"There is danger from all men. The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with
power to endanger the public liberty." - - - - John Adams

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Aaron Burr - Founding Patriot

Vice President Aaron Burr

"I have never known the prejudice in favor of birth, parentage and descent, more conspicuous than in the instance of Col. Burr. That gentleman was connected by blood with many respectable families in New England. . . .  He had served in the army, and came out of it with the character of a knight without fear, and an able officer."                   - - - President John Adams

Book Review
Fallen Founder: The Life of Aaron Burr
by Nancy Isenberg   (2007)

By Gary;

I just re-read this excellect biography.  We are moving into the holiday season.  For anyone out there with an interest in the founding of the United States this book is a total must read.  Make it a present to yourself.

The book reads easily.  Dr. Isenberg does a wonderful job recreating a late 18th century society which was very different from the later Victorian era.

There are endless books about Washington, Adams, Jefferson and Hamilton but very little on Burr.  But Burr was an important player in the early Republic:  Lt. Colonel in the American Revolution serving with Benedict Arnold in the attack on Quebec through Valley Forge; New York State Assemblyman, New York Attorney General; U.S. Senator, our 3rd Vice President . . . . and then turned into a "traitor" in a Stalin Show Trial conducted by a vicious and vindictive asshole named Thomas Jefferson.

Gore Vidal on Aaron Burr

Author Interview:  Nancy Isenberg

America's First Ward Heeler  -  Burr was perhaps the first political campaign manager in the new Republic.  He out organized Alexander Hamilton and the New York Federalists by taking a social group called "Tammany Society" and turning it into what became the machine politics of Tammany Hall.  Through door to door organizing Burr turned out every possible vote for the Democratic-Republican Party.  The Federalists became a minority in the legislature and New York's electoral college vote went to Jefferson's campaign.

The book covers in excellent detail the tie between Jefferson and Burr for President and Vice President in the election of 1800.

Thomas Jefferson  -  Vindictive Political Hack  -  The Federalists portrayed Jefferson as a radical trying to undermine the Republic, and a potential dictator who was also screwing his slaves.

The funny thing about political attacks is they are often true! 

Add in, that at the same time Jefferson lounged around the safe and secure Virginia legislature pretending to be a statesman, Colonel Aaron Burr was freezing his ass off at Valley Forge.  That comparison was made by Jefferson's contemporaries many times.

President Jefferson was a strongman political hack out to crush his enemies.  The author tells of a private meeting between Jefferson, Madison and a New York newspaper publisher.  Within days of the publisher's return to New York his newspaper started to publish political hit pieces attacking Jefferson's own Vice President on issues of sex and character. 

The Jefferson campaign to destroy his own Vice President was gearing up.


"Aaron Burr is as far from a fool as any man I have ever met, but he is more easily fooled than any man I have ever known."
- - - Andrew Jackson

(A younger Andrew Jackson served with Aaron Burr in the U.S. Senate.)


As the Federalists predicted Jefferson attacked the independent judiciary with the Judiciary Act of 1801 and impeaching Federalist Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase in a direct attack on an independent Supreme Court.  As President of the Senate, Aaron Burr presided over the impeachment trial and insisted that it not become a Stalin Show Trial, but that it was done fairly.  Chase was acquitted no doubt making Jefferson even more angry at Burr.

Jefferson's Stalin Show Trial of Burr for "treason"  -  Joseph Stalin had nothing on Thomas Jefferson.  Vice President Aaron Burr was arrested by the military, not civilian authorities.

Burr was also arrested based on a "warrant" signed personally by Thomas Jefferson, not a warrant issued by any court.  He was charged with the trumped up accounts of treason and trying to overthrow the government.

General William Eaton
Eaton was called to testify against Burr at the
treason trial.  Right before giving testimony Eaton
was "reimbursed" with a $10,000 check from the
Jefferson Administration for "services rendered."
The punishment for this "treason" was execution.  Jefferson was trying to kill his own Vice President.

Jefferson wondered how do you convict a hero of the Revolution and a Vice President of treason?  Jefferson had the military transport Burr to stand trial in Jefferson's home state in Richmond, Virginia.  There a New Yorker would face charges from Prosecutors hand picked by the President himself and tried before a jury of Virginians who would supposedly be loyal to Jefferson.

To say that the shit hit the fan was an understatement.  The entire nation was in an uproar of partisan Federalist / Democrat fighting.  There was no disguising that this was a show trial to beat down and make fearful any opponents of Jefferson.

Some 140 were to be called to testify against Burr.  To make sure of a conviction Jefferson gave Prosecutor George Hay a stack of pre-signed, blank Presidential Pardons.  Anyone who would testify against Burr would get a pardon . . . those who refused to testify would be open to Federal prosecution by Jefferson.

Federalist Chief Justice John Marshall himself served as judge for this political show trial.  Marshall issued rulings in favor of Burr's defense no doubt as payback to Jefferson's attack on the independent judiciary.

Joining Burr's defense team were George Washington's first and third Attorneys General Edmund Randolph and Charles Lee.

Andrew Jackson attended the trial and threatened to fight any man who insulted Burr.

The main witness for the prosecution was General James Wilkinson who was also a spy on the payroll of the Kingdom of Spain.  Also testifying was Ambassador William Eaton hero of the Barbary War.  Jefferson arranged to "reimburse" Eaton $10,000 to appear in court for the prosecution.

Chief Justice Marshall issued a subpoena to Jefferson ordering him to turn over government documents relating to the charges to the defense.  Jefferson refused to comply.

After a trial lasting over three months the jury declared Burr not guilty.

The duel with Hamilton.

Burr, despite his acquittal, stood disgraced.  Although he would live another twenty-nine years, he would never again be a significant player in American public life.  In 1808, he sailed for Europe, where he would remain for four years.  The death of his beloved daughter Theodosia, lost at sea while sailing to meet her father in New York upon his return, seemed to end whatever spark remained within him. 

Years later, when he heard news of the Texas Revolution, Burr exclaimed to a friend with satisfaction: "There! You see?  I was right!  I was only thirty years too soon.  What was treason in me thirty years ago, is patriotism now."

The Founding Fathers

In the 1830s America started to create for itself the "Great Myth" of the Revolution and the worship of the Demi-Gods Americans called the Founding Fathers.

It was at this time that former Vice President Aaron Burr started telling people that he was going to write a book in order to  tell the real truth  about the Revolution and the Founders.  But with advanced old age he gave up the project saying:

"What is the point?  Everyone is dead.  I am the last one, and no one would believe me anyway."   - - - Aaron Burr

A young Aaron Burr.

Found in John_lamb the memoirs of General John Lamb, who accompanied Montgomery on his expedition to Quebec and fought with Arnold's column during the Dec 31 assault on the city, record his first meeting with Burr:
"On this occasion, the General [Montgomery] was accompanied by Aaron Burr, whom he had appointed his aid.  This was the first time that lamb had ever seen him; and as his appearance was juvenile in the extreme, he wondered that the General should encumber his family, with the addition of one, who seemed a mere boy. 
But upon a more thorough scrutiny of his countenance, the fire in his eye, and his perfect coolness and immobility, under such dangerous fire, convinced him that the young volunteer was no ordinary man; and not out of place in the most important position."

Official bust of Vice President Aaron Burr in the capitol.

No comments: