Another weekend and another history lesson (is that an eye roll I hear?)……since many Americans are woefully ignorant about our history I feel I must try to correct that lack of knowledge.
All the hoopla around the theatrical production of ‘Hamilton’ (No I have not seen this production (there is something repugnant, to me, about history reduced to song and dance) but the life of Hamilton got me to thinking about a ‘founder’ that was interesting to me in my college years and that is the dude that shot and killed Hamilton during a duel, Aaron Burr.
I feel I need to set the story straight for I think the Burr, granted he was an arrogant tool, has been left out of history because he was in opposition to Jefferson and as we all know he is a god among some scholars.
There is so much more to Burr than our measly history texts give….ore than his duel or his vice-presidency, his war of words with Jefferson and Hamilton or his supposed treason.
Learn about the person before you condemn….
Aaron Burr Jr. (1756-1836), was thought to be one of the most brilliant students graduated from Princeton in the eighteenth century. Woodrow Wilson said he had `genius enough to have made him immortal, and unschooled passion enough to have made him infamous.” His father was Princeton’s second president; his maternal grandfather, Jonathan Edwards, was Princeton’s third president. The younger Aaron Burr was left an orphan when he was two years old, his father and mother (and both maternal grandparents) having died within a year. He did not respond well to the discipline of his austere uncle, Timothy Edwards, several times running away from home and attempting to go to sea. He entered the sophomore class at Princeton at the age of thirteen and graduated with distinction at sixteen in 1772, a year after James Madison and Philip Freneau. He was a member of the Cliosophic Society and for his Commencement Oration chose the prophetic topic `On Castle Building.”
Burr studied theology for a while and then law. After the Revolutionary War, in which he served with distinction as a field officer, he took up the practice of law in New York City and entered politics, serving as a member of the New York state assembly, attorney general of New York, and United States senator. In the presidential election of 1800, he received the same number of electoral votes as Thomas Jefferson, but the tie was broken in the House of Representatives in Jefferson’s favor, and Burr became vice-president.
Many see him as a traitor for his supposed attempt to establish his personal empire in the American West…..but was he or was he just a victim of a smear campaign?
In the summer of 1807, the city of Richmond, Virginia, played host to one of the most remarkable trials in early American history. The case involved several legal luminaries, but its undisputed star was the defendant, 51-year-old Aaron Burr. The New Jersey native had only recently served as Thomas Jefferson’s vice president, but since then his reputation had been marred by political intrigue and his participation in a duel that had left Alexander Hamilton dead. Burr now stood accused of one of the gravest crimes in American law: treason. According to one account, he had been at the heart of a “deep, dark, and wicked conspiracy” against the young United States.
What was the nature of the plot that had seen Burr charged with treason? Even today, many details of the scheme remain hazy. “Too many people told too many different stories, and too many people had things to hide,” historian Buckner F. Melton has written. What is known is that Burr worked to raise a small army on the American frontier. He may have hoped to lead an independent campaign against Spanish-held territories in Texas and Mexico, but it’s also possible that he planned to wrest a portion of the newly acquired frontier from the United States. According to some contemporaries, Burr had designs on founding a new western nation with himself as its emperor.
Learn the particulars and not the ramblings of those that tend to demonize for whatever reason.
Americans needs to learn more about Burr….beyond he shot and killed Hamilton….there is always more to the story than that of academics trying to make a name for themselves.
Suggested Further Reading:
Fallen Founder: Life Of Aaron Burr by Nancy Isenberg
Burr Conspiracy by James E. Lewis, Jr
Memoirs Of Aaron Burr, Complete Edition by Mathew L. Davis
I Read, I Write, You Know
“lego ergo scribo”
3 thoughts on “Aaron Burr–Forgotten Founder”
Nice bit of historical background, chuq.
Best wishes, Pete.
Americans need to know more about their history than they are taught. chuq