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Teacher Resources

This page contains specific resources developed for teachers using this Exploration.

Entire Unit | Bad Blood | Run Up To The Duel | The Duel

Focusing Event for Entire Unit:

History of Dueling

The history of dueling is facinating. Begin the unit by using the General Court Martial of John Lawrence (1780). The complete transcript of the court martial is online and provides an interesting look at a duel. Lawrence was a Loyalist officer during the Revolution and killed a British officer in a duel.

What was life like in 1804?

Population, Diseases, The Arts, Crime & Punishment, Alcohol, Military

Timeline for 1804:

January 1: Jean Jacques Dessalines proclaims Haiti's independence.

March 12, 1804: Federalist associate justice of the Supreme Court Samuel Chase was impeached by Republican House of Representatives for partisan conduct unbecoming to a judge. He was tried before the Senate in 1805 and found not guilty.

May 14: The Lewis and Clark Expedition sets out from St. Louis. The party will explore 8000 miles along the Missouri and Columbia Rivers as far as the Pacific, returning in 1806.

July 4, 1804: New Jersey passed its "gradual emancipation" act, essentially freeing any child born of slaves. This law, with the earlier end of foreign import of slaves, was to bring a final end to the practice of slavery. Under the terms of the "gradual emancipation act," females born of slave parents after July 4, 1804, would be free upon reaching 21 years of age, and males upon reaching 25. This act made New Jersey the last Northern state to abolish slavery.

July 11: Alexander Hamilton is killed in a duel with Vice President Aaron Burr.

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Bad Blood

Use the election of 1800 as a starting point to understand the differences between Hamilton and Burr.

The election of 1800 may be considered a realigning election since it completed the turnover of power from the United States Federalist Party, embodied in Alexander Hamilton, to Thomas Jefferson and his United States Democratic-Republican Party. Power shifted from the more industrial New England to the Southern states and their agricultural interests. This exacerbated tensions over slavery.

The flaws incumbent in the electoral college were brought into full focus in this election.

Under the United States Constitution, each presidential elector cast two votes, without distinction as to which was for President or for Vice President.

The recipient of the greatest number of votes was elected President, while the Vice Presidency went to the recipient of the second greatest number of votes.

Though incumbent president John Adams was opposed once again by 1796 opponent Thomas Jefferson, it was Jefferson's running mate, Aaron Burr, who caused the nation's first constitutional crisis.

The election was extremely close. It was the Constitution's Three-fifths clause, which counted three-fifths of the slave population in apportioning representation, that gave the Republicans a majority in the electoral college. Jefferson appeared to have won by a margin of eight electoral votes. But a complication soon arose. Because each Republican elector had cast one ballot for Jefferson and one for Burr, the two men received exactly the same number of electoral votes.

Presidential Candidate Party State Popular Vote: Electoral Vote:
Thomas Jefferson Democratic-Republican Virginia Unknown 73
Aaron Burr Democratic-Republican New York Unknown 73
John Adams Federalist Massachusetts Unknown 65
Charles Cotesworth Pinckney Federalist South Carolina Unknown 64
John Jay None New York Unknown 1
Under the Constitution, the election was now thrown into the Federalist-controlled House of Representatives. Instead of emphatically declaring that he would not accept the presidency, Burr declined to say anything. So the Federalists faced a choice. They could help elect the hated Jefferson - "a brandy-soaked defamer of churches" - or they could throw their support to the opportunistic Burr. Hamilton disliked Jefferson, but he believed he was a far more honorable man than Burr, whose "public principles have no other spring or aim than his own aggrandizement."

As the stalemate persisted, Virginia and Pennsylvania mobilized their state militias. Recognizing, as Jefferson put it, "the certainty that a legislative usurpation would be resisted by arms," the Federalists backed down. After six days of balloting and 36 ballots, the House of Representatives elected Thomas Jefferson the third president of the United States. And as a result of the election, Congress adopted the Twelfth Amendment to the Constitution, which gives each elector in the Electoral College one vote for president and one for vice president.

Read more about the election in our online textbook.

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Run Up To The Duel

Use the timeline of events leading up to the duel as a way to introduce this section.

Possible student activity from PBS' The Duel: What led Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr to become deadly enemies?

Ask students to compare and contrast the two men using two columns headed "Hamilton" and "Burr," with the following categories listed at the left for consideration: family background, education, military service, political allegiance, political aspirations, political methods, public office held.

Use this comparison template (Microsoft Word format)

When they have finished, ask them to draw conclusions from their findings, whether in a discussion or a report:

  • What evidence, if any, might lead you to expect that the two would become enemies?
  • How were they alike?
  • How were they different?
  • How were they at odds?
  • Were they representative of larger antagonistic social and political groups?
  • Do their differences echo in contentious American society and politics today?

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The Duel

PBS produced a film named The Duel and developed a comprehensive website on the Duel. In addition to transcripts of the film, there is a history of Dueling:

Read the Code Duello: The Rules of Dueling.

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