Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr
Email this review


A lively biography of two unconventional men whose entwined lives ended in tragedy. Political scientist Rogow (Thomas Hobbes, 1986, etc.) retells the well-known story (thanks in large part to Gore Vidal’s novel Burr) of the clash of Alexander Hamilton, the Federalist, and Aaron Burr, the Republican, whose theoretical disputes over three decades led to the duel in which Hamilton died. Rogow’s contribution to the literature, apart from his having turned in a readable and well-researched work, is his tracing the feud to the personal level: Among other things, Hamilton did not like Burr because Burr, although an orphan, came from a relatively privileged background, whereas Hamilton was the illegitimate and unacknowledged son of a Jamaican planter; Burr did not like Hamilton because Hamilton competed with him for political positions and the favors of an evident abundance of married women in New York society. The two also fought on a more elevated plane, arguing bitterly, for instance, over the creation of a federal banking system, Hamilton’s brainchild. Hamilton, it seems, was happy to loathe Burr for any reason whatever, and he made his hatred widely known. Burr, hapless and always something of a political outsider, was no match for the more polished and eloquent Hamilton in debate; still, Hamilton, whom Rogow believes was a manic-depressive, fixated on Burr rather than on Burr’s more imposing ally, Thomas Jefferson, so that —the more Burr failed in his political objectives, the more Hamilton saw him as a threat to himself, the Federalist Party, and the country.— In the end Hamilton’s misguided loathing led to his death, but also to Burr’s undoing, for no political body in the country wished to sponsor the killer of the popular Hamilton. While retelling the story of two of its deeply troubled representatives, Rogow paints a carefully detailed picture of revolutionary and early federal American society. (6 b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: May 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-8090-4753-5
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Hill and Wang/Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 1998


NonfictionJEFFERSON AND HAMILTON by John Ferling
by John Ferling