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Q: Why Did Alexander Hamilton Lose His Duel With Aaron Burr?

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A: When Alexander Hamilton met his rival, Aaron Burr, for an “interview” (so called because dueling was illegal) on July 11, 1804, things didn’t go quite like he planned. Burr had challenged Hamilton to the duel as a result of years of squabbling and alleged libels that Hamilton could’ve defused many times previously but didn’t because of his own pride and stubbornness. Both parties intended for it to be a relatively bloodless affair, planning to simply go through the motions to “satisfy honor.”

But on the day of, poor Hamilton simply didn’t have luck on his side. First, he chose the north side of the ledge, which meant the rising sun and glare off the water would be in his eyes. Second, he chose two ornate smoothbore pistols — fancy, but highly inaccurate. To kick off the duel, Hamilton supposedly fired his shot high above Burr, intentionally missing him. Burr, not realizing this, fired back, but probably only to wound Hamilton in the leg. Unfortunately, the inaccuracy of the pistol (which Hamilton supplied) turned a flesh wound into a kill shot. The huge .54-caliber ball entered above Hamilton’s hip (leaving a 2-inch hole), shattered a rib, ricocheted through his liver and diaphragm, and lodged in the second lumbar vertebra. He died at 2:00 the next afternoon.

As for Burr, although he was alive and physically well, his own future didn’t look so bright. His “murder” of the popular Hamilton made him a villain in the eyes of the public and ruined his political career. The lesson to be learned here is that duels don’t pay. The two political opponents should’ve settled their dispute like real men — in a boxing ring!

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  • Nancy

    It was Burr’s own fault for not deloping into the air as Hamilton did. The unwritten rule with guns than, as now, is that you don’t point it at someone unless you intend to kill. Both men were familiar with guns and with the codes that governed behavior therewith, so Burr cannot be acquitted of having ‘accidently’ murdered Hamilton – and a jury of his peers, who were well aware of all this, in fact did not acquit him, then or ever, regardless of the accuracy or not of the gun itself.

    Of course, by all accounts, killing off Hamilton was almost a good deed, since Hamilton was universally regarded as a pain in the butt except by his cronies, and seems to have generally gone out of his way to see insult where none was intended, by any number of people innocent of actual intention to offend.

  • Bring back duels!

  • Oh, I was so gonna answer this question before you, but my mouth was full of milk and cookies.

  • Er … I mean a peanut butter sandwich.

  • I’m not surprised that Nancy is pro-Burr and anti-Hamilton, since Burr pioneered many of the techiniques of election fraud and vote manipulation which the Democrats live and die by today.


  • Kathleen

    Is your head in the sand? The political party that has voter fraud to an art is the Republican Party. At nleast the past two elections have shown this, and blatantly so.
    Can anyone say Florida fraud, or Ohio ballot burning?
    Neither party is perfect, but these days it’s the Reps big time who are the criminals here.

  • Lumpy

    You’re seriously deluded kathleen. You need to read some history and perhaps this article: there’s no comparison between the unproven allegations u bring up against the republicans and the decades of proven fraud and deception practiced by the left.

  • I really hate election season.

    It’s funny to think that duels should be comprised primarily of firing shots into the air. Is this based on the idea that gravity will eventually bring those bullets back down somewhere, and maybe — just maybe — they’ll land on your opponent’s head?

  • Aaron Burr is bereft of honor…

  • sr

    Kathleen me darling of course. Florida election fraud? Ohio burning. Get a grip pleaseeeeeeeeee.
    Bless ya child.

  • Doug Hamilton

    Kathleen, your reasons for suggesting that “killing off Hamilton was almost a good deed” is about as cretinous as wishing the same demise for anyone offering a divergent opinion. If nothing else he sacrificed quite a bit to give all of us the opportunity to have and share our views, no matter how irresponsible they may be.

  • “I’m not surprised that Nancy is pro-Burr and anti-Hamilton, since Burr pioneered many of the techiniques of election fraud and vote manipulation which the Democrats live and die by today”

    And its so nice to see you take a 200-year old duel and spin it for partisan rhetoric….Yeeesh! Seriously Dave, I think you need to take a break from the election for at least a day or two or you might pop a vein…

  • Nancy

    Didn’t know Burr had anything to do with inventing the voting machine. If I had, I’d reverse my thinking & be pro-Hamilton. So you say Burr invented the Diebold…y’learn something new every day….

  • Christy

    Actually, the day before Hamtilon was shot by Burr he made the comment, “more and more I come to see, this American life was not made for me.” Im writing one of my papers on a study of Hamilton and Jefferson and Ive found that once Jefferson began taking such a large role in politics Hamilton no longer wanted a part of the American life. He meant for Burr to shoot him. He wanted out of the “American Life.”

  • G.T. Loraine

    The pistols used in the duel were provided by Hamilton’s brother in law who had had them custom made in in London. The pistols had a hidden hair trigger and took a larger bore bullet than was usual. Both of these were against the “code duello” and it seems rather obvious that Hamilton intended to murder Burr through the use of underhand tactics as Burr was unaware of the hair trigger. It would appear that Hamilton mis-fired due to applying too much pressure to the hair trigger; Burr was firing into the cloud of smoke created by Hamilton’s discharge and was not able to aim clearly.
    The facts of the fixed guns were revealed in 1976 when the Smithsonian Institute subjected the pistols to x-rays. Hamilton owned pistols of his own but chose to borrow this pair from his brother in law. With the hair trigger engaged firing took only 1/2 pound of pressure. Burr had to apply 10 pounds of pressure.