“The Room Where It Happens” is a very important song in the advancement of the plot of the musical, and also in the development of the characters. To start off the song, Hamilton and Burr are conversing about the recent news of Claremont street being named after General Mercer, following his death. This is important because Burr and Hamilton are almost obsessed, in a way, about their reputations. They want to know what their legacies will look like when they are gone. This is something that is subtly mentioned a few times throughout the musical, however, it is mentioned most obviously here. Burr says “The Mercer legacy is secure. And all he had to do is die. We ought to give it a try.” After this, he and Hamilton begin to discuss the debt plan thought up by Hamilton. This is also important, as it shows how the two are working towards becoming more well known. Their discussion is interrupted when James Madison calls Hamilton to follow him to a secret dinner table meeting, including himself, Hamilton, and Thomas Jefferson. Burr is obviously jealous of them, as he was not invited into the room. When he is asked “What do you want, Burr? If you stand for nothing, then what do you fall for?” he states in the song: “I want to be in the room where it happens” and later “I’ve got to be in the room where it happens”. The jealousy Burr has for Hamilton is extremely important and advances the plot in the sense that it is one of the contributing factors in Hamilton and Burr’s relationship troubles. Without this jealousy, many events in the future, such as Hamilton’s death, may have played out differently.
Connections to Historical Elements:
“The Room Where It Happens” is also an extremely historically relevant song. In the song, the infamous meeting between Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and Thomas Jefferson took place. This meeting became known as the Compromise of 1790. During the clandestine meeting, the three discussed Hamilton’s debt plan (as mentioned earlier) and how it should play out. Although the exact play out of the meeting is still unknown, the result is not; the national government was called upon to take over and pay the state debts, which is what Hamilton wanted, and Jefferson and Madison obtained the District of Colombia (the national capitol) for the South. Before, everyone wanted the capital for themselves. The southerners decided that the only way they would be able to get it is if they blocked Hamilton’s debt plan so that it could not be implemented. During the Compromise, the three men decided on “a quid pro quo!” as said in the song. This essentially meant that they traded one thing for another; in this case, a debt plan for a capital. Hamilton wanted this turnout, and the other two agreed upon it as well. This compromise sparked the Residence Act Of 1790, where the capital was moved down the Potamic river.
I believe that this song connects most with the big idea “Disparities in power alter the balance of relationships between individuals and between societies”. I chose this because the decision of Hamilton, Jefferson and Madison greatly impacted how the course of the next few years, and arguably America as a whole, would end up. Something that I did not mention before was the relationship between the three men. Hamilton had a complicated relationship with the other two, in the sense that they didn’t get along. Jefferson and Madison were friends, but the same couldn’t be said for Hamilton and the two. Because of the altered balance in power after Hamilton became more known, Jefferson and Madison didn’t get along with Hamilton as well and didn’t support his ideas. This caused a lot of problems, and the Compromise Of 1790 was actually the first time they were all able to agree on something.
Thematic and Personal Connections:
Personally, the lines I found most interesting were “Did Washington know about the dinner? Was there presidential pressure to deliver?” and “What did they say to you to get you to sell New York City down the river?”. After conducting some research, I found that the first lyric was a rumour that was spread. It was believed that, theoretically, George Washington knew about what was going to happen during the Compromise. Another lyric in the song is “Thomas claims ‘Alexander was on Washington’s doorstep one day is distress and disarray’.” There is a document written by Jefferson that says that Hamilton was discussing his plan with Washington and then, upon being caught by Jefferson, he begged him to join him in his plan. None of this is confirmed, and therefore may not be historically accurate, but I found it interesting to read about.
The second lyric I found interesting, about New York City, was a result of the Compromise. This lyric was said by Aaron Burr, who was extremely jealous of the meeting to begin with. Once he found out about the conditions of the compromise, he felt that they were in favour of Jefferson and Madison. This also ties in to the problems in his relationship with Hamilton, and why they disliked each other so much.
The first lyric that I analyzed was “What did they say to you to get you to sell New York City down the river?” I briefly mentioned this above, however I did not go far into detail. This lyric is interesting as selling someone down the river means to tell on them, or to betray them. The lyric is being used idiomatically and literally, as they capital was moved down the Potamic river as a result of the Residence Act Of 1970, which was a result of the Compromise.
The second lyric that I analyzed was “Two Virginians and an immigrant walk into a room. Diametrically opposed, foes.” This lyric was said by Aaron Burr while he was discussing what happened during the dinner table meeting. In this case, Hamilton is the immigrant and Jefferson and Madison are the Virginians. The reason this is important is because immigrants and Virginians are known to not get along with each other. Burr was setting up for a conflict or some kind of big story to tell with this lyric.
The third lyric that I analyzed was “They emerge with a compromise, having opened doors that were previously closed”. This lyric was said by Burr, as he told the story of what happened during the Compromise. He is saying that before this meeting, there was no way anything could possibly have worked out. The doors to possibility, to the future, were closed. However, after the meeting, they opened the doors by finally agreeing on something. This is important in our understanding of what really happened in the room where it happens.