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This Week in History
July 5-11, 2015

The Ongoing Assassinations of Alexander Hamilton vs.
His Immortal and Haunting Legacy

(July 11, 1804)

By David Shavin

Alexander Hamilton, by Charles Willson Peale..
Aaron Burr.

On July 11, 1804, Aaron Burr, the vice-President of the United States, drew his weapon and shot Alexander Hamilton, irreparably scarring our republic, even now, over two hundred years later. Today, when the majority of mankind is excited over Hamiltonian methods of basing state credit upon the future-oriented policies of the next generation’s more advanced cultural and skill levels, it would be a horrific tragedy for Hamilton’s own republic to blunder into a strategic showdown—meaning a thermonuclear showdown—for the lack of a proper appreciation of Hamilton’s genius and the justice due him.

I. The Ghost Haunting the White House

On May 12, 2015, the White House received a petition to take Andrew Jackson off the $20 bill, and, instead, to honor a famous American woman. (Harriet Tubman was suggested.) The petitioners cited, in part, Jackson’s dirty role in the grabbing of the Cherokees’ land, and in their forced march westward, the infamous “Trail of Tears”. On June 17th, the White House, in the person of Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, announced that Andrew Jackson would stay in place, and they would instead demote Alexander Hamilton. Rest assured, it was just a ‘technical’ convenience, as the change “had to” occur in the $10 bill prior to the $20 bill. Two questions: Is the White House defensive about Andrew Jackson? Further, do they have any special malignancy toward Hamilton?

In a related development, back on May 2, 2009, the White House staged a celebration of poetry and the spoken word, climaxed by a rap-song by Aaron Burr, celebrating the assassination of Alexander Hamilton. (It concluded with, “Yeah, I’m the damn genius that shot him!”)[1] Michelle and Barack Obama, both obviously highly amused and somewhat titillated, enthusiastically led the applause for what, assumedly, was just innocent cultural enrichment. The President, without blinking, explained, “We’re here to celebrate the power of words... [They] help us appreciate beauty and also understand pain. They inspire us to action.”

In the more recent case of the $10-bill, the bizarre behavior could fairly be assumed to have been prompted by the President’s recent rejection by his party, and the nakedness of his pro-Wall Street dance with the Republicans. In the earlier case of 2009, the Obamas had recently returned from an obsequious tete-a-tete with the British Queen; and subsequently, Barack Obama, reportedly, had a bizarre rant with his “Stanford Group” economic advisors, pre-emptively dismissing anything that even smelled like Alexander Hamilton. He might even have cathexized to the rap-song celebration as a bizarre solace for his tortured soul. (“Yeah, I’m the damn genius that shot him!”) But the White House wasn’t done. In 2012, they invited an “Alexander Hamilton” rapper to make his defense against the “Burr” rapper. If possible, it was even more disgusting.[2] Regardless, it were fair to assume that the name “Alexander Hamilton” is a matter of some nervousness, even obsessiveness around the White House. Perhaps, somehow, on the wall of the White House bedroom, it has replaced “Mene mene tekel upharsin.”

II. Hamilton’s Entschlossenheit and the Problem of the Duel

Hamilton embodied a certain singular and bold leadership, born out of his passion for truth-seeking. Hence, he epitomized a type of leadership not seen in recent generations of so-called political leaders.

One case study was presented by “This Week in History” earlier this year, on the occasion of Hamilton’s birthday, January 11th. [3] In covering how, in the 1791/2 establishment of the National Bank, the Hamilton-led U.S. government beat the speculators (and how, “Wall Street” was formed in reaction to Hamilton’s success), this author highlighted Hamilton’s bold judo-ing of the sex scandal thrown at him. The actual question was whether a government could make strategic decisions on credit generation based upon science, or whether ‘all power corrupts’, meaning any Treasury secretary would first serve greed by using the position for insider trading. Hamilton was entrapped by the wife of a low-level tool of the speculators. When he was blackmailed by the husband, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe and others—all of whom knew better—tried to propagandize that the money payments were for insider trading. Hamilton blew the operation up, writing that he was being blackmailed for falling into a sexual snare.

But the key there was Hamilton’s shockingly accurate identification of the unique level of calumny directed against him, from above the level of the political hacks. This unprecedented level of calumny was prima facie evidence of a new type of evil brought into the world (named by Hamilton in 1797, Bonapartism), the imperial abreaction against the formation of the constitutional republic of the United States. Just as he had crushed the speculators’ attack on the National Bank in 1792, Hamilton led with a naming of the names, confident that a higher truth could be brought into play to win the day.

Again, in 1800/1, Hamilton brought in the long wave of history to name the names involved in Burr’s stealing of the election and the country. Even though Hamilton had known Burr for years as a shady character, as one who would speculate on land transactions, who would bribe legislators, etc., Hamilton nevertheless was shocked by Burr’s willingness to sabotage New York City’s new water company, formed by Hamilton to stop the recent summer epidemics of disease. Hamilton did not flinch at identifying this level of deliberate, Malthusian genocide.[4] Burr had proceeded to attempting to leverage his quick and dirty profits, to spread an epidemic of greed amongst all parties. When the 1800 election was tied between Jefferson and Burr, Burr thought he could ‘play’ upon the cupidity of the New England Federalists—more than a few of whom had gotten ‘in’ on the new way of making money in the Manhattan Company deal—to swing the tiebreaker to him. Hamilton went after his ‘fellow’ Federalists, exposing Burr as a ‘myrmidon’, literally, one of Zeus’s “ant-people”.[5] Hamilton explained that, while no one had a greater claim than he to object to Jefferson, and while Jefferson could be wrong on every particular issue, Burr’s type of evil was of a Zeus-ian type, where humanity would be wiped out in favor of ant-like automatons, Zeus’s myrmidons.

Hamilton actually believed in searching out the underlying truth and, rather than finding a ‘marketing’ way to avoid the problem of citizens actually having to think, he would lead with pungent truths. So why would such a bold and brilliant leader ever accept Burr’s demand for a duel? In dealing with the ghost of Hamilton hanging over the White House, and over the country, this report will also propose a solution to this admittedly thorny issue.[6]

In particular, Hamilton explained, in a note prior to the duel: His particular situation “imposed on me... a peculiar necessity not to decline the call. The ability to be in future useful, whether in resisting mischief or effecting good, in those crises of our public affairs, which seem likely to happen, would probably be inseparable from a conformity with public prejudice in this particular.” The tragic aspect of this is pretty clear—the backwardness in the public that Hamilton had, on occasion, to lead, would not allow him, in Hamilton’s judgment, to defer the duel challenge and still come to their rescue when needed. What to make of this? What particular situation and peculiar necessity?

III. Over Hamilton’s Dead Body

To begin, there is no doubt that Burr cared not a whit about his ‘honor’ in his challenge to duel Hamilton. Any reading of the correspondence makes it undoubtable that Burr was on an assignment to murder Hamilton. (See box below.) But, first, by way of a brief background: In the 1804 race for governor in New York, there wasn’t a great choice. Vice-President Aaron Burr was running as an independent (having alienated himself from the Jeffersonians, after trying to steal the election from Jefferson in 1801) against the Republican Morgan Lewis, the cousin of the dubious pair, Robert and Edward Livingston. However, Burr was heavily involved in courting New England Federalists, which centered around Burr’s involvement in a British-directed New England Secessionist movement. Hamilton was fully aware of the Secessionist plot, and of Burr’s role, and he deemed it, quite properly, as the most dangerous current threat to the country’s existence.

In the heat of the election, an Albany, New York associate of Hamilton, one Dr. Charles D. Cooper, had written a letter to be privately circulated amongst a select group of “reflecting Federalists”, to end their dalliance with Burr. Hamilton had done as much, quite effectively, in the 1800/1 election. Included in Cooper’s letter was a reference to Hamilton’s February visit to Albany: “[W]hen he was here he spoke of him [Burr] as a dangerous man, and who ought not to be trusted.” However, the letter then was, in Cooper’s words, “embezzled and broken open”, and published. A brouhaha ensued, which occasioned a second letter by Cooper, this time written for publication in the “Albany Register”. Published on April 24th, Cooper included an emphasis as to how tame his initial language had been: “...[F]or really sir, I could detail to you a still more despicable opinion which General Hamilton has expressed of Mr. Burr.” This is what Burr claimed required Hamilton to accept a duel—a public claim by a second-hand source that Hamilton had privately called Burr dangerous and something worse.

The election was a few days later, and Burr lost by a significant margin. If honor had been at stake, Burr would first have to address the author of the statements, Dr. Cooper. But, of course, he never even thinks of doing so. Instead, almost two months later, on June 18th, Burr writes to Hamilton alleging that, having just then discovered Cooper’s two published letters, he required satisfaction from Hamilton. (This was not even intended to be credible. This was a major paper in the state’s capital, a few days before the governor’s election.) Over the next nine days, Hamilton is clear that, before Hamilton can “avow or disavow” any words he might have said, Burr needs to specify how Hamilton has impugned Burr’s personal honor (aside from any political critiques Hamilton had made). Burr insists that Hamilton owes Burr a blanket and public disavowal of any comment Hamilton might have said about Burr, at any point. The character of the correspondence make it pretty clear that a decision had been made to employ the otherwise-used-up Burr to eliminate Hamilton.

Portrait of Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville (1742-1811), by Henry Raeburn
Gen. James A. Wilkinson (1757-1825), by Charles Willson Peale

Not much is known of Burr’s time between the late April election defeat and the occasion of the June 18th challenge to Hamilton, except that he spent an inordinate amount of time practicing with his pistol. However, two curious letters[7]are of note. First, an undated letter by Burr: “Having each of us had the honor of some personal acquaintance with your Excellency we presume no further references can be necessary to satisfy you of our ability to perform whatever engagements we may make now of the punctuality and good faith with which they will be executed.” Here, Burr and a comrade have had dealings with, very likely, some titled figure, and they are ready for their assignments. The ‘when’ and ‘where’ of this note is unknown, but it is referenced here as an example of Burr as a man for hire. However, since the note is in English, if it indeed is royalty, it is likely it were intended for a British Lord or King. In that case, the most likely candidate would be Lord Melville, Henry Dundas.

The second, and possibly more damning, letter is dated May 23,1804, less than four weeks after Burr’s devastating election defeat and less than four weeks before Burr’s challenge to Hamilton. Signed by the notorious Gen. James A Wilkinson, it is addressed to Burr: “To save time of which I need much and have but little, I propose to take a Bed with you this night, if it may be done without observation or intrusion—Answer me and if in the affirmative, I will be with [you] at 30’ after the 8th Hour, Yours truly.”[8] There is no record of the discussion. However, to evaluate this mysterious assignation, it is useful to identify Burr’s three major, inter-connected projects of the 1804/5 period:

1) Burr had met with British Ambassador Anthony Merry in Philadelphia in the Winter of 1803/4, contemporaneous with Merry’s planning meetings for a secession of New England. Merry’s meetings included New England ‘Federalist’ Senators Pickering, Hillhouse and Griswold, and former Senator Cabot. (It was this Anglophile grouping that Hamilton had to counter back in the Winter of 1800/1, when Burr had attempted to steal the election.) Hamilton considers this the prime, immediate threat to the existence of the United States. Further, New York was considered as the crucial adjunct to make the New England secession successful. Burr’s election as governor of New York was supposed to clinch the deal. From February to April, 1804, it was Hamilton’s personal, and singular, intervention that ended this operation—and ended Burr’s ability to get elected to office ever again.

2) After the late April defeat of Burr, the breaking apart of the West (in particular, of the newly-acquired Lousiana Purchase territory) seems to replace the secession of New England in order of importance. While Wilkinson is known to be involved with Burr in the Western secession, that project doesn’t go ‘live’ until the Spring of 1805 (and when it does, Wilkinson is not the prime mover). So, what is Wilkinson’s urgent and secretive mission on the night of May 23rd, 1804?[9]

3) The assassination of Hamilton was very likely the topic of the May 23rd assignation. Simply put, Burr had no future unless he could ‘up his game’ and show that he still had value for powerful lords. Further, in late April, 1804, the same time as the planned Burr victory, William Pitt had pushed Addington out of Britain’s Prime Minister position, to ‘toughen up’ Britain’s posture. It was Pitt’s ‘intimate’ friend, Lord Harrowby—one Dudley Ryder—who gave the orders to his Ambassador to the United States, Anthony Merry. This grouping fully expected the secession of New England to be their big success of 1804. News of Burr’s April defeat could not have set well with Merry or his superiors.[10]

View larger size
James Gillray [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Britannia between Death and the Doctor's: A faint Britannia seated on bed with three "doctors," William Pitt kicking Henry Addington and stepping on Charles James Fox. The figure of death, with Napoleon's head, strides from behind bed curtains. Download original file (4,241 × 2,871 pixels, file size: 3.14 MB)

Importantly, it is not until August 6th, a month after the assassination of Hamilton, that the British Ambassador Merry has Burr entered into the official record for the project to split the West from the United States. It would not be much of a stretch to assume that Wilkinson had been communicating to Burr that the decision had been taken for the elimination of Hamilton—with the assurance that Burr would thereby have his future made, a future, as Burr put it, that included his role as “Emperor of Mexico”. Of course, there is no such record of an assassination order in Ambassador Merry’s reports to the Foreign Office; but, as Wilkinson’s note suggests, he was there that May on a mission where his secrecy must be secured. Finally, this would explain the curiosity of Burr’s preserving Wilkinson’s scribbled note. These are not the sort of notes that one normally preserves. If it were being proposed to Burr to run a covert operation, and that only after the successful assassination would he be ‘put on the books’, then Burr would certainly have had some motivation to preserve the note.

The issue is certainly not whether Burr had been an agent for the British prior to Wilkinson’s secretive visit. He certainly had been. The British had quite a file on Burr. In particular, in 1803, William Pitt and Henry Dundas were the ones who prepared Merry for the mission to split up the United States. Included in their planning was one Colonel Charles Williamson—a close associate of Burr for a decade, one who had lived the previous two years as Burr’s tenant. Hamilton had upended their Plan A: the New England Secession of 1804. While a decision to eliminate him could have involved the perceived need to send a message to anyone else who might even think of acting on Hamilton’s level, that presumes there is a potential ‘Hamilton’ figure waiting in the wings. Unfortunately, that was not such a likely prospect. Rather, the main issue in the Spring of 1804 for the Merry band was whether Plan B, secession of the West, could only be done over Hamilton’s dead body.

IV. Burr’s Promised Reward

Following the Burr-Wilkinson meeting of May 23rd, Dundas’ agent, Charles Williamson[11] has one or more meetings with Burr in June, prior to the assassination, and most probably prior to the June 18th initiation of the challenge to a duel. Indeed, if Wilkinson’s mysterious meeting was not about an escalation to an assassination of Hamilton, Williamson’s meetings would have sufficed. Either way, sometime after July 11th, when Burr shot Hamilton, and before Merry’s August 6th report (below), Williamson reports to Ambassador Merry that the ‘Burr’ project to fragment the United States has escalated from the New England Secession to an armed insurrection in the West—and that Burr is up to the new task. Burr, on July 21, fled New York, avoiding planned prosecutions for murder initiated in New York and New Jersey[12]. Burr found temporary protection in Philadelphia, where he continued his meetings with Williamson during late July and August. It is even possible that Wilkinson attended one or more of these meetings.[13] Burr was in a peculiar state of mind at the time. Evidently, he was curiously affected by his recent taking of blood, which evidently aroused his sexual appetite. His tactful way of putting it at the time to his daughter, Theodosia: “If any male friend of yours should be dying of ennui, recommend to him to engage in a duel and a courtship at the same time.”

On August 6th, based upon Williamson’s report, Merry writes to Lord Harrowby his infamous letter:[14]

“I have just received an offer from Mr. Burr, the actual Vice-President of the United States, to lend his assistance to his majesty’s government in any matter in which they may think fit to employ him, particularly in endeavoring to effect a separation of the western part of the United States from that which lies between the Atlantic and the mountains, in its whole extent. His proposition on this and other subjects will be fully detailed to your lordship by Colonel Williamson, who has been the bearer of them to me, and who will embark for England in a few days... [I]f after what is generally known of the profligacy of Mr. Burr’s character, his Majesty’s ministers should think proper to listen to his offer, his present situation in this country, where he is now cast off as much by the democratic as by the Federal party, and where he still preserves connections with some people of influence, added to his great ambition and spirit of revenge against the present Administration, may possibly induce him to exert the talents and activity which he possesses with fidelity to his employers.”

Burr reports to his daughter, Theodosia, that he expects to be made the Emperor of Mexico. Williamson sails off to London to meet with Lord Melville and Mr. Pitt on the project.

V. The Ghost of Hamilton

So, did Hamilton fall prey to a dirty British Intelligence operation? Hamilton left a note for his supporters, and for history, giving his explanation for participating in the duel: “To those who, with me, abhor [duelling ...] I answer that my relative situation, as well in public as private, enforcing all the considerations which constitute what men of the world denominate honor, imposed on me... a peculiar necessity not to decline the call. The ability to be in future useful, whether in resisting mischief or effecting good, in those crises of our public affairs, which seem likely to happen, would probably be inseparable from a conformity with public prejudice in this particular.”

What must be taken into account here is that Hamilton never retired from the American Revolution:[15] not just his more famous accomplishments of the Constitutional Convention and the National Bank, but his clear-sighted strategic acumen and boldness in attempting— practically single-handedly— to steer the young nation through the “Scylla and Charybdis” of the conjoined dangers of Bonapartism and the British Empire ‘divide and conquer’ operations. Hamilton knew what was at stake in the project to form our republic, and he knew (or quickly learned in the course of battle) what kind of new forms of evil would arise as a consequence thereof.

Admittedly, one could argue as to exactly how far the American character had fallen in the five years since Washington’s death. However, Hamilton’s judgment in 1804 was that the “public prejudice”—whereby actual honor was deeply confused in the public mind with the bravado of dueling—was too embedded to be rooted out in time to deal with the advanced threat to the republic represented by Burr. Hamilton already knew that Burr was prepared to destroy the nation. He learned during the nine days of Burr’s angling for a duel, that Burr’s faction could not walk away from the ‘destroy the American republic’ game.

Hamilton’s judgment should not be dismissed lightly, as he knew better than most how sophistry and unprincipled politicking had succeeded in debasing the public mind. Hamilton knew the risk to the republic was mortal, and Hamilton, the soldier for that republic, took a mortal risk himself.[16] But the point is, Hamilton knew that he was going to be, always, and for the rest of his mortal life, in that peculiar position—of having to put himself forward to confront dangers that most could not, or would not, see or admit. In a sense, he knew that he was likely to die in battle—just not which particular battle.

Hamilton’s “peculiar necessity” was wrapped up in his acumen for historically-specific analyses, regardless of any consideration of ‘career management’. His “peculiar necessity” had led him to Yorktown, to the Constitutional Convention, to his 1790-92 fight for implementing the Constitution, to his government-run smashing of speculators, to his defense of the integrity of his credit-generation decisions in the so-called “Reynolds” affair and to his organizing Federalists in 1800/1 in defense of Jefferson’s election over Burr. When charged with giving money to Reynolds for ‘insider-trading’, he did the unexpected—admitting that he was paying blackmail money for a sexual entrapment by Reynolds’ wife. Burr, Jefferson, Madison and Monroe thought that a man of their caliber would just allow the public to believe that any and every one who were involved in the credit-generating power of the government, would also be a part of insider trading. Certainly, a lesser man would allow such a story, rather than admit he’d been caught in a sexual blackmail situation. Finally, when Burr was seducing Federalists in 1800 with dirty money, Hamilton reminded his Federalist circle that no one had more cause to oppose Jefferson than he, but the Burr that would offer profits by taking down public water and solicit disease, was a new type of Malthusian evil—in particular, a Zeus-ian myrmidon, or ‘ant-man’. In 1804, Hamilton invoked that same “peculiar necessity”—in this case, for what would be the last time.

Hamilton did not have a death-wish. He had the strongest of reasons to live, as he stated, on behalf of his beloved wife and dear children. That last night, after seeing Eliza off to bed, Hamilton went to his study and wrote Eliza one last thought. His confirmed decision not to shoot at Burr in the duel and to take fire increased the risk that he’d never see her again in this life:

“The Scruples of a Christian have determined me to expose my own life to any extent rather than subject my self to the guilt of taking the life of another. This must increase my hazards & redoubles my pangs for you. But you had rather I should die innocent than live guilty. Heaven can preserve me and I humbly hope will but in the contrary event, I charge you to remember that you are a Christian. God’s Will be done. The will of a merciful God must be good. Once more Adieu My Darling darling Wife

—A H Tuesday Evening 10 oClock”

Hamilton knew that the narrow path through which he attempted to steer the young republic was a risky endeavor. The meaning of his exemplary leadership comes alive today, when a White House is so haunted with the ghost of Hamilton, it would make Hamlet blush. Hamilton could look upon death with a smile, indeed, because he has succeeded, today, in giving us a living chance, by the example of his leadership and the content of his ideas, in fulfilling the actual purpose and meaning of his Constitution.  

Burr’s Dueling Challenge to Hamilton

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Burr’s initial (June 18th) letter to Hamilton: Cooper’s letter “though apparently published some time ago, has but very recently come to my knowledge...” Burr insists on “the necessity of a prompt and unqualified acknowledgement or denial of the use of any expressions which could warrant the assertions of Dr. Cooper.” Simply bizarre. An actual man of honor first writes to Dr. Cooper to obtain any satisfaction of Cooper’s imputation— which is Hamilton’s (6/20) response: “I deem it inadmissable on principle to consent to be interrogated as to the justness of the inferences which may be drawn by others... I stand ready to avow or disavow promptly and explicitly any precise or definite opinion which I may be charged with having declared of any gentleman. More than this cannot fitly be expected from me; and especially it cannot be reasonably expected that I shall enter into an explanation upon a basis so vague as that which you have adopted.”

Burr has no interest in inquiring of Cooper, or acting reasonably toward Hamilton. His (6/21) response: I found nothing of “that sincerity or delicacy which you profess to value.” You must give a definite reply as to what you told Dr Cooper. “...[T]he epithet... has been publicly applied to me under the sanction of your name. The question is... whether you have authorized this application, either directly or by uttering expressions or opinions derogatory to my honor.” (Recall that Cooper applied no epithet. He alleged that Hamilton had said in private something that Cooper described as “a still more despicable opinion” of Burr.) Hamilton responds (6/22): “Your first letter, in a style too peremptory, made a demand, in my opinion, unprecedented and unwarrantable. My answer... gave you an opportunity to take a less exceptionable course. You have not chosen to do it, but by your last letter received this day, containing expressions indecorous and improper, you have increased the difficulties...” You should withdraw your last letter in favor of one “which would admit of a different reply.”

At this point, Hamilton’s second, Pendleton, offers Burr’s second, Van Ness, that Burr should simply specify anything that he takes exception to, that Hamilton said which was not about Burr’s public actions, but went to Burr’s personal honor. Then, Hamilton could and would provide Burr with a public statement renouncing any slights to Burr’s personal honor. Van Ness responded (6/26) with Burr’s ‘No deal’ —that the letters and offer, “in Col. Burr’s opinion, evince no disposition on the part of Gen. Hamilton to come to a satisfactory accomodation. The injury complained of and the reparation expected, are so definitely expressed in Col. Burr’s letter of the 21st instant [Burr’s second letter] that there is not perceived a necessity for further explanation on his part.” Now it made no difference what Cooper might have been referring to; rather Hamilton would have to deny any negative personal comment about Burr at any point in the last three decades.

The duel (the illegal activity was referred to as an “interview”) will proceed. Pendleton reports to Van Ness that same day that Hamilton’s “objection is, the very Indefinite ground, which Col. Burr has assumed, in which he is sorry to be able to discern nothing short of predetermined hostility.” The next day (6/27) Burr’s message is that he had only escalated his demand because Hamilton had taken umbrage to Burr’s first letter— which, according to Burr, is simply proof that Hamilton had indeed been the source of the rumors that Cooper alluded to. The escalation was Hamilton’s fault. “Col. Burr disavows all motives of predetermined hostility.”

In the letter that Hamilton left for his friends, he explained that: “The disavowal required of me by Col. Burr, in a general and indefinite form, was out of my power, if it had really been proper for me to submit to be so questioned; but I was sincerely of opinion that this could not be... Col. Burr appeared to me to assume... a tone unnecessarily peremptory and menacing, and ... positively offensive... I hope the grounds of his proceeding have been such as ought to satisfy his own conscience.” Hamilton knew that Burr had been central to a New England Secession, and had been defeated in such. Now, Burr’s behavior undoubtedly indicated to Hamilton that Dundas and Pitt, Merry’s bosses, were desperate enough to escalate.

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[1]. The Obamas found the lyrics both entrancing and entertaining. Two excerpts: a) An excerpt (properly rapped, the rhymes are: dolluh, fathuh, farthur, harduh, smartuh and startuh): “The ten-dollar Founding Father without a father/Got a lot farther/By workin’ a lot harder/By bein’ a lot smarter/By bein’ a self-starter...” b) And the show-stopping conclusion:

“Alexander Hamilton
We were waiting in the weeds for you
You could never back down
You always had to speak your mind
But Alexander Hamilton, we could never take your deeds from you
In our cowardice and our shame
We will try to destroy your name
The world will never be the same, Alexander!
... Yeah, I’m the damn genius that shot him!”

The four-minute video, including flashes of the Obamas’ enraptured response is at:

[2]. The White House was engaged enough to sponsor a rap retort by “Alexander Hamilton” (and even one done with suggestions of President Clinton’s inflections!). Here, rapper Hamilton’s main point is that he had suffered from “foolish pride” and “foolish love”, which led to his being shot. Otherwise, Hamilton brags that a) Burr’s face never made it on money (though the White House may have other ideas); and b) that Burr and he “could have been brothers”, bankers on the same side, just two of the founding fathers — all of it transparent nonsense. Rapper Hamilton’s consolation? At least Hamilton is famous and Burr will never be. Again, Obama led the standing ovation: As it has been said, with friends like these, one really doesn’t need enemies.

[3]. “Hamilton’s Singular Genius vs. Wall Street’s Rage” In particular, note Hamilton’s speech on the “Bonaparte” problem, at the conclusion of the article.

[4]. Only the year before (1798), Malthus, in the employ of the British East India Company, had argued for exposing undesired populations to diseased, unhealthy waters. Of note, Burr actually proposed turning the water company into an “East India Company”. (And so, Burr turned the Manhattan Company into Manhattan Bank, the actual origin of today’s Chase Manhattan Bank.)

[5]. An unpublished report, “Alexander Hamilton on the Zeus Problem”. David Shavin. Sept, 2014.

[6]. This report focuses upon the narrow ten weeks or so leading up to the assassination. See Anton Chaitkin’s {Treason in America} for the broader treatment, including the key role of the British Ambassador Merry, Williamson, and his American confederate, Wilkinson, as part of the networks of drug-pusher, Henry Dundas (Lord Melville).

[7]. I found these two letters in the Missouri History Museum collection of Burr papers. See

[8]. Ibid. For what it is worth, I found that the Burr Association—yes, there is one!—proffers a reconstruction after the fact: On that night, “Burr meets with James Wilkinson at Richmond Hill [Burr’s home], probably initiating the formal start of plans to invade Mexico. Everyone thinks War with Spain is inevitable, and Wilkinson is in charge of the US army thanks to Burr’s recommendation to Jefferson. Burr does not know Wilkinson is a paid spy for Spain.” The Burr Association would have it that Wilkinson led Burr into Secessionist activities (contrary to the actual progress of events in 1805-07) and reads backwards from that false assumption to account for the mysterious evening.

[9]. General Wilkinson is not usually associated with the murder of Hamilton, however this is a habit of those who don’t see Burr’s duel with Hamilton as having any connection with the plots to dismember the United States. Wilkinson’s May 23rd errand is known, but he also might have played a support role in and around the assassination itself. For example, he can’t explain his whereabouts from July 10-14, the day before the duel until three days afterwards. (The general suggests that it took him five days to get from Washington, DC, to his military post at nearby Frederick, MD.)

[10]. Amongst Melville’s papers, there appears an October 6, 1804 letter from Williamson, where reference is made to a May 29th order from the newly re-installed Prime Minister, Pitt, that Williamson report back to London. (If true, this would be an early response by Pitt to Burr’s loss and the setback to the New England Secession.) However, Williamson goes on to explain that he didn’t get the order until August 4th, and by then, they were deep into Burr’s escalated mission. This scenario suggests that Merry and Williamson proceeded to the assassination without new orders from Pitt and Dundas. But even here, it doesn’t preclude that 1803 orders were given, inclusive of the elimination of Hamilton, should he destroy Plan A,

[11]. Williamson officially became a United States citizen in 1792, only in order to act as a land agent for the British Pulteney Associates. Though Sir William Pulteney was one of the wealthiest men in Britain, he was not allowed at the time to own land in the United States. (Later, Burr would accept a major bribe from the Holland Company—and would in turn bribe NY state legislators—to allow foreigners to speculate in US land in their own name.) At various times, the U.S. ‘citizen’, Williamson, was very clear about his loyalties: To Dundas, “...[I]f my endeavours to be useful I can deserve the approbation of Lord Melville & Mr. Pitt I shall be very happy indeed.” To Charles Hope, Lord Granton (the Lord Justice Clerk of Scotland), I would be one of “the Western Watch Dogs of the Empire.”

[12]. Chaitkin, op.cit., reports that on the previous day, July 20th, Burr was able to secure a payment of $41,783 from John Jacob Astor—a large chunk of over $100,000 that Burr received from Astor for land sales, between 2003 and 2005. Nice of Astor to oblige in a timely fashion.

[13]. Dr. Isaac J. Cox says that Wilkerson attended at least one meeting with Burr and Williamson in Philadelphia, August, 1804—though it is not clear upon what he bases this. (In Cox’s “Hispanic-American Phases of the ‘Burr Conspiracy’”, found in “The Hispanic American Historical Review”, May, 1932.)

[14]. Over a half-year later, Merry provides an even more unqualified recommendation. At this time, Burr’s ‘blood-lust’ (and related sexual arousal) is more under control. Merry finds that Burr more directly apes the British. (For example, when Burr presided, in early 1805, over the Senate impeachment trial of Judge Chase, Burr removed the defendent’s chair and instructed him: “In Great Britain, when an officer is impeached, & Appears before the House of Lords—instead of having a Chair the Accused falls on his knees & rises not till the Lord Chancellor directs him.” Merry must have welled with pride.) A few weeks after Burr’s (3/2/1805) farewell speech to the Senate—so praised by biographers as ‘high-minded’ and ‘statesman-like’—Merry could inform Harrowby (March 29th): “Mr. Burr... has mentioned to me that the inhabitants of Louisiana seem determined to render themselves independent of the United States, and that the execution of their design is only delayed by the difficulty of obtaining... assurance of protection and assistance from some Foreign power, and of concerting... their independence with that of the inhabitants of the western parts of the United States... It is clear that Mr. Burr... means to endeavour to be the instruments of effecting such a connection.” All that is needed is a British squadron at the mouth of Mississippi, plus a loan of $500,000 loan. Burr had “all the talents, energy, intrepidity and firmness which are required for such an enterprise.”

[15]. In this 1840 painting, Hamilton leads the storming of Redoubt #10 at Yorktown: Hamilton is the one planting the flag. (This author couldn’t locate a properly-sized online version. The original, and very large, painting hangs in the Virginia State Capital building in Richmond.)

[16]. The beginning of the end for Burr’s dismantling of the republic was occasioned by a great admirer of Hamilton, Joseph Hamilton Daveiss, the US Attorney for the District of Kentucky, acting on behalf of justice for Hamilton. First, he wrote of Burr’s treason to President Jefferson, who promptly ignored the warnings. Daveiss then (properly) assumed that Jefferson was part of problem, and he launched his own hearings into Burr’s treason. Daveiss was well aware that General Wilkinson’s original, Spanish-run plot to detach the West for Spain, had been transmogrified to Britain’s ‘Burr project’ to separate the West, and to exclude Spain.