Duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron
Burr After the painting by J. Mund. From The Project Gutenberg
Lights of History, Volume XI, by John Lord
1804 Duel Between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr
the morning of June 18, 1804, a visitor handed a package to the
former treasury secretary Alexander Hamilton. Inside was a newspaper
clipping and a terse three-sentence letter. The clipping said
that Hamilton had called Vice President Aaron Burr "a dangerous
man, and one who ought not to be trusted with the reins of government."
It went on to say that Hamilton had "expressed" a "still
more despicable opinion" of Burr - apparently a bitter personal
attack on Burr's private morality. The letter, signed by Burr,
demanded a "prompt and unqualified" denial or an immediate
Hamilton regarded Burr as a unscrupulous man. Burr, in turn, blamed
Hamilton for his defeat in the race for governor of New York earlier
in the year. When Hamilton failed to respond to his letter satisfactorily,
Burr insisted that they settle the dispute according to the code
in late 18th century America were very anxious to protect their
honor. To defend his reputation, a gentleman might challenge another
to a duel, which was followed by a series of formal responses
and negotiations. Only rarely did a challenge result in violence.
Eleven times Alexander Hamilton was involved in affairs of honor;
only once were shots exchanged.
after 7 o'clock on the morning of July 11, 1804, Burr and Hamilton
met on a dueling ground in New Jersey, across the Hudson River
from New York. It was the exact spot where Hamilton's eldest son
Philip had died in earlier duel.
he and Burr took their positions ten paces apart, Hamilton raised
his pistol on the command to "Present!" and apparently
fired. His shot struck a tree a few feet to Burr's side. Then
Burr fired. His shot struck Hamilton in the right side and passed
through his liver. Hamilton died the following day.
had said he was going to intentionally fire his first shot to
the side. The popular view was that Burr had slain the Federalist
leader in an act of cold-blooded murder. In fact, historians do
not know whether Burr was guilty of willful murder. According
to the code of honor, if Burr missed on his first try, Hamilton
would have a second chance to shoot.
grand jury indicted Burr for murder. The vice president took refuge
in Georgia and South Carolina, until the indictments were quashed
and he could finish his term in office.