A Biography of Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804)

Anguish (November 1801)

Following the Jefferson/Burr election, Hamilton turned away from politics momentarily to concentrate on plans for the country house he was having built in upper Manhattan. He decided to name it "the Grange" after the Hamilton family estate in Scotland. Although it was Hamilton's dream to settle his family away from the mean streets of the city, he found out that he could not shield them from the backlash of his political activities.

On November 20, 1801, Hamilton's eldest son, nineteen year-old Philip, was challenged to a duel by a Republican orator, George I. Eacker, following a heated argument at a theater. Philip accepted the challenge, and the event was held at the popular destination for duelers, Weehawken, New Jersey, where dueling was still legal. Philip was mortally wounded, and, after he was brought back to New York, suffered for hours while his frantic parents looked on, helpless, until he died. Hamilton fainted his way to his son's grave, and, according to his friends, the grief and horror of the event was permanently etched into his face thereafter.

That Hamilton blamed himself for his son's death there can be no doubt, because it is equally doubtless that Philip fell defending his father's honor on the dueling ground. Hamilton was inconsolable following Philip's death; and to add to his guilt and anguish, the Hamiltons' oldest daughter, 17 year old Angelica, with whom Philip had been inseparable, descended irretrievably into madness after hearing of her brother's death. Hamilton lost, in the name of Federalist politics, both the son on whom he had showered the fatherly attention and affection he had been denied, and the daughter he called his Angel. Had Hamilton not counted the cost of partisan politics prior to these events, it might have benefited him to do so after. But perhaps he did count the cost, after all.