Aaron Burr Essay, Research Paper
Aaron Burr Jr., the son of Ester Edwards Burr and Reverend Mr. Aaron Burr was born on February 6, 1756 in Newark, New Jersey. He was also the grandson of the famous theologian, Jonathan Edwards. His father earned his living as a pastor at The Newark Presbyterian Congregation and the president of The College of New Jersey, which later became the Ivy League school, Princeton University. Upon graduating from Princeton University at the age of 16, Burr Jr. became a lawyer, although his studies were limited to theology. Following this, he delivered an oration entitled Building Castles in the Air. These castles, it has been said, were lying in the West waiting for Burr?s competence.
After retiring from the Continental Army as a field officer, Burr practiced law. He was then appointed as the attorney general of New York in 1789 and served as a United States senator from 1791 to 1797. But this soon ended as he joined the Thomas Jefferson group led by James Monroe in the Senate and James Madison in the House of Representatives. He served under Thomas Jefferson as the third Vice President in United States? history.
As the Election of 1800 drew near, Burr took the allure to set up an impeccable ticket. It would place both him and Jefferson on the same Ballot so it would be a sure win. He would be the first politician that took advantage of party organization. Thus, as the votes were counted, it would be that the Republicans prevailed. During the election, Burr favored funds to end Indian raids. Burr fought hard to win the election and was sure he was going to win. In fact, it was a tie between him and his running mate, Thomas Jefferson. The electoral votes enumerated as 73 for both Burr and Jefferson. However, Jefferson went on to win the election by decision of the House of Representatives.
Much to do with crushing Burr?s dreams of serving in the highest office, was Alexander Hamilton. He introduced personalities and most importantly, slandered Burr to do everything in his strength to knock him out. Burr attempted to reassemble his political career but this only brought an altercation with Hamilton.
Increased animosity between the two men only became improving. In 1804, after his term of vice presidency, Burr ran for the governorship of New York State. In turn, Burr was defeated once again at political office. Burr resented the fact that Hamilton was lying about him and simply looking to make an enemy.
Burr then challenged Hamilton to a dual under the Palisades at Weehawken, New Jersey in 1804. The gun Hamilton used was fired but missed Burr. Historians are not sure what really happened on that mid-summer day. It has been proposed that Hamilton tried to make an edge by using a gun with a hair-like trigger. If this is so, then he was either not ready, was nervous, missed on purpose, or was merely a bad shot. Burr took advantage, shot and killed Hamilton. Not noticeable to Burr at first, this action at length, ended his political career. It has been said that this is the most famous duel in history. Certainly it was the end of Hamilton?s career, but who was to say it was the end of Burr?s?
Despite all the rules of the dueling code had been recognized, news of Hamilton?s death spread like wildfire and hatred towards Burr quickly brewed. Eventually, indictments were brought against Burr for murder. He was a wanted man in both New Jersey and New York. However, to his good fortune, he never had to face a jury. As if nothing happened, Burr returned to Washington to fulfill the rest of his term.
Although this was the official end of Burr?s political career, it was just a beginning in his eyes. Primarily because of the murder indictments, Burr decided to flee westward. In attempts to rally back his political career, he strived to set up an independent republic east of the Mississippi River. He was about to enter the anticipated war with Spain by invading Mexico and making himself that country?s king. He schemed to raise an army along the Tombigee River and take over Florida. ?Burr seldom joined groups, but groups often joined him.?(Nagil, Great Lives from History 360)
His plans included receiving support from Great Britain in case of a war between Spain and the United States. The blueprints also included raising an army that would emancipate Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, and the Western territories of Spanish authority. Notwithstanding, his plot to create a republic did not seize here. The plan extended to taking over all of Mexico, hence, freeing it from Spanish dominion.
Burr recruited several men to join and support(financially) his army. At this time, he ran into a man by the name of John Wilkinson. Failing as both a tobacco farmer and land speculator after retirement from the army, he was appointed as the General of Burr?s army.
As the ?Washington of the West,? Wilkinson attempted to muster thousands of soldiers to travel down the Mississippi River to New Orleans. This would be the foundation for Burr?s supplies and recruitment. The scheme was to move west and south until all land was snatched from the Spanish so Burr could have himself a new nation. And ?Mexico was ripe for a revolt, and the revolt needs a leader.?(Chidsy, The Great Conspiracy 46)
This plan, however, had a blemish. The only way it would work was if the United States and Spain went to war. Even though ?Nine out of ten Americans believed a war with Spain was inevitable,?(Chidsy 40) the United States never went to war with Spain.
Burr thought for sure that there would be a war. All he needed was more funds. He went to Philadelphia for his daughter Theodosia, and ventured out west once again, with the intention of never to return.
Burr?s blemish in his plan became noticeable around this time. Jefferson declared peace between the United States and Spain about the same time he caught wind of Burr?s movements. Startled that the fiber of American society is at stake, he ordered Burr to be captured and brought to punishment.
Finally, in need of funds, he encountered a wealthy man by the name of Blennerhasset. This man owned an island a few miles down the Ohio River from Muskingham. The old indian burial ground was a narrow 300 acre space that would be crucial for his scheme. Blennerhasset, who was fond of Burr, often had chats with him saying how he would be King Aaron I of Mexico and his daughter would be a princess. Blennerhasset, analogous to Burr, was indeed a separatist.
Facts have it that Burr approached many officers for support. More for the money than military abilities, Burr requested a one General Eaton. Also, Commodore Thomas Truxton, the most capably mariner on land, according to Burr was approached. However, much to Burr?s despise, these men wanted nothing to do with Burr and his outrageous projects. Not everyone denied Burr though. Comfort Tyler accepted the plan with open arms since Burr rescued him by bailing him out of jail. And of course, Burr had the might James Wilkinson ready to fight, or so Burr thought.
Burr had a constant flow of troops coming to Blennerhasset Island. The island was to be covert to the point where he would not allow bugles or parades. He did not want anyone knowing about the expedition. Nevertheless, neighbors of the nearby island noticed something peculiar. The rumors of what they saw all varied but consisted of observing a myriad of soldiers amongst the island. ?Estimates ran as high as 30,000 people.?(Chidsy 60)
Wilkinson, the ranking general, soon betrayed Burr. Reasons why he turned on Burr vary. The most significant is that he saw the army?s dark future. The death of William Pitt came and Wilkinson learned of Charles Fox taking over the British government. This would end British support for the expedition and ultimately drive it to the ground. He panicked, and dropped out of Burr?s conspiracy.
Two letters arrived at the White House on the same day. Two letters that spoke out against Aaron Burr. The first was from Wilkinson explaining that he discovered Burr?s plot to separate the West from the East. Later a similar letter was received from Governor Claiborne speaking of similar images.
With this, Burr started to fear that he had a spy in his group and began to take precautions. It was time to move. Eleven boats were occupied by his soldiers. He did not have many men and comforted the ones he did have by saying ?We will recruit as we go.? (Chidsy 74) Historians proclaim that he could have recruited 1,500 men, easily. Burr learned of Wilkinson?s disloyalty when he tried to recruit Lieutenant Jacob Jackson. On January 10 he arrived in the Mississippi Territory and read in the Mississippi Gazette that there was a warrant out for his arrest.
Because of this, Burr decided to go into hiding. One time he tried to stitch a note onto a slave boy in efforts to contact his troops. The note read: ?If you are yet together, keep together and I will join you tomorrow night. In the mean time put all your arms in perfect order. Ask the bearer no questions but tell all you may think I wish to know. He does not know this from me nor where I am.?(Passos, The Conspiracy and Trial of Aaron Burr 77)
However, Burr was captured soon after.
The trial, directed at Burr on the charge of treason, is the one trial in United States history that defined the term treason. The location for the trial was centered in Richmond, Virginia. The presiding judge at the time was Chief Justice Marshall. Richmond was the site of the trial since Burr concocted his army on Blennerhasset Island, which is in Virginia. At the immediate start of the trial there was a conflict between President Jefferson and Chief Justice Marshall. There are many allocations that support the fact that this may have affected the outcome of the trial.
George Hay, of the prosecution, brought up two charges against Burr: One was plotting a war against Spain. The other was plotting a war against the United States. Burr was released at $25,000 dollars bail.
In a letter Burr wrote to his daughter he gave details of the jury. ?The Grand Jury is composed of twenty democrats and four federalists. Among the former is W.C. Nicholas, my vindictive and avowed personal enemy.?(Davis, Memoirs of Aaron Burr 405)
Thomas Jefferson, a former rival, wanted Burr to be convicted as quickly as possible. And a paper that could have been very strong evidence against Burr was thrown away because of the fact that there was a slight chance that Burr may not have written it while Baton Rouge was still Spanish territory. It made out how Burr did, in fact, collect money and men and contemplated seizing Baton Rouge. It was significant to the prosecution that Burr never denied writing it. The government had no problem proving that Burr raised money and men on Blennerhasset Island. The only problem was that they could not work the evidence into anything higher than a misdemeanor charge.
The hardest thing Burr had to face was the public opinion. He was mostly the underdog because Jefferson, the almighty influential President, was against Aaron Burr.
Another significant point for the prosecution was that Burr attended a dinner that Chief Justice Marshall showed his face to. To prove Burr guilty the prosecution needed two witnesses. The two main witnesses the government was relying on were General James Wilkinson and Mr. Eaton. However, Eaton’s testimony was almost entirely hearsay and had to be thrown out. Wilkinson finally made his debut on the stand and started out by boasting about how he single-handedly saved the nation by turning Burr in.
More witnesses, but not crucial witnesses, made appearances in the courtroom. Two servants of Blennerhasset Island reported hearing that Burr was going to make himself the emperor of Mexico. One sergeant, Jacob Dunbaugh, testified that he saw many muskets being thrown into the river before the searching at Thompson’s Bayou for clues. However, he was the only one who reported seeing this. Again, another piece of evidence was thrown out.
Animosity between Jefferson and Chief Justice Marshall actually helped Burr escape a conviction. This produced a trial with unmistakably personal conflicts. Jefferson concluded that Burr was trying to break up the Union and form his own confederacy. Weakness in the trial immediately became visible.
Marshall paid off his score against Jefferson by issuing a subpoena ordering the President to make an appearance in court. However, an unwise decision made by Jefferson was made. He did not comply with it and this may have caused the outcome of the verdict. Jefferson’s explanation was that he refused to show that the judicial branch held superior to the executive. Even further, the prosecution relied on him because he was the second witness which meant Burr would start to worry of the word guilty.
Section 3 of Article 3 of the United States Constitution reads: ?Treason against the United States shall consist only in levying War against them, or adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same act. The Congress shall have power to declare the punishment of treason, but no attainder treason shall work corruption of blood or forfeiture except during the life of the attained (Knappman, Great American Trials 81).
Fortunately for Burr the prosecution only had possession of Wilkinson. After an extensive couple of months the verdict was read by a clerk: “We the jury say that Aaron Burr is not proved guilty under this indictment by any evidence submitted to us. We therefore, find him not guilty” (Knappman 83). This ruling, however, did not keep the public from their belief that Burr was guilty.
After the verdict, Thomas Jefferson admitted ?There is insufficient evidence to convict Burr of treason.?(Miller, The Emergence of the Nation 113) And even though Burr was found innocent, when asked to stand trial in Ohio, he fled to Europe. It is possible that Burr feared that more evidence would show up in the second trial.
When he arrived in Europe, Burr pleaded to the British government to liberate Latin America. He also tried to persuade the Spaniards, who were resisting French control to adopt the liberal constitution developed by Jerermy Benthem of England.
As his life neared the end, he eventually came back to the Western World. He became interested in bringing German settlers to Texas and attempted to establish contact with Texas revolutionists. Burr married for the second time late in his life. His wife, when she realized her life was amidst her husbands? land speculation, they separated after four months. She eventually sued for divorce which was granted the day he died, September 14, 1836.
He is remembered as one of history?s greatest losers, a traitor, a criminal, and most of all the Vice President who murdered Alexander Hamilton.