210 years ago today, one of the most famous duels in U.S. history took place in Weehawken, New Jersey, between Alexander Hamilton, first Secretary of the Treasury and co-author of the Federalist Papers, and Aaron Burr, our third Vice President and former U.S. Senator for New York . Students of history know the story: Hamilton called Burr corrupt, Burr demanded that Hamilton apologize, Hamilton refused, and Burr challenged Hamilton to a duel. Two shots were fired, and while Hamilton’s shot missed, as Hamilton appears to have intended, Burr’s bullet found its mark. Hamilton died the next day, and Burr’s political career was, for all intents and purposes, destroyed.
We have recently digitized and made available a eulogy for Alexander Hamilton, given in Boston on July 26, 1804, by Harrison Gray Otis, a luminary in Hamilton’s Federalist Party and one of the wealthiest men of his time. In it, he proclaims that Hamilton was “a planet, the dawn of which was not perceived; which rose with full splendor, and emitted a constant stream of glorious light until the hour of its sudden and portentous eclipse.” Otis’ admiration for Hamilton is clear in every word, and yet he also takes great care to avoid offending members of other political parties, lest “the sacred sorrow in which we all unite should be disturbed by a mixture of any unkindly emotions.” To that end, he doesn’t even mention the name Aaron Burr or the duel, only touching on the event by pointing out that Hamilton never intended to shoot Burr at all: “he could not reconcile his benevolent heart to shed the blood of an adversary in private combat, even in his own defence [sic].”
Otis’s eulogy is all that a eulogy should be, and though it is certainly hyperbolic, there is no doubt that, as one of our nation’s founders, Hamilton earned much of the praise heaped upon him. Furthermore, Hamilton’s contributions aside, the eulogy is a pleasure to read. Otis conveys anger, admiration, sorrow, and “hope for a constant succession of patriots and heroes” like Hamilton and his contemporaries… a hope that we all carry today.
We think you will enjoy reading this piece on Alexander Hamilton, as well as the many other wonderful items in Ohio Memory!
Thank you to Shannon Kupfer, Digital/Tangible Media Cataloger at the State Library of Ohio, for this week’s post!