The Reading Room

“Farmer Refuted”

Hamilton: An American Musical features an epic standoff between young, fiery Hamilton and bold, preachy Samuel Seabury in “Farmer Refuted.” In their musical sparring match, Hamilton “tears the dude apart,” with his defense of the Congress, quick wit, and fiery temper. The tune is catchy and really fun to sing with a friend. 
But did you know that this was a historical event? Okay, Hamilton and Seabury did not actually have a rap battle in the streets of New York. However, “Farmer Refuted” is based on a pamphlet war between Hamilton and Seabury that took place from 1774-1775. Between the two of them, six pamphlets were published – four by Seabury and two by Hamilton. The last one Hamilton wrote was entitled Farmer Refuted. 
This written battle was sparked by the passage of the Articles of Association. In 1774, Britain punished Boston for their insurrectionist Tea Party by robbing Massachusetts of its colonial rights through the Intolerable Acts. In response, fifty-six delegates from across the colonies met in Philadelphia for the first assembly of the Continental Congress. At this meeting, the delegates passed the Articles of Association which banned the importation and exportation of British goods. 
In reaction to the Articles, Reverend Samuel Seabury published Free Thoughts on the Proceedings of the Continental Congress. In this pamphlet, Seabury questions the wisdom of the congressional embargo. He claimed that the loss of trade would bring scarcity, inflation, and poverty as well as Britain’s wrathful vengeance. He argued that congress was purposefully enforcing their riotous, rebellious opinions instead of working for the greater good of the colonies. 
Seabury quickly followed Free Thoughts with The Congress Canvassed. This pamphlet argued that the congress had neither the power to represent their colonies nor the authority to make such embargos. Therefore, their actions were illegitimate and enforcing them would be tyranny. 
Although Free Thoughts and The Congress Canvassed are never directly quoted, these two pamphlets provide the substance for Seabury’s lyrics in “Farmer Refuted”. Take the song’s opening for example: 
             Hear ye, Hear ye!             My name is Samuel Seabury and I present: 
            ‘Free Thoughts On the Proceedings of the Continental Congress!’ 
            Heed not the rabble who scream revolution, 
            They have not your interest at heart! 
Not only do the lyrics mention Seabury’s first pamphlet by name but they also summarize Free Thought’s main point – the congress does not have the colonies’ “interest at heart!” Their embargo will only bring great evils. The congress is “scream[ing] revolution” not for the greater good but based on their own personal opinions. 
Furthermore, the song’s second stanza summarizes Seabury’s second pamphlet on the congress’s illegitimacy. Seabury sings, “This Congress does not speak for me,” echoing his claim that congress lacks any legitimate legislative power. These lines also touch on the Reverend’s fears of British wrath. Throughout both pamphlets, Seabury talks about Britain’s response and power. She’s big and she’ll come for them – “I pray the King shows you his mercy!” 
“Farmer Refuted” also sings Hamilton’s response to Seabury’s loyalist pamphlets. Among the many patriot rebuttals against Seabury, Hamilton’s Full Vindication of the Measures of the Congress and Farmer Refuted rose in popularity. He addressed Seabury on every point, arguing the necessity of the trade boycott and defending the legitimacy of the Congress as the true voice of the people. 
Miranda’s lyrics hint at these rebuttals. Phrases like “Revolution is comin’,” “Chaos and bloodshed already haunt us,” and “Look at the cost, n’ all that we’ve lost n’ you talk / About Congress?” highlight the different arguments Hamilton used to dismantle Seabury’s claims. The lyrics also capture Hamilton’s fiery, witty tone. Hamilton is infamous for his biting wit and pointed pen. The name calling and quippy remarks at the duet’s end reflect this aspect of Hamilton’s writing. 
“Farmer Refuted” is one of many Hamilton songs in which Miranda brilliantly used historical documents. Others include “The Schuyler Sisters,” “One Last Time,” and “The Reynolds Pamphlets.” 
Sources other than the pamphlets and lyrics: Gould, Philip. “Wit and Politics in Revolutionary British America: The Case of Samuel Seabury and Alexander Hamilton.” Eighteenth-Century Studies 41, no. 3 (2008): 383–403.