A Crucial Split Second at Weehawken



Today in History, June 11: 1804 – A duel between Alexander Hamilton and Vice-President Aaron Burr ends in the death of Hamilton. Both men had played important roles in the birth of America, Hamilton greatly more so. Hamilton had been an aide to Gen. Washington during the Revolutionary War and a key player in the writing of the Constitution, and then the primary driver in creating our financial system.
Burr had been a hero of the Canadian campaign during the war and was a talented politician, if less than diligent in his ethics. Hamilton despised Burr, and considered it his duty to defeat Burr’s ambitions wherever he could. Finally, after Hamilton played a key role in defeating Burr’s ambitions to be New York’s next Governor, Burr challenged Hamilton to a duel.
Duels were then illegal in New York, and most of the challenges were brought to an amicable solution without gunfire. The combatants and their seconds had to go across the river to New Jersey, to a promontory known as Weehawken. Depending on which side you listen to, Hamilton fired his shot into the air, believing the duel to be frivolous. In this version, Burr then took careful aim and shot Hamilton dead.
Burr’s second reports that Hamilton fired at Burr and missed. With the death of such a prominent American, Burr was excoriated as a cad. He finished out his term as Vice-President to hide behind the immunity from prosecution it provided. Afterwards he instigated a scheme to create a separate nation within the Louisiana Territory, going to the British for support (which was refused) and was tried for treason, of which he was acquitted. Nonetheless, he was despised by all, and remained so in history.
This is one of those moments in History, that will forever be shrouded in mystery.  As with time travel theories…what if this had never happened?  What if Burr had missed?  There is a very real possibility Hamilton could have been President at some point.  If so, what effect would he have on the War of 1812?  With his financial acumen, would he have affected Andrew Jackson’s battle with the Bank?  Or would Jackson or any since have even been President?
How often has a split second in History…changed History?

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