Are You Ready for a Cabinet Meeting?
And what *really* happened in those cabinet battles
Hamilton: The Musical reopened on Broadway in September and students are heading back to school, so many teachers will include songs, lyrics, and video clips in their curriculum. As they should! The musical helps the history come alive and encourages viewers of all ages to think of historical figures as real humans. Because the musical is extraordinary art, it’s helpful to know what actually happened and what events inspired key songs. Perhaps two of the most important songs to understand are the Cabinet Battles — not necessarily for the development of the musical, but because of what those songs represent for history, the precedent establishing during the Washington presidency, and their legacy.
First, the room where it happened. George Washington convened the first cabinet on November 26, 1791. The secretaries — Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, Secretary of Treasury Alexander Hamilton, Secretary of War Henry Knox, and Attorney General Edmund Randolph — gathered in Washington’s private study on the second floor of the President’s House. The room was 15 x 21 feet and full of furniture to cater to the president’s needs, including a huge desk, bookcases, a stove, a globe, Washington’s dressing table, and temporary chairs and a table for the secretaries when they gathered for a meeting. The room was intensely personal and private, Washington invited only a select few people to share the space with him. Neither Vice President John Adams nor Representative James Madison were ever invited to Washington’s cabinet meetings.
Accordingly, Cabinet Battle #1, which covers events in 1790, didn’t take place in person as the cabinet didn’t exist yet. Washington spoke to Hamilton and Jefferson individually about the issues in the song, but the negotiations were conducted in writing. Additionally, Madison wouldn’t have contributed to the debates in either Cabinet Battle #1 or #2.
Cabinet Battle #1
This song condenses a few critical financial issues — the assumption of states debts, the creation of a national bank, and an excise tax on whiskey — into one battle, when in reality Jefferson, Hamilton and their respective allies engaged in three separate debates. In 1790, Jefferson and…