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A Perfect Monster: Burr, Hamilton, and the Manhattan Company


Pure, wholesome water you can bank on.

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In 1799, New York City was still reeling from a deadly Yellow Fever epidemic. People understood that a major cause of the disease was the lack of clean water, even if they didn’t understand why—the water was a breeding ground for mosquitoes, the true spreaders of the disease.

At the same time, New York had become the most powerful swing state in the nation in the upcoming Election of 1800. And New York City would define the way the state voted. The problem, for the Democratic-Republican Party, was that New York City was controlled by Federalists. And the Federalist Party was led by New Yorker Alexander Hamilton.

No one understood all of these problems more acutely than Aaron Burr. And perhaps no one could have found a more creative solution to solve all of these problems at once.

Aaron Burr needed a Republican-friendly bank to do what Hamilton’s banks wouldn’t do— finance the Republican Party to defeat the Federalists, and New York City needed clean water. Burr’s solution was to create The Manhattan Company, a private corporation that would bring “pure and wholesome water” to the people of lower Manhattan. But it was never about water for Burr. It was about fooling the Federalist government into approving a charter that would allow The Manhattan Company to become a bank.

We dig into how Burr absolutely used Hamilton, duping him into becoming the greatest champion of the tool of his own demise—and then how Burr finessed his bill for a charter through both houses of the state legislature and multiple councils with manipulation, bribery, and a little luck.

And we look at how Burr’s slimy actions directly led to Hamilton weighing in on the Election of 1800 to endorse Jefferson over Burr. Why does Hamilton say Burr has no principles? Why does Hamilton endorse Burr over Jefferson? We dive into the primary sources to show that it all goes back to the Manhattan Company.

It’s a partnership and betrayal not covered in the musical, and it puts Burr’s character in a whole new light—brilliant, scheming, self-serving, and (just like Hamilton) self-defeating.

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For more about Hamilton and Burr’s relationship and a murder mystery involving the Manhattan Company well, check out our episode Hamilton, Burr, and the Murder of Elma Sands.

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Sources:
Reubens, Beatrice G. “Burr, Hamilton and the Manhattan Company: Part I: Gaining the Charter.” Political Science Quarterly, vol. 72, no. 4, 1957, pp. 578–607. JSTOR, Accessed 1 Nov. 2022.
Reubens, Beatrice G. “Burr, Hamilton and the Manhattan Company: Part II: Launching a Bank.” Political Science Quarterly, vol. 73, no. 1, 1958, pp. 100–25. JSTOR, Accessed 1 Nov. 2022.
Murphy, Brian Phillips. “‘A Very Convenient Instrument’: The Manhattan Company, Aaron Burr, and the Election of 1800.” The William and Mary Quarterly, vol. 65, no. 2, 2008, pp. 233–66. JSTOR, Accessed 1 Nov. 2022.
From Alexander Hamilton to James A. Bayard, 16 January 1801,” Founders Online, National Archives. [Original source: The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, vol. 25, July 1800 – April 1802, ed. Harold C. Syrett. New York: Columbia University Press, 1977, pp. 319–324.]
Hamilton’s Lost Star: John Barker Church, American Heritage Magazine
History of Our Firm, JP Morgan Chase & Co.
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