Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton were political and personal enemies. This was very well known to most of the public at large. They disliked each other's philosophy on the new US government and disliked each other personally. They each considered one another to be traitors to the causes fought for in the Revolutionary War.
Hamilton expressed many of his personal feelings against Burr in private correspondence to his friends. Eventually, one of these letters was made public and Burr took great offense to it. He demanded that Hamilton retract the statements, even though Hamilton himself had never made the public. They were intended to be kept private. Hamilton refused to take any action. Burr continued to demand that Hamilton take back his slanderous statements, but Hamilton would not, so Burr challenged him to a duel.
Hamilton had his choice of weapons, so he chose a special pair of dueling pistols of his own. The story gets murky here and it is not as simple as Burr being the bad guy and Hamilton being the good guy.
Everyone knows the story about Hamilton firing his pistol in the air, then Burr shooting to kill; but it might not be a simple as that. Hamilton's assistant, or "second", later testified that Hamilton had said that he would not shoot to hit Burr. The pistol that Hamilton used had a hair trigger, so it has been postulated that Hamilton's shot into the air was really the result of too much pressure on the trigger causing it to discharge early into the sky.
In any event, after Hamilton had fired, Burr now had a free shot and all the time he wanted to aim. Burr's shot hit Hamilton in the ribcage and deflected into his body, damaging several organs. He was rowed back across the Hudson but bled to death after getting back to his home.
Burr later testified that he never meant to kill Hamilton, just to wound him. In many duels it was common for a person in Burr's situation to shoot at the hip or leg of the other person, not to outright kill the other duelist. His testimony was that he did aim at Hamilton's hip and not his body. The pistols of that day were not very accurate. Although Burr may have aimed at Hamilton's hip, his shot hit him in the torso. Actually, the shot could just as easily missed completely. So, according to Burr, he never intended to kill Hamilton.
The popular story we know is a simple Burr killed Hamilton. But there is much doubt that it really was that simple.
Burr blames Hamilton for his loss in Gov. Race in NY.
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