Hamilton Blog Post

Ten Duel Commandments


There are three underlying themes in the musical that are mentioned in this song: satisfaction, heaven/hell & sinners/saints & ‘good’/‘bad’, and legacy.

Plot Summary

Ten Duel Commandments is a step-by-step run through of how duels worked, and sets up the audience for the two other duels in the musical, ‘Blow Us All Away’ and ‘The World Was Wide Enough’. Plot wise, it covers the duel between John Laurens (& Alexander Hamilton) and Charles Lee (& Aaron Burr) that was set up in the end of ‘Stay Alive’, and the end flows into ‘Meet Me Inside’ and Hamilton’s temporary leave from the revolutionary army. It is a short song that is a transition song that holds importance. It was connects two larger songs while explaining a major part of the musical, duels, to the audience.


John Laurens: Challenges Charles Lee to a duel after Lee disobeys general George Washington and tarnishes Washington’s name/reputation. Hamilton’s closest friend.

Alexander Hamilton: Laurens’ second. He has a complicated history with Aaron Burr, and would have challenges Charles Lee to a duel himself had General George Washington not ordered him to not take action. Laurens’ closest friend. Very brash/arrogant/active. “Or negotiate a time and place.”


Charles Lee: Second-in-Command General, disobeyed George Washington’s orders to fight and ordered a retreat during the battle of Valley Forge, and was demoted from his rank and replaced by Lafayette. He proceeded to verbally attack George Washington and his leadership in public, leading Laurens and Hamilton to challenge him to a duel.

Aaron Burr: Lee’s second, though not historically. He has a complicated history with Alexander Hamilton. Foil of Hamilton; hesitant and cautious, more willing to “Wait for it’’ and “Negotiate a peace,” then to duel, although this will not last for the ending songs of the musical.


Doctor: “You pay him in advance, you treat him with civility, you have him turned around so he can have deniability.” – There to try to safe the person shot in the duel.

George Washington: Has his name attacked by Charles Lee, tells Hamilton not to take action. 

All: Help Hamilton, Burr, Laurens, and Lee explain the ‘rules’ of a duel.

Historical Connections:

-> Duels in the 1770’s/1780’s – Were illegal and not very common in history (in reality, there was only about 3 duels a year).

-> Charles Lee’s demotion from the ranks, his duel, and becoming too injured to continue fighting

-> John Laurens’ Duel and his relationship with Alexander Hamilton

-> Hamilton going against General George Washington’s orders, leading to his temporary leave from the revolutionary army

-> Code Duello: A historical written charter of rulers for a duel. Ten Duel Commandments synthesises and compresses the original 25 rules into 10 easy rules to remember and follow.

Big Idea: Emerging ideas and ideologies profoundly influence societies and events

     When the two conflicting ideas/ideologies of two different individuals clash, it causes a conflict that leads to/influences an event. In the time of Hamilton (Both historically and musically), it was usually a duel. In this case, it was Charles Lee’s ideology of General George Washington that emerged after he was demoted mid-battle during ‘Stay Alive’ conflicting with John Laurens and Hamilton’s ideologies of loyalty to George Washington that lead to and influenced events that caused the duel and Hamilton’s temporary leave from the revolutionary army.

Dominant Ideas:

1. Burr: “Negotiate a peace,” Hamilton: “Or negotiate a time or place.” – This is a play on the characteristics and clashing ideals and personalities of each character. hamilton and Burr are foils for each other, and this is one of the incenses where the different character traits are showed. Hamilton is a more proud, justice-seeking individual who is willing to fight and use violence to get/protect his wants and ideals. Aaron Burr is a more patient, less physical person that views caution over violence, and holds peace over fighting. Burr has a more ‘Hobbes like’ view, but still wants control; he is Hobbes in the sense he doesn’t want to fight and chooses caution and holding back over action, while Hamilton has a more ‘Rousseau like’ view that prefers action and instinct over waiting around and caution. For example, the signature lines of each character (Hamilton: “I am not throwing away my Shot!” Burr: “Wait for it.”) is the prime example of Burr’s cautiousness and peace-oriented views and Hamilton’s ambition and ‘fight for his ideals and beliefs’ view.

3. Each line represents a rule in duelling from the Code Duello, and references how a duel would play out if it escalated to the firing of the guns.  

Line by Line Translation:

* (All) 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 – It’s the Ten Duel Commandments. It’s the Ten Duel Commandments!

* (Laurens) #1 – The challenge demands satisfaction, if they apologize no need for further action.

-> Note who says the line. Laurens, the one who challenged Charles Lee to the duel, says the line about the challenge and demanding satisfaction, as well as the opening line of the duel.

-> One of the underlying themes of the musical is the theme of satisfaction. Are you satisfied/can you be satisfied? It is an interesting word choice that gives an extra layer to the musical.

-> The rest of the line explains that the duel can be over before it starts, and violence does not have to be taken.

* #2 – (Laurens) If they don’t, grab a friend, that’s your second. (Hamilton) Your lieutenant, when there’s reckoning to be reckoned.

-> Again, note who says what line. Laurens says the line about grabbing a friend, and Hamilton (his second) joins in secondly to explain the role of second.

-> The word ‘second’ can be taken as it’s given meaning (the role of playing second in a duel), or as an interesting twist, as it’s literary term for a measurement of time. In a duel, shooting first keeps you alive, so ‘seconds’ are precious and valuable; every second counts. It is interesting to see how the word ‘seconds’ flips between the two meanings throughout the song, and how your perspective can flip through the different meanings.

* #3 – (Lee) Have your seconds meet face to face. (Burr) Negotiate a peace, (Hamilton) negotiate a time and place. (Burr) This is commonplace, ‘specially ‘tween recruits. (All) Most disputes die, and no one shoots!

-> (See #2 Highlight)

-> Note how it’s Aaron Burr, the cautious and patient one, who suggests a peace negotiation, and it’s Alexander Hamilton, the action-oriented and ambitious ideal protecter, who suggests duelling it out with guns. It also fits with how Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr are foils for each other, and start of the antecedent of each other. 

->This is commonplace, ‘specially ‘tween recruits” is historically incorrect, as duels were not very common, and only roughly 3 duels were held a year. Duels were illegal (despite it being cultural normal at the time), and many people chickened-out or came to a peaceful agreement.

-> “Most disputes die, and no one shoots!” is an interesting line, considering in the other two duels in the musical (Blow Us All Away, The World Was Wide Enough), neither dispute died, (but a dueller dies), and shots are fired.

* #4 – (Laurens) If they don’t reach a peace, that’s alright. Time to get some pistols and a doctor on site. (Hamilton) You pay him in advance, you treat himwith civility, (Burr) You have him turned around so he can have deniability.

-> In the 1770’s, it was normal for doctors to be male. Woman rights were not fully established yet, so it was expected that a male would fill the positions of jobs such as doctor.

-> Duels were illegal in the Thirteen Colonies; for this reason, doctors were ‘turned around’ so they could avoid being caught and trailed for being complicit/a part of a duel. This gave them ‘deniability’, which considering they are the ones potentially saving your life, is something you want to give them.

* #5 – (Lee) Duel before the sun is in the sky! (All)Pick a place to die where it’s high and dry.

-> “Duel before the sun is in the sky!” has three different meanings, two of which involve sight. The first is that duels are illegal, and if you host one early in the morning it makes it harder to get caught. The second is the light from the sun could blind one of the duellers, and cause an unfair advantage. The third is that it gives the duellers enough time to a) think over the duel, and if they want to go through with it. Taking the time to think it over, especially if the challenge was done when drunk, gives people enough time to cancel the duel or make final plans.

-> “Pick a place to die where it’s high and dry.” also has two meanings. The first is that you might die in a duel, so you quite literally are picking a place to die. The second is that the duelling can be effected by outside forces like temperature and humidity. It effects the pistols of the 1770’s, and can effect the duellers.

* #6 – (Hamilton) Leave a note for your next of kin, tell them where you’ve been, pray that hell or heaven let’s you in.

-> Hamilton talks about leaving something for you ‘next of kin’, or leaving something for future generations. This is leaving a legacy, or at least a trace for your legacy. Alexander Hamilton is obsessed with the idea of a legacy, and changing the future. He would leave a letter telling his story, especially since Ten Duel Commandments is an early song in the musical, so Hamilton has yet to learn what a legacy means, and what the line “you have no control: who lives, who dies, who tells your story” means.

-> If you die in a duel, you want to tell your family what happened and leave them something behind to remember you by.

* #7 – (Lee) Confess your sins, ready for the moment of adrenaline, when you finally face your opponent.

-> Notice how the line “confess your sins” is part of the 7th line/rule. This is a reference to the ‘seven deadly sins’, which ties with the other reference of the song, the ten bible commandments. The seven deadly sins are areas/signs of ‘evil’ within humans (ex. Greed), and the ten bible commandments are rules to follow to achieve the ‘good’ within humans (ex. 

‘Honour your father and your mother’).

-> Adrenaline, while it would give you the energy you need to survive in a normal battle, would actually hinder your chances of survival in a duel. In a duel, you need a calm mind and a steady hand, and adrenaline would cause your ‘fight or flight’ instincts to be activated.

#8 – (All) Your last chance to negotiate, send in your seconds, see if they can set the record straight. (Burr) Alexander, (Hamilton) Aaron Burr, sir. (Burr)Can we agree that duels are dumb and immature? (Hamilton) Sure, but your man has to answer for his words, Burr. (Burr) With his life? We both know that’s absurd, sir. (Hamilton) Hang out, how many men died because Lee was inexperienced and ruinous?! (Burr)Okay, so we’re doin’ this.

-> Hamilton and Burr have their usual disagreements. They both agree on violence not being the answer, but Hamilton’s overwhelming sense for justice causes him to be too stubborn to back down, leading to the 9th rule in the duel.

#9 – (Hamilton) Look ‘em in the eye, aim no higher. Summon all the courage you require, then count! (All)1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 . . . . . #10 paces fire!

-> This is the final line in the song, and the final ‘rule’/commandment. The dueller’s line up back to back, then take ten steps/paces before turning around and firing their guns. This is the point of no return because once you fire your shot, you can’t take it back. The counting theme comes full swing, starting the duel and ending the duel with swift, almost brutal efficiency and flow.

Top Sources:

1 https://genius.com/amp/Lin-manuel-miranda-ten-duel-commandments-lyrics

2 http://megan.talons43.ca/2016/12/17/ten-duel-commandments/

3 https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=1qXsFs2ywMo *I highly recommend checking out this video on the melody in Ten Duel Commandments. It is very knowledgeable, and I won’t be able to fully cover it.


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