Nice shot, Mr. Vice President - East Valley Tribune: News

Nice shot, Mr. Vice President

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Posted: Wednesday, February 15, 2006 11:29 am | Updated: 2:51 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Dick Cheney, it turns out, is No. 2. And we're not talking in terms of who runs the country. America's second-in-command accidentally shot a 78-year-old man while hunting farm-raised quail.

The mishap occurred when prominent Republican attorney and fellow fowl fan Harry Whittington appeared in the vice president's line of fire. Some of the buckshot landed perilously close to Whittington's heart, and the chairman of the Texas Funeral Services Commission suffered a mild heart attack Tuesday. Whittington was expected to survive.

That wasn't the case, though, for Alexander Hamilton, the last man shot by a sitting veep. That one, though, was deliberate: Hamilton died a day after losing a gunfight with Thomas Jefferson's vice president in Weekhawken, N.J., on the shores of the Hudson River.

Aaron Burr, welcome back to public discourse.


Burr was a prodigy, passing the entrance exam at Princeton at age 11, attending at age 13 and graduating after three years. After earning his law degree and serving in the Revolutionary War, he took up politics, eventually working his way to the upper echelons of Congress in the late 1790s.

That's when his story started to sour.

"He was a real good politician," said Joseph Wheelan, historian and author of "Jefferson' Vendetta: The Pursuit of Aaron Burr and the Judiciary." "In 1800, he tied Thomas Jefferson for the presidency, and that led to all that followed because he became a political threat to the Virginians who wanted to occupy the presidency."

When the knotted election went to Congress, Hamilton organized his Federalist allies to vote for Jefferson and relegate Burr to VP, something his new rival would never forget.

Burr ran for New York governor in 1804 and lost again thanks to Hamilton's badmouthing, at least in his mind. Burr challenged the former Secretary of the Treasury to a duel -- not uncommon in those days -- and killed him with a single shot on July 11, 1804.

Here's how it unfolded, according to James G. Basker, president of the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History:

"Hamilton fired first, but deliberately fired over Burr's head. He did not intend to hit him. Burr shot second and shot with deadly aim. Once Hamilton's shot had missed Burr, Burr had every chance to shoot in the air and let the two of them walk away. You did not have to hit or wound your opponent to settle an affair of honor. You just had to show up and conduct yourself bravely."

Today, Alexander Hamilton can be seen on the $10 bill. Aaron Burr, meanwhile, can be seen mostly when people talk about how he shot Alexander Hamilton.


Let's break down the details of each executive's moment with the trigger.

--Both vice presidents shot lawyers. Hamilton was one of the earliest constitutional lawyers, while Whittington served many years on the Texas Department of Corrections Board.

--Both shootings involved line-of-sight issues. Hamilton was wearing sunglasses to soften the sun's glare; Cheney never saw Whittington. "I guess you could say there were visibility issues in the 1804 shooting as well as the one in Texas," Basker said.

--Both shooters laid low. Cheney's accident was not reported until Sunday afternoon, nearly a day after it happened. Burr disappeared for days after the duel because he was wanted for murder.

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