Exhibition: Hamilton’s Final Act
April 1 – December 31, 2017
On July 11, 1804, one of the most infamous duels in history took place, which led to the death of one of America’s Founding Fathers – Alexander Hamilton. The Fenimore marks the 213th anniversary of this tragic occurrence with the new exhibit Hamilton’s Final Act. The exhibit focuses on the letters between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr that led to the eventual confrontation in Weehawken, New Jersey. The museum possesses 34 original documents relating to the events, including original correspondence, drafts of correspondence, and reports. Examples from this collection will be on display.
“These insightful letters offer you the chance to watch the duel unfold through authentic historical documents, once touched by Hamilton and Burr themselves,” said Dr. Paul S. D’Ambrosio, president and CEO of Fenimore Art Museum.
Paintings and other personal artifacts will be on view. The exhibit also features painted circles on the museum floor, indicating the exact distance between the men during the final moments of the duel.
In the years preceding the duel, a political rivalry developed between the two men, with Hamilton repeatedly using his influence to oppose Burr’s ambitions, often attacking his motives and character. A reference printed in the Albany Register of April 24, 1804, at the time of Burr’s defeat for governor of New York, finally led to the fateful correspondence. Between the dates of June 18 and June 27, 1804, an extensive communication by letter took place between Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, and their appointed seconds, Nathaniel Pendleton for Hamilton and William P. Van Ness for Burr, in an attempt to resolve the confrontation initiated by Burr’s reaction to an article published in the Albany Register on April 24, 1804.
During the course of these communications, both men declined to resolve the dispute when such opportunities arose. Hamilton’s long practice of criticizing and vilifying Burr had finally exhausted Burr’s patience; Hamilton felt he would destroy his own reputation if he refuted a position he believed to be based in the truth. Burr demanded a "general" disavowal of all derogatory remarks Hamilton had ever made about him. Hamilton would only respond to a particular instance. Both men refused to make the statements which would have enabled them to defuse the confrontation.
The Fenimore’s exhibition season is made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.