BURR, Aaron (1756-1836), Vice President. Autograph letter signed ("A.B") TO JAMES MONROE, [Philadelphia, Pa.], 9 August . 1 page, 4to (9 5/8 x 7½), very light browning to left margin, otherwise in very fine condition.
BURR PREVENTS A DUEL BETWEEN HAMILTON AND MONROE OVER THE "REYNOLDS AFFAIR"
Curiously, Aaron Burr played a principal role in averting a potentially lethal confrontation between James Monroe and Alexander Hamilton, who, of course, seven years later, was shot in the most famous of all American duels, by Aaron Burr. Monroe and Hamilton were engaged in a bitter dispute growing out of Hamilton's affair with Maria Reynolds (see previous lot). Hamilton sought to quash rumors that he and James Reynolds, Maris's husband, had been involved in unscrupulous financial speculations while Hamilton was Secretary of the Treasury.
Hamilton wrote to Monroe, Abraham Venable and Frederick Muhlenberg to enlist their aid, and, when Monroe's reply was delayed, Hamilton accused Monroe of leaking damaging letters regarding the affair. David Gelston, a witness to their argument, recalled that "Colo. Monroe rising first and saying do you say I represented falsely, you are a scoundrel. Colo. H. said I will meet you like a gentleman[.] Colo. M. said I am ready get your pistols" (Ammon, James Monroe, p. 159).
Eventually Monroe agrred to meet with Venable and Muhlenberg, but Monroe refused to fully vindicate Hamilton, and with the duel seemingly certain, seconds were named. Aaron Burr, a fellow Republican, was asked to stand with Monroe as his chief counselor. Burr immediately undertook to effect a peaceful resolution of the two men's dispute.
Here, he informs Monroe that his efforts have borne fruit: "I could not succeed in seeing Mr. H. Yesterday, but have had an interview with him this morning. The Thing will take an amicable course and terminate, I believe to your satisfaction. I am to meet H. again at eleven, but it will be impossible to communicate any thing further by this days mail--particulars tomorrow." He reassures Monroe to return to his affairs: "You may put this business wholly out of your mind and devote your attention to that which is infinitely more suitable and more important...." Burr comments that Hamilton's actions in this instance have damaged his reputation: "tergiversation, hypocrisy and equivocation are disgraceful and have disgraced him."
Republicans applauded Monroe's restraint and criticized Hamilton for publishing the correspondence between the two. In the end Burr remained convinced that Hamilton was innocent of financial manipulations with Reynolds. Ironically, as biographer John Miller observed "it was within Burr's power to have precipitated a duel at this time and thus, perhaps, to have relieved himself of the necessity of killing Hamilton a few years later" (quoted in Lomask, Aaron Burr: The Years from Princeton to Vice President, 1756-1805, p. 208).
Provence: Phillips Exeter Academy Library (sale, Sotheby's, 6 April 1983, lot 39).