When Alexander Hamilton's 19-year-old son rose to his father's defense on November 20, 1801, he took the first step of a violent process that had become an American social convention -- the duel. Before it was over he would be dead, and his family would be devastated by dueling, but not for the last time.
George I. Eacker, a 27-year-old lawyer, had given a speech that said Alexander Hamilton would not be opposed to overthrowing Thomas Jefferson's presidency by force. When Phillip Hamilton and his friend Richard Price confronted Eacker about the speech, Eacker called them "damned rascals." They responded in the way convention had established -- by challenging Eacker to a duel.
The weapons chosen were pistols; the dueling site the heights of Weehawken, New Jersey, just across the Hudson from New York. This spot was chosen because New York had banned dueling. Eacker and Richard Price took the field first, on November 22. They exchanged shots, but no one was injured; according to convention, honor was satisfied.
Philip Hamilton faced Eackeron the following day. They each fired. Hamilton fell to a ball from Eacker's dueling pistol; Eacker was uninjured. Philip Hamilton died a day later, in agony. The death marked the Hamilton family indelibly. Philip's sister Angelica suffered a nervous breakdown from which she never recovered. Yet this would not stop Alexander Hamilton from defending his honor against Aaron Burr on the same dueling grounds three years later.