Is Thomas Jefferson complicit in the death of Alexander Hamilton?

9/4/2012 • Ask Mr. History, Thomas Jefferson

Is Thomas Jefferson complicit in the death of Alexander Hamilton?  He was no friend of either Burr or Hamilton, and stood to profit regardless of the outcome of the duel – but seems needed the duel to take place.  Could he have urged Burr on to do the dirty work?

Jeff C

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Dear Jeff,

As far as I know, there is nothing to positively tie Thomas Jefferson to any conspiracy theory you care to conjure up for Alexander Hamilton’s mortal wounding in Weehawken. Although they were more fundamentally opposed in their approach to government and even interpretation of the Constitution than the current presidential contender, there was a mutual respect between Jefferson and Hamilton that contrasted dramatically with Hamilton’s opinion of Aaron Burr—to such an extent that in 1800 Hamilton used all his influence to see to it that Jefferson got the Republican Democratic presidential candidacy, with Burr as his vice president, rather than the other way around. That enmity resurfaced in 1804, when Hamilton publicly denounced Burr as a “dangerous man” as he, Hamilton, endorsed Lewis Morgan Lewis in Lewis’ successful bid to become governor of New York. It was Hamilton’s rancorous words in that election that led to Burr ultimately demanding an apology and, when Hamilton refused, a duel. I see no way that Jefferson could either have had that strong a motive nor to have been in a position to orchestrate such a thing.



Jon Guttman
Research Director
World History Group
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