Aaron Burr, Jr.
Revolutionary War Colonel - Vice President
He was born in Newark, New Jersey, 6 February, 1756; died on Staten Island, New York, 14 September, 1836. His mother was Esther Edwards, the flower of the remarkable family to which she belonged, celebrated for her beauty as well as for her superior intellect and devout piety. In the truest sense, Aaron Burr was well born. Jonathan Edwards, his grandfather, illustrious as divine and meta-physician, had been elected to succeed his son-in-law as president of Princeton, but died of a fever, resulting from inoculation for small-pox, before he had fairly entered upon his work. Mrs. Burr, his daughter, died of a similar disease sixteen days later. The infant Aaron and his sister Sarah, left doubly orphaned, were placed in charge of their uncle, the Rev. Timothy Edwards, of Elizabethtown (now Elizabeth), New Jersey A handsome fortune having been bequeathed to them by their father, their education was conducted in a liberal manner; a private tutor was provided, Tapping Reeve, who afterward married his pupil, Sarah Burr, and became judge of the Supreme Court of Connecticut. A bright, mischievous boy, and difficult to control Aaron was still sufficiently studious to be prepared to enter Princeton at the age of eleven, though he was not admitted on account of his extreme youth. He was very small, but strikingly handsome, with fine black eyes and the engaging ways that became a fascination in his maturer life.
|Jonathan Edwards (October 5, 1703 – March 22, 1758) was a Christian preacher, theologian and Burr's grandfather. Edwards "is widely acknowledged to be America's most important and original philosophical theologian,"|
|Image Courtesy of the Stan Klos Collection|
In 1800 Burr obtained and had published "The Public Conduct and Character of John Adams, Esq., President of the United States.," a document highly critical of Adams, a Federalist. Alexander Hamilton, its author, had intended the work for private circulation. Its publication proved to be highly embarrassing to Hamilton and helped widen rifts in the Federalist Party and weaken President John Adams bid for a second term. Burr entered the presidential contest of 1800 with all his energy. The republicans triumphed; but between the two highest candidates there was a tie, with Burr and Thomas Jefferson receiving seventy-three votes, which threw the election into the House of Representatives. Hamilton lobbied Congress to decide the election in Jefferson's favor. Hamilton's campaign had little effect, but in the end, Jefferson emerged the winner.
The tie vote between Jefferson and Burr in the 1801 Electoral College pointed out problems with the electoral system. The framers of the Constitution had not anticipated such a tie nor had they considered the possibility of the election of a President or Vice President from opposing factions - which had been the case in the 1796 election. In 1804, the passage of the 12th Amendment corrected these problems by providing for separate Electoral College votes for President and Vice President. -- Records of the United States Senate
By: Stanley Yavneh Klos
|Image Courtesy of the Stan Klos Collection|
The tragedy aroused an unprecedented excitement, before which Burr felt it wise to flee. The coroner's inquest having returned a verdict of murder, he escaped to South Carolina and took refuge in the home of his daughter. Though an indictment for murder was obtained against him, the excitement subsided, and he was left unmolested. After a season he ventured to Washington, and completed his term of service as vice-president. Though his political prospects were now blasted and his name execrated, his bold and resolute spirit did not break. Courage and fortitude were the cardinal virtues of his moral code, and his restless mind was already employed with new and vast projects.
Foiled in this effort, he turned more earnestly to his mysterious western projects. There, in one of the most mysterious episodes of American history, he projected a scheme to instigate war with Spain and seize control of frontier lands to found an independent nation. His plan was to collect a body of followers and conquer Texas --perhaps Mexico-- establishing there a republic of which he should be the head. With this he associated the hope that the western states, ultimately falling away from the union, would cast in their lot with him, making New Orleans the capital of the new nation. As a rendezvous and refuge for his followers, he actually bought a vast tract of land on Washita River, for which the sum of $40,000 was to be paid. It was a wild scheme, and, if not technically treasonable, was so near to it as to make him a public enemy. Events had advanced rapidly, and Burr's plans were nearly ripe for execution.
|1806 indictment of Aaron Burr for treason states that the former vice president of the United States did “prepare for a military expedition against the dominions of the King of Spain.” -Records of District Courts of the United States|
"Understanding that Aaron Burr has taken post within the Territory over which you preside, we cannot express our solicitude lest his pretensions to Innocence, and the arts which he may employ to delude and seduce our fellow Citizens from their duty to their Country, may be partially successful; we rely, however, with confidence on your exertions to seize the arch Traitor, and having done so...placing him without delay on board one of our armed vessels in the river with an order to the officer to descend with him to this City; or otherwise, if his followers be as numerous as is represented, it is probable it may not be in your power to bring him to trial." They warn Mead to exercise caution with the Spanish authorities to avoid an international incident: "We...advise you confidentially to keep a strict eye upon the Spaniards! Governor Folch is proceeding to Baton Rouge with four hundred men. His co-operation in repelling Burr and his associates is desirable, but in the uncertain and menacing state of affairs between the US and Spain, it is our duty to be vigilant, and to watch the movements of a foreign force which may lie in our vicinity."Governor Mead immediately posted a $2000 reward for the capture of Burr, believed to be hiding in the hills of Western Mississippi. Burr, in disguise, stopped at the farmhouse of Nicholas Perkins, a rural attorney, to ask directions. Perkins, though, had read the Governor's proclamation and remembered that Burr's description emphasized that his eyes "sparkled like diamonds". The lawyer, suspecting that the stranger was, indeed, the fugitive Vice President, informed the local sheriff, who arrested Burr that night. Burr was sent under escort to Richmond to be tried on two charges; high treason and a misdemeanor (mounting a military expedition against the King of Spain). En route, just as Claiborne and Wilkinson feared, he attempted to escape by leaping from his horse and appealing to a crowd at a rural tavern for protection and only remounted his horse at gunpoint.
Burr was conveyed to Richmond, Virginia. Here was held the memorable trial for treason, beginning 22 May, 1807, and lasting, with some interruptions, for six months. In the array of distinguished counsel, William Wirt was pre-eminent for the prosecution and Luther Martin for the defense and Chief Justice John Marshall presided as the lead judge. Burr himself took an active part in the case. On September 1st, 1807 the jury returned a verdict of not guilty on the indictment for treason, and some time afterward the prisoner was acquitted, on technical grounds, of the misdemeanor charge.
|Aaron Burr Death Mask|
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