IN THE SUMMER OF 1804, TWO OF AMERICA’S MOST EMINENT STATESMEN SQUARED OFF, PISTOLS RAISED, ON A BLUFF ALONG THE HUDSON RIVER. THAT TWO SUCH MEN WOULD RISK NOT ONLY THEIR LIVES BUT THE STABILITY OF THE YOUNG COUNTRY THEY HELPED FORGE IS ALMOST BEYOND COMPREHENSION. YET WE KNOW THAT IT HAPPENED. THE QUESTION IS WHY.
In War of Two, John Sedgwick explores the long-standing conflict between Founding Father Alexander Hamilton and Vice Pres-ident Aaron Burr. A study in contrasts from birth, they had been compatriots, colleagues, and even friends. But above all they were rivals. After matching each other’s ambition and skill as lawyers in New York, they later battled for power along political fault lines that would not only decide the future of the United States but define it.
A series of letters between Burr and Hamilton suggests the duel was fought over an unflattering comment made at a dinner party. But another letter, written by Hamilton the night before the event, provides critical insight into his true motivation. It was addressed to former Speaker of the House Theodore Sedgwick, a trusted friend of both men, and the author’s own ancestor.
John Sedgwick argues that Hamilton saw Burr not merely as a personal rival but as a threat to the nation. Burr would prove that fear justified after Hamilton’s death when, haunted by the legacy of his longtime adversary, he embarked on an imperial scheme to break the Union apart.
“A lively, wide-ranging and immensely readable book.” —The New York Times
“Sedgwick’s War of Two, like Chernow’s great biography, has depths and details that the musical Hamilton cannot match.”
the New York Review of Books
“In crisp, lively prose, the author presents evenhanded and insightful profiles of two highly intelligent, driven men with substantial flaws and very different characters.”
War of Two
Published by Berkley/Penguin October 20, 2015
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This is the last letter that Hamilton ever wrote, composed the night before he crossed the Hudson to be shot at Weehawken on July 11, 1804. It was sent to my great-great-great grandfather, Theodore Sedgwick, the former Speaker of the House who had been a friend and legislative ally of Hamilton’s. It was saved for generations by the Sedgwick family until it was given to the Massachusetts Historical Society, where I found it on display some years ago when I was at work on a book about my family’s history. It inspired me to write War of Two, for it created a personal connection to that long-ago event, and, as I argue in the book, it explained Hamilton’s reasoning more expansively than any other document of his. Theodore Sedgwick never replied, for the sender was no longer here. - JS