Ask me before this writing who won the historic duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr and I’d have a 50-50 chance of getting it right.
The duel is a footnote in American history, and it made the pages of history textbooks back in the day when I was a grade school student. As a fifth grader, this duel was nothing more than something else to learn. This week, it is being rediscovered for Saturday (July 11) marks its anniversary. It was 211 years ago that the duel took place outside New York City in New Jersey. The legality of the whole thing was a bit shaky; duels were apparently a somewhat common practice back in the day.
Back in fifth grade, I wasn’t really pulling for one or the other. Nor am I today. What’s truly fascinating is the fact that this actually once took place in our nation.
The beauty of the internet is that we can become instant experts on such matters. And when I noticed in an almanac that the anniversary was coming up, I became intrigued.
Back in 1804, Mr. Hamilton and Mr. Burr didn’t like each other. That was nothing new back then, nor is it new today.
We all have people we don’t like. And I reckon there are plenty out there who don’t like me. Here at work, I get angry phone calls from time to time over what appeared and what didn’t appear in this newspaper.
I’ve seen people get mad at umpires in games involving millionaires and in games involving pre-teen girls.
Brothers and sisters fight. Parents get mad at their kids and kids get mad at their parents.
Business partners and business competitors and employers and employees all can get upset with one another. Even fellow parishioners can fly off the handle. It happens.
And it happens at all levels. We criticize our state legislature, our U.S. Congress, our President and our Supreme Court. And they tend to disagree with one another, too. Sometimes they get mean and sometimes they get childish.
But there was a time right here in the United States of America that two of the country’s most influential leaders got so mad at one another that they could only agree on one resolution.
Back in 1804, the sitting vice president (Aaron Burr) and the founder of our economic system (Alexander Hamilton) decided there was only one way out. They decided to take up arms and literally shoot at each other.
Before facebook. Before electronic media of any sort. This was just good old face-to-face I don’t like you and you don’t like me and the world ain’t big enough for the both of us.
And so, on July 11, 1804, the vice president and the former secretary of the U.S. Treasury agreed to cross the Hudson River from New York to New Jersey for a popular dueling ground known as the Palisades.
According to historians, Hamilton had been involved in as many as 10 previous duels; Burr reportedly had two on his record. Each obviously entered this one with an undefeated record.
Upon further review, duels often ended in a tie. When two got to that point, it would not be uncommon to decide that the world indeed did have enough room for the both of us.
But that was not the case back on July 11, 1804 when the sitting vice president Aaron Burr gunned down former secretary of the treasury Alexander Hamilton.
According to one theory, Hamilton fired first but he shot into the air intending to miss Burr.
Likewise Burr reportedly also fired with the intention to miss, but he missed on the miss.
Hamilton died of gunshot wounds the next day. Burr returned to work, presiding over the U.S. Senate. I’ve got a feeling that gun control was not on the agenda.
As highly as we revere our founding fathers, not everything they did was pristine. There was a bit of the Wild West in the best of them. And this is certainly one of those cases.
Imagine for a moment that our state legislature decided the only reasonable way to resolve the budget quagmire was going out side and shooting at each other.
Or Republicans and Democrats in the nation’s capitol choosing their pistols to determine the fate of Obamacare once and for all.
Alexander Hamilton lost this historic duel back in 1809. But he still got the last word: his picture still appears on our ten dollar bills.