In this song, the audience is shown how Lafayette is a huge asset to America’s victory. He has connections to France who provides America “guns and ships” as well as troops and other supplies. We learn that Lafayette is “practical, tactical, [and brilliant]” on the battlefield. With his French connections and his skills, he has been able to lead a shift in balance so that America has the upper hand in the war. Lafayette knows that for the plan to fully work, he needs help from someone who is equally intelligent and determined. Washington agrees that they need a more ambitious commander for their final battles and makes the decisions to recruit Alexander Hamilton to lead American troops. Washington sends a carefully thought out letter to Hamilton and awaits a response. Both Lafayette and Washington know that Hamilton would be the deciding factor for the war.
Characters: Aaron Burr, Lafayette, and George Washington
Marquis de Lafayette was introduced much earlier in the musical in “Aaron Burr, Sir” as someone who is ambitious and has strong ideologies of the future in France and America (Hamilton). Later on, he also replaces Charles Lee as a general of his own battalion. In this song, “Guns and Ships,” we learn that he is strongly determined to fulfill these ideologies and more than capable to do so. It is clear to see that his main want is to separate America and France from England’s control. We can also better understand Lafayette by the way he shows his fear of defeat rather than death in this dangerous situation.
George Washington, a character introduced in “Right Hand Man,” has consistently said that he would rather have Hamilton manning his journal than in charge of a battalion. Up until this point of the musical, he has stood by this point. With the developments being made against the British army, he comes to the realization that he needs Hamilton. He is seen as the most useful asset available and more than capable of leading a battalion. He is, after all, “ingenuitive… fluent in French… practical, tactical, [and brilliant]”(Hamilton). When Washington comes to this conclusion, he has to make amends with Hamilton in a letter. The last time Hamilton had spoken to Washington in the musical, is when he was sent home during “Meet Me Inside” (Hamilton). Although there may have been tension between the two, Washington sent the letter and is hoping to see Hamilton lead the troops to victory. Through these acts and character development, we can see Washington’s wants outgrow his fears. George Washington’s fear of Hamilton dying in battle is set aside for his desire to win the war. This is similar to Lafayette being more concerned about justice than dying.
Aaron Burr introduces this song like many other songs throughout the musical and unlike Washington and Lafayette, he doesn’t seem to have or show any character development. His role in this song is simply to set the scene rather than act as a character.
Connections to Historical Elements
There are a few passages in this song which are significantly important to the times of the American Revolution, the events that occurred, and the overall development between relationships of people and countries. I have bolded the passages in the song that I deem are the most significant and then, underneath, is the information behind the passage.
“He’s constantly confusing, confounding the British henchmen… watch me engagin’ em enragin’ em escapin’ em”
This passage is referring to Lafayette. Lafayette led a battalion, as mentioned previously, and was extolled for his cunning plans and surprise attacks. The first battlefield command led by Lafayette was the Battle of Gloucester. He was able to catch the British completely off guard, causing approximately 61 casualties from the battle, only one of those being an American. Lafayette was later awarded major general for his skills and led many more troops throughout the revolution.
“I go to France for more funds… I come back with more guns and ships”
As many people know, one of the longest ongoing conflicts in history was between France and England. France was easily persuaded to help the colonies revolt against their biggest enemies. France supplied money, troops, military leadership, and naval support. This was crucial for the American’s because it was the only way they could have military supplies. If they wanted military supplies from other sources, they either had to make it or get it from England. This proved extremely difficult in an up and coming nation and France helped them immensely with this issue.
“We rendezvous with Rochambeau, consolidate their gifts”
Rochambeau was a French commander who helped lead America to victory in the Battle of Yorktown. In this battle, the supplies gifted from France was fundamental to their success.
‘End this war at Yorktown, cut them off at sea”
Once again, the French supplies were critical to America’s victory. The last battle was fought with approximately 17,000 French and Continental Army members in Yorktown. While most men were fighting on land, a French naval fleet was “[cutting] them off at sea” so that the English survivors could not escape. Their thorough plan was able to force England to surrender, declaring America the victor.
“Troops are waiting in the field for you… together we can turn the tide… soldiers that will yield for you… they’ll surrender by early light”
As mentioned earlier, Washington became desperate for assistance. In the musical, it is Alexander Hamilton’s brilliance that he realizes he needs. He writes a letter persuading Hamilton to join him once again as his right-hand man. An interesting piece of information is that in reality, Washington had to decide between Lafayette’s two ranking subordinate officers. Those two men were Alexander Hamilton and the Chevalier de Gimat. Washington chose Hamilton due to seniority and his ambition. While writing the letter to Hamilton in the musical, Washington explains how this is a deciding factor to the war and he needs more help. This is accurate in that this event happened immediately before the Battle of Yorktown which was the battle that England surrendered in.
What does your research tell us about the events, ideas, values, or perspectives of the time?
From taking the time to research further in-depth on this song and the events it is based on, there are a few things we can learn about the events, ideas, values, and perspectives of the time. We learn that values and beliefs can change group perspectives. The values of the time, such as the rights and needs of the colonies, had altered so that America came to expect more freedom or independence from England. When they were not granted something they had learned to value, their perspective of England changed and so did their perspective of France. They began to see England as their enemy and France as their ally because France agreed with the colonies on certain wants and rights. The values and ideas of the time were so important to people that they decided to go against their previous belief system in England. This is a great example of how ideologies become so important and shape a group’s set of values. The idea of freedom/independence became so desired that it formed the values in which the American’s revolved around.
Disparities in power alter the balance of relationships between individuals and between societies
This song revolves around America’s successes in the American Revolution and the tactical planning behind the winning battle against England. Up until this point in the musical, England had a tremendous advantage in power compared to America. This is what actually led to the beginning of the revolution. England began to abuse the power they had over the thirteen colonies and the colonies became rebellious towards it. This amount of power that England held over America also translated into the societies within the two groups. The more powerful side, England, was seen as a higher class than those in America. As the revolution continues in this song and America forms an alliance with France, the “balance shifts” because now the two groups come together to create an identity more powerful than England. This creates even more conflict in the ongoing battle between England and France as well as creates a stronger bond between America and France. This act also pushes France to revolt after seeing the American’s success. These events show how disparities in power alter life by displaying what happens when those in power are defeated and power is passed onto others.
“How does a ragtag volunteer army… defeat a global superpower?”
America’s troops were made up of volunteers from the colonies called the Continental Army. This is different from England in that England’s battalions (groups of soldiers) were properly organized, recruited, and trained. This advantage of properly organized soldiers is not the only advantage England had in the revolution. England was a “global superpower” because of how forthcoming they were as a nation. They were wealthy, civilized, and progressed quicker than other countries at the time. England had been around longer than anyone could remember and compared to the American colonies, that was extremely discouraging. No one expected a “ragtag volunteer army” to “defeat a global superpower” such as England. The colonies were the underdogs, the rejects, seen as a much lower class than England, and were never expected to have a successful revolution. Their victory shifted everyone’s perspectives of what America was and what group they identified with. It opened even more doors for citizens of the thirteen colonies and began a new lifestyle and freedom for them all.
“I go to France for more funds”
As said earlier, one of the most prominent feuds in history is the ongoing conflict between France and England. The English colonies turning their backs on their previous beliefs demonstrates the severity of the conflict between England and the colonies. The colonies felt so strongly against England that they went to someone they knew would want to defeat them as much as the colonies wanted to. This humongous collective of events forced people to take a minute to reflect on their past and their beliefs to determine the benefits of an alliance with their previously sworn enemy. This also affected the French’s view of the British colonies. At first, France despised the colonies and saw them as competition, especially when colonizing the New World. The American Revolution changed France’s perspective on the colonies and compelled them to put the blame solely on England.
“The world will never be the same”
Colonies fighting against the place they originated from was unheard of at the time. The American Revolution was a major event in history and literally changed the world. Not only did it change England’s amount of power and resources, but it also changed politics in America and France, and international relationships between England, France, and America. England’s power and resources were taken away when their land was taken away. England is a small European island with very little space for resources. They relied on America greatly for raw goods to supply for the ever growing population. America’s parting from England drastically lowered England’s resources and economy. When England lost their colonies, the colonies formed a new type of government that was also unheard of (explained later in the musical). This new form of government did not involve a king with ultimate power rather a president who relied on others to help make decisions. America wasn’t the only group whose politics were affected by the revolution. France was also heavily involved in the revolution and the colonies inspired them to revolt against their own corrupt king. While working together to defeat England, France and America formed a strong alliance for a period of time. Even if the alliance ended quite quickly when France began their own revolution, the alliance assisted America to be even less reliant on England and more resourceful. This lyric in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Guns and Ships” from Hamilton, is a way of foreshadowing to most everything that occurs after the revolution.
The American revolution was an enormous event that changed the world. It greatly changed the lives of citizens in America as well as the privileges of America as a new nation. This song does a brilliant job of portraying life during the time of the revolution and how the world did change because of it. By examining the lyrics we can understand how greatly the colonies, France, and England were affected as well as how the modern world has been affected by the American Revolution.