On This Day: Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr Duel

July 11, 2023
Image

July 11, 1804

219 Years Ago Today: The Duel
Alexander Hamilton
Aaron Burr
Who Lives, Who Dies,
Who Tells The Story.

Who & What

  • Who: Aaron Burr was vice president of the United States under President Thomas Jefferson. Alexander Hamilton was a “Founding Father,” the first U.S. treasury secretary, and a powerful political figure. Both were veterans of the Revolutionary War.
  • What: A duel. Dueling was technically illegal in both New York and New Jersey, but New Jersey had a reputation for more leniency.

Where & When

  • Where: Weehawken, New Jersey (across the Hudson River from New York City) in the early morning hours of July 11, 1804.
  • When: Hamilton and Burr left New York City by boats from separate docks at 5 a.m., each rowed by four men across the Hudson River.

Why?

  • No one knows exactly what led to the duel.
  • Over the years, their political differences put them on a collision course. Hamilton supported Jefferson in the election of 1800 (when Jefferson defeated Burr for the presidency), and also supported Burr’s opponent for NY governor.
  • According to a June 1804 letter from Hamilton to Burr, Burr had asked Hamilton whether he had in fact made disparaging remarks about Burr, and sought an explanation or denial. Hamilton wrote in response that he could neither confirm nor deny the remarks.

The Night Before

“But you had rather I should die innocent than live guilty … God’s Will be done. The will of a merciful God must be good.”

Alexander Hamilton in a letter to his wife, Elizabeth (Eliza), the night before his duel to Aaron Burr – in which he insinuates he doesn’t want to kill Burr. Conflicting accounts exist of who shot first and whether Hamilton missed on purpose.

The Day After

"… I have no ill will against Col. Burr. I met him with a fixed resolution to do him no harm. I forgive all that happened."

Episcopal bishop of New York Benjamin Moore wrote an account of the evening of July 12, 1804, relaying what Hamilton said before he died at 2 o’clock that afternoon. Moore delivered communion to Hamilton before his death.

“Let those who are disposed to justify the practice of duelling, be induced, by this simple narrative, to view with abhorrence that custom which has occasioned in irreparable loss to a worthy and most afflicted family: which has deprived his friends of a beloved companion, his profession of one of its brightest ornaments, and his country of a great statesman and a real patriot.”

Benjamin Moore; July 12, 1804

Burr continued to serve as the United States’ third vice president until 1805. In 1807, he was tried and acquitted of treason. More than 200 years later, the Broadway musical “Hamilton” put the two men back into the spotlight again in their former home of New York City.

The play debuted nearly eight years ago and is currently still showing. Across the 41 Broadway theatre’s in NY, there have been a total of 2,650 “Hamilton” performances (and counting).

“Give me the steady, uniform, unshaken security of constitutional freedom. Give me the right to be tried by a jury of my own neighbors, and to be taxed by my own representatives only. What will become of the law and courts of justice without this? The shadow may remain, but the substance will be gone. I would die to preserve the law upon a solid foundation; but take away liberty, and the foundation is destroyed.” — Alexander Hamilton

Library of Congress: Today In History

Library of Congress: Benjamin Moore’s account of events

National Archives: From Alexander Hamilton to Aaron Burr, 20 June 1804

Library of Congress: Hamilton’s correspondence with Aaron Burr and an account of the duel by William P. Van Ness

National Archives: Letter from Alexander Hamilton to his wife, Elizabeth, the night before his duel with Aaron Burr

Hamilton on Broadway Data

by Jenna Lee,

ImageImageImageImage