Alexander Hamilton Shot (July 11, 1804)
There’s a night’s-long story behind today’s post, so bear with me while I explain.
I had an image, while I was falling asleep, of an change in political fortune over the space of a weekend. In my mind, I thought it might have happened one Easter, but I couldn’t be sure since the idea was vague. By 3 am, I decided to do a little research (as you do), so I sat up for 30 minutes scrolling through about 50 pages of Google listings but not finding any that fitted the impression I’d had.
Just as I was switching off the computer, Alexander Hamilton‘s name came to me. I resolved to finish my researches in the morning and then went to bed. But that didn’t stop the imagery in my head for the rest of my sleepless night. By dawn’s early light, I was given a view of a gun duel, with one of the participants standing near the edge of a precipice. In fact, I got the impression of a cascade of events leading to this moment. I also got the title of this post, as often happens when I’m being led to write something.
So, just to be clear, in spite of the Broadway play “Hamilton” being based on his life, I knew nothing about the man.
The duel began at dawn on July 11, 1804, along the west bank of the Hudson River on a rocky ledge in Weehawken, New Jersey. Both opponents were rowed over from Manhattan separately from different locations, as the spot was not accessible from the west due to the steepness of the adjoining cliffs. Coincidentally, the duel took place relatively close to the location of the duel that had ended the life of Hamilton’s eldest son, Philip, three years earlier. Lots were cast for the choice of position and which second should start the duel. Both were won by Hamilton’s second, who chose the upper edge of the ledge for Hamilton facing the city to the east, toward the rising sun. After the seconds had measured the paces Hamilton, according to both William P. Van Ness and Burr, raised his pistol “as if to try the light” and had to wear his glasses to prevent his vision from being obscured. Hamilton also refused the more sensitive hairspring setting for the dueling pistols offered by Nathaniel Pendleton.
Vice President Burr shot Hamilton, delivering what proved to be a fatal wound. Hamilton’s shot broke a tree branch directly above Burr’s head. Neither of the seconds, Pendleton nor Van Ness, could determine who fired first, as each claimed that the other man had fired first.
Soon after, they measured and triangulated the shooting, but could not determine from which angle Hamilton had fired. Burr’s shot hit Hamilton in the lower abdomen above his right hip. The bullet ricocheted off Hamilton’s second or third false rib, fracturing it and causing considerable damage to his internal organs, particularly his liver and diaphragm, before becoming lodged in his first or second lumbar vertebra. The biographer Ron Chernow considers the circumstances to indicate that, after taking deliberate aim, Burr fired second, while the biographer James Earnest Cooke suggests that Burr took careful aim and shot first, and Hamilton fired while falling, after being struck by Burr’s bullet.
The paralyzed Hamilton was immediately attended by the same surgeon who tended Phillip Hamilton, and ferried to the Greenwich Village boarding house of his friend William Bayard Jr., who had been waiting on the dock. After final visits from his family and friends and considerable suffering for at least 31 hours, Hamilton died at two o’clock the following afternoon, July 12, 1804, at Bayard’s home just below the present Gansevoort Street. The city fathers halted all business at noon two days later for Hamilton’s funeral, the procession route of about two miles organized by the Society of the Cincinnati had so many participants of every class of citizen that it took hours to complete, and was widely reported nationwide by newspapers. Gouverneur Morris gave the eulogy at his funeral and secretly established a fund to support his widow and children. Hamilton was buried in the Trinity Churchyard Cemetery in Manhattan.Wikipedia
There is one inconjunct:
Uranus Inconjunct Pluto
This aspect indicates changes in the world of the people who were born at these times, changes that were difficult to understand because they were very revolutionary but subtle in many ways.
(Impetuous, for sure.)
Hamilton “Threw Away His Shot”
Before the duel, Hamilton wrote an explanation of his decision to participate while at the same time intending to “throw away” his shot. Hamilton viewed his roles of being a father and husband, putting his creditors at risk, placing his family’s welfare in jeopardy and his moral and religious stances as reasons not to duel, but he felt it impossible to avoid due to having made attacks on Burr which he was unable to recant, and because of Burr’s behavior prior to the duel. He attempted to reconcile his moral and religious reasons and the codes of honor and politics. He intended to accept the duel in order to satisfy his political ethics, and throw away his fire to satisfy his moral codes.Ibid
If I hadn’t got the title before starting this post, I could have been accused of having read about it, first. But I can assure you that I did not. The word ‘honourable’ had to have emphasis, so I went with quotation marks. And as I’m a week late for the 218th anniversary of his death, perhaps he decided to make himself known to me. At any rate, I’ve learned something new, yet again.
I know it’s a stretch, but I sometimes wonder if Erle Stanley Gardner had a similar link-up to Hamilton and Burr: Hamilton Burger as the District Attorney and Raymond Burr playing the Perry Mason role. Far-fetched, eh?