Why did the Burr-Hamilton duel become legendary?

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askteacherz eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There is no doubt that both of these men were icons of the era in which the duel took place. However, of greater significance is the impact this event had on finalizing the "death" of the Federalist Party. In the Presidential Election of 1800 (nicknamed the Revolution of 1800 because it altered the structure of US Government from Federalist Party dominance to that of the Democratic-Republican Party) the Jeffersonian Republicans claimed control of the US Government. Republican success was not so much due to thier ability to woe the masses but more so to the schism from within their opposition, the Federalist Party. Hamilton and John Adams had been involved in bitter disagreement/s throughout the Adams' Presidency. The peace agreement with France by Adams in 1799 severed any hope of a unified federalist ticket in 1800. This helped to make more managable the Republican Revolution.

This Revolution of Democracy in 1800 did not mean an end to the Federalist Party opposition; it meant they needed to regroup, reorganize and/or retool themselves for the presidential election of 1804. This never happened because of the duel between Burr and Hamilton. Hamilton was the creator and unquestioned leader of the Federalist Party but one that was not eligible for the office the US Presidency due to his citizenship at birth. Therefore, Hamilton's death ultimately gave complete dominance to the Democratic-Republican Party which culminated in the Era of Good Feelings. Ironically, it would be the leadership of yet another Adams (John Quincy in 1828) that would propel the Democratic-Republican Party into the next political party schism. Therefore, this event should be looked upon in a much larger context. Dueling was a somewhat typical method of settling disagreements of honor back then therefore the method of Hamilton's death is NOT why it is legendary. It's legendary because of who died, the effect it had on American political party structure and also what it does to the reputation of the two men thereafter; in history.

Lastly, please note that this event has, without a doubt made Alexander Hamilton an America Icon of great fame but Aaron Burr an American Icon of poor fame. Burr will ultimately, after this event, become the new "Benedict Arnold" in US History. Of course it is self inflicted by Burr but the "rumors" that surrounded the duel made him seem like to the public at the time as a patriot slayer. The best example of how things can have profound impact on a person/s reputation over the course of time is that fact that in the duel Hamilton apparently did not aim his firearm at Burr. It is believed that he raised the weapon to fire into the air or way off to the side (never with intent to do harm to Burr). This is apparently made more clear in Hamilton's own death letter he wrote in which he makes claim that he could not raise his weapon against a fellow American. Regardless, this event is legendary for MANY reasons.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The duel between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton has become legendary because of the identities of the men involved.  After all, this was a duel between a man who was (at the time of the duel!) the vice president of the United States and another man who was widely seen as one of the most important figures of the Revolutionary War and a major architect of the early United States.  Because these two men were so important, their duel has become legendary.

Outside of the identities of the men, the duel is really only relevant as an example of how different American culture was at that time.  The idea that two people could fight a duel over political disagreements and statements made in campaigns is very hard to believe today.

In the grand scheme of things, this was not a particularly important event, but it has become legendary because of the fact that it involved such important people.