5 Bases of “Hamilton” Power

This semester I’m teaching a class that’s part of a 2 credit internship experience called the “Dean’s Team”. Campus Activities is part of the larger Dean of Students Office here at Binghamton University, so this team of student leaders supports events in all of our departments. It’s my first time working with this group, and I am LOVING IT. I haven’t had a chance to teach Leadership since my time at Loyola New Orleans (2000-2006) and I’m just diving in and really getting to know the materials again, renewing my faith in Strengths Quest and the power of learning about yourself and how to interact with others.

Today our in class we are focusing on the “5 Bases of Power”. Five different ways that different people garner power through their position, their relationships and through their methods.

As I was going through each of the five bases, I was scouring YouTube to find some movie clips that would illustrate the general concepts. It was taking a long time, I was getting a little crickey cracky and need to stretch, and as I was trying to get up and move around, I thought about “Expert Power”. I was thinking about what movie I could search for, and was thinking about “influencing others through their relative expertise in the particular areas” and I started to think about the song “Right Hand Man” from the musical “Hamilton” and how Hamilton is chosen by George Washington to be his “right hand man” based on his writing skills and tactical know how. He would be a great addition to Washington’s team and Washington is slightly taken aback when Hamilton doesn’t (at first) jump at the opportunity.

[HAMILTON]
Have I done something wrong, sir?

[WASHINGTON]
On the contrary
I called you here because our odds are beyond scary
Your reputation precedes you, but I have to laugh

[HAMILTON]
Sir?

[WASHINGTON]
Hamilton, how come no one can get you on their staff?

[HAMILTON]
Sir!

[WASHINGTON]
Don’t get me wrong, you’re a young man, of great renown
I know you stole British cannons when we were still downtown
Nathanael Greene and Henry Knox wanted to hire you…

[HAMILTON]
To be their Secretary? I don’t think so

So this was a great example of “Expert Power”. Hamilton goes on to work for Washington and that becomes his ticket to power with the political society he wants to be a part of.

As I started to look through these bases of power, I realized all of them fit somewhere into the musical Hamilton.

You can go back and look at the beginning of this song and see how George Washington himself clearly embodies someone with “Authority Power”. A military general has a legitimate right to command, just as the soldiers under him have an accompanying obligation to obey.

[HAMILTON/BURR/MULLIGAN/LAURENS/LAFAYETTE]
Rise up! Rise up!

[HAMILTON]
Here he comes!

[ENSEMBLE]
Here comes the General!

[BURR]
Ladies and gentlemen!

[ENSEMBLE]
Here comes the General!

[BURR]
The moment you’ve been waiting for!

[ENSEMBLE]
Here comes the General!

[BURR]
The pride of Mount Vernon!

[ENSEMBLE]
Here comes the General!

[BURR]
George Washington!

[WASHINGTON]
We are outgunned                             ENSEMBLE:
Outmanned                                       What?
Outnumbered
Outplanned                                       What?
.                                                      Buck, buck, buck, buck, buck!

We gotta make an all out stand
Ayo, I’m gonna need a
right-hand man.
.                                                     Buck, buck, buck, buck, buck!

[WASHINGTON]
Check it—
Can I be real a second?
For just a millisecond?
Let down my guard and tell the people how I feel a second?
Now I’m the model of a modern major general
The venerated Virginian veteran whose men are all
Lining up, to put me up on a pedestal
Writin’ letters to relatives
Embellishin’ my elegance and eloquence
But the elephant is in the room
The truth is in ya face when ya hear the British cannons go…

[ENSEMBLE]
Boom!

If we move on to another base of power we have “Referent Power,” the type of power that comes from forming relationships and having potential influence due to the strength of those relationships. This person might not have the title, but they have followers based on their character, their personality or other traits/actions.

This one was a clear directive for me to re-listen to “Guns and Ships” because I knew there was at least one character called out as someone others knew and loved and respected:

BURR:
How does a ragtag volunteer army in need of a shower
Somehow defeat a global superpower?
How do we emerge victorious from the quagmire?
Leave the battlefield waving Betsy Ross’ flag higher?
Yo. Turns out we have a secret weapon!
An immigrant you know and love who’s unafraid to step in!
He’s constantly confusin’, confoundin’ the British henchmen
Ev’ryone give it up for America’s favorite fighting Frenchman!

They are speaking about Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette. In 1781, troops in Virginia under his command blocked forces led by Cornwallis until other American and French forces could position themselves for the decisive Siege of Yorktown (Wikipedia). He had referent power in “Hamilton” due to his relationships with George Washington, Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson and others.

After Lafayette comes into the song just ON FIRE, he actually convinces George Washington he needs his “right hand man back” because once again, Hamilton is shown to have expert power:

LAFAYETTE:
We can end this war at Yorktown, cut them off at sea, but
For this to succeed, there is someone else we need:

WASHINGTON:
I know

WASHINGTON AND COMPANY:
Hamilton!

LAFAYETTE:
Sir, he knows what to do in a trench
Ingenuitive and fluent in French, I mean—

WASHINGTON AND COMPANY:
Hamilton!

LAFAYETTE:
Sir, you’re gonna have to use him eventually
What’s he gonna do on the bench? I mean—

WASHINGTON AND COMPANY:
Hamilton!

LAFAYETTE:
No one has more resilience
Or matches my practical tactical brilliance—

WASHINGTON AND COMPANY:
Hamilton!

LAFAYETTE:
You wanna fight for your land back?

COMPANY:
Hamilton!

WASHINGTON:
I need my right hand man back!

This song is a must listen – packing in 6.3 words per second.

“Coercive Power” can be the seedy side of power. The potential to influence others through negative sanctions or removal of rewards. Blackmail is always the perfect example of this and the song “We Know” is exactly that. An instance of others telling Hamilton that they know somethings up – although they don’t quite know “what” that is:

HAMILTON:
Mr. Vice President
Mr. Madison
Senator Burr
What is this?

JEFFERSON:
We have the check stubs. From separate accounts…

MADISON:
Almost a thousand dollars, paid in different amounts…

BURR:
To a Mr. James Reynolds way back in
Seventeen ninety-one

HAMILTON:
Is that what you have? Are you done?

MADISON:
You are uniquely situated by virtue of your position

JEFFERSON:
Though ‘virtue’ is not a word I’d apply to this situation

MADISON:
To seek financial gain, to stray from your sacred mission

JEFFERSON:
And the evidence suggests you’ve engaged in speculation

BURR:
An immigrant embezzling our government funds

JEFFERSON/MADISON:
I can almost see the headline, your career is done

BURR:
I hope you saved some money for your daughter and sons

BURR/JEFFERSON/MADISON:
Ya best g’wan run back where ya come from!

HAMILTON:
Ha! You don’t even know what you’re asking me to confess

JEFFERSON/MADISON/BURR:
Confess

HAMILTON:
You got nothing. I don’t have to tell you anything at all
Unless

JEFFERSON/MADISON/BURR:
Unless

HAMILTON:
If I can prove that I never broke the law
Do you promise not to tell another soul what you saw?

BURR:
No one else was in the room where it happened

HAMILTON:
Is that a yes?

JEFFERSON/MADISON/BURR:
Um, yes

These gentleman now have power over Hamilton. Which is too bad for him.

So that brings us to the last base of power “Reward Power”. Influencing others and having power due to the rewards you are able to give them. Selecting people for special assignments or other desirable activities. This concept to me, and to my “Hamilton” loving friend Amma Marfo (who has actually seen the play – bless her – I’m so jealous) can best be summarized by Aaron Burr, who poor guy – can never seem to get in the “Room Where it Happens”. He never benefits from any rewards because he can never seem to be in the right place at the right time – which is kind of his fault due to his habit of waiting to see which way the wind blows on issues, never truly taking a stand.

To recap, the 5 Bases of Power are:

Expert

Referent

Authority

Reward

Coercive

I hope you enjoyed this article, and if you have other example of Hamilton lyrics that fit any of these – comment below!

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