At dawn on the morning of July 11, […] political antagonists, and personal enemies, Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr met on the heights of Weehawken […], to settle their longstanding differences with a duel. The participants fired their pistols in close succession. Burr’s shot met its target immediately, fatally wounding Hamilton and leading to his death the following day. Burr escaped unharmed. This tragically extreme incident reflected the depth of animosity aroused by the first emergence of the nation’s political party system. Both men were political leaders in New York: Burr, a prominent Republican, and Hamilton, leader of the opposing Federalist Party. Burr had found himself the brunt of Hamilton’s political maneuvering on several occasions, including the unusual presidential election of 1800, in which vice-presidential candidate Burr almost defeated his running mate, presidential candidate Thomas Jefferson. In 1804, Hamilton opposed Burr’s closely fought bid for governor of New York. On the heels of this narrow defeat, Burr challenged Hamilton to a duel on the grounds that Hamilton had publicly maligned his character.
Alexander Hamilton, the chief architect of America’s political economy, was born on the Caribbean island of Nevis [and] came to the American colonies in 1773 as a poor immigrant. (There is some controversy as to the year of his birth, but it was either 1755 or 1757.) In 1776, he joined the Continental Army in the American Revolution and his […] remarkable intelligence brought him to the attention of General George Washington. Aaron Burr, born into a prestigious New Jersey family in 1756, was also intellectually gifted and [..] graduated from the College of New Jersey (later Princeton) at the age of 17. He joined the Continental Army in 1775 […]. In 1790, he defeated Alexander Hamilton’s father-in-law in a race for the U.S. Senate. Hamilton came to detest Burr, whom he regarded as a dangerous opportunist, and […] often spoke ill of him.
In the 1800 election, Jefferson and Burr became running mates […]. Under the electoral procedure then prevailing, president and vice president were voted for, separately. […] the candidate who received the most votes was elected president, and the second in line, vice president. What at first seemed but an electoral technicality […] developed into a major constitutional crisis when Federalists in the lame-duck Congress threw their support behind Burr. After a remarkable 35 tie votes, a small group of Federalists changed sides and voted in Jefferson’s favor. Alexander Hamilton, who had supported Jefferson as the lesser of two evils, was instrumental in breaking the deadlock.
The duel was fought at a time when the practice was being outlawed in the northern United States and it had immense political ramifications. Burr survived the duel and was indicted for murder in both New York and New Jersey, though these charges were later either dismissed or resulted in acquittal. The harsh criticism and animosity directed toward him following the duel brought an end to his political career. The Federalist Party was already weakened by the defeat of John Adams in the presidential election of 1800 and was further weakened by Hamilton’s death.
[Burr] spent [many] years in Europe. He finally returned to New York City in 1812, where he resumed his law practice and spent the remainder of his life in relative obscurity.