you’ve discussed me
I’m a trust fund, baby, you can trust me

  • A play on “trust fund baby” – a rich kid with family money.

[ANGELICA]
I’ve been reading Common Sense by Thomas Paine

  • Thomas Paine’s Common Sense was a 1776 pamphlet that you probably read or learned about in American history. It was extraordinarily popular and was influential in drumming up popular support for the Patriots’ cause. [source]

So men say that I’m intense or I’m insane

  • One Burr biographer described Angelica as “witty, intelligent, and rambunctious,” which is a nicer way of saying it anyway? [source]

You want a revolution? I want a revelation
So listen to my declaration:

[ALL SISTERS]
“We hold these truths to be self-evident

That all men are created equal”

  • Declaration of Independence,  1776: “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal […].”
  • Its words were echoed 70 years later at the Seneca Falls Convention, in the Declaration of Sentiments (We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal). Which will be relevant in like two seconds.

[ANGELICA (COMPANY)]
And when I meet Thomas Jefferson (unh!)
I’mma compel him to include women in the sequel

  • So, there’s that: the words of the Declaration were an important part of Americans’ continued fight for independence. Maybe not an intentional reference, but still interesting.
  • As for the Thomas Jefferson part: Angelica Schuyler Church carried on extensive correspondence with Thomas Jefferson. From his letters to her, it looks like she at least tried to talk politics, to little avail. Jefferson wrote: “You see by the papers, and I suppose by your letters also, how much your native state has been agitated by the question on the new Constitution. But that need not agitate you. The tender breasts of ladies were not formed for political convulsion.” [source] Can’t win ’em all.
  • Aaron Burr, however, would have agreed with Angelica: he was really into Mary Wollstonecraft. [source]. But he was still kind of a dick, though.

[WOMEN]
Work!

[ELIZA]
Look around, look around at how
Lucky we are to be alive right now

  • This could be a reference to the ‘look around, look around, look around’ part of June Is Bustin’ Out All Over from Carousel, which I forgot was like 10 minutes long. [source] Probably not, because Carousel just doesn’t feel like an influence here. Plus “look around” is like …. kind of a common expression.
  • Okay, now we’re heading into repeat lyrics, so it’s a good time to mention that I grabbed the lyrics from genius.com, where folks collaborate on explaining and breaking down lyrics. No doubt more will be added there over time, so you may want to look back in a while. [source]
  • Official lyrics are here.
  • And finally, we can both vouch that dropping $20 on the iTunes album was two Hamiltons well-spent.

[ELIZA, PEGGY]
Look around, look around at how
Lucky we are to be alive right now
[ALL SISTERS]
History is happening in Manhattan and we
Just happen to be in the greatest city in the world

[SISTERS & COMPANY]
In the greatest city in the world!

[ANGELICA (ELIZA, PEGGY) ((MEN))]
Cause I’ve been reading Common Sense by Thomas Paine
(look around, look around)((hey, hey, hey, hey))
So men say that I’m intense or I’m insane
(the revolution’s happening in)((hey, hey, hey, hey))
[ANGELICA (ELIZA, PEGGY) ((WOMEN))]
(New York) You want a revolution? ((look around, look around))
I want a revelation (In New York, woah)
So listen to my declaration ((the revolution’s happening))

[ALL SISTERS (WOMEN) ((MEN))]
We hold these truths to be self evident
(look around, look around) (hey, hey)
That all men are created equal
(at how lucky we are to be alive right now) (hey, hey)

[ALL SISTERS & COMPANY]
Look around, look around
At how lucky we are to be alive right now
History is happening in Manhattan
And we just happen to be
[WOMEN (MEN)]
In the greatest city in the world (in the greatest city)
[COMPANY]
In the greatest city in the world!

[COMPANY]
Work, work
[ANGELICA]
Angelica!
[COMPANY]
Work, work
[ELIZA]
Eliza!
[PEGGY]
And Peggy!
[COMPANY]
Work, work
[ALL SISTERS]
The Schuyler sisters
[COMPANY]
Work, work

[ALL SISTERS (COMPANY)]
We’re looking for a mind at work (work, work)
Hey (work, work)
[ANGELICA (COMPANY)]
Woah-ah! (work, work)
[ELIZA & PEGGY (COMPANY)]
Hey (work, work)
In the greatest city

[ALL SISTERS]
In the greatest city
In the world!

[COMPANY]
In the greatest city in the world!