On this date in 1804, Vice President Aaron Burr fatally shoots his long-time political antagonist Alexander Hamilton in a duel.
Alexander Hamilton, born on the Caribbean island of Nevis, came to the American colonies in 1773 as a poor immigrant. (There is some controversy as to the year of his birth, but it was either 1755 or 1757.) In 1776, he joined the Continental Army in the American Revolution, and his relentless energy and remarkable intelligence brought him to the attention of General George Washington, who took him on as an aid. Ten years later, Hamilton served as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention, and he led the fight to win ratification of the final document, which created the kind of strong, centralized government that he favored. In 1789, he was appointed the first secretary of the treasury by President Washington, and during the next six years he crafted a sophisticated monetary policy that saved the young U.S. government from collapse. With the emergence of political parties, Hamilton was regarded as a leader of the Federalists.
Aaron Burr, born into a prestigious New Jersey family in 1756, was also intellectually gifted, and he graduated from the College of New Jersey (later Princeton) at the age of 17. He joined the Continental Army in 1775 and distinguished himself during the Patriot attack on Quebec. A masterful politician, he was elected to the New State Assembly in 1783 and later served as state attorney. In 1790, he defeated Alexander Hamilton's father-in-law in a race for the U.S. Senate. Hamilton came to detest Burr, whom he regarded as a dangerous opportunist, and he often spoke ill of him. When Burr ran for the vice presidency in 1796 on Thomas Jefferson’s Democratic-Republican ticket (the forerunner of the Democratic Party), Hamilton launched a series of public attacks against Burr, stating, "I feel it is a religious duty to oppose his career." John Adams won the presidency, and in 1797 Burr left the Senate and returned to the New York Assembly. In 1800, Jefferson chose Burr again as his running mate. Burr aided the Democratic-Republican ticket by publishing a confidential document that Hamilton had written criticizing his fellow Federalist President John Adams. This caused a rift in the Federalists and helped Jefferson and Burr win the election with 73 electoral votes each.
Under the electoral procedure then prevailing, president and vice president were not voted for separately; the candidate who received the most votes was elected president, and the second in line, vice president. The vote then went to the House of Representatives. What at first seemed but an electoral technicality handing Jefferson victory over his running mate developed into a major constitutional crisis when Federalists in the lame-duck Congress threw their support behind Burr. After a remarkable 35 tie votes, a small group of Federalists changed sides and voted in Jefferson's favor. Alexander Hamilton, who had supported Jefferson as the lesser of two evils, was instrumental in breaking the deadlock. Burr became vice president, but Jefferson grew apart from him, and he did not support Burr's re-nomination to a second term in 1804. That year, a faction of New York Federalists, who had found their fortunes drastically diminished after the ascendance of Jefferson, sought to enlist the disgruntled Burr into their party and elect him governor. Hamilton campaigned against Burr with great fervor, and Burr lost the Federalist nomination and then, running as an independent for governor, the election. In the campaign, Burr's character was savagely attacked by Hamilton and others, and after the election he resolved to restore his reputation by challenging Hamilton to a duel, or an "affair of honor," as they were known.
Affairs of honor were commonplace in America at the time, and the complex rules governing them usually led to an honorable resolution before any actual firing of weapons. In fact, the outspoken Hamilton had been involved in several affairs of honor in his life, and he had resolved most of them peaceably. No such recourse was found with Burr, however, and on July 11, 1804, the enemies met at 7 a.m. at the dueling grounds near Weehawken, New Jersey. It was the same spot where Hamilton's son had died defending his father's honor two years before. There are conflicting accounts of what happened next. According to Hamilton's "second"--his assistant and witness in the duel--Hamilton decided the duel was morally wrong and deliberately fired into the air. Burr's second claimed that Hamilton fired at Burr and missed. What happened next is agreed upon: Burr shot Hamilton in the stomach, and the bullet lodged next to his spine. Hamilton was taken back to New York, and he died the next afternoon.
Few affairs of honor actually resulted in deaths, and the nation was outraged by the killing of a man as eminent as Alexander Hamilton. Charged with murder in New York and New Jersey, Burr, still vice president, returned to Washington D.C, where he finished his term immune from prosecution. In 1805, Burr, thoroughly discredited, concocted a plot with James Wilkinson, commander-in-chief of the U.S. Army, to seize the Louisiana Territory and establish an independent empire, which Burr, presumably, would lead. He contacted the British government and unsuccessfully pleaded for assistance in the scheme. Later, when border trouble with Spanish Mexico heated up, Burr and Wilkinson conspired to seize territory in Spanish America for the same purpose. In the fall of 1806, Burr led a group of well-armed colonists toward New Orleans, prompting an immediate U.S. investigation. General Wilkinson, in an effort to save himself, turned against Burr and sent dispatches to Washington accusing Burr of treason. In February 1807, Burr was arrested in Louisiana for treason and sent to Virginia to be tried in a U.S. court. In September, he was acquitted on a technicality. Nevertheless, public opinion condemned him as a traitor, and he fled to Europe. He later returned to private life in New York, the murder charges against him forgotten. He died in 1836.
On this date in 2010, after a two-year manhunt, 19-year-old Colton Harris-Moore nick-named the bare-foot bandit is arrested following a high-speed boat chase in the Bahamas.
Harris-Moore was suspected of stealing an airplane in Indiana and crash-landing it in the Bahamas the week before. Nicknamed the“Barefoot Bandit” for going shoeless during some of his alleged crimes, the teen was a suspect in scores of other burglaries in the U.S. and Canada, where he was accused of swiping everything from potato chips to credit cards, small planes, boats and cars. During his time as a fugitive, Harris-Moore gained a cult-like following online, with fans viewing him as a folk hero and praising his brazenness and his uncanny ability to elude law-enforcement officials. Growing up on Camano Island, Washington, Harris-Moore had a difficult, impoverished childhood. He reportedly stole food from neighbors, had a turbulent relationship with his mother (his father spent time in jail and is believed to have been largely absent from the family) and was often in trouble at school before dropping out in the 10th grade. His first criminal conviction was at age 12, for possession of stolen property.
In April 2008, Harris-Moore escaped from a Renton, Washington, juvenile halfway house, where he was serving time for burglarizing homes. Over the next two years, he continued his crime spree, breaking into a long string of private residences and businesses, primarily in the Pacific Northwest, while camping in the woods and unoccupied homes. The teen, who learned to fly without any formal training, became a suspect in the theft of at least five small planes, all of which he managed to pilot and safely crash-land. In early July 2010, Harris-Moore commandeered an aircraft in Bloomington, Indiana, and flew it to the Bahamas, where he crash-landed on Great Abaco Island. He allegedly went on to commit a series of break-ins throughout the Bahamas, before being nabbed in a stolen boat by Bahamian police in the early hours of July 11. In November 2010 in a Seattle courtroom, Harris-Moore pleaded not guilty to five federal criminal charges, including interstate transportation of a stolen aircraft, stolen firearm and stolen vessel, and piloting an aircraft without a valid license. He remains in a federal detention center in Washington awaiting trial.