Commonplace Book #80

Throughout his affair with Burr, Hamilton evinced ambivalence about dueling. In light of his extensive history of affairs of honor, it may seem disingenuous for Hamilton to have stated that he did not believe in duels.  But with his son Philip’s death and his own growing attention to religion, Hamilton had developed a principled aversion to the practice.  By a spooky coincidence, in the last great speech of his career Hamilton eloquently denounced dueling.  During the Harry Croswell case, he argued that it was forbidden “on the principle of natural justice that no man shall be the avenger of his own wrongs, especially by a deed alike interdicted by the laws of God and man.”  In agreeing to duel with Burr, Hamilton claimed to be acting contrary to his own wishes in order to appease public opinion.  As his second, Nathaniel Pendleton, later wrote, dueling might be barbarous, but it was “a custom which has nevertheless received the sanction of public opinion in the refined age and nation in which we live, by which it is made the test of honor or disgrace .”  In 1804, Alexander Hamilton  did not think he could afford to flunk that test, though many friends would fault him for bowing to this popular prejudice.

Ron Chernow, Alexander Hamilton, 685.

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