Vice President Aaron Burr fatally shot Alexander Hamilton in a duel in New Jersey, on July 11, 1804.
The Burr–Hamilton duel was fought at Weehawken, New Jersey, between Burr, who was the Vice President of the United States, and Hamilton, the first and former Secretary of the Treasury, on the morning of July 11, 1804.
The duel was the culmination of a bitter rivalry that had developed between both men who had become high-profile politicians in postcolonial America.
In the duel Burr fatally shot Hamilton, while Hamilton fired into a tree branch above and behind Burr’s head. Hamilton was taken back across the River Hudson and died the following day in New York.
"The duel was politically momentous beyond the obvious (the death of one of the young country’s best-known founding/framing fathers, albeit an extremely controversial one)," said Matt Rooney, an attorney at the law firm of DeMichele & DeMichele in Haddon Heights and SaveJersey.com’s blogger-in-chief.
"Hamilton’s demise catalyzed the collapse of the formerly dominant Federalist Party," said Rooney. "Burr’s career was effectively over. The rest of his life was consumed by financial troubles, an extended exile overseas, legal woes, divorce, a debilitating stroke and general national infamy for killing Hamilton."
The Federalist Party was already weakened by the defeat of John Adams in the presidential election of 1800 and was further weakened by Hamilton’s death.
The Federalist Party nominated its last presidential candidate in 1816, losing in a landslide to James Monroe. The Federalist Party became defunct afterwards.
The Burr–Hamilton duel is one of the most famous personal conflicts in American history.
It was a pistol duel that arose from long-standing personal bitterness that developed between the two men over the course of several years.
Tension rose with Hamilton’s journalistic defamation of Burr’s character while he was a candidate in the 1804 New York gubernatorial race.
The duel was fought at a time when the practice was being outlawed in the northern United States, and it had immense political ramifications.
Burr survived and he was indicted for murder in both New York and New Jersey, though these charges later were either dismissed or resulted in acquittal.
The harsh criticism and animosity directed toward Burr following the duel brought an end to his political career.
The duel was the final skirmish of a long conflict between Democratic-Republicans and Federalists.
The conflict began in 1791 when Burr won a United States Senate seat from Philip Schuyler, Hamilton’s father-in-law, who would have supported Federalist policies.
The Electoral College then deadlocked in the election of 1800, during which Hamilton’s maneuvering in the House of Representatives caused Thomas Jefferson to be named president and Burr vice president.
At the time, the most votes resulted in an election win, while second place received the Vice Presidency. There were only proto-political parties at the time, as disdainfully noted in President George Washington’s Farewell Address, and the candidates did not share a ticket.
Aaron Burr Jr. was born in 1756 in Newark, New Jersey, as the second child of the Reverend Aaron Burr Sr., a Presbyterian minister and second president of the College of New Jersey, which became Princeton University.
After studying theology at Princeton, he began his career as a lawyer before joining the Continental Army as an officer in the American Revolutionary War in 1775, when news reached him of the clashes with British troops at Lexington and Concord.
During the American Revolutionary War, Burr distinguished himself and became a nationally known hero, but he never received a commendation from George Washington.
After leaving military service in 1779, Burr practiced law in New York City, where he became a leading politician and helped form the new Jeffersonian Democratic-Republican Party.
He became seriously involved in politics in 1789, when George Clinton appointed him as New York State Attorney General.
He was also Commissioner of Revolutionary War Claims in 1791.
Burr ran for president in the 1796 election and received 30 electoral votes, coming in fourth behind John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Thomas Pinckney.
As a New York Assemblyman in 1785, Burr supported a bill to end slavery, despite having owned slaves himself.
In 1791, Burr was elected to the U.S. Senate, where he served until 1797.
With his political career in shambles, Burr traveled west to the American frontier, seeking new economic and political opportunities.
His activities led to his 1807 arrest in Alabama on charges of treason. He was brought to trial more than once for what became known as the Burr conspiracy, an alleged plot to create an independent country under his leadership, but was acquitted each time.
With large debts and few remaining influential friends, Burr left the United States to live as an expatriate in Europe.
He returned in 1812 and resumed practicing law in New York City. A brief second marriage at age 77 resulted in divorce and further scandal.
Handicapped by a stroke and financially ruined, Burr died at a boarding house in 1836.