The Day After: The Burr – Hamilton Duel

Oh Burr, oh Burr, what has thou done,
Thou has shooted dead great Hamilton!
You hid behind a bunch of thistle,
And shooted him dead with a great hoss pistol!

It’s been said that this anonymous poem addressed to Aaron Burr was left on Burr’s doorstep in 1804, while other reports say that Burr never saw it until many years later.  Whichever, Burr really didn’t hide “behind a bunch of thistle.”

Burr Hamilton Duel

Maybe whoever wrote it thought one of the seconds was Burr. The day after the duel, Alexander Hamilton died at 2 p.m. and Aaron Burr, who was the sitting Vice-President at the time, became the villain in the whole affair for quite a long time.  In some people’s eyes, he still is.  Burr did finish out his term as Vice President and although indicted for murder in New York and New Jersey, was later acquitted.

In yesterday’s Hudson County (where Weehawken is) edition on, an article by Agustin C. Torres asks:, “Is it time for an Aaron Burr bust to join Hamilton’s?.”

Mr. Torres writes: “Historically, Burr is looked upon as the bad guy but he led a fascinating, almost adventurous, life abroad. While Burr was publicly vilified, President John Adams was always among those who defended him. Gore Vidal’s 1973 book, Burr, is a good summer read …”

It should be noted that the actual title of that book is Burr: A Novel, so that you know Vidal is offering up a fictionalized account of Burr’s life, although Vidal did state that he painstakingly researched the characters and portrayed them realistically. However, the hypothesis in the book that the “slander” committed by Hamilton against Burr was in suggesting that Burr had slept with his own daughter, Theodosia, is just that — a supposition that can’t be proved or disproved. It is a good book to read, but only if you are able to put aside any preconceived notions you may have about the historical characters, and at the same time be able to appreciate that you are reading one author’s interpretation. By the by, John Adams and Alexander Hamilton hated each other long before the duel.

I actually read this book many years ago, although it is not the only thing I’ve read on the topic. What I’ve never quite been able to grasp is how they could indict Burr for murder when Hamilton’s death was the outcome of a duel, illegal or not, that both men agreed to participate in. Certainly, Hamilton was not assassinated as HistoryBuff09 seems to think:

“… suggesting we need to add the bust to the memorial is, um, misguided. Why not put Lee Harvey Oswald next to the Kennedy Memorial …”