Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Guest Review: War of Two

Summary: A provocative and penetrating investigation into the rivalry between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, whose infamous duel left the Founding Father dead and turned a sitting Vice President into a fugitive.

In the summer of 1804, two of America’s most eminent statesmen squared off, pistols raised, on a bluff along the Hudson River. That two such men would risk not only their lives but the stability of the young country they helped forge is almost beyond comprehension. Yet we know that it happened. The question is why.

In War of Two, John Sedgwick explores the long-standing conflict between Founding Father Alexander Hamilton and Vice President Aaron Burr. A study in contrasts from birth, they had been compatriots, colleagues, and even friends. But above all they were rivals. Matching each other’s ambition and skill as lawyers in New York, they later battled for power along political fault lines that would not only decide the future of the United States, but define it.

A series of letters between Burr and Hamilton suggest the duel was fought over an unflattering comment made at a dinner party. But another letter, written by Hamilton the night before the event, provides critical insight into his true motivation. It was addressed to former Speaker of the House Theodore Sedgwick, a trusted friend of both men, and the author’s own ancestor.

John Sedgwick suggests that Hamilton saw Burr not merely as a personal rival but as a threat to the nation. Burr would prove that fear justified after Hamilton’s death when, haunted by the legacy of his longtime adversary, he embarked on an imperial scheme to break the Union apart. -- Berkley

I honestly don't know much you can read about Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, but my dad found another one. It's called WAR OF TWO: ALEXANDER HAMILTON, AARON BURR, AND THE DUEL THAT STUNNED THE NATION by John Sedgwick. Here are his thoughts:

WAR OF TWO Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, and the Duel That Stunned the Nation by John Sedgwick is the latest take on this historic encounter. Sedgwick’s approach is to blend the biographies of two of our nation’s early leaders; both driven, both extremely intelligent, both outstanding lawyers, yet each with substantial flaws and each with a very different person. The author attempts to show how their lives intertwined right up to the unfortunate duel. He shows that at various times they were compatriots, colleagues and rivals.

Hamilton, of illegitimate birth, was an immigrant to the United States from a Caribbean island. He served as the chief aide to General George Washington, wrote a majority of the Federalist papers, led the Federalist Party and served as the first Treasury Secretary where his plans put the U.S. on a strong financial footing.

Burr, an American aristocrat, served as an officer in the Revolutionary War, held several political offices including the Vice-President of the United States ( Thomas Jefferson was elected President in 1800 on the House of Representatives’ 34th ballot after he and Burr tied in Electoral College votes. Burr won the consolation prize of Vice-President) , was an extremely private and complex individual and was a substantial force in the Republican Party.

Some say the reason for the duel began with a rumor that Hamilton told attendees at a dinner party that Burr was a dangerous man. Sedgwick contends that the cause began years earlier as their lives moved toward the inevitable duel.

By the time of the duel in 1804, both Hamilton and Burr were at the end of their political influence. Their reputations (partially due to sexual transgressions) and their finances were in significant ruin. Defending ones honor was all that remained. Hamilton’s son died in a duel and he abhorred the practice even though he actually participated in eleven; although only the last needed gunfire to resolve. Interestingly, Burr participated in two duels, both against members of the Hamilton family, both requiring gunfire.

WAR OF TWO continues with Burr’s tragic life after the killing of Hamilton. In 1805 he attempted to start his own country by dividing the newly acquired western lands from the eastern portion of the United States. He was arrested for high treason in 1806 and although found innocent, he was generally persona non grata in the United States and lived abroad for several years. He returned to the United States in1811 and died in 1836 at the age of eighty.

I have previously reviewed two books involving Burr and Hamilton. The first was AMERICAN EMPEROR by Davis O. Stewart. It began with the 1800 election and proceeded through the duel and Burr’s demise. The second was DUEL WITH THE DEVIL by Paul Collins which outlined a famous trial in 1800 where Burr and Hamilton worked together to defend a man accused of murder. Neither book contained as much detail as does WAR OF TWO.

To me, the most interesting aspect of WAR OF TWO is the way Sedgwick blended the two biographies with the history of the time. The reluctance of Washington to become President, his lack of trust in Burr, the dislike of John Adams’ policies, Jefferson’s strong enmity of Burr, the formation of the political parties and first-ever election campaigning are of few examples of the historical issues. It is also clear that polarized politics has a long history beginning with the election of 1800.

Even though I enjoyed WAR OF TWO, I was sometimes bogged down with the large amount of details presented. It was a difficult read and I would recommend it for those who truly have a keen interest in United States history.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this book (BEA 2015) and to my dad for his great review.

1 comment:

bermudaonion said...

I don't have a keen interest in history so I'll skip this one.