Mon 20 Sep, 2004 04:46 pm
I have read some things on this duel, and the texts I have read say that Hamilton shot his gun into the air to avoid hitting Burr. Did he not take Burr's challenge seriously? Also, what did Hamilton say that so infuriated Burr?
Hamilton did write a letter the night before the duel that was included with his will in which he said "I have resolved, if our interviews conducted in the usual manner, and it pleases God to give me the opportunity, to reserve and throw away my first fire, and I have thoughts even of reserving my second fire and thus giving a double opportiunity to Col. Burr to pause and reflect." but whether he actual threw his first shot away or not will live on in speculation forever.
The pistols used (chosen by Hamilton) were equipped with hair trigers but Hamilton had instructed his 2nd not to set the hair trigger - that meant he had to exert 20lbs of force on the normal trigger to fire his pistol. He also chose to face south in the duel - looking into the morning sun and having the sunlight reflecting off of the water and into his face. He may have chosen to do both of these to trow the duel.
After he had been shot Hamilton regained conciousness while crossing back over the river and said "Pendelton knows I did not mean to fire at Col. Burr the first time." and when one of the oarsmen motioned to move the pistol Hamilton commented "Take care of that pistol; it is undischarged and still cocked; it may go off and do harm."
All of these quotes from Hamilton have led to a lot of speculation that he had fired into the air purposely.
I'm not convinced though. Missed shots were common in these duels and in fact, Hamilton and Burr had agreed in advance that they would each fire one shot and if neither was hit they'd have a meeting to decide how to progress from there.
Another common explaintion was that Burr fired first and when his round hit Hamilton, Hamilton's body jerked involuntarilly and pulled the trigger on his own pistol and his shot went into the trees above Burr's head. Van Ness (Burr's 2nd on the ledge) claimed to have gone back the day after the duel and found the shattered branch from Hamilton's shot. This "find" along with Hamilton's apparent belief that he hadn't fired at all have kept this 2nd theory alive.
Either way, there is little but conjecture to prove Hamilton's action one way or the other since he didn't live to tell his side of the story. (The full backstory on what led to the duel is more interesting than the duel itself though!)
Any links to the full backstory would be welcome....Thanks for what you've taught me already by the way.
There is good reason to belive that Hamilton had no intention of firing at Burr. Hamilton's son Philip had been killed in a duel two years earlier at the same dueling ground (Weehawken) and Hamilton had since that event often voiced opposition to dueling.
Hrmm.. Sorry, no links.
If you have a few minutes to pop in at a local library or book store there is a book by Joseph Ellis called "Founding Brothers" (pub. in 2001) that has a good 25 page (or so) review of the whole incident and the events leading up to it. Other books delve into some of the back story a lot more.
Thanks guys...I have absolutely fell in love with Hamilton the last few weeks.
Should I mention that Hamiltion came close to having a duel with James Monroe some 7 years prior to his duel with Burr? lol You'll never guess who settled that dispute and averted the duel.
[size=7](I'll buy ya a cup of coffee if you guessed Aaron Burr!
CoL, I don't know if this will give you all of the back story but it is a pretty good read.
Duel: Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, and the Future of America
by Thomas Fleming
This is covered in great detail in one section of Joseph Ellis's book, "Founding Brothers." It appears that Hamilton deliberately wasted his shot. Weapons being what they were in those days, it was not uncommon for people to survive duels, even with both parties aiming at each other. It is, as was stated above, also believed that Burr's shot came a moment before Hamilton's. I believe that Burr objected to things that Hamilton had written about him over a period of time. Burr wrote Hamilton a very polite letter asking him to explain his remarks. Hamilton wrote back an equally polite letter which was somewhat conciliatory but not an apology. After a few more excruciatingly polite letters, they were ready to duel.
...After a few more excruciatingly polite letters, they were ready to duel.
If they'd been on the A2K Politics forum, they'd probably have gone at each other with axes.
Come on George, A2K is a classy bunch
claymores and rapiers