Dueling political opinions

ntonio Burr (L), a descendant of Aaron Burr's cousin, fires with Douglas Hamilton (R), a fiith-great-grandson of Alexander Hamilton, during a reenactment marking the 200th anniversary of the Alexander Hamilton -- Aaron Burr duel July 11, 2004 in Weehawken, New Jersey. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)
Antonio Burr (L), a descendant of Aaron Burr's cousin, fires with Douglas Hamilton (R), a fiith-great-grandson of Alexander Hamilton, during a reenactment marking the 200th anniversary of the Alexander Hamilton -- Aaron Burr duel July 11, 2004 in Weehawken, New Jersey. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

If you want a friendly conversation turn nasty fast, switch the subject to politics.

Politics, like religion, has become one of those topics that can strain marriages, end friendships, alienate co-workers and turn civility into a shouting match.

Some say politics today is much nastier than the old days.

History disagrees.

Even the founding fathers got nasty when it came to political disagreement. In 1804, a history of political animosity between Vice President Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton ended in a duel at Weehawken, New Jersey, where Burr shot and mortally wounded the former Treasury Secretary.

Dueling was legal in those days but Hamilton’s death sparked movements to end the practice.

Hamilton was a fierce political opponent.  In a debate with Thomas Jefferson he called the third President of the United States “the father of the mulatto race.”

The American political system owes much of its existence, of course, to Britain, where political debates often turn nasty.  Political opponents William Gladstone and Benjamin Disraeli often clashed on the floor of Parliament.

In one exchange, Gladstone told Disraeli that “you, sire, shall die of on the gallows or of venereal disease.”

To which Disraeli replied:  “That, sir, depends on whether I embrace your politics…or your mistress.”

So while today’s debate may seem nasty, at least we haven’t returned to duels…yet.

 

 

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1 thought on “Dueling political opinions”

  1. Just the other day I was re-reading the chapter about Burr and Hamilton in Joseph J. Ellis’ book *Founding Brothers*. The war of words between those two men that led up to the duel, much of it published in newspapers, truly was epic and nasty–albeit using much better vocabulary in its nastiness than you’ll find today.

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