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July 11: Burr Shoots Hamilton

On this day in 1804, the serving Vice President of the United States, Aaron Burr, shot and mortally wounded the former Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton in a duel. Man, that was a different time. Now, a lot of people seem to think that Hamilton, a religious man, fired his pistol straight up in the air, and the bloodthirsty Burr snickered like a psychopath, then gut shot him with a musket ball. It’s not that simple. Hamilton fired first, and though he did fire over Burr’s head, it wasn’t by much. If he had wanted to do the noble thing and “waste his shot,” as it was called then, it was traditional to fire directly into the ground in front of you. Then the other guy would come off as a coward if he didn’t do the same.  As to why Hamilton decided to fire directly over Burr’s head is up for debate. He may have panicked, he might have been gripped by an overpowering death wish, or just maybe he was trying to shoot the man he hated so much in the head. Now, you’re probably wondering, did the duelists like a drink? Well, Burr certainly did. He drank beer, cider, brandy and wine, though he tried not to get too loaded in public, being the vice prez and all. As for Hamilton, well, he was known to be a bit of a lightweight. John Adams rather scandalously described him as “an insolent coxcomb who rarely dined in good company, where there was good wine, without getting silly and vaporing about his administration like a young girl about her brilliants and trinkets.” Dang!