War of Two
Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, and the Duel that Stunned the Nation
A provocative and penetrating investigation into the rivalry between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, whose infamous duel left the Founding Father dead and turned a sitting Vice President into a fugitive.
In the summer of 1804, two of America’s most eminent statesmen squared off, pistols raised, on a bluff along the Hudson River. Why would two such men risk not only their lives but the stability of the young country they helped forge?
In War of Two, John Sedgwick explores the long-standing conflict between Founding Father Alexander Hamilton and Vice President Aaron Burr. Matching each other’s ambition and skill as lawyers in New York, they later battled for power along political fault lines that would decide—and define—the future of the United States.
A series of letters between Burr and Hamilton suggests the duel was fought over an unflattering comment made at a dinner party. But another letter, written by Hamilton the night before the event, provides critical insight into his true motivation. It was addressed to former Speaker of the House Theodore Sedgwick, a trusted friend of both men, and the author’s own ancestor.
John Sedgwick suggests that Hamilton saw Burr not merely as a personal rival but as a threat to the nation. It was a fear that would prove justified after Hamilton’s death...
INCLUDES COLOR IMAGES AND ILLUSTRATIONS
Journalist and novelist Sedgwick (In My Blood) looks back on one of America's earliest scandals: the duel between Alexander Hamilton, the nation's first secretary of the treasury, and Aaron Burr, the sitting vice president. The standoff stemmed from Hamilton calling Burr dangerous, but it was fueled by the interaction of two men for whom "relative standing was everything." Hamilton, who had risen from illegitimacy and poverty to great power, possessed "a protean ability not just to make enemies but to create them," and his influence waned accordingly. The nation's rising star was Aaron Burr, whose political career began as "a testament to his high standing as a lawyer and to his elite background." Sedgwick perceptively suggests that Burr's skill at influencing public opinion epitomized for the emerging Republicans what Hamilton's preference for elite governance did for the Federalists: competing versions of democracy. Never gaining Thomas Jefferson's trust even as his vice president, Burr sought a power base in New York where Hamilton had returned after leaving the government. Both men felt unacceptably diminished; each focused on the other as cause and symbol of his own relative decline. Sedgwick shows that while the duel was not inevitable, the pair's final encounter was predictable.