Alexander Hamilton died on this date in 1804, in a bizarre episode in U.S. history with profound ethical and political implications. There Aaron Burr fatally shot dead the nation’s first Secretary of the Treasury and essential political thinker in an illegal duel at Weehawken, New Jersey. It was, of course, unethical to break the law, especially for these two men, who qualified as national leaders. Hamilton’s son had died defending his father’s honor in 1801 at the exact same spot (What was Alexander thinking?)
According to Hamilton’s “second,” Hamilton deliberately fired his weapon into the air rather than at Burr, a gentlemanly gesture and also a profoundly stupid one, if Hamilton believed half the things he had said and written about Burr’s character for years. This was why they were dueling, after all. Burr’s second claimed that Hamilton fired at Burr and missed, and the more I’ve thought abut this, the more I’ve come to believe that this is the more likely scenario. Hamilton was anything but naive, reckless or stupid. Yes, he was a crack shot, but anyone can miss. Even if the gesture of “throwing away his shot” as “Hamilton” puts it, would have impressed some adversaries and been seen as a display of mercy and an offer of reconciliation, it made no sense at all with this adversary. Moreover, Hamilton considered Burr a threat to the nation—he was right about that—why wouldn’t he shoot him? Whatever really happened, Burr, who had the second shot, killed Hamilton with a ball that went through his stomach into his spine. Hamilton died the next day.
This ended Burr’s political career: Would killing Burr have ended Hamilton’s? Probably, but Burr was the one who had issued the challenge. Maybe Hamilton would have been excused by the public. Maybe he would have ultimately become President; all the Founders of his magnitude except Ben Franklin did. For good or ill, Alexander Hamilton would have been a strong and probably transformative leader. But if he hadn’t died at Weehawken, it’s unlikely that we would have “Hamilton” the musical….
1. Baseball, hotdogs, and a bystander hero. Dr. Willie Ross, the father of Washington Nationals pitcher Joe Ross, saved the life of a choking fan midway through yesterday 10-4 Giants win over Washington at Oracle Park in San Francisco. Ross saw that a female spectator was choking, and when Ross came over to her seat to check on her, she couldn’t talk. Ross helped dislodge two pieces of a hot dog by using the Heimlich maneuver, then reached into her throat to take out the third and final piece. The woman, who is a nurse, could breath and speak at last. Ross received a standing ovation from nearby fans.