"War of Two: Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, and the Duel That Stunned the Nation"

Nov 5, 2015

On this edition of ST, we speak with the author and journalist John Sedgwick, whose many books range from a psychological thriller, "The Dark House," to a multi-generational family memoir, "In My Blood." He joins us to talk about his newest book, a work of popular history entitled "War of Two: Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, and the Duel That Stunned the Nation." Interestingly, Sedgwick has an ancestor who actually knew both Hamilton and Burr quite well, and it was his own research into the life and work of that ancestor which first led Sedgwick to think of writing this book. As was noted of this entertaining dual-biography by a critic for Publishers Weekly: "Sedgwick looks back on one of America's earliest scandals: the duel between Alexander Hamilton, the nation's first Secretary of the Treasury, and Aaron Burr, the sitting Vice President. The stand-off stemmed from Hamilton calling Burr dangerous, but it was fueled by the interaction of two men for whom 'relative standing was everything.' Hamilton, who had risen from illegitimacy and poverty to great power, possessed 'a protean ability not just to make enemies but to create them,' and his influence waned accordingly. The nation's rising star was Aaron Burr, whose political career began as 'a testament to his high standing as a lawyer and to his elite background.' Sedgwick perceptively suggests that Burr's skill at influencing public opinion epitomized for the emerging Republicans what Hamilton's preference for elite governance did for the Federalists: competing versions of democracy. Never gaining Thomas Jefferson's trust even as his Vice President, Burr sought a power base in New York -- where Hamilton had returned after leaving the government. Both men felt unacceptably diminished; each focused on the other as cause and symbol of his own relative decline. Sedgwick shows that while the duel was not inevitable, the pair's final encounter was predictable."