Aaron Burr: A Founding Father and "The Guy That Shot Him"

Lately, due to a Broadway hit & the possibility of changing the face of the $10 bill, there is a lot of buzz around the name Alexander Hamilton. Clearly, Hamilton is having a moment. He was the scrappy immigrant founding father, revolutionary war veteran, lawyer and U.S. Constitution supporter who developed our treasury system and died in an infamous duel. Someone who is not so well known is the founding father who challenged him to the duel, shot and killed him, Aaron Burr.

Hamilton: An American Musical
Hamilton: An American Musical
In the highly successful Broadway play, Hamilton, Aaron Burr is set as the villain. (Maybe you recognized the quote in this blog’s title from the play.) The real man was complicated, both brilliant and ambitious. His dramatic fall from grace through this duel is the best known part of his life. In fact, he was a forward thinking founding father who was an abolitionist and an early supporter of women’s education and voting rights. Burr was born and raised here in New Jersey, having been born in Newark and graduated from Princeton College. (His father was an early president of Princeton and both he and his father are buried at the Princeton Cemetery.)

Fallen Founder: A Life of Aaron Burr by Nancy Isenberg
Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr were each New York politicians with lives that mirrored each other’s in many ways. They were both orphaned as children. As teens they both graduated from Elizabethtown Academy (in what is now simply Elizabeth). They both were Revolutionary War soldiers, both fought in the Battle of Trenton and the Battle of Princeton in 1776 and the Battle of Monmouth in 1778. Each man graduated from college (Burr from Princeton and Hamilton from Columbia) and practiced law in New York City. Both were highly ambitious and expected to go far in their careers in this new nation.
A Fatal Friendship: Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr by Arnold A. Rogow; Duel with the Devil: The True Story of How Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr Teamed Up to Take on America's First Sensational Murder Mystery by Paul Collins
A Fatal Friendship: Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr by Arnold A. Rogow

Duel with the Devil: The True Story of How Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr Teamed Up to Take on America's First Sensational Murder Mystery by Paul Collins
To be told there was competition between the two men would hardly be surprising. As lawyers, they fought each other in the courtroom. As politicians, to win sway over colleagues and voters, they fought each other in the partisan media of the day.

In the election of 1800, Hamilton fought fiercely against his own Federalist Party member, John Adams, helping to sway the election win for Thomas Jefferson and now-Vice President Aaron Burr.

A Magnificent Catastrophe: The Tumultuous Election of 1800, America's First Presidential Campaign by Edward J. Larson
A Magnificent Catastrophe: The Tumultuous Election of 1800, America's First Presidential Campaign by Edward J. Larson
Alexander Hamilton wrote brilliantly and, at times, mercilessly for the causes about which he felt most passionately. And Burr was often the target of his attacks. He made numerous private and public insults about Burr. In 1804, Aaron Burr sought grievance for his honor by challenging Alexander Hamilton to a duel. Duels were illegal in both the states of New York and New Jersey. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, along with many other prominent people of the time, were opposed to them. However, this was not the first duel that Hamilton took part in and he accepted Burr’s challenge. The two met on the Palisades bluffs at Weehawkin and, tragically, Hamilton died the next day from Burr’s shot.
War of Two: Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, and the Duel That Stunned the Nation by John Sedgwick

The Duel: The Parallel Lives of Alexander Hamilton & Aaron Burr by Judith St. George

Duel: Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, and the Future of America by Thomas J. Fleming
Unlike Hamilton, Aaron Burr’s life continued another 32 years. Hamilton’s death ended Burr’s political career and, ever ambitious, he traveled west into the newly acquired Louisiana territories. This was another controversial part of his life and he eventually stood trial for treason as it was believed by some that he wanted to annex Mexico and create a new country for himself. The Supreme Court all but threw out the case for lack of evidence, which infuriated President Jefferson, who never trusted Burr; the case proved to be an important milestone in the separation of powers. After the trial Burr, immigrated to Europe, spending several years in Paris before returning to New York to again practice law but in relative obscurity, dying in 1836.

The Heartbreak of Aaron Burr: A Tale of Homicide, Intrigue and a Father's Worst Fear by H. W. Brands; Aaron Burr: Conspiracy to Treason by Buckner F. Melton; American Emperor: Aaron Burr's Challenge to Jefferson's America by David O. Stewart
The Heartbreak of Aaron Burr: A Tale of Homicide, Intrigue and a Father's Worst Fear by H. W. Brands

Aaron Burr: Conspiracy to Treason by Buckner F. Melton

American Emperor: Aaron Burr's Challenge to Jefferson's America by David O. Stewart
Like every one of this country’s founding fathers, Aaron Burr was a complex man with remarkable political vision and a complicated flawed life. Not surprisingly, there is much more to learn about the man than the duel with Alexander Hamilton.
Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation by Joseph J. Ellis; Burr, Hamilton and Jefferson: A Study in Character by Roger G. Kennedy
Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation by Joseph J. Ellis

Burr, Hamilton and Jefferson: A Study in Character by Roger G. Kennedy
-Kim Luke

Comments

  1. Now, how about a blog on Lin-Manuel Miranda? Hamilton owes him a lot. Great post.

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