The Burr-Hamilton Duel was a duel fought between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr on July 11, 1804. The men were each rowed by four men to Weehawken, New Jersey at 5 AM. There are conflicting accounts of what actually happened, but what do we know is that Burr shot Hamilton , killing him. The reasons, controversy, and motives of and for this duel are complicated and disputed.
Hamilton and Burr had been political rivals for a long time. Burr had defeated Hamilton's father-in-law in Senate, and Hamilton publicly opposed and attempted to politically thwart Burr many times. Hamilton viewed Burr as a dangerous opportunist, and campaigned against Burr when he ran for governor. When Burr heard that Hamilton had called him "dangerous" at a dinner party, Burr decided to take action.
Once Burr heard of Hamilton's slander of him, he wrote a letter to Hamilton demanding to know why he said these things. This led to a series of letters between the men that ended with Burr demanding that Hamilton deny he had ever spoken ill of Burr. Of course, Hamilton refused. Thus the men agreed to meet and settle it with a pistol fight. This process was called an "exchange of honor", or a duel. These were fairly commonplace in politics at the time, and had complex rules governing them so that they rarely ended in bloodshed.
“Aaron Burr Slays Alexander Hamilton in Duel.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 24 Nov. 2009, www.history.com/this-day-in-history/burr-slays-hamilton-in-duel.
In fact, Hamilton had already been in 10 duels, none of which ended in blood. It was unlikely he thought he was going to die or was suicidal. Actually, NOT accepting Burr's invitation would be political suicide, as it was seen as dishonorable and would make Hamilton seem cowardly. Nor was it likely that Burr came to the duel with the intention to kill Hamilton.The men left at 5 AM from Manhattan from separate docks to keep the duel secret. They met in the same place where Hamilton's son had been defeated in a duel and were each accompanied by a "second". A second was a man who acted as as the duelists' witness and assistant.
The accounts of what happened at the duel are conflicting. Hamilton's second claimed that Hamilton decided the duel was morally wrong and had thrown away his shot. Burr's second claimed that Hamilton had indeed fired at Burr, but had missed. Either way, what is known for sure is that Burr shot at Hamilton, killing him.
Freeman, Joanne B. “Understanding the Burr-Hamilton Duel.” Understanding the Burr-Hamilton Duel | Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, 1 Jan. 1970, www.gilderlehrman.org/history-now/essays/understanding-burr-hamilton-duel.
The nation was shocked and outraged at the killing of a man as prominent as Alexander Hamilton, especially by another prominent American citizen. Burr was charged with murder in two states, but he was never tried. His political status destroyed, Burr fled to Europe and later tried two times seize American land and establish an independent empire, but without success. Burr eventually returned to New York and died in 1836.