Joanne Freeman, Affairs of Honor
Say what you will about Hamilton’s ten previous affairs of honor, for there is much to say, but he at least gave specific accusations he was for the most part able to extract apologies from, so they never made it to pistol fire. Burr seemed to intentionally escalate it to the dueling field (even though the previous two times he had taken apologies from Hamilton, he had followed protocol), which makes it harder to feel sorry for him when things go wrong.
I’ve never really understood the impulse to feel sorry for Burr over his duel with Hamilton. You pushed it to the dueling ground, you shot the guy, you deal with the consequences. Don’t shoot highly regarded political figures if you don’t want to get chased by angry mobs.
Anonymous said: First off, I would like to say that your blog is one of the most entertaining blogs I happened to stumble upon on Tumblr. Thanks for all the wonderful lolz :). Anyway, here's I question I have for you. I wonder, who do you think loathed Hamilton more, Thomas Jefferson or Aaron Burr?
Hmmm… That’s a toughie.
On the one hand, Jefferson actually believed Hamilton was corrupt at heart, and that he was going to turn the United States into a monarchy or something crazy like that.
Aaron Burr managed to get along with Hamilton personally, and did not have the political terrors Jefferson had.
However, I think that Burr hated Hamilton more than Jefferson by the end. Jefferson won. The Republicans triumphed politically over the Federalists; he had his best buddy Madison in office next, followed by Monroe. He was able to put a bust of Hamilton in Monticello and talk about how they were opposed in death as in life, and that he cold respect the man even if they disagreed. It’s easy to be forgiving when you have triumphed over your foe.
Burr, on the other hand, was ruined by Hamilton. Burr challenged Hamilton to a duel over a personal insult, and killed him, probably accidentally. That screwed Burr over and defined him. He had to spend the rest of his days being seen unfairly as the evil murderer of a great man. Everything Hamilton ever did to him was probably magnified many times over in his mind.
Earlier in their lives, I would say the opposite was true. Hamilton hated Jefferson, but was friendly with Burr. The feelings were mutual.
I’m glad you find the blog entertaining! :D
Joan Freeman, Dueling as Politics
In her notes, Freeman goes on to clarify:
“Scholars have not noticed that Hamilton’s humiliating attempt to defend the Jay Treaty and his two honor disputes were cause and effect, occurring within the space of a few hours. This oversight reveals the problem with conventional assumptions about the personal nature of dueling: neglect of a duel’s political context and implications trivializes the personal and simplifies the political, obscuring the complex, personal nature of politics in the early republic.”
I swear, sometimes Alexander Hamilton is just…like…John Adams with pretentious to honorable heroism.
Burr was an ambitious man who concealed himself behind a polished, aristocratic demeanor, supposedly derived from his study of Lord Chesterfield’s letters to his son. He never appeared to seek office, either for its own sake or to effect some broader goal. Instead, supporters sought out Burr with offers to attach him and his abilities to their cause, which Burr then attempted to turn to his own advantage. Such recognition, Burr felt, was no more than his due, and the pattern is clearly discernible behind his rise to prominence between 1789 and 1801. These circumstances also prepared the way for his downfall insofar as his early success led Burr to neglect consolidating bases for his political power, especially in New York. Consequently, when his supporters began to abandon him, Burr rapidly became vulnerable. By 1802, he was so isolated in New York politics that during the Pamphlet War he could find no outlet in the Republican press and had to resort to a Federalist journal for his defense. Two years later, the extent of his decline could be still more graphically measured by his humiliating defeat in the New York gubernatorial election of 1804.
Considered cumulatively, the details of these events suggest that Burr’s reputation as a political manipulator can be overrated. He was not incapable of hard work and organization, but essentially he was a loner in politics and he was to pay a heavy price for his aloof arrogance.
J. C. A. Stagg, The Enigma of Aaron Burr
Burr was living in a world with other men of his standing and ambitions and did what he thought was best for himself. In this way, he is a recognizable politician to a modern reader. But it is understandable that back then he would be viewed as dangerous and self-serving.
He was, however, at the end of the day, just a man.
At the end of the day, I respect him more for being blatant about it, as much as he ended up shooting himself in the foot because of it. All the founders were incredibly self-serving but hid their actions behind the virtuous guise of doing “for the public good”. I’d much rather someone be straightforward about their own arrogance and self-interest than pretend to be some John Q. Public just struggling to do what’s right while being just as narcissistic as the other guy.
I disagree. The Founders could be pretty self-serving, but I’d say that the likes of Jefferson, Hamilton, Washington, and many others really did care deeply about the public good. Call out Jefferson’s hypocrisies as much as yah like, but he was serious about his vision of the country and he thought of Federalists as having a genuinely corrupt vision. Hamilton was ambitious as hell, but he threw a fit whenever he felt that anarchy was looming or greedy local politicians were putting their desire for personal power over what was best for the US as a whole. The reason politics were so volatile during this period was because it was revolutionary, and so much was on the line.