I think I’ll give the Tea Party folks a break. “Blog or Die” is supposed to be about real substance, not political commentary. Like my fellow Civil War bloggers who are crusading against the myth of Black Confederates, I will continue to call the TP out for butchering the Revolution. For now, let’s move on…
This week I delivered my latest feature for Patriots of the American Revolution on the 1804 Alexander Hamilton- Aaron Burr duel. The article came in just under 4,000 words and presented five components: 1. the background on the strained relationship between Hamilton and Burr, 2. the events that set the duel in motion, 3. the eyewitness account from the attending physician, 4. the post-duel affect on Burr’s public life, and 5. the anti-dueling movement which arose. I included a sidebar with “The Code Duello” under which duels were conducted.
Most folks will be surprised to know that neither men were strangers to dueling, especially Hamilton. His son Philip had been killed three years earlier in a match against George I. Eaker after he and a friend engaged in “hooliganish behavior” in Eaker’s box at Manhattan’s Park Theater. Hamilton had also been the principal in ten shot-less duels from 1770-1779. These included matches against William Gordon, Aedanus Burke, John Francis Mercer, James Nicholson, James Monroe, and Ebenezer Purdy. He acted in the role of second at three other challenges.
By analyzing the accounts, I cannot help but think that Hamilton entered this duel thinking that his adversary would not fire. Without giving away all the details, I will say that there are a number of perplexing questions. Hamilton was a highly regarded military man and Burr was known as being a poor shot. Yet Hamilton shoots high, misses, and tragically dies while Burr manages to hit his target in a manner that mortally wounds. Hamilton's demeanor leading up to the duel is also odd. One item that I did not discuss in the article is the last letter penned by Hamilton. According to the Massachusetts Historical Society:
Alexander Hamilton’s 10 July letter to Theodore Sedgwick of Stockbridge, Mass., is perhaps more notable for what it does not contain, rather than what it does. Writing only hours before he met Aaron Burr on the dueling grounds in Weehawken, New Jersey, Hamilton never mentions his deadly assignation to Sedgwick, nor suggests in any way that this could be his final letter. Instead, Hamilton briefly informs Sedgwick, a fellow Federalist and Massachusetts judge, of his distaste for politics and his negative views of current talk regarding the secession of the New England states and democracy in general. Hamilton writes: “... our real Disease ... is Democracy, the poison of which by a subdivision will only be the more concentrated in each part, and consequently the more virulent.”
Here is the letter in its entirety:
New York July 10. 1804
My Dear Sir
I have received two letters from you
since we last saw each other -- that of the latest date being
the 24 of May. I have had in hand for some
time a long letter to you, explaining my view of the
course and tendency of our Politics, and my intentions
as to my own future conduct. But my plan embraced
so large a range that owing to much avocation, some
indifferent health, and a growing distaste for
Politics, the letter is still considerably short of
being finished -- I write this now to satisfy you,
that want of regard for you has not been
the cause of my silence --
I will here express but one
sentiment, which is, that Dismembrement of our
Empire will be a clear sacrifice of great positive ad-
vantages, without any counterballancing good;
administering no relief to our real Disease; which
is Democracy, the poison of which by a subdivision
will only be the more concentrated in each part,
and consequently the more virulent.
King is on his way for
Boston where you may chance see him,
and hear from himself his sentiments --
God bless you
Why didn't Hamilton mention the duel? Perhaps he felt it was a private affair at the time. Maybe he was so used to participating in shot-less duels he felt this one would be equally uneventful. In reading his words, they (in my opinion) come off as sounding frustrated and cynical. He confesses a “growing distaste for politics.” Of course this is only speculation as no one will ever know what he was really thinking the night before he died. You can view a hi-res image of the letter here.
I will post a PDF of the article once it runs in PAR. In the meantime, here’s a YouTube link to some of that substance that I was talking about.