Democracy’s Craziest Elections: Burr-Hamilton Showdown

By NICK BRAMANTE History has been host to various unorthodox and strange political debates. At times, these debates ended in curious political decisions; at other times, they ended in blood shed. This time was not a curious political decision. In 1804, one of the most interesting and violent exchanges in American politics occurred between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. The first reason for debate between the two at the time was because of simple political party difference. Hamilton was a Federalist, and Burr was a Republican. Keep in mind this was a time where people with different political views were not so “civilized” as they are today; and even today people aren’t always so cushy. The first real schism between the two occurred when Burr was able to secure a seat on the United States Senate. This seat just so happened to belong to a man by the name of Philip Schuyler; Hamilton’s father-in-la w. At the time Hamilton was Treasury secretary and really was counting on Schuyler’s support, so needless to say when Burr stole the spot from right under their noses, Hamilton was far from pleased. The next conflict between the two was caused by the publication of a particular book, one of which has a long name that wouldn’t mean anything to anybody now. Long story short, this book created holes in the federalist party, the party which Hamilton was associated. It also publicly embarrassed Hamilton, and so his feathers were a little rustled. The book itself was not written by Burr, and had been intended for private distribution only. It was by Burr’s hand in it all, that eventually caused it to be published, and so it was mainly from the cause of Burr’s actions, that made the publication possible. The “last straw” between the two, was pulled during the 1804 election for the governor of New York. Burr had run for governor, and in doing so, decided to go independent, turning his back on the Republican party. This meant that people who were not interested in the Republican party were now enticed to vote for Burr. These other people included many groups,, but the most important one to the situation would be the Federalist party, headed by Hamilton. Hamilton was infuriated, and tried his best to make sure Federalists did not support Burr’s campaign. In the end, Burr failed in his attempt at governor, and so Burr and Hamilton’s dislike for each other once again grew stronger. After the political war between the two, the trash talking ensued. At a prominent political dinner, Hamilton expressed his opinion about Burr’s failure, and that’s putting it lightly. Hamilton openly attacked Burr at the dinner, and word eventually got to Burr, along with most of the States, after a man who had attended the dinner published Hamilton’s words in a newspaper. Burr felt as if his hand had been forced, and so he challenged Hamilton to a duel in the streets of New Jersey. On the morning of Jul. 11, 1804, the two met, both equipped with .56 caliber dueling pistols, each of which held only one shot. The two stepped, turned and fired at each other. Hamilton’s shot missed completely, leaving Burr unscathed. Hamilton, on the other hand, was mortally wounded with the shot, and died the next day. This duel did nothing for Burr’s already failing political career, except speed up it’s demise. Burr was arrested, charged with an account of murder. In the end, one man ended up dead, and the other’s career was ruined. One of the strangest political “duels” in history, it goes to show what two hot-headed politicians can accomplish. Moral of the story: don’t challenge your political opponent to a duel, win, and then expect to be elected. It probably won’t go well for you.

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