One of the first chapters in the book Founding Brothers by Joseph Ellis is entitled The Duel. It describes the events surrounding a very controversial event in our nation’s history: the duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr which ended in the death of the former. When we look at the facts, we see that Hamilton did not have any malicious intent of killing Burr, making Burr seem like the “bad guy.” However, was Aaron Burr really a bad guy, or has his reputation just been skewed by outlying factors and common misconceptions?
Alexander Hamilton is portrayed as a martyr while Aaron Burr is seen as a villain for killing him. While Hamilton did write that he was not planning on shooting at Burr the first time, there are still some suspicions as to whether he truly felt that way, such as the fact that he put on his glasses to see his target better. Also, the immediate reaction of the public was entirely in favor of Hamilton and ruined Aaron Burr’s political career. The rumors that circulated tainted Burr’s name for generations to come, without any factual evidence to support it. The media was to blame for Burr’s bad reputation, not Burr himself. In fact, immediately after the duel, it was reported that Burr felt guilty about having won and even requested to speak to the wounded Hamilton. If Burr was truly a “bad guy,” he could not have cared less about the wellbeing of his opponent. All in all, the fact that Aaron Burr went down in history as a villain is simply a mistake of the public. He was in the wrong duel at the wrong time, and his reputation became unsalvagable while Hamilton went down in history as a victim and a martyr. When we look at the facts, we find that Burr was not bad at all, just misrepresented.
Tindall, George B., and David E. Shi. America: a Narrative History. 7th ed. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2004. 975.
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