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A Matter Of Pride


This rock is said to have supported Hamilton's head after receiving his fatal wound
The year is 1804, and two New Yorkers are unable to resolve their problems. Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr challenge each other to a gunfight to the death. The two men meet on the grassy banks of the Hudson River in Weehawken, New Jersey. When the duel is done, our nation's first Secretary of the Treasury would be slowly bleeding to death, and our third Vice President would be wanted for murder.

Hamilton and Burr, can't we all just get along?
How did this happen? What could possibly cause these two men to shoot at each other?

Well, it turns out, that dueling back then was an okay solution for personal problems. It was used as a way to establish yourself as a gentleman who would not be insulted in public. There were several things that were not okay for one person to say to one another person. To call another man a "rascal" was to be willing to load your gunpowder immediately to back up your hateful words. Also, calling someone a coward, a liar or a scoundrel would leave the "injured party" no choice but to defend his honor against your insult on the dueling field.

Alexander Hamilton (that guy on the $10 bill) had long trashed Burr's reputation in private, working to make sure that Burr would never be President of the U.S. It was not until years later though, that an insult was issued in public. Hamilton had been quoted in a newspaper as saying that Aaron Burr was "a dangerous man and one that ought not to be trusted." Burr believed that this statement called for the use of guns.

Rebecca reenacts the dreadful duel, just a three-mile boat ride from New York City
The arrangements for the duel were made. It was decided that they would meet one another in the early morning hours of July 11, 1804 to settle their score once and for all. Since dueling was illegal in New York, each man would be rowed three miles across the Hudson River to New Jersey, where dueling was not a crime. The two politicians were then handed their guns, and ordered to walk 10 paces (or 30 feet) apart from one another. At that point, the men turned toward each other and were asked if they were ready. When they both replied, "yes," the command was given to "present." With that, both men fired.

A memorial to the fallen politician overlooks the fateful sight
Burr's shot was right on target. With one bullet, he ended the life of an important politician and an American hero.


Please email me at: rebecca@ustrek.org


Links to Other Dispatches

Daphne - Who were George Washington and Thomas Jefferson really?
Teddy - Who's the Constitution really for?