Saturday, July 18, 2015

the last book I ever read (Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow, excerpt four)

from Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow:

In early December, Lee heaped further abuse upon Washington in print, and John Laurens urged Hamilton to rebut it. “The pen of Junius is in your hand and I think you will, without difficulty, expose…such a tissue of falsehood and inconsistency as will satisfy the world and put him forever to silence.” Perhaps because he was a party to the dispute, Hamilton, in a rare act of reticence, declined to lift his pen. Instead, Laurens challenged Lee to a duel to avenge the slurs against Washington. Hamilton agreed to serve as his second, the first of many such “affairs of honor” in which he participated.

Dueling was so prevalent in the Continental Army that one French visitor declared, “The rage for dueling here has reached an incredible and scandalous point.” It was a way that gentlemen could defend their sense of honor: instead of resorting to courts if insulted, they repaired to the dueling ground. This anachronistic practice expressed a craving for rank and distinction that lurked beneath the egalitarian rhetoric of the American Revolution. Always insecure about his status in the world, Hamilton was a natural adherent to dueling, with its patrician overtones. Lacking a fortune or family connections, he guarded his reputation jealously throughout his life, and affairs of honor were often his preferred method of doing so. The man born without honor placed a premium on maintaining his.

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