Speech at The Hermitage conference: Sept. 18, 2004    revised 9/21/04

 

Hi ABA members,

Yesterday, I was able to attend an event hosted by the Hermitage in Ho-Ho-Kus, New Jersey. The event was a series of speakers talking about Aaron Burr, Theodosia Prevost and the Role and Rights of Women in the Revolution and the New Nation.
The most exciting part of the event in my opinion was the Aaron Burr Association's own, Peter Tavino when he spoke "In Memory of the Duel." It was a pleasure to hear, for a change, our side of the Burr / Hamilton story, The truth.
Here are some photos I took. I know if you go to Peter's website, www.aaronburrassociation.org  you will find these photos and a copy of his speech. Don't miss his speech. It's a must for the Burr enthusiast.

Peter, if any of my captions need correction please feel free to change them. Please send me the corrected copy.

If you have any question you can call me.

Bob Cavaliere

Aaron and Theodosia were married in this building, The Hermitage.

The middle portion with four rooms was Theodosia's home.

In the mid 1800's, the front and side additions were added.

 

 

 

Peter with pistols in briefcase, Aimee reporting for The Chronicle, and Bob with camera case.

Aaron and Theodosia were married in the room to Bob's right.

 

The photos from disk #1 and 2 were taken during our tour of the Hermitage before the Aaron Burr lecture. Aimee Thrasher has accepted the assignment of writing a brief report on the event. I know it's going to be very interesting and informative. So, keep an eye on your e-mails.
In case your not familiar with the Hermitage here are few facts.
It is one of our nation's outstanding examples of the romantic Gothic Revival in American domestic architectures. It was visited by American War heroes during the War. Heroes such as, George Washington (is there any place that he did sleep), the Marquis de Lafayette, Alexander Hamilton, and James Monroe. Oh yes, our boy Aaron Burr, met and married the love of his life Theodosia Prevost here.
I found the Hermitage full of spirits of the past. My visit was more than pleasant. I would love to spend some time there to read and reflect.

In disks # 3 & 4 there are photos of the speakers of the lecture and exciting photos of Peter Tavino displaying and shooting his replica dueling pistols. I found the demonstration very exciting but I think Peter's feelings exceed mine.

I regret I do not have a photo of her but I do want to mention that Sue Bowles was in attendance.

Enjoy

Bob Cavaliere


 

Aaron Burr's desk on loan to the Hermitage (in the marriage room) from the Madame Jumel Museum

 

                          In Memory of the Duel   9/18/04

 

 

Thank you to everyone at the Hermitage.  As a member of the Aaron Burr Association, I extend gratitude for appearing before you this afternoon to say some nice things about Aaron Burr.

Thank you also Dr. Henry Bischoff for this fine conference, and thank you for speaking in Weehawken, NJ in July as we pointed out historical landmarks in the New York Harbor.  You, Georgene and everyone at the Hermitage are to be commended for the wonderful programs you present.  I also applaud you in the audience for investing your time to use history to shape our social world of the future.

 

The bicentennial of the Duel was an opportunity to examine that important event in depth.  Working with the Weehawken Historical Commission, the ABA helped reenact the famous gun battle that most people knew only peripherally.

With live C-span coverage, extensive network and print media coverage, and an on site audience of 1500, the duel reenactment in Lincoln Harbor Park was successfully performed thanks to Committee Chairman Lauren Sherman, Willie Demontreux, Al Berg, and Commission Chairman, Edward Fleckenstein.  Mayor Richard Turner provided full town support and police security. Three of the five reenactment actors, are ABA members: Antonio Burr, Stuart Johnson and me.

The next issue of the ABA Chronicle is at the printers now, and a complementary copy is being mailed to the Hermitage describing Duel weekend in full.

During the planning, the New York Times had a major editorial commending Weehawken for working well with the Aaron Burr Association, in presenting a balanced portrayal of the event.

Richard Dreyfuss and the History Channel film crew visited us at a Weehawken planning meeting, and we like to think that we influenced him to also produce a balanced epic, not one that implies Villain Burr killed Hero Hamilton.  I was pleased to be acknowledged in the credits of that film for providing some of the Archival images they used, such as these pistols that we also used in Weehawken, and have with us this afternoon.

One sad part of the July 11 reenactment was a quote in the Washington Post by author Richard Brookhiser, co-curator of the Hamilton Exhibit at the New York Historical Society. It said “Brookhiser, particularly, is dismissive of Burr descendants’ efforts to achieve historical parity for their man.  ‘You know, it’s tough when your relatives have no principles and no accomplishments,’ Brookhiser said.”

This quote infuriated ABA members, whether relatives or admirers like me.  When President Stuart Johnson asked Richard Brookhiser why he made such a negative remark, he advised Stuart to read his book on Hamilton.

 

After the premier of the History Channel documentary at the New York Historical Society last month, I also asked Richard Brookhiser why he would not retract, but he walked away from the brief conversation before it was complete.

Too many Hamilton fans feel they must prop up their idol with a negative campaign against Aaron Burr.  One high school teacher there that evening said he has been lecturing that Burr is bad for 40 years, and that the History Channel duel documentary ruins that. As Aaron Burr is quoted in French: “Tant Mieux –All the better or its just as well.”  I don’t think Richard Brookhiser was pleased either that the History Channel did not air his usual condemnation of Burr in its entirety.

For the NY Historical Society, the Hamilton Exhibit is big business.  Richard Gilder said the Society has 150,000 visitors a year versus 3 million at the Museum of Natural History across the street. To increase attendance they seem to be perpetuating the myth that this drama features an evil Aaron Burr.  Their web site says Burr either “charmed or alarmed” everyone he met.  Their lecture series feature no pro Burr authors like Roger Kennedy or Thomas Fleming, so thank you for this forum today.

 

I told Richard Brookhiser that in every category of comparison, Aaron Burr is a better person than Alexander Hamilton. Without reference to Michael Moore or the swift boat vets, let’s compare Burr and Hamilton for positive or negative behavior by today’s standards, not that different from 18th century standards.  When you have a fine and loving character like Aaron Burr’s, success and accomplishment naturally follow.  The distorted image Burr has from the media was due to widow Elizabeth Hamilton, who would allow no criticism of Alexander, but would about Aaron Burr.  Last night Roger Kennedy would not condemn Hamilton, as Aaron Burr would not condemn opponents in his time.  But ABA members tire of concealing Hamilton’s many faults.

 

For more detail, please visit www.aaronburrassociation.org, where this will be posted by tomorrow, but here are some quick highlights.

 

1. For accomplishments, Aaron Burr was elected to the vice presidency and almost to the presidency when he tied Jefferson in 1800.

Hamilton was never elected by the people, but was appointed to be a writer by his Federalist Aristocratic friends, or to be an assistant administrator by George Washington.  Voters loved Burr because he could converse civilly with people, unlike Hamilton who could be hot headed and verbose.

I believe Burr would not be Washington’s clerk because he knew he could fight and lead instead.  So he quit after six weeks, and Hamilton took over the unwanted job for six years.

 

2.  No accomplishments? Burr was the main obstacle to Jefferson’s goal of the United States of Slavery.  Burr ran the senate hearings that stopped Jefferson and the Executive Branch from taking over the Judicial Branch.  Burr’s exit speech shortly thereafter is considered the most eloquent ever delivered to congress.  Many senators were in tears.

 

3. As you know at the Hermitage, Aaron and Theodosia Prevost Burr were considered America’s first Feminists, and were loyal followers of Mary Wollstonecraft, English author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman.  Dolley Madison appointed Burr guardian of her son should she decease after seeing how young Theodosia was educated.  Aaron Burr loved Theodosia Prevost not for her appearance, but for her intellect.

Hamilton was spurned by Kitty Livingston, and settled for Elizabeth Schuyler, whose father General Schuyler was desperate for a son-in-law who would not elope after John Barker Church eloped with Angelica.

 

4.  After Theodosia died of cancer on May 18, 1794, Burr dated other women. There is no documentation that he was unfaithful to her while she lived.  But he could not find a marriage partner to love like Theodosia for nearly forty years until he did marry again at age 77. Even at that age, he said “The mother of my Theo was the best woman and finest lady I have ever known.”

 

On page 367 Ron Chernow tells us Hamilton wrote to his Eliza to stay longer in Albany with his first five children while he conducted a year long sexual adulterous affair with 23 year old Maria Reynolds in Philadelphia. The hypocrite tells his wife -Let me know before you travel here, and signs off “love me my Betsey as I do you.”

 

5.  When I told Richard Brookhiser that Burr and not Hamilton was the leader of the antislavery movement, he asked me why Burr didn’t free his slaves.  I replied that they were helpers and not slaves.  Burr corresponded often with them.  When Peggy wanted to attend school, she wrote to him and he agreed she should go.  Where is the Hamilton correspondence with someone not in the aristocratic class?  It was the elected Assemblyman Burr who tried to amend a 1785 New York State Bill to end slavery immediately, not Hamilton who simply wrote up the Manumission Society charter, and by following Burr’s lead in this single pursuit did something we can admire in 2004.

 

Notice that I have not yet called Hamilton a Girlie Man.

 

6. Richard Brookhiser was unhappy when I told him that Hamilton was not a Revolutionary War hero like 19 year old Burr, who survived a winter trek to Quebec where half the 1100 soldiers starved to death under Benedict Arnold’s command.  For this the NY Post said on July 12 that Hamilton served with Washington, while Burr was with Benedict Arnold. Can you believe it?

Richard Brookhiser is quoted by the History Channel praising Hamilton for his only experience fighting in six years as Washington’s letter writer. He led a frontal assault on a redoubt at Yorktown.  But Willard Randall tells us that when Hamilton and his men entered the fort from the front, his friend John Laurens and 80 men “had charged in from the fort’s open rear and captured the British commander.” How much danger was Hamilton really in?  I think he was mainly very good at tooting his own horn, and documenting his own version of his accomplishments. I do not believe that Hamilton’s horse was shot out beneath him like Burr’s since Washington insisted Hamilton tend to the correspondence, and not be in harm’s way.  

 

 

The biggest problem Hamilton had was his new found family.  Wealthy brother-in-law John Barker Church was a pompous weak bully who brought his high tech trick dueling pistols from London to America, and got his nephew Philip and Alexander and almost himself killed with them.

During the reenactment and history channel movie, and Historical Society exhibit, the pro Hamilton forces suppressed the Smithsonian Magazine article about the secret hair triggers.  In fairness to Lauren Sherman, she did acknowledge my point of view, and wrote about it, but did not burden an already full script with this volatile issue that would upset the Hamilton participants.  This 1976 article is available as a handout because after the Dr. Cooper letter, it is the most important document concerning the Duel.  I will demonstrate outside how to secretly set the trigger to pull it with a half pound force instead of ten pounds of force, to give Hamilton a slight time advantage over Burr.  But Hamilton fired too easily and quickly, and his bullet went over Burr’s head. Burr then immediately squeezed with the usual ten pounds of force. He aimed away from Hamilton’s head and heart but delivered a shot that unfortunately got stuck in Hamilton’s spine.

 

At the Weehawken high school panel discussion after the reenactment, the audience lined up to ask questions, but each question was answered by each panelist, Ron Chernow, Thomas Fleming and Joanne Freeman, and although extended once, they ran out of time for the polite people who did not run to the front of the question line.  I know that the next person scheduled in line was going to ask about the hair triggers that he discussed with me and other ABA members. But he did not get the chance.

 

Perhaps the History Channel, which did not show the typical untrue Hero-Villain version, could have addressed it instead of always showing Burr with a drink in his hand.  He did like Madeira wine, but was by no means a drinker any more than he was a womanizer or scoundrel, of which he was none.

 

Wasn’t the bringing of trick pistols to a supposedly fair duel a low down act by Hamilton? They say “You don’t bring a gun to a knife fight” and you don’t bring a secret weapon to an affair of honor.”  But it did fit Hamilton’s character, and not Burr’s.  Remember, more detail and sources will be at ABA.org

 

For those of you at the Hermitage who love Theodosia Prevost Burr, please read the 1858 Life and Times of Aaron Burr that I am donating to you for library circulation. Theodosia stayed with Aaron’s sister Sally at the Tapping Reeve Law School in1781, next door to my home in Litchfield, CT.  By the way, the Litchfield Historical Society is having a gala black tie reception at the Tapping Reeve Law School Museum tonight.  I’ll have my tux on for it in four hours.  Theodosia then stayed in Sharon, CT. But when I visited the Sharon Historical Society, and asked where Theodosia stayed, they did not know. (Perhaps we should bring forth this information.) Theodosia Prevost Burr’s long visit to Litchfield and her intellectual views on equality for women were certainly instrumental in the opening of Sarah Pierce’s Litchfield Female Academy from 1792 to 1833.  And Theodosia in her last year of life, inspired Aaron Burr to set up a school, with Madame de Senat, for young ladies and young gentlemen in New York City in 1794.  Our town of Litchfield was honored to have Theodosia, Aaron Burr and Harriet Beecher Stowe among its celebrated residents, even if Harriet fell prey to the Hamilton propaganda.

 

In Founding Mothers, Cokie Roberts mostly misses the opportunity to describe Theodosia Prevost Burr, but does tell us that Mrs Benedict Arnold (Peggy Shippen) fooled Hamilton after Benedict escaped. But when she met with Theodosia here at the Hermitage, Theodosia had a kind way of drawing her out to elicit a confession that Peggy was secretly a traitor too.  This important glimpse into the soul of Theodosia tells us what a wonderful person Theodosia Bartow Prevost Burr was. She did not marry an evil man.  She married the best of the Founding Fathers, who stood for true freedom and equality for all.

 

With Hamilton having certain problems, it is understandable why Burr had to face him.  Our history teachers who rush to condemn Burr do a great disservice to students by teaching them to prejudge people for the worse without all the facts.  The ABA will continue to promote the good name of Aaron Burr, and all who are improperly chastised.  We hope the policy of judging good people as bad will eventually leave our United States School system.

It is only through people like you in the audience who go beyond the 30 second sound bite of history lessons, that future generations can be taught the truth about the founding of our great country.

 

Thank you very much.

Now let’s all meet outside for a quick demonstration of how the dueling pistols worked.

 

Questions followed. One question on Jefferson was answered about the Virginia dynasty with Monroe and Madison, the 3/5ths rule of 3 votes for every five slaves you own, and reference to Gary Wills’ (Northwestern University) book Negro President. We discussed New England secession.

A question why did they duel was answered starting with Burr defeating General Schuyler for senate as described on ABA.org.

 

Later, outside, Willie Demontreux loaded the pistols. The hair trigger was set for Henry playing Hamilton but not for Peter playing Burr. Both fired successfully.

 

Peter reminded everyone that the prop master for the pistols was the most important person at the Reenactment!

 

Are you ready Colonel Burr?  Yes I am!

 

 

  

Peter,
 
I want to thank you for all you did for the Burr event at the Hermitage.  You helped to make Roger Kennedy's talk the largest audience - 151 - we have had in the five years of our lecture series.  Before that you were helpful with your suggestions for the Saturday program.  It contained much of what you recommended.  Thank you for your willingness to step in and be part of the Theodosia/Burr letter readings.  You played a valuable role - it was heard and well received.  You have a good, strong, meaningful voice.  Your talk not only gave valuable information on the duel, but you also made it very current by your comments on the NY Historical Society Hamilton exhibit.  The shooting of the pistols was a highlight for many on Saturday afternoon.  We got 75 despite the rainy weather.
 
Again thank you for helping to make the Hermitage Burr event a real success - and in helping to bring much information about Burr to many beyond what they had known before the event. 
 
Let us keep in touch - I hope to get to Litchfield, if not this fall, then next year.
 
Best Wishes
 
Henry

Present!

 

 Thank you Henry!

And thank you for autographing your book for me:
A Revolutionary Relationship Theodosia Prevost, Aaron Burr and The Hermitage

Can we purchase additional copies at www.TheHermitage.org ?

Here's Bob's picture of you narrating the letter readings portion of the conference.

Peter

 

 

Here is Georgene Betterbed and Dr. Delight Dodyk reading Theodosia portions.

For the text of these letters, click on  Theodosia letters.

 

Chuck Shepard and Peter Tavino read the Burr and male portions of the letters.

Hi, everyone.  I greatly enjoyed the Saturday event at the Hermitage.  I agree with Bob & Aimee -- Peter was definitely the best speaker!  He speaks with knowledge & passion.  I'd love to see him go head to head against Brookhiser in a debate!
 
Best regards to all.
Sue

And thank you Sue for your contribution of information to the audience about Aaron Burr

promoting women in politics. 

Perhaps Roger Kennedy would debate Richard Brookhiser per his attached email letter to me.

Bruce Jones of Fraunces Tavern was at The Hermitage, (third from left in picture below) and said they might host a debate if we like.

   Peter

Subject: RE: History channel video, etc.
Date: 9/20/2004 9:15:28 AM Eastern Daylight Time
From: roger@rkennedy.net
To: Peter

Good. Let me know how things progress, please. I’ll try to look over the exhibition carefully, and if you’d like to issue a public debate invitation I’d be happy to speak for Burr

What a great time I had!

Thanks to the 10 ABA members who attended.

And thanks to The Hermitage members interested in Theodosia and Aaron Burr.

Pete

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