A: Character Development
“History Has Its Eyes on You” takes place before “Yorktown” and after “Guns and Ships”. In the song, George Washington tells Alexander Hamilton about his first failed battle command experience. Washington explains to Hamilton that he has no control over the outcomes of battle, and history is watching they are doing. This song advances the plot by giving Washington a chance to speak to Hamilton and give him advice before Hamilton leads his first battle. Washington gives Hamilton this advice because both of them are about to enter the Siege of Yorktown. Washington has a lot of experience with leading battles while Hamilton has none, so this song allows Hamilton to gain some wisdom from Washington, before going into battle. Washington and Hamilton are the main characters of this song because the song is a conversation between the two of them. Both characters want to be victorious after the Siege of Yorktown, and both fear making mistakes. However, Washington and Hamilton have very different backgrounds. Washington has lead successful battle, and unsuccessful battles. One unsuccessful battle that he has lead was the Battle of the Great Meadows, which Washington references in the song when he says, “I lead my men straight into massacre, I witnessed their deaths first hand,”. Washington surrendered this battle the French forces, and he does not want to see a similar situation happen against the British in Yorktown. Hamilton doesn’t have much experience in battle as he grew up in a poor area called St. Croix in the Caribbean. These different backgrounds create an opportunity for Washington to share some knowledge with Hamilton.
B: Connections to Historical Elements
At the beginning of the song, Washington says, “I was younger than you are now when I was given my first command. I lead my men straight into massacre,”. In this line, Washington isn’t exactly correct. Washington’s first command was actually successful and is known as the Battle of Jumonville Glen. In this battle, Washington lead his British forces into an attack on French-Canadian soldiers. The British killed the French commander, Joseph Coulon de Villiers. Although this attack was successful, the French retaliated and ambushed a British fort called Fort Necessity. This fort was poorly built by George Washington, which made the ambush easier for the French. The fort was in range of far musket fire and was subject to flooding. This caused many of Washington’s men to abandon him, while some of the remaining men died. We can see that Washington values these men who fought and died for him when he says, “I made every mistake, and felt the shame rise in me,”. At the time of this battle, Washington and the British feared the French and Native Americans, which lead to the French and Indian War. “History Has Its Eyes on You” also connects to the “Collective identity is constructed and can change over time” Big Idea. The song talks a lot about how people are watching what’s going on in the American Revolution. The title of the song is one example of this, with another being when Washington says, “You have no control: who lives, who dies, who tells your story”. These people that are watching the American Revolution play out will tell the story of these events and create a collective identity for America during the revolution.
C: Thematic and Personal Connections
Something that if find particularly interesting about this song is how George Washington opens up to Hamilton about his past struggles. I would think that the best time to talk about how you lost your first battle and many of your men died, would not be right before a battle, but this is exactly what Washington did. Washington was supposed to be this fearless commander who would lead the Americans to victory. Instead, in this song he shows some of his flaws in order to offer some advice to Hamilton. The mentor-student relationship Washington and Hamilton have is a very strong one, and that relationship is showcased in this song. This relationship is one of the main themes of not just the song, but the entire play. One line that displays this theme is, “and felt shame rise in me, and even now I lie awake”. This line is said by George Washington at the beginning of the song. The line highlights how Washington is comfortable describing his darkest days with Hamilton. The friendship that Washington and Hamilton have is essential to this song and is touched upon a lot in the rest of the story. Another line that is essential to the story so far is, “You have no control: who lives, who dies, who tells your story”. This is an important line in the story because Hamilton is constantly trying to improve his story. He moves to New York and tries to work his way up the ranks in the American government. The Siege of Yorktown is Hamilton’s chance to gain a lot of popularity, but Washington reminds him that his legacy is not up to him. The line, “who lives, who dies, who tells your story” is the last song in the play and ties together one theme of the story, which is that you can’t control your own legacy. The third line that is essential to the song is, “History has its eyes on you”. This line is important because people are watching everything that is going on in Hamilton’s world. These people are writing down what Hamilton does, and that evidence is being used as pieces of history. In this way, history is watching everything that Hamilton does, and that is how we are able to watch/listen to Hamilton.