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Author:  Stephanie Moore, Indiana University

Title:  Hamilton’s Power

Subject: Constitutional Law: Enumerated Powers/Necessary & Proper Clause

Activity overview. This activity is designed to infuse real-world Constitutional Law and government with music. The students listen to a song from Hamilton the Musical – Cabinet Battle I. This song pulls together many of the issues from the founding of our country. Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson are debating Hamilton’s plan to set up a national bank. Underlying this plan are the important issues of federal supremacy, federalism, states’ rights, separation of powers, enumerated powers, and more. This integration of pop culture and law captures students’ attention and is a wonderful activity to start a class session. It also provides a multi-sensory activity where students listen to music, read the lyrics, discuss in small groups, and then share in the larger classroom setting.

The scene takes place during founding of our country when many of issues like federalism & federal supremacy are getting worked out. The issue in Cabinet Battle I is Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton’s plan to set up a national bank. He favors a stronger national bank. Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson disagrees – he does not want states responsible for each other’s debts. Jefferson is in favor of states’ rights. Secretary Hamilton and Secretary Jefferson engage in a cabinet meeting to discuss Hamilton’s financial plan. James Madison & Jefferson taunt Hamilton, reminding him that for congressional approval he would need votes – which Hamilton did not have. President Washington pulls Hamilton aside, tells him to calm down. Washington reminds Hamilton that he does indeed have to find more votes to get his plan passed to avoid removal (impeachment) from his position.

Ingredients. Cabinet Battle I (song) from Hamilton the Musical. Printed copy of the lyrics online or in printed form.

Running the activity. Play Cabinet Battle I from Hamilton the Musical. Provide the lyrics to the students as well for better accessibility and comprehension. After playing the song, break the students into small groups of 3-4 students for a quick discussion focusing on these questions and then bring the class back together to discuss:

  • What issues that we have discussed so far are present in this song?
  • Does the federal government have the power to set up a national bank?
  • Where do we look in the Constitution to find out (from where would that power come)?
  • If the federal government does not have that power, what problems may ensue?

Substitutions: Exercise can be adopted to a virtual environment by using team-based software or other virtual discussion platform. Can be assigned as an online exercise, as well. Can also be assigned as an individual assignment – to listen to the song, consider the questions, and write a response.

Suggestions. Points for discussion may include:

Federal supremacy Federalism and states’ rights Separation of powers, enumerated powers National bank/how will we pay for things?How our government works/process

Enumerated powers, Article 1/Section 8 Necessary and proper clause Allocating power and protecting rights Removal McCulloch v. Maryland

Review or follow-up.  Song can be played again at the end of class to give a quick review of concepts. Using this activity at the beginning of class also provides a good introduction to other Constitutional Law concepts and cases.