Aaron Burr Essay, Research Paper
Burr, Aaron Although Aaron Burr, b. Newark, N.J., Feb. 6, 1756, fought in the American Revolution and became an important political figure, serving a term (1801-05) as vice-president of the United States, he is best remembered today for having killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel. The son of a president of the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) and the grandson of another (Jonathan Edwards), Burr could trace his ancestry back to the earliest Puritans. He entered Princeton at the age of 13, graduated at 16, and went on to become a Revolutionary War hero, rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel at the age of 21. In July 1782 he married Theodosia Bartow Prevost, the widow of a former British officer. They moved to New York City, where Burr built a reputation as an excellent attorney and made important political connections. He was “the most rising young man in the state,” a contemporary noted. Political Career In 1789 Burr was appointed attorney general of New York by Gov. George Clinton. Two years later the state assembly, which was controlled by partisans of Clinton and Robert Livingston, elected Burr to the U.S. Senate. His career in the Senate was not particularly memorable. Hamilton hated him, Clinton soon learned to distrust him, and George Washington refused his request to be appointed minister to France. But in and out of Congress, Burr managed to maneuver so skillfully, and with so much personal charm, that he won the support of many Federalists as well as Democratic Republicans. In 1796 and 1800, Burr ran for vice-president with Thomas Jefferson on the Democratic-Republican ticket. Whatever doubts Virginia Republicans had about Burr–they had not voted for him in 1796–were put to rest when he carried New York City for his party in 1800. It was assumed that the outcome of the national election would follow that in New York, but under the confused electoral system then in use Jefferson and Burr received an equal number of electoral votes for the presidency (73 each), throwing the election into the House of Representatives. There the Federalists refused to heed the advice of Hamilton and unsuccessfully tried, against the obvious wishes of the public, to elect Burr. Jefferson won the contest and Burr became vice-president. Jefferson doubted his loyalty and soon began to withhold patronage from Burr and his followers. Although still a Republican, Burr began to cultivate Federalists; his strategy was to unite dissidents against the Virginia party of Jefferson and James Madison. Frustrated by Jefferson’s national popularity, and dropped from the Republican ticket for 1804, Burr entered the 1804 gubernatorial race in New York. Some northern Federalists who were plotting secession called on Burr to support them, but his response was masterfully enigmatic. An old enemy, Alexander Hamilton, did everything he could to defeat Burr. Some of Hamilton’s derogatory comments, personal in nature, appeared in print, and Burr, who lost the election, demanded a retraction, which Hamilton refused to make. The duel that followed at Weehawken, N.J., on July 11, 1804, resulted in Hamilton’s death. Charged with murder, Burr fled to Philadelphia to escape arrest. The Conspiracy In his final eight months as vice-president, Burr’s conduct was exemplary. He presided over the impeachment trial of Samuel Chase with dignity, ability, and impartiality, and delivered a farewell address that favorably impressed the Senate. But his insatiable dream of personal glory led him to undertake a western scheme that ended in his arrest and trial for treason. Precisely what Burr planned will probably never be known. Most likely he envisioned the creation of an empire stretching from the Ohio River to Mexico over which he would preside, and he intended to take whatever steps were necessary to achieve it. “The gods invite us to glory and fortune,” Burr wrote to his coconspirator, Gen. James Wilkinson; “it remains to be seen whether we deserve the boon.” While Burr and a handful of followers were on their way to New Orleans, however, Wilkinson informed Jefferson of the conspiracy. On Nov. 27, 1806 Jefferson issued a proclamation that led to the collapse of the plot and Burr’s arrest. The subsequent trial, held in Richmond, Va., was presided over by Chief Justice John Marshall. He defined the law of treason so narrowly that the jury took a mere 25 minutes to acquit Burr. Marked as a traitor and threatened by angry mobs in Baltimore, Burr gathered some money from friends and left for Europe. He traveled to England, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, and France, and did not return to the United States until May 1812. Soon thereafter he suffered the deaths of his grandson and his daughter. At the age of 76 he married a wealthy New York widow, Eliza Jumel; but his wife sued for divorce, which was granted on Sept. 14, 1836, the day Burr died. On leaving the government Hamilton resumed a busy and lucrative law practice. He continued to have a strong influence in the public councils, however. He supported a defiant posture toward France during the XYZ AFFAIR (1798), and as inspector general of the army (1798-1800) he took charge of organizing the nation’s defenses. Bitterly disappointed in President John ADAMS’s erratic leadership, Hamilton openly opposed Adams’s reelection in 1800. When it appeared, however, that Aaron Burr might win the presidency over Jefferson, Hamilton unhesitatingly threw his support to Jefferson, whose policies he scorned, rather than to Burr, whom he regarded as a man without principles. This and other opposition by Hamilton so frustrated and angered Burr that he challenged Hamilton to a duel. The two men fought at Weehawken, N.J., on July 11, 1804. Hamilton apparently fired into the air, but Burr took direct aim. Hamilton fell mortally wounded and died the next day in New York. He was buried in Trinity churchyard, New York City. He left his wife and seven children heavily in debt, but friends soon paid off the debts. Hamilton was mourned by his countrymen as one who had devoted his life to the nation’s growth in freedom and prosperity.