Feb. 6 will mark the 259th birthday of Aaron Burr. Perhaps you have heard of him while learning about our Founding Fathers. He was not exactly one of the most important politicians during the early years of the United States, but many sources do credit this man as a Founding Father.
Burr, born in 1756, came from a father who was a Presbyterian minister and a president of the College of New Jersey, but was raised by his wealthy uncle after the tragic deaths of his parents.
At the young age of 13, Burr attended the College of New Jersey and graduated summa cum laude in 1772.
Upon his graduation, he attended Litchfield Law School, but his studies were interrupted by the Revolutionary War. In the spring of 1776, Burr earned the rank of major and a position on General Israel Putnam’s staff.
In 1782, Burr was appointed to the bar and soon began to practice law in Albany. By 1789, Burr was the Attorney General of New York.
In 1791, Burr defeated Philip Schuyler for a seat in the Senate. This may not seem to be a big deal, but it set off one of the most infamous rivalries American history has ever seen. Schuyler was Alexander Hamilton’s father-in-law, and Hamilton was one of the most well-known Americans and politicians at the time.
He was chief aid to General George Washington, created a national finance system and founded the Federalist Party.
Hamilton knew he could rely on Schuyler to help with his agenda, and his absence in the Senate greatly angered the treasury secretary. Burr and Hamilton’s rivalry had begun.
In 1800, Burr took a major shot at Hamilton. Burr had gotten his hands on a private essay written by Hamilton. The essay gave a critical view of John Adams, a Federalist like Hamilton. Upon Burr’s public release of the document, Hamilton was ridiculed and greatly embarrassed. In retaliation, Hamilton did everything in his power to help Burr lose the presidency in 1800 and the governorship of New York in 1804.
Even though Hamilton’s actions had little effect in both races, Burr became further enraged with Hamilton.
Burr’s political career was coming to an end much sooner than he would have liked, and in a desperate attempt to revitalize his career, he challenged Hamilton to a duel. There was no choice for Hamilton: If he rejected the challenge, he would lose his honor and the respect of his fellow politicians. The duel was set for July 11, 1804, in, N.J.
The two men, both armed with .56-caliber pistols, stood several yards away from each other and, within the blink of an eye, each of the two men fired.
Hamilton missed Burr completely, but Burr’s shot found its mark, and Hamilton was mortally wounded. It has been speculated that Hamilton missed on purpose and assumed Burr would do the same.
But the bitter rivalry between the two made Burr forget all thoughts of chivalry, and the next day Hamilton was dead.
Much of the nation was grief-stricken, and Burr was charged with murder. As thousands wept, the City Council called upon a young preacher from the Presbyterian Church of Albany to deliver a eulogy on the death of Alexander Hamilton. This man was Eliphalet Nott, who was a friend of Hamilton.
Nott’s eulogy, entitled “On the Death of Alexander Hamilton,” went into great detail on the misfortune of losing such a good man. Many of the listeners were moved by Nott’s words, which had more than a simple meaning.
In his eulogy, Nott condemned dueling, declaring, “I cannot forgive the public, in whose opinion the duelist finds a sanctuary. I cannot forgive you, my brethren, who till this late hour have been silent while successive murders were committed.”
His speech had a profound effect on the nation, and the practice of dueling quickly disappeared from American culture until it’s resurgence in the west in the late 19th century.
Nott’s eulogy preached the value of life, and has proven to be one of the most important documents in putting an end to dueling. It is considered to be one of the best examples of “elocutor’s art.”
Nott delivered several other sermons and speeches professing his opinons on temperance and the educatioin of young men, but none was as profound as his eulogy for Alexander Hamilton.
A little bit of research into Union’s truly legendary President Eliphalet Nott can lead you to some great stories of our nation’s past.
Nott’s legacy lives on not only on Union’s historic campus, but also in our own nation’s history — and really, how many other schools get to say that?
Though he was RPI’s president first, he was here at Union the longest, and it’s clear from his relationship with Hamilton that he valued loyalty and integrtiy, which are embodied here at Union to this day.
You can read Nott’s inspirational eulogy in its entirety on Bartleby.com.