The Events Leading To The Duel Between

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The Events Leading To The Duel Between Hamilton An Essay, Research Paper Col. Burr arrived first on the ground, as had been previously agreed: when Gen. Hamilton arrived the parties exchanged salutations, and the seconds proceeded to make their arrangements. They measured the distance, ten full paces, and cast lots for the choice of position, as also to determine by whom the word should be given, both of which fell to the second of Gen. Hamilton. They then proceeded to load the pistols in each other’s presence, after which the parties took their stations. The gentleman who was to give the word…then asked if they were prepared; being answered in the affirmative, he gave the word `present’ as was agreed on, and both parties presented and fired in succession-the

intervening time is not expressed, as the seconds do not precisely agree on that point. The fire of Colonel Burr took effect, and General Hamilton almost instantly fell.[1] Thus, as witnessed by Aaron Burr’s close friend, Matthew L. Davis, ended the life of one of America’s greatest statesmen. Davis’s account, though precise and informative, did not tell the entire story; in fact, he omitted one important detail of the plot. Why did Hamilton and Burr fatally meet at Weehawken on July 11, 1804 in the first place? Was it solely the political aftermath of the 1804 New York gubernatorial race, or were other factors involved? Indeed, Hamilton himself wrote, “I am conscious of no ill will to Col. Burr, distinct from political opposition, which, as I trust, has proceeded from

pure and upright motives.”[2] Yet evidence seems to indicate that the 1804 strife was only a climax, and that their antipathy had originated over twenty-five years earlier. When their family backgrounds, personal occupations, and national ambitions are taken into account, it becomes clear that Hamilton and Burr were on a collision course well before 1804. Upon cursory examination of these two men it seems unlikely that they would become bitter rivals. There were probably no two men in the colonies who resembled each other so much. Physically, both were small, compact men of military carriage with penetrating eyes and persuasive voices. Their dress was highly fashionable and dapper, as was the company they kept. Both were adept speakers, particularly when paying compliments to

the ladies. Hamilton and Burr were equally driven by a fervent desire to lead American troops in victories, whether it be in South America (Hamilton) or in Mexico (Burr). Yet these same likenesses contributed greatly to the antagonism between them. They were too much alike in temperament and ambition; their hopes clashed.[3] As the old saying goes, opposites tend to attract one another, but likes repel. Hamilton and Burr came from family backgrounds which may have contributed to their rivalry. Burr was born into a prestigious social status, whereas Hamilton had to build his own reputation. Being an illegitimate son of West Indian parents, Hamilton had no connections on the continent. He had to rely on inherent abilities in order to establish himself socially. Eventually, by his

marriage to Elizabeth Schuyler, he gained full social acceptance. This enabled Hamilton to encounter Burr often and as a supposed social equal. However, in Hamilton’s mind there existed the pride of a self-made man, and along with it contempt for the inherited fortune of Burr.[4] Though this alone is obviously not sufficient reason for a duel, it is indeed another piece of the puzzle. The first seeds of hostility between Hamilton and Burr were planted during the Revolutionary War. As dashing young officers they served under General Washington in the spring of 1776. Both were members of the Commander-in-Chief’s staff, but took different positions on military policy. Burr sided frequently with Generals Lee and Gates against Washington’s proposals. Hamilton, despite some