Alexander Hamilton - Ron Chernow (2005)

Chapter 33. WORKS GODLY AND UNGODLY

On June 3, 1799, James Hamilton died on the small, volcanic island of St. Vincent, having left the even tinier nearby island of Bequia nine years earlier. He would have been about eighty years old. The fortunes of the elder Hamilton had never improved, and he ended up trapped on a bloody island that had witnessed terrible atrocities during the previous four years. Starting in 1795, native Caribs conspired with French inhabitants to spark an uprising on the British island. Many settlers were massacred and sugar plantations burned before British troops brutally put down the insurrection. This must have provided a frightening backdrop for the last years of the feeble, aging Hamilton. Alexander’s failure to see James Hamilton during the last thirty-four years of his life raises anew the question of whether he was really Alexander’s biological father or whether Alexander simply felt alienated from a deeply flawed parent who had deserted the family and left him orphaned after his mother’s death. Perhaps Hamilton was too busy for a trip back to the islands. Whatever the truth of this fathomless story, Hamilton had dutifully provided his father with financial aid, approximately two remittances per year, right up until his last payment at Christmas 1798.

Like many self-invented immigrants, Hamilton had totally and irrevocably repudiated his past. He never evinced the slightest desire to revisit the haunts of his early life, and his upbringing remained a taboo topic. Yet childhood scenes may have continued to color the way he saw things, especially slavery. By the time he left the Treasury in 1795, slavery had begun to recede in New England and the mid-Atlantic states. Rhode Island, Vermont, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut had decided to abolish it. Conspicuously missing were New York and New Jersey. So in January 1798, Hamilton resumed his association with the New York Manumission Society, his personal affiliation having lapsed during his Philadelphia years. Elected one of its four legal advisers, he helped defend free blacks when slave masters from out of state brandished bills of sale and tried to snatch them off the New York streets.

In 1799, the society enjoyed a magnificent victory when the largely Federalist Assembly, voting along party lines, decreed the gradual abolition of slavery in New York State by a vote of sixty-eight to twenty-three. (Aaron Burr, though he retained his own slave entourage for many years, defected to the Federalist majority.) By 1804, New Jersey had followed New York’s example, assuring that the north would extirpate the practice over the next generation, helping to set the stage for the Civil War. In the southern states, with their fast-growing slave population and the invention of the cotton gin, slavery became more ineradicable. Those founders bewitched by the fantasy that slavery would slowly fade away were being proved wrong. Twenty years after New York decided to end slavery, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe still clung to such rationalizations, saying, for instance, that if slavery were extended into the new western states, it would weaken and die.

Hamilton’s name cropped up unexpectedly in the Manumission Society minutes for its March 1799 meeting. The society was trying to win the freedom of a slave named Sarah, who had been brought to New York from Maryland. It turned out, to Hamilton’s embarrassment, that she belonged to his brother-in-law John Barker Church. The minutes flagged this awkward circumstance without editorial comment: “A[.] Hamilton was agent for Church in the business.”1 John and Angelica Church had pressed Hamilton to purchase slaves for them before their return to New York. At the next meeting, it was reported that the Churches had suddenly given Sarah her freedom. This incident strengthens the hunch that one or both of the apparent references to slave purchases in Hamilton’s cashbooks for 1796 and 1797 referred to purchases for the Churches, not for himself. By late 1795, we recall, Hamilton was already hunting for housing for his returning relatives.

The Manumission Society’s work was far from over. It ran a school for one hundred black children, teaching them spelling, reading, writing, and arithmetic. It also protested an increasingly common practice: New York slaveholders were circumventing state laws by exporting slaves to the south, from where they were transferred to the West Indian sugar plantations that Hamilton had known as a boy. Hamilton refused to drop his involvement in the Manumission Society even as his renown grew and his commitments vastly multiplied. He kept up his connection as a legal adviser until his death. Was this perhaps his personal way of acknowledging the past by rectifying the injustice that had surrounded his early years?

Hamilton’s antislavery work in the late 1790s was paralleled by Eliza’s growing activism on behalf of marginal and downtrodden people, work that was to dominate the last half century of her life. Because Eliza Hamilton was a modest, self-effacing woman who apparently destroyed her own letters and tried to expunge her presence from the history books, the force of her personality and the magnitude of her contribution have been overlooked. Her son Alexander, Jr., once described her as “remarkable for sprightliness and vivacity.”2 Her pioneering work to relieve the suffering of the poor has been all but forgotten. “She was a most earnest, energetic, and intelligent woman,” said her son James. “Her engagements as a principal of the Widows Society and Orphan Asylum were incessant.”3

The story of Eliza Hamilton’s charitable work is inseparable from that of a remarkable Scottish widow named Isabella Graham, who came to New York in 1789 after her husband died of yellow fever in Antigua. A devout Presbyterian with three daughters, Graham decided to dedicate her life to “godly work” and befriended two clergymen in the Wall Street area who had stood among Hamilton’s first American contacts, John Rodgers and John Mason.4 Aided by these church leaders, Graham set up a school to inculcate Christian virtues and a sound education in fashionable young women. She was assisted by her daughter Joanna, who then married a well-to-do merchant, Richard Bethune. This marriage freed Graham from the need to run her school and enabled her to consecrate her efforts to the poor. In December 1797, mother and daughter launched a groundbreaking venture, the Society for the Relief of Poor Widows with Small Children. This missionary society, composed of Christian women from various denominations, may rank as the first all-female social-service agency in New York City. Bearing food parcels and medicine to indigent widows, the Widows Society volunteers saved almost one hundred women from the poorhouse during its first winter of operation alone. Eliza appeared on the membership rolls as “Mrs. General Hamilton,” and the Widows Society served as her entryway into a broader universe of evangelical social work. Joanna Bethune’s son remembered Eliza thus: “Her person was small and delicately formed, her face agreeable and animated by her brilliant black eyes, showing and radiating the spirit and intelligence so fully exhibited in her subsequent life.”5

In the late 1790s, the unceasing demands of a growing family prevented Eliza from a full-scale commitment to Christian charity work. On November 26, 1799, she gave birth to her seventh child, Eliza, but she continued to shelter strays and waifs, a practice that she and Alexander had started in adopting Fanny Antill. In 1795, Eliza’s brother, John Bradstreet Schuyler, had died, leaving a son, Philip Schuyler II. During the week, the boy attended school on Staten Island with the Hamilton boys and then spent weekends with Uncle Alexander and Aunt Eliza. So Eliza’s home was always bursting with youngsters demanding attention.

Eliza was never allowed to forget the Reynolds affair, since the Republican press refreshed the public’s memory at every opportunity. In December 1799, the Aurora pointed out gleefully that General Hamilton had arrived in Philadelphia after some recent sightings of his former mistress, implying that the affair continued: “Mrs. Reynolds, alias Maria, the sentimental heroine of the memorable Vindication, is said to be in Philadelphia once more. In the early part of last year, she was in town and had the imprudence to intrude herself on women of virtue with a relation of her story that she was the Maria.”6 In fact, Hamilton had never again set eyes on his quondam mistress. The ever-shifting Maria Reynolds had re-created herself as a widow named Maria Clement. In an attempt to gain respectability in Philadelphia, she ran the household of a French doctor. Nevertheless, the Republican papers continued to ride their favorite hobbyhorse, intimating that her romance with Hamilton still flourished.

Hamilton found increasing pleasure at home at 26 Broadway. One senses that he and Eliza clung to each other with a deep sense of mutual need. “I am well aware how much in my absence your affectionate and anxious heart needs the consolation of frequently hearing from me and there is no consolation which I am not very much disposed to administer to it,” he told Eliza in one letter. “It deserves everything from me. I am much more in debt to you than I can ever pay, but my future life will be more than ever devoted to your happiness.”7 The more despairing he became about politics and human nature—and his worldview was never very rosy to begin with—the more he appreciated his sincere, unpretentious wife. From Philadelphia, he wrote to her, “You are my good genius of that kind which the ancient philosophers called a familiar and you know very well that I am glad to be in every way as familiar as possible with you.” He concluded: “Adieu best of wives and best of mothers.”8 Even a rugged soldier’s life, once his sovereign remedy for all ills, no longer possessed its curative powers. “I discover more and more that I am spoiled for a military man,” he told Eliza. “My health and comfort require that I should be at home—at that home where I am always sure to find a sweet asylum from care and pain in your bosom.”9

Hamilton never stopped doting on Angelica Church. During one stay with his in-laws in Albany, he found himself seated at dinner opposite a John Trumbull portrait of her and her son Philip. Hamilton sent Angelica a witty letter, describing how he had dined in the mute presence of a special lady friend:

I was placed directly in front of her and was much occupied with her during the whole dinner. She did not appear to her usual advantage and yet she was very interesting. The eloquence of silence is not a common attribute of hers, but on this occasion she employed it par force and it was not considered as a fault. Though I am fond of hearing her speak, her silence was so well placed that I did not attempt to make her break it. You will conjecture that I must have been myself dumb with admiration.10

Hamilton was approaching his mid-forties and perhaps feeling his age. His high-pressure life was still packed with plenty of responsibilities. As inspector general, he bore single-handedly the weight of an entire army, while trying to retain his restive legal clients. “The law has nearly abandoned him or rather he has forsaken it,” Robert Troup told Rufus King. “The loss he sustains is immense!”11 Hamilton’s life began to lose some of its clockwork precision, and the darkness of depression again invaded his mind. While staying with Oliver Wolcott, Jr., in November 1798, Hamilton watched the emaciated Mrs. Wolcott wasting away from a terminal disease. He confessed to Eliza that he was haunted by despondent thoughts that he could not shake: “I am quite well, but I know not what impertinent gloom hangs over my mind, which I fear will not be entirely dissipated until I rejoin my family. A letter from you telling me that you and my dear children are well will be a consolation.”12 During one trip, he told Angelica Church of “a sadness which took possession” of his heart after leaving New York.13 These confessional remarks leap off the page because Hamilton seldom admitted to anxiety in this candid manner and tended to shield his innermost thoughts.

Now an invalid crippled by gout and abdominal troubles, Philip Schuyler worried about the punishing demands that his son-in-law made on himself. In early 1799, he again exhorted Hamilton to relax.

Mrs. Church writes me that you suffer from want of exercise, that this and unremitted attention to business injures your health. I believe it is difficult for an active mind to moderate an application to business but, my dear sir, you must make some sacrifice to that health which is so precious to all who are dear to you and to that country which rever[e]s and esteems you. Let me then entreat you to use more bodily exercise and less of that of the mind.14

Schuyler discreetly exhorted Eliza to saddle Hamilton’s horse every day and get him to ride in the fresh air.

Hamilton did engage in some outdoor recreation. He had recently bought a rifle and liked to go out hunting with a retriever dog named Old Peggy. With his “fowling piece” in hand—a light gun with “A. Hamilton, N.Y.” carved into its stock—he sometimes roamed the Harlem forests, searching for birds to shoot. At other times, he prowled the Hudson, fishing for striped bass.15 He was still a habitué of the theater, whether classical tragedies or lighter fare, and he attended the Philharmonic Society concerts at Snow’s Hotel on Broadway. Hamilton’s problem was never a shortage of interests so much as the time to cultivate them.

On occasion, Hamilton gave evidence of a prankish spirit at odds with the image of the sober public man. While on a visit to Newark, Hamilton’s aide Philip Church met a Polish poet, Julian Niemcewicz, a friend of General Tadeusz Kosciuszko. Niemcewicz insisted that Kosciuszko had entrusted him with a magic secret that permitted him to summon up spirits from the grave. Hamilton, intrigued, invited the Polish poet to a Friday-evening soiree. To give conclusive proof of his black art, Niemcewicz asked Hamilton to step into an adjoining room so that he could not see what was going on. Then one guest wrote down on a card the name of a dead warrior—the baron de Viomenil, who had seen action at Yorktown—and asked the Polish poet to conjure up his shade. Niemcewicz uttered a string of incantations, accompanied by a constantly clanging bell. When it was over, Hamilton strode into the room and “declared that the Baron [de Viomenil] had appeared to him exactly in the dress which he formerly wore and that a conversation had passed between them wh[ich] he was not at liberty to disclose,” related Peter Jay, the governor’s son.16 That Hamilton had communed with a fallen comrade attracted exceptional attention in New York society, so much so that he had to admit that it was all a hoax he had cooked up with Philip Church and Niemcewicz “to frighten the family for amusement and that it was never intended to be made public.”17

The yellow-fever epidemic of 1798 that had claimed the lives of Benjamin Franklin Bache and John Fenno had also given fresh urgency to the work of the Widows Society, as many women lost their family breadwinners. “None but eyewitnesses,” Isabella Graham wrote, “could have imagined the sufferings of so many respectable, industrious women who never thought to ask bread of any but of God.”18 This same scourge led the more profane Aaron Burr to create quite a different sort of institution in New York: the Manhattan Company.

To understand this pivotal moment between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton, one must fathom the severity of the epidemic that had struck the city that autumn. In September, as many as forty-five victims perished per day, and Hamilton and his family even briefly took rooms several miles from town. Robert Troup described the terrifying paralysis that gripped New York: “Our courts are shut up, our trade totally stagnant, and we have little or no appearance of business…. I call in once a day at Hamilton’s and we endeavour to fortify each other with philosophy to bear the ills we cannot cure.”19 Wealthier residents escaped to rural outskirts, while the poor were exposed to a disease spread by mosquitoes that multiplied around the many swamps and stagnant ponds. Almost two thousand New Yorkers died, and a fresh potter’s field was consecrated in what is now Greenwich Village.

Aaron Burr’s brother-in-law, Dr. Joseph Browne, blamed contaminated water for the recurrent outbreaks of yellow fever—the city still depended on often polluted wells—and submitted a plan to the Common Council for drawing fresh water from the Bronx River. Browne’s plan contemplated the creation of a private water corporation chartered by the state legislature. The piped water was also hailed as a panacea for other civic needs, ranging from fighting fires to washing filthy streets. Although the Common Council applauded the basic concept of a water company, it countered with a proposal for a public company to conduct this business.

In reality, Browne’s plan was a ruse concocted by Burr, who had no interest whatever in pure water but considerable interest in setting up a Republican bank. Among the many putative advantages Hamilton and his Federalist associates enjoyed in New York politics was a virtual monopoly over local banking. At the start of 1799, both of the banks in New York City happened to be the brainchildren of Alexander Hamilton: the Bank of New York and the local branch of the Bank of the United States. Republican businessmen nursed a perennial grievance that these banks discriminated against them, one Republican journalist charging that “it became at length impossible for men engaged in trade to advocate republican sentiments without sustaining material injury…. As the rage and violence of party increased, directors became more rigorous in enforcing their system of exclusion.20 It is not clear that Republicans were actually penalized, but the suspicion was certainly abroad. Hamilton opposed the vogue for state banks that proliferated in the 1790s, less from narrow political motives than from a fear that competition among banks would dilute credit standards and invite imprudent lending practices as bankers vied for clients.

Now a member of the New York Assembly, Burr knew that any politician who smashed the Federalist monopoly in local banking would attain heroic status among Republicans—at least those who did not regard banks as diabolical instruments. Easy access to a bank also appealed to an incorrigible spendthrift such as Burr, who had ongoing money problems. In early 1797, toward the end of his term in the U.S. Senate, his financial troubles had grown so acute that he had neglected his legislative duties. To establish a New York bank, he had to scale a very high hurdle. The state legislature conferred bank charters, and it was currently under Federalist sway; in those days, every New York corporation engaged in business needed a legislative charter. As the crafty Burr cast about for a stratagem that would let him sneak a bank charter past the opposition party, he hit upon the unlikely subterfuge of using the proposed water company as a blind.

In a cunning political sleight of hand, Burr lined up a bipartisan coalition of six luminaries—three Republicans and three Federalists—to approach the Common Council as sponsors of his proposal for a private water company. For his Federalist phalanx, he recruited Gulian Verplanck, president of the Bank of New York; John Murray, president of the Chamber of Commerce; and his greatest prize, Major General Alexander Hamilton. Why did Hamilton go along with Burr? Burr had recently flirted with the Federalists and had cooperated with Hamilton to fortify New York City against a French invasion. For the moment, the two men stood on a relatively good footing. Hamilton had survived yellow fever and would have favored a project to save the city from further epidemics. Hamilton may also have been investigating a business opportunity for John B. Church. Angelica had prodded her husband to give up his parliamentary career and return to America, but now Church seemed bored, if fabulously prosperous, in New York. Hamilton noted, “He has little to do [and] time hangs heavy on his hands.”21 Church emerged as a director of the Manhattan Company, which may have been a precondition for Hamilton’s participation. “Whatever Hamilton’s motives,” one Burr biographer has written, “no member of the committee of six worked harder [than Hamilton] to make possible Aaron Burr’s upcoming triumph in the New York legislature.”22

On February 22, 1799, Hamilton and Burr marched into the office of Mayor Richard Varick to plead the water company’s case. After conferring with an English canal engineer, Hamilton drew up an impressive memo that went far beyond waterworks to a systematic plan for draining city swamps and installing sewers. Persuaded by Hamilton, the Common Council ceded the final decision to the state legislature. Burr must have savored the situation: he was exploiting Alexander Hamilton and enlisting his foe’s mighty pen in a clandestine Republican cause. It was exactly the sort of joke that the drolly mysterious Burr treasured. He also got Hamilton to prepare a memo for the state legislature in support of a private water company. In late March, obliging state legislators approved the creation of the Manhattan Company, and on April 2 an unsuspecting Governor John Jay signed this act into law. Earlier promises about the company providing free water to combat fires and repair city streets damaged by laying pipes—standard features of water-company contracts in other states—had been quietly deleted by Burr from the final bill.

As usual, the devil lay in the details. At the final moment, with many legislators having departed for home and others too lazy to examine the fine print, Burr embedded a brief provision in the bill that widened immeasurably the scope of future company activities. This momentous language said “that it shall and may be lawful for the said company to employ all such surplus capital as may belong or accrue to the said company in the purchase of public or other stock or in any other monied transactions of operations.”23 The “surplus capital” loophole would allow Burr to use the Manhattan Company as a bank or any other kind of financial institution. The Federalists had dozed right through this deception because they knew of the Republican antipathy for banks and also because Burr had cleverly decorated the board with eminent Federalists.

Burr, it turned out, was too smart for his own good. If some Republicans admired his finesse, the general electorate did not. At the end of April, as he faced a reelection campaign for his Assembly seat, voters grasped the magnitude of his deception and shunned the ticket he headed. Once Hamilton realized that Burr had hoodwinked him, he was livid. He later complained of Burr, “I have been present when he has contended against banking systems with earnestness and with the same arguments that Jefferson would use…. Yet he has lately by a trick established a bank, a perfect monster in its principles, but a very convenient instrument of profit and influence.24 Even some stalwart Republicans shuddered at Burr’s machinations. Of Burr’s discredited slate, Peter R. Livingston commented that “it would hardly be a wonder if they did lose the election, for they had such a damn’d ticket that no decent man could hold up his head to support it.”25 Burr’s editor, Mary-Jo Kline, has observed that the Manhattan Company scheme “was so baldly self-serving that it temporarily halted Burr’s political career and lost him the public office that had served him so well.”26

On April 22, when Manhattan Company shares went on sale, they were instantly snapped up. In early September, dropping any pretense that it was principally a water company, the company opened with great fanfare its new “office of discount and deposit” on Wall Street. This bank immediately posed a competitive threat to the Bank of New York, now housed in an elegant two-story building down the block at Wall and William Streets. By its wondrously vague charter—a magic carpet of corporate possibilities—the Manhattan Company was allowed to raise two million dollars, operate anywhere, and go on in perpetuity, whereas the Bank of New York had less than one million in capital, was restricted to operations in the city, and had a charter that expired in 1811. To purchase the favor of all political cliques, Burr shrewdly parceled out the company’s twelve directorships, dispensing nine to Republicans (with places carefully allocated for Clintonians, Livingstons, and Burrites) and three to Federalists, including John Barker Church.

Perhaps the least of Aaron Burr’s sins in organizing the Manhattan Company was his having gulled Hamilton and state legislators into granting a bank charter under false pretenses. Far more grievous were the fraudulent claims he had made for a water company. The plan set forth by Joseph Browne to rid the city of yellow fever by delivering fresh water proved a sham in Burr’s nimble hands. In July 1799, the betrayed Browne wrote pathetically to Burr, “I expect and hope that enough will be done to satisfy the public and particularly the legislature that the institution is not a speculating job [but] an undertaking from whence will result immediate and incalculable advantages to the City of New York.”27 The doctor was swiftly disabused. The Manhattan Company promptly scrapped plans to bring water from the Bronx River—the directors had already raided its “surplus capital” for the bank—and instead drew impure water from old wells, pumping it through wooden pipes. That summer, yellow fever returned to New York with a vengeance. Not only had Burr’s plan failed to provide pure water but it had thwarted other sound plans afoot, including those for a municipal water company.

The day after the Manhattan Company inaugurated business on Wall Street, two of its directors, Aaron Burr and John Barker Church, celebrated the event in idiosyncratic fashion: with a duel. A staunch Federalist, Church was an opinionated, quarrelsome man who never shrank from a good fight and was not averse to duels. One theory of why he had fled from England to America on the eve of the Revolution, adopting the pseudonym of John B. Carter, was that he had killed a man during a London duel.

The present feud arose from “unguarded language” that Church used about Burr “at a private table in town,” as one New York newspaper daintily put it.28 Church’s comments referred to illicit services performed by Burr for the Holland Company, which speculated in American property on behalf of Dutch banks. The Holland Company felt hobbled by restrictions placed on New York land owned by foreigners and retained Burr as a lobbyist to deal with this impediment. Never one to idealize human nature, Burr recommended to his client that it sprinkle five thousand dollars around the state legislature to brighten the prospects for corrective legislation. The money worked wonders, and the consequent Alien Landowners Act removed the legal obstacles. On the Holland Company’s ledgers, the payment to Burr appeared not as a bribe but as an unpaid loan. As an attorney for the Holland Company, Hamilton would have known about this seamy affair and likely conveyed his findings to John Barker Church.

In discussing Burr’s behavior, John Barker Church made the unpardonable error of employing the word bribery in mixed company. Troup reported in early September, “A day or two ago, Mr. Church in some company intimated that Burr had been bribed for his influence whilst in the legislature to procure the passing of the act permitting the Holland Company to hold their lands.”29 The allegation against Burr, Troup added, was widely believed. The instant Burr heard about Church’s derogatory remarks, he called him to a duel. Church was a quick, decisive personality—in Hamilton’s words a man “of strong mind, very exact, very active, and very much a man of business”—and forthwith took up the challenge.30 Burr’s actions could only have aggravated Hamilton’s fury about the Manhattan Company fiasco.

Burr’s challenge to John B. Church seems rash until one realizes that he was eyeing the presidential election the following year. His short-lived flirtation with the Federalists had ended. After his humbling setback in the Assembly race due to the Manhattan Company, he had to remove this fresh blemish from his reputation, and a duel with Hamilton’s brother-in-law promised to embellish his image in Republican circles. The speed with which Burr entered the duel suggests that, unlike in his later confrontation with Hamilton, he had no murderous intent and went through the ritual purely for political effect. It was a very different affair of honor from one the previous year after Republican Brockholst Livingston had been attacked by Federalist James Jones as he ambled along the Battery. Jones pounced on him, thrashed him with a cane, and gave his nose a good twist. Livingston, in revenge, summoned him to a dueling ground in New Jersey and shot him dead.

On September 2, 1799, Burr and Church rowed across the Hudson for a sunset duel. Burr chatted affably with Church and sauntered about “the field of honor” with sangfroid. One observer said there was “not the least alteration in his [Burr’s] behavior on the ground from what there would have been had they met on friendly terms.”31 Church chose Abijah Hammond, former treasurer of the Society for Establishing Useful Manufactures, for his second, while Burr turned to Hamilton’s old nemesis Aedanus Burke. That Burr’s second came from South Carolina heightens the suspicion that he was trying to woo southern Republicans with the duel.

Contrary to legend, the encounter was not fought with pistols owned by Church and later used in the Hamilton-Burr affair. We know that the pistols belonged to Burr because of a comic mishap. Burr had explained privately to Burke that the bullets he had brought were too small for the pistols and needed to be wrapped in greased chamois leather. As the duel was about to begin, Burr saw Burke trying to tamp the bullet into the barrel by tapping the ramrod with a stone. Burke whispered an apology to Burr: “I forgot to grease the leather. But you see he [Church] is ready, don’t keep him waiting. Just take a crack as it is and I’ll grease the next!32 In his coolly unruffled style, Burr told Burke not to worry: if he missed Church, he would hit him the second time. Burr then took the pistol, bowed to Burke, and measured off ten paces with Church. That Burr would fight with an imperfectly loaded weapon suggests that the mood at Hoboken was hardly homicidal on either side. It also would have been poor advertising for the Manhattan Company if one of its directors had murdered another during its gala opening week.

The two men raised their pistols and fired simultaneously. Church’s shot clipped a button from Burr’s coat while Burr’s missed Church altogether. As the two seconds stoked the pistols with fresh shot, Church stepped forward and apologized to Burr for his statements. According to Troup, “Church declared he had been indiscreet and was sorry for it.”33 This was not a retraction or outright admission of error, but it indicated that Church knew that he had no definitive proof of the bribery charge. As if eager to terminate the duel, Burr professed satisfaction at this sop. The two men shook hands, ending the duel, and the principals and seconds rowed back to Manhattan in high spirits.

The Church-Burr duel forms an instructive contrast with the later Hamilton-Burr duel. It was hastily arranged and devoid of the often torturous negotiations that attended more serious affairs of honor. It was halted at an early opportunity, with both sides seemingly keen to quit and hurry back to Manhattan. It was Church who proved the expert shot, while Burr did not even wing his opponent, or perhaps did not try to. Most important, the duel did not throb with the uncontainable passion, hatred, and high drama that was to shadow the encounter in Weehawken nearly five years later. One wonders whether Hamilton formed any lasting impressions of Burr based on this duel. If so, they would all have been wrong, for Burr had come off as both a poor shot and a reasonable man, not as a skilled marksman who might arrive at the field of honor prepared to shoot with deadly intent.