NO man in public life had exhibited such utter forbearance and outward good-humor under years of public calumny, lies, insinuations, innuendoes and accusations directed not only to his political life but to his private character and morals, as Aaron Burr. But now, with the ruins of his career thick about him, the myriad poisoned barbs he had hitherto brushed carelessly aside began to stick and fester. His enemies stood in a tight ring about him, watchful for the least sign of recovery in the victim they had downed.
The bright armor of pride and indifference with which this professional politician, this Chesterfieldian aristocrat, had encased himself, was now pierced beyond repair. He turned on his enemies, determined to strike back -- hard. At the beginning of the nineteenth century there was but one method open to a man of honor to negate imputations against his private, as opposed to his public, character. That was the duel. Burr had fought not many years before with John B. Church; John Swartwout had been twice wounded by De Witt Clinton; Coleman, the editor of the Post, had killed Captain Thompson; Hamilton's own son had fallen on the dueling field a short time before. Gates had fought, so had Randolph, and later Andrew Jackson was to become a famous duelist and kill his man. Monroe and Hamilton had been on the verge of pistols; Hamilton had acted as second to Colonel Laurens in his duel with General Lee, and had himself proposed to be the first to meet the alleged traducer of Washington. Robert Swartwout had severely wounded Richard Riker -- but the catalogue is endless. There was hardly a man of any prominence in those days who had not been on at least one occasion an early riser, with pistols for two, and coffee for one. It was the accepted mode, the sole recourse to gentlemen for slights, real or fancied, upon their characters. It is true that voices were beginning to rise in protest against the barbarous code of the duello, but they were still muted and weak against the strong course of tradition. It is with this in mind that the ensuing affair must be considered, and not with the overlaid prejudices of a modern age.