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New Book Will Explore What Led to Hamilton-Burr Duel


Doug Ambrose.
Doug Ambrose.  Photo: Nancy L. Ford

Though the outcome of the 1804 duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr is well known, the relationship between the men preceding the duel has only received attention since the opening of the Broadway musical Hamilton.

That relationship will be explored in a new book by Douglas Ambrose, the Carolyn and David M. Ellis ’38 Distinguished Teaching Professor of History.

The book, to be published next fall, focuses primarily on 35 letters exchanged between the political rivals in the final months of Hamilton’s life, along with other documents pertaining to Hamilton. The material is part of the Fenimore Art Museum’s collection in Cooperstown, N.Y.

The book will include transcriptions of the letters as well as images of the originals. Described by Ambrose as “a national treasure,” the letters were purchased for the Fenimore by philanthropist Steven Clark in the 1950s.

In an announcement of the project on the Fenimore Museum website, Ambrose said, “The story will not only deepen readers’ understanding of the personal rivalry that resulted in the most famous duel in American history, but also help those readers appreciate how contentious, divisive, and volatile American public life has been.

“Such an appreciation will help today’s readers put into perspective our own fractious political world,” he continued.

Funding for the book will be from a $50,000 grant awarded to the museum by the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation. A separate grant of $20,000 will be used in the creation of a virtual gallery of the Hamilton-Burr documents and other programming related to the collection.

Ambrose was interviewed about the project by WUTR  (ABC affiliate - Utica). The announcement of the project was reported by the Associated Press and subsequently by The Washington Post and other media outlets around the country.

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