What Did Aaron Burr Do After Shooting Alexander Hamilton?

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Friday marks the 210th anniversary of the Burr-Hamilton duel. SPOILER ALERT: Burr won. But what became of him afterwards?

His first order of business was to go home and have some breakfast.   

Having victoriously emerged from that deadly encounter with Alexander Hamilton, Burr returned to his estate in lower Manhattan for a hearty meal. Some accounts claim that the V.P.  was also pleasantly surprised by a visiting acquaintance (either Burr’s cousin or his broker, depending upon the source) with whom he dined, politely choosing not to mention the bloody spectacle that had just transpired. Two days later, Hamilton passed away at the age of 49. For Burr, his opponent’s death marked the beginning of the end. 

On August 2, a New York coroner’s jury found Burr guilty on two counts. In their estimation, he’d committed the misdemeanor of dueling—and the felony of murder. To make matters worse, because his duel had taken place in New Jersey, the Garden State issued its own ruling, which also pronounced him a murderer.

“There is a contention of a singular nature between the two States of New York and New Jersey,” he dryly noted in a letter to his daughter Theodosia. “The subject in dispute is which shall have the honor of hanging the Vice President.” Facing a tempest of public outrage, Burr eventually set sail for Georgia, where plantation owner and former senator Pierce Butler offered him sanctuary.

But, alas, the call of Vice Presidential duty soon rang out. As president of the Senate, Burr returned to Washington that November to oversee the impeachment of anti-Jeffersonian Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase. Shortly thereafter—with some help from a contingent of Republican senators (—not to be confused with members of the modern GOP; go here for more details) Burr’s case was dropped in New Jersey, though by then, he’d already stepped down from the Vice Presidency.

Burr’s saga was far from over, though. After leaving D.C., he began aggressively recruiting allies for a planned seizure of America’s western territories. Among those he managed to enlist were General James Wilkinson, who’d been named Northern Louisiana’s regional governor. Burr even went so far as to begin training his own army before he was arrested in present-day Alabama and put on trial for treason. Ultimately, however, he was acquitted. His scheme foiled and his image scarred, Burr departed for Europe and wouldn’t return to his native country until 1812.

By then, the nation—now entrenched in a nasty war with Great Britain—had largely forgotten his attempted conspiracy. Towards the end of his life, Burr went back to New York (where—despite the 1804 ruling—he was never actually tried for murder), revived his law practice, and married his second wife. He died on September 14, 1836 at the age of 80. 

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July 6, 2014 - 10:30pm
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