In 1804, on this day Alexander Hamilton survived the duel at Weehawken with his life intact, but not his reputation which was in tatters. A reversal of Jeff Provine's Alexander Hamilton Survives Duel post.
Alexander Hamilton Survives Duel, ReduxBecause Colonel Burr was the challenger, the rules of the code duello required General Hamilton to choose the weapons. He selected a pair of highly decorated pistols owned by his wealthy brother-in-law, John Church . The significance of that choice was that Church had shot a button off Burr's coat during a 1799 duel. And two years later, his eldest son Philip had been shot dead during a duel defending his father's honor, just yards away from the same secluded spot at Weehawken. The pistols were used on both occasions.
It was this terrible memory that drove Hamilton to instruct his second Nathaniel Pendleton to set the hair trigger that caused the good Colonel to accidentally shoot himself dead . Unaware of the setting, he had believed the weapon required twenty pounds of pressure to fire, but of course the hair trigger reduced that to just one pound. The consequence was Burr's death and Hamilton's survival but the ill feeling of the duel followed both parties back from New Jersey. Of course Hamilton claimed that he had never intended to fire a shot at Burr, and his intentions entirely were honourable, but New York Society condemned him for misconduct. The prevailing view was that at best he had hoped Burr would misfire and thus save Hamilton's life. A local ditty simply read
O Hamilton, O Hamilton, what has thou done?
Thou had shooted dead great Burr
With a great hoss pistol