War of Two: Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, and the Duel that Stunned the Nation
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A provocative and penetrating investigation into the rivalry between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, whose infamous duel left the Founding Father dead and turned a sitting Vice President into a fugitive.
In the summer of 1804, two of America’s most eminent statesmen squared off, pistols raised, on a bluff along the Hudson River. That two such men would risk not only their lives but the stability of the young country they helped forge is almost beyond comprehension. Yet we know that it happened. The question is why. [/b]
In War of Two, John Sedgwick explores the long-standing conflict between Founding Father Alexander Hamilton and Vice President Aaron Burr. A study in contrasts from birth, they had been compatriots, colleagues, and even friends. But above all they were rivals. Matching each other’s ambition and skill as lawyers in New York, they later battled for power along political fault lines that would not only decide the future of the United States, but define it.
A series of letters between Burr and Hamilton suggest the duel was fought over an unflattering comment made at a dinner party. But another letter, written by Hamilton the night before the event, provides critical insight into his true motivation. It was addressed to former Speaker of the House Theodore Sedgwick, a trusted friend of both men, and the author’s own ancestor.
John Sedgwick suggests that Hamilton saw Burr not merely as a personal rival but as a threat to the nation. Burr would prove that fear justified after Hamilton’s death when, haunted by the legacy of his longtime adversary, he embarked on an imperial scheme to break the Union apart.
dart / And yields Cornelia all his heart.” Cornelia soon gave way to a young lovely remembered only as Polly. Then a series of . . . others, as a military friend arranged for Hamilton to visit a nearby boardinghouse where he might find welcome from “a lady with a beautiful waist.” With them all, Hamilton would woo them in person but follow up by letter, his hand racing excitedly across the page. Such puppyish eagerness was charming, especially from Washington’s cultivated and fine-featured top
proprieties. If Elizabeth was about order, Angelica was about fun. To Hamilton, Angelica was sunshine itself. The relationship revealed a gushing enthusiasm for a woman that ran the gamut from playfulness to desire and back again. From the first, he was so taken by Angelica, and so bad at concealing it, that many people assumed that they were the lovers. A friend congratulated him on his conquest. “No one has seen [Angelica] who has not been pleased with her and she pleased everyone.” In a
Congress when he arrived two years before, an honor that now passed to Hamilton at twenty-eight. Unlike most of their confederates, Madison shared Hamilton’s conviction that the government needed to be reorganized along federal lines with a powerful central government in place of the current squabbling duchies. The national government needed its own source of revenue if it was to maintain an army, and the states would wither if they didn’t create a national market. The frustrations came to a head
for company, not necessarily for her. “Come my charmer and relieve me. Bring my darling boy to my bosom.” To Angelica, his words were far more heartfelt. In 1785, when she left with her husband for London, possibly permanently, Hamilton struggled to keep his feelings in check. “I saw you depart from Philadelphia with peculiar uneasiness, as if foreboding you were not to return. My apprehensions are confirmed and, unless I see you in Europe, I expect not to see you again. This is the impression we
take on Clinton. And so it was on: Clinton versus Jay, the “Old Incumbent,” as the long-serving Clinton was known, and the sharp, angular Jay. Burr would be on the ballot too. For when the votes were finally tallied in early May, it appeared there were some serious irregularities in the three upstate counties of New York’s somewhat raucous western frontier. In one of them, Otsego County, the current sheriff had apparently not continuously overseen the sealed ballot boxes, as required by law,