Even though America declared its independence from Great Britain on July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress had—in the previous year—approved the Olive Branch Petition—a direct appeal to King George lll to forego his resentments towards the colonies. It was a tactical maneuver to discharge the King from his responsibilities, to “enjoy [a] long and prosperous reign…that your descendants may govern your Dominions with honour to themselves and happiness to their subjects.”
The letter suggested to the mercurial monarch that he was not responsible for the commotion in the colonies; all of that—they appeased—had been whipped up by his ministers. The missive concluded: “your faithful Colonists” were simply arming themselves “in our own defence.”
George, however, dispensed with the document in a fury, fired up his “faithful” subjects, and fomented a revolution.
The Grateful American Book Prize recommends 1776 by David McCullough.
On July 11. 1804, Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr squared off to duel. Long term rivals and competitors, they agreed to put an end to their animosities in a very genteel shoot-out.
According to History.com, such affairs of honor were usually worked out peacefully “before any actual firing of weapons.”
Hamilton’s “second,”—assistant—for the duel, said Hamilton concluded the duel was morally wrong, and deliberately shot into the air. But Burr’s attendant asserted Hamilton fired at Burr—and missed.
“What happened next is agreed upon: Burr shot Hamilton in the stomach and the bullet lodged next to his spine. Hamilton was returned to New York, and he died the following afternoon.”
Eventually, Burr would lobby vigorously for America’s independence, and become Thomas Jefferson’s first vice president:
As History.com describes it, “Jefferson grew apart from him, and he did not support Burr’s renomination to a second term in 1804. That year, a faction of New York Federalists, who had found their fortunes drastically diminished after the ascendance of Jefferson, sought to enlist the disgruntled Burr into their party and elect him governor. Hamilton campaigned against Burr with great fervor, and Burr lost the Federalist nomination and then, running as an independent for governor, the election. In the campaign, Burr’s character was savagely attacked by Hamilton and others, and after the election he resolved to restore his reputation by challenging Hamilton to a duel.”
The Grateful American Book Prize recommends John Sedgwick’s War of Two: Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, and the Duel that Stunned the Nation by John Sedgwick.
Nobody denies the importance of the Meriwether Lewis–William Clark expeditions in the Western frontier, but Zebulon Pike, an explorer and mapmaker, is—except for the people who are familiar with “Pike’s Peak”—obscure.
On July 15, 1806, he departed for the faraway Southwest; according to History.com:
“The information he provided about the U.S. territory in Kansas and Colorado was a great impetus for future U.S. settlement, and his reports about the weakness of Spanish authority in the Southwest stirred talk of future U.S. annexation. Pike later served as a brigadier general during the War of 1812, and in April 1813 he was killed by a British gunpowder bomb after leading a successful attack on York, Canada.”
But historical evidence also indicates he colluded with Aaron Burr, to wangle possession of the Western territories, and form a separate nation.
The Grateful American Book Prize recommends Zebulon Pike, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West by Matthew L. Harris.
History Matters is a biweekly feature courtesy of The Grateful American Book Prize.