Its one of the most famous duels and feuds in US history. It was the penultimate scene in the acclaimed Broadway play Hamilton. Last but not least it was made famous by a 1990s got Milk commercial. It’s the Alexander Hamilton vs. Raymond Burr duel.
Alexander Hamilton and Raymond Burr had a long and bitter rivalry. The rivalry began in 1791 when Burr won a US Senate Seat from Phillip Schuyler, who so happened to be Hamilton’s father in law. Schuyler would have supported his son in laws federalist policies, (Hamilton was a member of the Federalist party and Burr a member of the Democratic-Republican party, think predecessors to the Democratic and Republican parties of today.) Hamilton was also the sitting Secretary of Treasury, so he was really upset by this occurrence of events. Hamilton ends up getting payback in the Election of 1800. The electoral college was deadlocked with an equal number of votes for Thomas Jefferson and Raymond Burr. The Democratic Republic party intended for their members to vote equally for Jefferson and Burr, then one last member would cast his vote solely for Jefferson, and it would, in theory, make Jefferson the President and Burr the Vice President. Someone goofed, and Burr and Jefferson ended up with the same number of electoral college votes. When there is a tie in the electoral college, the House of Representatives gets to vote to decide who will be named President. Hamilton wheeled and dealt and negotiated enough votes so that Jefferson ended up being elected President and Burr ended up being the Vice President. In case you didn’t realize there is a big difference between being President and Vice President, in the words of former Vice President John Nance Garner “the vice presidency isn’t worth a warm bucket of piss.”
Due to differences between Burr and Jefferson, Jefferson was going to drop Burr from the ticket in 1804. Burr decided to run for Governor of New York to save face. Hamilton being a New Yorker was not trying to have any of Burr being his governor. Hamilton campaigned tirelessly against Burr which resulted in Burr losing the election to a man named Morgan Lewis who was endorsed by none other than Hamilton. In Hamilton’s vigorous campaigning a few letters were sent back and forth between Hamilton and Burr in the newspapers. Burr took issue with a friend of Hamilton stating Hamilton had a loathed opinion of Burr. Burr demanded an explanation or disavowal of the statement. Hamilton gave a legalese response (I can neither confirm nor deny the statements) which pissed off Burr even more. Burr eventually issued a gun duel challenge to Hamilton feeling his honor had been harmed by Hamilton. Hamilton surprised everyone by accepting the duel challenge.
On the morning of July 11, 1804, Burr and Hamilton departed to New Jersey (everyone goes to Jersey to do their dirt huh?) to commence dueling. Hamilton fired his shot first, and it missed Burr but whizzed right by Burr’s head. Burr interpreted the shot as an act of aggression and fired at Hamilton. Unlike Hamilton, Burr did not miss and hit Hamilton in his lower abdomen while also hitting a bunch of vital organs. Hamilton collapsed immediately after being shot. Burr immediately was escorted off the premises by his crew. Hamilton died the next day from his injuries from the gunshot wound. Burr was charged with Murder in New York and New Jersey though later acquitted, (Hamilton had friends in high places) and went on the run. Burr political career was done after the duel, and he spent time in Europe for some years before returning to the US and living his last years in obscurity.
Mistakes Were Made:
Burr was the sitting US Vice President, at the time of the duel and Hamilton was a former Secretary of Treasury who still had massive political clout to get others elected. Can you imagine if Mike Pence shot and killed Timothy Geithner (Obamas Treasury Secretary)? The internet would literally explode if something happened like that today. Ego, insults and old political grudges led two very accomplished men to engage in a senseless act that would end up getting one killed and the reputation of the other tarnished forever. Hamilton was married had kids and was the breadwinner for his family. Why risk all of that over an honor challenge? What did Hamilton really have to gain from dueling Burr? And Burr though his reign as Vice President was about to end was still, the freaking Vice President of the United States! He couldn’t just move to New Jersey and run for office there? Murphy’s law comes into play here as well. Murphy’s law is “anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.” Two men engage in a foolish act. Hamilton instead of shooting his shot into the ground decides to shoot near Burr. Burr thinking Hamilton is really trying to duel, shoots at Hamilton..and you know the rest of this story. Burr is only really remembered as the guy who shot and killed Hamilton in a duel. Hamilton though his life was cut short by the duel ended up having his face on the Front of U..S. 10 dollar bills. Hamilton also is the subject of a smash Broadway play. I guess it’s better to be the martyr instead of the aggressor.