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Thursday, October 06, 2005

Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton

Over in the US the second monday in October is Columbus day. According to Wikipedia this celebration of Christopher Columbus was first held in New York on 12th October 1792. It was organised by the Tammany society, who were founded in 1786 'as a patriotic fraternal organization whose primary activities were social, with an initial movement within the society to improve the image of Native Americans.' (source)

Aaron Burr led this group from 1797 and was vice president under Thomas Jefferson. He seems to be better remembered however for his duel with his political rival Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton was a very important figure in the early history of the United States. During his time as secretary of the treasury he had a significant impact on the country's development. He proposed the establishment of a precursor to the Coast Guard, contributed to the foundation of the Navy, ended a period of bankruptcy by placing the economy on a sound footing and developed the First Bank of the United States. You can read more about his work here.

Hamilton is also remembered for the Maria Reynolds affair. Maria, the wife of an abusive con man James Reynolds, first approached Hamilton in Philadelphia in 1791 asking for help. She said that her husband had abandoned her and that she needed money to go to New York with her daughter. Hamilton delivered the money in person and the two began an illicit affair. When her husband found out he blackmailed Hamilton, who paid him over several years to be allowed to continue sleeping with Maria. At the same time Reynolds became embroiled in a speculation scheme and implicated Hamilton, knowing that the politician would rather reveal his affair than admit to involvement in the scheme.

Hamilton admitted everything to a congressional enquiry, even showing them his love letters. He was cleared of involvement in the speculation but news of his affair with Maria was passed onto his rival Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson used this knowledge to spread rumours about Hamilton's private life. The scandal damaged Hamilton's reputation and probably cost him the presidency in 1800. Maria Reynolds divorced her husband shortly afterwards and ironically her attorney was Aaron Burr. (Source)

Burr and Hamilton fell out after the latter made remarks about Burr during a private conversation. A newspaper picked up the story and Burr demanded an apology. Hamilton said that he could not remember the incident the newspaper described and an exchange of letters followed. Burr challenged Hamilton to a duel on 11th July 1804. Hamilton fired away from his opponent but Burr shot him in the abdomen. A letter Hamilton wrote the night before the duel suggests that he deliberately missed Burr. "I have resolved, if our interview is 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." He died the following day and was buried in Manhattan. (Source)

Burr was charged with murder in New York and New Jersey but he never stood trial for it. Instead he fled to his daughter's family in South Carolina. He was able to complete his term as Vice President in Washington D.C. and left office in 1805. He then became involved in an incredible conspiracy. You can read all about it here as I've been slouched over my laptop all morning and my shoulders are hurting.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Cherchez la femme" ? :)

PS. Massages fix everything (sometimes in more ways than one.) :P

4:21 am  
Blogger Mapo said...

J dear if you're going to leave anonymous comments don't leave creepy ones!

9:14 am  

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