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Posts Tagged ‘1801’

“The mistakes of the father are often visited upon the son.”

“The apple doesn’t far very far from the tree.”

“Like father, like son.”

These are phrases that you and I have probably said hundreds of times.  We watch children grow up and, whether they belong to us or not, we often notice that the path they follow in some ways resembles that of their parents.  And sometimes that’s good.  Some parents work really hard to set an excellent example for their children, and the kids pick up that example and run with it.  Of course, sometimes the opposite is true, and we watch a cycle of anguish and heartache begin to form.  And then we’ll shake our heads, turn back toward our front door, and mutter one of those phrases under our breath.

But sometimes the time-space continuum gets all contorted.  What was “up” becomes “down” and things start to get all wobbly.  When that happens, it’s the behavior of the children that ends up manifesting itself in the parents.  Yikes!!

Parents are supposed to be experienced…mature…capable of clear, sound thinking and good judgement.  Usually…

Well, time and space conspired to create just such a flip-flop in the Hamilton family.  Alexander Hamilton’s family.  Philip Hamilton was oldest of the children and he had every indication of following in his father’s footsteps.  He was intelligent, good looking, and a bit of a rake (in a youthful way).  He was a fine orator and writer.  The future was promising for young Philip, so much so that his father called him the “eldest and brightest hope” for the family.

But like his father, Philip had a strong sense of honor and, even in his youth, would protect that honor at all costs.  July 4, 1801 was a day of celebration.  The country was a quarter century old, and there was celebration and pomp throughout the country.  There was merriment and feasting.  And, of course, there was speech-making.  In New York, the people gathered for the reading of the Declaration of Independence.  When it was finished, George Eacker got up and addressed the crowd.  This young lawyer was a strong supporter of the Republican movement and President Jefferson.  And as we know, Jefferson was no friend of Alexander Hamilton.

Eacker praised Jefferson for saving the Constitution and the Republic from the likes of Hamilton, blaming Hamilton for the XYZ Affair and, once again, accusing Hamilton of favoring a return to monarchy.  Of course, the speech was published in the newspaper.  And Philip Hamilton read the papers.

Fast-forward to November when, by chance, young Hamilton ran into George Eacker at the Park Theater.  The encounter was heated, with strong words and loud voices that created a disturbance for others trying to watch a play.  Eacker muttered that Philip (and the man with him) were “rascals”.  Today, the word “rascal” means very little.  Maybe we think of Alfalfa or Buckwheat in black and white, but that’s about it.  In 1800, however, the word was loaded.  Calling someone a rascal was the codeword to a duel…and that’s exactly what happened.

Two days later, on November 22, Philip Hamilton and George Eacker exchanged gunfire.  Hamilton had already determined to let Eacker pull first before wasting his own shot in the air.  Unfortunately, Eacker did not throw his shot, which ripped through the former Treasury Secretary’s oldest son and dropped him to the ground.  Taken immediately to the doctor, Philip was soon joined by his father and mother, who was pregnant with their eighth child.

At 5:00am on November 23, 1801, Philip Hamilton died from his injuries, leaving grief-stricken parents, brothers, and sisters.  Eliza’s baby, born in June of the following year, would be named Philip in honor of the lost son.

And in a striking coincidence, the father did not learn from the mistake of the son.  As we well know, Alexander Hamilton would meet his end in exactly the same fashion:  a duel in which he had decided to spare his opponent…one Aaron Burr.

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America’s first two elections were basically uncontested.  Everyone knew George Washington would be elected to the top post, and his 100% tally in both Electoral College votes bore that out.  The election of 1796, won by John Adams, was the first election that showed just how divided a country, recently united by Revolution and victory, could become.  It also gave us some insight into the power of a muck-raking press not conditioned to the niceties of 21st-century subtlety.

Which brings us to the election of 1800, which may have been the most dramatic in the country’s history.  There was little doubt who wasn’t going to win.  President John Adams had been demonized by the Anti-Federalist Party and marginalized by his own Federalist Party.  The threat of open war with France had split the powers in government into two camps.  The Anti-Federalists, led by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, wanted peace with France…the Federalists, war.

President Adams’ envoys to France brokered peace, but the “slow boat to America” brought news of the treaty too late to act as the catalyst that almost surely would have garnered Adams another term.  So it came down to Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr.  Everyone knew the election would end in an Electoral College tie, and that was verified when the ballots were opened on February 11th, 1801.  The vote would go to the House of Representatives, a chamber dominated by Federalists, which spelled doom for Jefferson.

But not so fast.

Aaron Burr was a pretty unpopular fellow amongst those in power.  And one of his biggest rivals was Alexander Hamilton.  The two had engaged in an on-again-off-again cycle of trust, distrust, collaboration, and outright hatred that boggles the senses.  Hamilton saw Burr as a two-faced hypocrite, who swapped allegiances and ideologies to suit whatever constituency gave him the most power.  He (correctly) saw Burr as a man of exceeding ambition who, if he couldn’t gain power by rightful election, was capable of using any means necessary.

Burr, for his part, was initially gracious about the tie, stating that “It is highly improbable that I shall have an equal number of votes with Mr. Jefferson, but if such should be the result, every man who knows me ought to know that I should utterly disclaim all competition.”  Some Federalists were inclined to favor the ever-ambitious Burr over Jefferson.

Alexander Hamilton was horrified. He and Thomas Jefferson had also been bitter rivals for years, but in this case, Burr was the bigger evil, as we’ll begin to unravel in a few days.  As always, he let his pen do the talking, writing to Congressional Federalists that “As to Burr, there is nothing in his favour…He is bankrupt beyond redemption, except by the plunder of his country.  His pubilc principles have no other spring or aim than his own aggrandizement…If he can, he will certainly disturb our institutions to secure to himself permanent power…”

The irony here is startling…Hamilton defending Jefferson by saying of Burr the same things Jefferson said of Hamilton…read that carefully.  President John Adams, relegated to spectator status in this and a recipient of Hamilton’s ire just prior to the election, laughed at the situation.  “The very man – the very two men – of all the world that he was most jealous of are now placed above him.”

Thirty-five ballots were cast in the House over a week’s time.  And thirty-five times the deadlock remained.  The politiking in the House grew as electors looked for any leeway that could break the deadlock.  That leeway came to Delaware’s James Bayard.  Possibly influenced by Hamilton’s constant letters to Congress, this anti-Jefferson Federalist met with Jefferson supporters and set forth a few requirements which, if promised by Jefferson, could likely win Bayard’s vote.

What Bayard heard in response must have been enough, because the thirty-sixth vote, taken on February 17, 1801, saw Bayard cast a blank ballot, removing Delaware from Burr’s column.  Thomas Jefferson had a new title…President of the United States.

Recommended Reading: Alexander Hamilton

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