The duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr was 207 years ago this morning. Hamilton biographer Ron Chernow wrote about the duel in 2004. Here are the essentials, but the whole piece is worth reading.
Two hundred years ago today, Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton squared off in a sunrise duel on a wooded ledge in Weehawken, N.J., above the Hudson River. Burr was vice president when he leveled his fatal shot at Hamilton, the former Treasury secretary, who died the next day in what is now the West Village of Manhattan. New Yorkers turned out en masse for Hamilton’s funeral, while Burr (rightly or wrongly) was branded an assassin and fled south in anticipation of indictments in New York and New Jersey. To the horror of Hamilton’s admirers, the vice president, now a fugitive from justice, officiated at an impeachment trial in the Senate of a Supreme Court justice.
So Hamilton, at 49, decided to expose himself to Burr’s fire to prove his courage, but to throw away his own shot to express his aversion to dueling. He gambled that Burr would prove a gentleman and merely clip him in the arm or leg — a wager he lost. With Hamilton’s death, America also lost its most creative policymaker. (The murder indictments against Burr petered out, and he died a reclusive old man in 1836.)
Seeking to regain political power after the duel, Burr allegedly led an expedition to establish an independent nation along the Mississippi River, separating territories from the United States and Spain. He was charged with treason but acquitted.