July 11, 1804
217 Years Ago Today: The Duel
Who Lives, Who Dies,
Who Tells The Story.
Who & What
Who: Aaron Burr was vice president of the United States under President 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 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 from separate docks at 5 a.m., both rowed by four men across the Hudson River.
- No one knows *exactly* what led to the duel.
- Over the years, their political differences put them on a collision course. Hamilton supported Jefferson, who defeated Burr for the presidency. Hamilton also supported Burr’s opponent for New York governor.
- According to a June 1804 letter from Hamilton to Burr, Burr wrote Hamilton about claims that Hamilton had made disparaging remarks about him. Burr sought an explanation and / or denial. Hamilton wrote 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 no harm. I forgive all that happened."
Episcopal bishop of New York Benjamin Moore wrote an account on 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.”
Burr continued to serve as the United States’ third vice president until 1805. In 1807, he was tried and acquitted of treason. Over 200 years later, the Broadway musical “Hamilton” put the two men back into the spotlight again in their former home of New York City. Across the 41 Broadway theatres in NY, there have been a total of 1,916 “Hamilton” performances. Its last performance was on Mar. 11, 2020, prior to Broadway closing due to COVID-19. The play is scheduled to return to Broadway Sept. 14th.
“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
by Jenna Lee,