Scandals the US Founding Fathers Tried to Keep Secret
Scandals the US Founding Fathers Tried to Keep Secret

Scandals the US Founding Fathers Tried to Keep Secret

Larry Holzwarth - July 7, 2021

Scandals the US Founding Fathers Tried to Keep Secret
Two states charged the sitting Vice-President with murder following the death of Hamilton in a duel. Wikimedia

20. Aaron Burr faced indictment while sitting as Vice President of the United States

In 1804, the long and bitter rivalry between former Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton and the Vice President of the United States Aaron Burr reached its peak. After years of slinging mud at each other in the press, private letters, and public speeches, the two agreed to meet to settle their differences with pistols. Burr issued the ultimate challenge, Hamilton accepted, and the duel was set for July 11, 1804, near Weehawken, New Jersey, across the river from New York. Dueling was illegal in both states at the time. New Jersey, however, prescribed lesser penalties for those engaging in the practice. That morning Hamilton fired and missed, some say deliberately, while others contend he intended to kill his opponent. Burr fired and caused a mortal wound. Hamilton was carried to New York, where he died the following day.

The Vice President fled to Georgia, residing for a time on St. Simons Island. Both New York and New Jersey charged Burr with murder, though neither state made any attempt to extradite him. By the end of 1804 he returned to Washington and his role as Vice President, though he was dropped from the ticket for re-election that year. Until the legal maneuverings cleared him of charges in New York and New Jersey he avoided both states. Burr later avoided conviction on charges of treason which spelled the end of his political career, and eventually returned to the practice of law in New York City. From 1812 until the end of his life he lived in New York, obscure and largely forgotten. Hamilton’s allies elevated his reputation to godlike status, making him a slain martyr of American liberty. Burr’s reputation merely worsened over time.


Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

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“The Rise and Fall of Silas Deane, American Patriot”. David Drury, Connecticut History Online.

“The Confessions of Gouverneur Morris”. Meredith Hindley, National Endowment for the Humanities. Spring 2019. Online

“Genet Affair”. Article, George Washington’s Mount Vernon. Online

“James Callender”. Article, Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. Online

“Alexander Hamilton’s Adultery and Apology”. Angela Serratore, Smithsonian Magazine. July 25, 2013

“Alexander Hamilton had a steamy affair, then told the world all about it”. Allison McNearney, The Daily Beast. July 4, 2021

“That Time When Alexander Hamilton Almost Dueled James Monroe”. Cassandra Good, Smithsonian Magazine. October 26, 2015

“XYZ Affair and the Quasi-War with France, 1798-1800”. Article, Article, Office of the Historian, United States Department of State. Online

“Biography: James Callender”. Article, The American Experience. PBS, Online

“The President, Again”. James T. Callender, Encyclopedia Virginia. Sept 1, 1802. Online

“The Enslaved Household of President Thomas Jefferson”. Lima Mann, White House Historical Association. Online

“Expulsion Case of William Blount of Tennessee”. Article, Art & History, United States Senate. Online

“Marriage and Children”. Article, Benjamin Franklin Historical Society. Online

“Aaron Burr, vice-president who killed Hamilton, had children of color”. Amanda Holpuch, The Guardian. August 24, 2019

“John Adams”. David McCullough. 2001

“The President’s Son”. David Osborn, National Park Service, St. Paul’s Church (Mt. Vernon, NY). May, 2008

“The Harvard-Hancock Feud”. Fiona Brennan, Aiyana White, Harvard Crimson. October 26, 2019

“What Happened to Aaron Burr After He Shot Alexander Hamilton?” Article, History Daily. September 1, 2020