Posts Tagged ‘1804’

During the first decade the United States lived under the Constitution, Alexander Hamilton (on the left) was a political force.  In fact, one could go so far as to say he was the second-most powerful man in the country, a rung or two below President Washington.  A good number of men loved and respected him (including the first President), and a good number loathed and reviled him (including the second, third, fourth, and fifth Presidents) .  But no one could argue with the presence and influence the country’s first Treasury Secretary enjoyed.  If you’ve spent any time on the pages of Today’s History Lesson, you know that to be true.  His legacy, now nearly two-and-a-half centuries in length, still lives with us.

During the second decade, Hamilton’s power began to dwindle.  Some of that was his own fault, some not.  Clearly, the Federalist party (to which Hamilton belonged) was falling out of favor, wilting under the pressure of an Anti-Federalist party led by Jefferson and Madison.  Federalists were under constant attack and in those days, before the “gentleman’s press” had come into being, those attacks were vicious and in numerous cases, untrue.

But Hamilton’s own indiscretions hadn’t helped his situation.  His affair with Maria Reynolds had been made public in the late 1790s, causing him to offer up a well-intentioned, but ill-advised public apology.  Then there was the even more ill-advised attack on President Adams (a fellow Federalist), published in the newspapers shortly before the 1800 election.  At this point, he was still hated by Anti-Federalists, but a good number of Federalists were keeping their distance as well.

By 1804, Hamilton was doing very well in his law practice, but struggling mightily for political significance.  The upcoming governor’s race in New York provided Hamilton with chance to gain some ground.  Aaron Burr (on the right above), the current Vice President, had decided to run for the position.  Of course, the feud between Hamilton and Burr needs no introduction around here.  Hamilton was incredibly worried that Burr would win, so he drafted a letter to his close friend Rufus King, currently the ambassador to England, asking him to run.  Hamilton knew that King might not be able to win the election outright against the firmly entrenched Clinton machine, but maybe he would siphon off enough “Burr” votes to prevent his arch-enemy’s victory.

On the day he wrote the letter, February 23, 1804, Hamilton became the center of attention again, and again, for all the wrong reasons.  The “Clinton machine”, led my New York governor George Clinton (another bitter rival of Hamilton’s), began circulating the report that, way back in 1787 (during the time of the Constitutional Convention), Hamilton and John Adams (then the ambassador to England) had negotiated with King George III to create an American monarchy with one of George’s sons as king.  In return, England would give up Canada, Nova Scotia, and other land holdings.

The story was utterly false.  Yes, both Hamilton and Adams had made statements in the past that, taken on their own, could be seen to favor a monarchical government.  But each man’s overall body of work clearly showed that neither, under any circumstance, wanted to return to that form of rule.  And having England in control of America in any way, shape, or form, was anathema to both men.  But the timing of the story was perfect, as Hamilton was beginning to gain a bit of political traction via his law practice.

Without letting go of his current work, Hamilton began tracing threads to determine the story’s originator.  He was a man that, above all else, treasured his own honor.  People began to detect the smell of gunpowder in the air and pistols at ten paces.

Hamilton was in the thick of it again.  Dates are a bit fuzzy, but I’m going to try put together a proper conclusion to this story on the proper day.

Recommended Reading:  Duel:  Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, and the Future of America – A good composite read on the feud between these two powerful men.  It starts a bit slowly for my tastes, but finishes with a flourish.

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Meriwether Lewis and William Clark were almost a year into what would become the most famous boat and hiking trip in U.S. history, and Sergeant Charles Floyd was very sick.  Floyd, a 20-something from the state of Kentucky, had the distinction of being related to William Clark and serving as the expedition’s quatermaster (the man in charge of food and supplies).

Back in July, Floyd had also been sick with severe abdominal pain, and it had passed.  But it returned, worse than ever, in the middle days of August.  And on August 20, 1804, Sergeant Floyd died of his illness.  Like so many of his time, his death was the result of the fact that 19-century medicine had far more to learn about the human body.

Today, dozens (probably hundreds) of people are treated for appendicitis every day.  The severity of the malady hasn’t changed since Floyd’s time.  Appendicitis (I’m told) causes its victims intense abdominal pain.  Untreated, the appendix will eventually burst, providing the individual temporary relief.  But the bursting of the appendix releases infection directly into the body, causing perotinitis and sepsis (essentially, the body poisoning itself) and eventual death.

But for most people, it never gets this far.  Appendicitis is fairly easy for a doctor to diagnose and, of all the procedures a surgeon could do, the appendectomy (removal of the damaged appendix) is relatively straightforward.  So those suffering from appendicitis usually must endure a few days of intense discomfort which lands them in a doctor’s office and then on an operating table for a fairly common procedure.

This was not the outcome for young Charles Floyd.  In 1804, “modern” medicine had no cure for his appendicitis.  And Floyd’s place of death (on the Missouri River near present-day Sioux City, Iowa) was in the heart of Sioux Indian territory, where doctor’s offices were non-existant.  There is some sense of irony in that Sergeant Floyd’s monument (shown above), raised in honor of the only man to die on the entire Lewis and Clark Expedition, now overlooks a city that boasts one of the nation’s best EMS (Emergency Medical Services) systems.

Recommended Reading: Undaunted Courage

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On the last day of April in 1803, the United States pretty much doubled in size as Robert Livingston and future-President James Monroe put pen to paper in Paris and completed the purchase of the Louisiana Territory.  The acquisition, the largest single territorial expansion in the history of the country, was the culmination of several years of work and intense debate.

Originally, then-President Thomas Jefferson had asked the French about purchasing just New Orleans.  The French leader, expansionist-minded Napoleon Bonaparte, had been formulating designs on an empire in North America for some time.  But the failure of his brother-in-law’s attempt to take Saint-Dominique (modern-day Haiti) caused him to rethink his plans.  In addition, the idea of unloading the territory to the United States had merit because it would create yet another potential rival to Britain…and Napoleon was all in favor of that.

So rather than simply selling a city, he sold a bunch of wilderness.  The United States got a vast new territory with tons of opportunity.  President Jefferson, though highly concerned about the Constitutionality of the purchase and faced with a lot of opposition in Congress, ended up with an Midwest-sized feather in his cap, bought for pennies an acre.  France got an infusion of cash, an elimination of debts it owed the U.S., and smaller house-keeping bills.

And on March 10, 1804 (almost a year after the official documents were signed),  the Louisiana Territory was formally transferred to the United States at a ceremony held in St. Louis, through which the Lewis and Clark Expedition had passed just six months prior.

Recommended Reading:  Undaunted Courage:  Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson and the Opening of the American West – Ambrose at his best.  An absolute must-read.

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Two ambitious men.  Two loaded pistols.  Two witnesses.  If you would have been on the west bank of the Hudson River near Weehawken, New Jersey on the afternoon of July 11, 1804, that’s what you would have seen.

Holding one pistol was Aaron Burr, the Vice President of the United States, serving with President Thomas Jefferson.  Standing opposite Burr was Alexander Hamilton, the former first Treasury Secretary of the United States and master of political intrigue.  There is little doubt that these two men hated each other.  In the culture of the times, it was probably couched in more refined terms, but the hatred was still there.

For Burr, his dislike of Hamilton had mostly to do with Hamilton’s political machinations.  The face of the 10-dollar bill used his pull to try and get John Adams defeated in the 1796 Presidential election.  It failed, to the loss of Aaron Burr, who had been chosen by Thomas Jefferson (Adams’ opponent) as a Vice Presidential candidate.  Adams became the President, Jefferson the Vice President and Burr, the…nothing.

Then in 1800, Hamilton again exerted his powerful influence, this time successfully, to get Adams defeated, but the result left Jefferson and Burr tied in votes.  In the 37th House vote, Hamilton sided with Jefferson, and again Burr, hungry for power, was foiled.

Fast forward to 1804, and Jefferson was again nominated as a Presidential candidate, but decided that Aaron Burr would not be his running mate.  So Burr chose to run for the governorship of New York, but lost that election as well, due in large part, once again, to Alexander Hamilton.  Small wonder that Burr felt the way he did.

Hamilton’s dislike of Burr was likely rooted in his own indiscretion.  Hamilton was found out in a torrid affair with a married woman, and rumors of it were circulated, most likely by Burr and James Monroe.  Hamilton was forced to confess the affair publicly and to resign his position as Treasury Secretary, which badly tarnished his reputation.

No doubt, as these men faced off, all these things were running through their minds.  And while the animosity gave each man the desire as much as the pistols provided the method, Hamilton had already made the decision not to shoot at Aaron…Burr had not.  So when the guns discharged, Hamilton’s shot went high.  Burr’s shot went true, piercing his foe’s abdomen and lodging in his spine.

Alexander Hamilton, on the same field where his son had died in a duel 3 years before, fell mortally wounded, and succumbed to his injuries the next day.  Though dueling was illegal in New Jersey, Burr was never tried and, in fact, completed his term as Vice President.

Recommended Reading: Alexander Hamilton – An outstanding book!!

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