Aaron Burr has been villainized by historians ever since he killed Alexander Hamilton in 1804. In A Fatal Friendship
, Arnold Rogow attempts to rehabilitate Aaron Burr by fully describing the context of the duel and the personal histories of the two men. All that is really known about the duel is that Vice President Aaron Burr challenged Hamilton because Hamilton had made disparaging remarks about him in a public place. No one knows what Hamilton said, and because Rogow is a very careful historian, he doesn't come to many firm conclusions here, but he does present some compelling arguments about the sources of enmity between the two men.
Hamilton may have resented Burr because they came from such different backgrounds--Hamilton was illegitimate and had to work his way up in the world, while Burr was born into money and high social status. Both men became lawyers and politicians, but while Hamilton cowrote The Federalist Papers and authored important legislation, Burr never achieved much political influence. Hamilton did much more to mold the United States in its early years than Burr did, so it is understandable that historians have portrayed him sympathetically. In this book, Rogow suggests that Hamilton may not have been above reproach. Both men had multiple extramarital affairs, so it is possible that the duel was over a woman. Hamilton may have accused Burr of having an incestuous relationship with his daughter Theo. The problem with this book is that there is not enough evidence to support any of these theories, and there probably never will be. However, Rogow is a capable historian and this book is worth reading for its re-evaluation of these pivotal characters in American history. --Jill Marquis
From Publishers Weekly
In this extensively researched and densely written study, Rogow (James Forrestal) attempts to restore Burr's reputation, which was shattered after he shot and killed Hamilton in 1804 during a duel that Burr provoked because Hamilton refused to apologize for spreading an unspecified slur about Burr. Although the author documents that the two men collaborated in court cases and met socially, Hamilton, a Federalist, and Burr, who had Republican ties, were bitter political enemies. According to Rogow, Hamilton was preoccupied with destroying Burr's career; he cites as evidence Hamilton's support for Jefferson, whom he disliked, instead of Burr during the 1800 presidential election. Rogow attributes Hamilton's obsession to envy of Burr's privileged birth, as contrasted with Hamilton's illegitimacy. He also discusses an interesting conjecture, drawn from earlier biographies, that Burr and Hamilton were rivals for the affections of the same woman. Rogow dismisses an account that circulated after the duel that a gallant Hamilton fired into the air rather than shooting at Burr. Photos not seen by PW.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.