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AMERICAN DUELS III. HAMILTON-BURR PAINTING BY SIDNEY H. RIESENBERG ARTICLE BY EDGAR ALLEN FORBES fITH emotions that we have not the hand to inscribe, have we to announce the death of Alexander Hamilton," said the N'ew York Herald of July 13, 1S04. But a coroner's jury went a step farther and called it "murder." The Hamilton-Burr "interview" (as it was railed in the statelv language of the time) was by far the most famous duel ever fought on the American continent, and one of the most deplorable. It cost the life of one man, and utterly ruined the brilliant public career of the other. As we focus our glasses on the Weehawkcn shore of the Hudson in the light of our own day, it is difficult to believe our eyes. There they stand in the cool air of the early morning,?the Vice President of the United States and a former Secretary of the Treasury facing each other with loaded pistol in hand. Only once has the phenomenon appeared in our history, and it seems certain that it can never again occur. It was not so much the exalted station of the two men that made the encounter so tragic: it was the personality of the antagonists that made the meeting of such dramatic interest. Aaron Burr was one of the best known men in the country. Tall and soldierly in his bearing, with keen, bright eyes, he fascinated both men and women with his engaging personality. He was a minister's son, and seems to have worked diligently to maintain the questionable reputation that is supposed to attach itself to the sons of preachers. And he was a grandson of the famous Jonathan Edtvards, one of the sternest theologians that ever acidulated the simple religion of Christ. Burr was now fortyeight. He was a lawyer and a politician, and in both professions just the kind of man that Alexander Hamilton could never tolerate. Hamilton was forty-seven and at the zenith of his public career. He was unquestionably one of the ablest men nrnrtnr-prl bv the stress of those stirring times. When the t" -J . ? battle of Lexington was fought he was a college boy of eighteen; but shortly afterward he was a Captain of artillery. At nineteen he was a Lieutenant Colonel on the personal staff of General Washington, and his judgment was then so sound that he remained the personal adviser to the commander in chief throughout the war. In 1780 he had married the daughter of General Schuyler, and soon became a Major General. After the death of Washington, Hamilton was commander in chief of the American army. But his chief distinction springs from his wonderful intellect and creative financial ability. He was made Secretary of the Treasury because Washington said that he was the only man in the country who delivered the goods. The difficulty of the job was due mainly to the fact that there was no Treasury to be Secretary ot: it was up to Hamilton to make a Treasury, and he made it. Fortunately for the country, the constructive work had been done before he met Aaron Burr at Wcehawken that fatal July morning. Hamilton had long held Burr in profound contempt; but he had no personal ill will toward him. Burr, on the other hand, was personally embittered by Hamilton's persistent opposition to him, and he refused longer to tolerate it. When Burr just missed being President of the United .States he knew that Hamilton was mainly to blame for his losing the one vote that would have elected him in the House of Representatives. And when he refused to be consoled by his election as Vice President and sought to be Governor of New York instead, again it was Alexander Hamilton who blocked the game. Burr cannot therefore be greatly blamed for bitter feelings. The immediate cause of the duel was a letter that a Dr. Cooper had written to Philip Schuyler. It was in this sentence, "I assert that General Hamilton and Judge Kent have declared, in substance, we have looked upon Mr. Burr to be a dangerous man and one who ought not to be trusted with the reins of government." The letter eventually fell into Burr's hands, and he promptly wrote to Hamilton and asked if it, was true that he said it. The resulting correspondence does not shed additional luster on Hamilton's name. He had been saying much worse things about Burr for a long time; but when it came to a showdown he tell hack upon legal subterfuges and demanded that Burr state the specific time and place when any specific conversation was supposed to have specifically occurred. Hamilton knew of course that if he admitted ? having used the words he would have to cat them publicly or fight, and he had the best reasons in the world for not wishing to fight. Letter after letter passed back and forth, i; ,,4?.m:., >,?.;.^aw?a^iiwwM?<>iiiii^^ wM p-.r . -*? vkit" -ivm, k - v . :% i. . -- v \ ' rfe"\' iMS , 7.' V ,: A: pg| ?|i <* ] . -' - . 'v ' >' * t"' .. * - J. " -;l . f- v' *'1 1~ " .^rJS filled with high-sounding legal verbiage, and when Burr's patience reached the breaking point he sent the challenge. At that time there was nothing for Hamilton to do but to accept it. The reluctance with which he did so is shown in this extract from the memorandum he drew tin iust he fore he went to the fatal "interview": I was certainly desirous of avoiding this interview for the most cogent reasons: 1. My religious and moral convictions are strongly opposed to the practice of duelling, and it would ever give me pain to be obliged to shed the blood of a fellow-creature in a private combat forbidden bv the laws. 2. My wife and children are extremely dear to me, and my life is of the utmost importance to them, in various views. 3. I feel a sense of obligation toward my creditors who, in case of accident to me, by the forced sale of my property, may .. * * w| ' ' ^ >iw ' 'r- J aK l-V" / fc"V Sp&criSBSBiSEBSIUB^^^F fxT^HnSI-' fi^Hw^^m '.l^re9 Efps^^VI^ P^H|m .JUUMBUhv ' Bp? T^^^piy5 ^SSfesH ? Kn in cnmn dnnrnn ciiffnrorc T ilifl tint tlii'nl/ mitcolf of ItKorfl ' as a man of probity lightly to expose them to this hazard. | 4. I am conscious of no ill-will to Colonel Burr distinct froJl political opposition, which, as I protest, has proceeded from pui* and upright motives. | Lastly, I hazard much and can possibly gain nothing dv the issue of the interview. 1 In the same memorandum he announced his detcrminat tion to withhold his first fire and probably the second firJ also?a resolution that seems to have been broken onlj li,? n rMnirnmnnt of tlm linn<1 nffar lia tinrl Ko.tl shot. And in this memorandum occurs another remarkab^H, passage: * I trust, at the same time, that the world will dome the justice^ to believe that I have not censured him on light grounds no?