Posted by: MTR | January 13, 2010

The Night Before the Duel

John Quincy, sensing the wounded pride that festered beneath such jocular gestures, suggested that his father write his autobiography in order to set the record straight and deal directly with his personal demons. The result was less like a crafted work of literature than an open wound; like the life it chronicled, Adams’s biography was impulsive and candid. After an opening section that described his early years, Adams got down to the serious business of eviscerating his enemies.

Alexander Hamilton was the chief villain. The fact that he had only recently died in a duel with Aaron Burr was no cause for mercy. Adams claimed to feel no obligation “to suffer my Character to lie under infamous Calumnies, because the Author of them, with a Pistol Bullet through his Spinal Marrow, died a Penitent.” Hamilton was a “Creole Bolingbroke.… Born on a Speck more obscure than Corsica … as ambitious as Bonaparte, though less courageous, and, save for me, would have involved us in the foreign war with France & a civil war with ourselves.” Writing to Judge Francis Vanderkemp at the same time, he amplified his accusations: Hamilton was “a bastard brat of a Scotch pedlar” who lived constantly “in a delirium of Ambition.”

The night before the Duel

“The scruples of a Christian have determined me to expose my own life to any extent, rather than subject myself to the guilt of taking the life of another. This much increases my hazards, and redoubles my pangs for you. But you had rather I should die innocent than live guilty. Heaven can preserve me, and I humbly hope will; but, in the contrary event, I charge you to remember that you are a Christian. God’s will be done! The will of a merciful God must be good.”


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