Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Aaron Burr

Aaron Burr, Jr.


Revolutionary War Colonel - Vice President

Aaron Burr,  (February 6, 1756 – September 14, 1836) was the third Vice President of the United States under President Thomas Jefferson. As President of the Senate he presided over the Senate's first impeachment trial, of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase.   In 1804, Vice President, Burr killed his political rival Alexander Hamilton in a duel ending his political career.  In person, Burr was small, often being spoken of as " little Burr," but his appearance and manners were fascinating. In his ease the finest gifts of nature and fortune were spoiled by unsound moral principles and the absence of all genuine convictions. His habits were licentious. He was a master of intrigue, though to little purpose. He was a respectable lawyer and speaker, but lacked the qualities of a statesman. Dauntless resolution and cool self-possession never forsook him. On the morning of his duel with Hamilton he was found by a friend in a sound sleep. Though a skeptic, he was not a scoffer. 

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,"

In 1769 he was allowed as a favor to enter the sophomore class, though only in his thirteenth year. He was a fairly diligent student and an extensive reader, and was graduated with distinction in September, 1772. Stories of wild dissipation during his College course are probably exaggerations. Just before his graduation the College was profoundly stirred by religious excitement, and young Burr, who confessed that he was moved by the revival, resorted to Dr. Witherspoon, the president, for advice. The doctor quieted his anxiety by telling him that the excitement was fanatical. Not entirely satisfied, he went in the autumn of the next year to live for a while in the family of the famous theologian, Dr. Bellamy, of Bethlehem, Connecticut, with the ostensible purpose of settling his mind with regard to the claims of Christianity. The result was a great surprise to his friends, if not to himself; he deliberately rejected the gospel and adopted the infidelity then so rife in Europe and America. The form of unbelief accepted by him was that of Lord Chesterfield, along with his lordship's peculiar views of morality. Here is probably the key to a comprehension of Burr's entire life. He resolved to be a "perfect man of the world," according to the Chesterfieldian code.

Image Courtesy of the Stan Klos Collection

Most of the next year (1774) he passed in Litchfield, Connecticut, where he began the study of the law under Tapping Reeve, who had married his sister. At the beginning of the revolution, in 1775, Burr hastened to join the patriot army near Boston. He had a genuine passion for military life, and was singularly qualified to excel as a soldier. Here, fretted by inaction, he resolved to accompany Col. Benedict Arnold in his expedition to Quebec. Against the expostulations of all his friends and the commands of his uncle, Timothy, he persisted in his determination. Out of the memorable hardships and disasters of that expedition young Burr came back with the rank of major and a brilliant reputation for courage and ability. Soon after his return he became a member of General Washington's family. From some cause the place did not please him, and after about six weeks he withdrew from Washington's table and accepted an appointment as aide to General Putnam.

This incident was extremely unfortunate for him. During their brief association Burr contracted prejudices against Washington, which grew into deep dislike, and Washington got impressions of Burr that ripened into settled distrust. In July, 1777, Burr was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel, with the command of his regiment, the colonel preferring to remain at home. In September, while occupying the house near Ramapo Pass, of which a representation is here given, he defeated the enemy near Hackensack and drove them back to Paulus Hook. At Monmouth he distinguished himself at the head of a brigade.

While Burr's command lay in Orange County, New York, he became acquainted with Mrs. Theodosia Prevost, an intelligent and accomplished lady living at Paramus, widow of an English officer who had recently died in the West Indies. She was ten years his senior and had two sons. In March, 1779, after four years of service, he resigned his commission on account of broken health. In the autumn of 1780, his health having improved, Burr resumed the study of law, first with Judge Patterson, of New Jersey, and afterward with Thomas Smith, of Haverstraw, New York On 17 April, 1782, he was admitted to the bar in Albany, the rule that required three years spent in study having been in his ease relaxed on account of his service as a soldier. Now, at the age of twenty-six, he took an office in Albany and almost immediately commanded a large practice. Being at last in a condition to warrant this step, he married Mrs. Prevost, 2 July, 1782, and at once began housekeeping in Albany in handsome style.

In the first year of his marriage his daughter, Theodosia, was born, the only child of this union. In the latter part of the next year, just after the British had evacuated the City, he returned to New York and devoted himself to his profession for eight years, having during that period twice served as a member of the New York legislature. He stood among the leaders of the bar, with no rival but Alexander Hamilton. Obtaining possession of Richmond Hill, a fine New York mansion with ample grounds, he dispensed a liberal hospitality. Talleyrand, Volney, and Louis Philippe were among his guests.

In 1788, just after the adoption of the constitution, Burr entered the arena of politics as a candidate of the anti-federal party, though he was not distinctly identified with those who nominated him, and soon afterward he was appointed by Governor Clinton attorney general, an office which he held for two years. In 1791 he was elected to the United States senate over General Philip Schuyler, to the great surprise of the country and the keen disappointment of Hamilton, Schuyler's son-in-law. The federalists had a majority in the legislature, and Schuyler was one of the pillars of the federal party. Hamilton, then Treasury secretary, had counted on Schuyler's election to support his policies. The triumph of Burr under these circumstances was mysterious. For six years he served in the senate with conspicuous ability, acting steadily with the Republican Party thwarting Hamilton's policies.

Mrs. Burr died of cancer in 1794. Among the last words he ever spoke was this testimony to the wife of his youth: "The mother of my Theo was the best woman and finest lady I have ever known." After her death the education of his daughter engrossed a large share of his attention. In 1797 the tables turned, and his defeated antagonist, General Schuyler, was almost unanimously elected to his seat in the senate. Burr was shortly afterward made a member of the New York assembly.

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.  

Tally of Electoral Votes for the 1800 Presidential Election, February 11, 1801
By the election of 1800, the nation's first two parties were beginning to take shape. The Presidential race was hotly contested between the Federalist President, John Adams, and the Democratic-Republican candidate, Thomas Jefferson. Because the Constitution did not distinguish between President and Vice-President in the votes cast by each state's electors in the Electoral College, both Jefferson and his running mate Aaron Burr received 73 votes.

According to the Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution, if two candidates each received a majority of the electoral votes but are tied, the House of Representatives would determine which one would be President. Therefore, the decision rested with the lame duck, Federalist-controlled House of Representatives. Thirty-five ballots were cast over five days but neither candidate received a majority. Many Federalists saw Jefferson as their principal foe, whose election was to be avoided at all costs. But Alexander Hamilton, a well-respected Federalist party leader, hated Burr and advised Federalists in Congress that Jefferson was the safer choice. Finally, on February 17, 1801, on the thirty-sixth ballot, the House elected Thomas Jefferson to be President.

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

In connection with this affair, Burr was charged with intriguing to defeat the public will and have himself chosen to the first office, instead of Jefferson.  

By: Stanley Yavneh Klos

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Vice President Burr was now  forty-five years old and at the top of his fortune. His daughter had made a highly satisfactory marriage, and his pecuniary prospects were improved. In 1801, just before entering upon his duties as vice-president, he was a member of a convention of the state of New York for revising its constitution, and was made chairman by unanimous vote. But a great change was at hand. Near the close of his term of office as vice-president, Burr, finding himself under a cloud with his party, sought to recover his popularity by being a candidate for the governorship of New York that pushed the Hamilton and Burr to violence. In that election, Burr turned his back on the Republicans and ran as an independent. Burr believed that if he won, he would regain power he lost as Vice President. 

The prospect of Burr leading New York mortified Hamilton, who despised and mistrusted Burr completely. In early 1804, Hamilton lobbied New York Federalists not to support Burr.  Morgan Lewis, the Republican candidate, rushed Burr in the general election due to the  support of George and DeWitt Clinton, two powerful New York Republicans.  In this contest Alexander Hamilton had put forth his utmost energies against Burr. Though the relations of these political leaders had remained outwardly friendly, they had long been rivals, and Hamilton had not hesitated to express in private his distrust of Burr, and to balk several of his ambitious projects. 

Early in the gubernatorial canvass, a New York Republican, Dr. Charles D. Cooper, attended a dinner party at which Alexander Hamilton spoke forcefully and eloquently against Burr. Cooper later wrote a letter to Philip Schuyler in which he made reference to a particularly "despicable opinion" Hamilton expressed about Burr. The letter was published in a New York newspaper the "Albany Register."  Burr immediately fastened upon them as ground for a challenge. A long correspondence ensued, in which Hamilton vainly sought to avoid extremities. Politics left Hamilton no choice as if he admitted to Burr's charge, which was substantially true, he would lose his honor. If he refused to duel, the result would be the same. Either way, his political career would be over. Burr on the other hand, believed that a victory on the dueling ground against Hamilton would revive his flagging political career.  After Hamilton's and Burr's seconds tried without success to settle the matter amicably, the challenge was accepted, and the parties met on the bank of the Hudson, at Weehawken, New Jersey, at seven o'clock A. M., 7 July, 1804.

Image Courtesy of the Stan Klos Collection

At the first fire Hamilton fell mortally wounded and died the next day. Burr was unscathed, and instead of reviving his political career, the duel helped to end it. Burr was charged with two counts of murder and left that "field of honor" a ruined man. 

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.

Early in 1805, under indictment for murder in the death of Alexander Hamilton in their celebrated duel, Burr traveled into the western territories. From Pittsburgh he floated in a boat, specially built for him, down to New Orleans, stopping at many points, and often receiving enthusiastic attention. After some time spent in the southwest, he slowly returned to Washington, where he sought from the president an appointment suitable to his dignity. 

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 
The grandiose plan  unraveled in 1806 when his fellow conspirator, the ambitious Wilkinson, revealed the plot (but not his role in it) to ingratiate himself with the Federal government.  President Jefferson, who had not been ignorant of what was maturing, issued a proclamation, October 27th, 1806, denouncing the enterprise and warning the people against it. The project immediately collapsed. 

Image Courtesy of

Orders were given for Burr's capture as evidenced by this  letter giving strongly worded directions for the immediate arrest of former Vice-President. The letter, amazingly is countersigned by Burr's co-conspirator in his plot to create an independent nation in the southwest.   In this letter, Louisiana Territory Governor Claiborne and Wilkinson authorize the Governor of the Mississippi Territory to arrest Burr: 
"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.

Though Burr was now free, his good name was not restored by the issue of the trial, and he soon sailed for England, still animated by new schemes and hopes. After various adventures in that country, he was expelled as an "embarrassing" person, and went to Sweden. Having spent some time in Copenhagen and various cities of Germany, he reached Paris in February, 1810. Here, kept under government surveillance, and refused permission to return to the United States, he was reduced to the severest pecuniary straits. Returning again to England, he was obliged to remain there in desperate extremities for a year and a half.

At last he got away in the ship "Aurora," and reached Boston in May, 1812. Disguised under the name of Arnot, as well as with wig, whiskers, and strange garments, the returning exile entered the City in a most humiliating plight. The government prosecutions still hung over his head, and some of his creditors had executions against him, which might throw him into a prison. He ventured to New York, however, reaching that place four years after leaving it. He soon opened an office in Nassau Street, old friends rallied around him, and the future began to brighten somewhat, when he was stunned by the information that his only grandchild, Theodosia's son, aged eleven, was dead. A still more crushing blow soon came. The daughter, who was his idol, perished at sea while on a voyage from Charleston to New York in January, 1813.

Burr was now fifty-seven years old. Shunned by society, though with a considerable practice, he lived on for twenty-three years. At the age of seventy-eight he married Madame Jumel, widow of a French merchant, who had a considerable fortune. The union soon proved unhappy, owing to Burr's reckless use of his wife's money, and they finally separated, though not divorced. In his last days Burr was dependent on the charity of a Scotch woman, a friend of former years, for a home. 

In 1833, at age 77, Burr married again, this time to Eliza Jumel, a wealthy widow. Soon, however, she realized her fortune was dwindling due to her husband's land speculation losses.  She separated from Burr after only four months. Burr suffered a debilitating stroke in 1834, which rendered him immobile.  His divorce was completed on September 14, 1836, the day of Burr's death on Staten Island in the village of Port Richmond..  He was buried near his honored father and grandfather in Princeton, New Jersey.

Aaron Burr Death Mask

In his last hours he said of the holy Scriptures : "They are the most perfect system of truth the world has ever seen."

--His daughter, Theodosia Burr, born in New York City in 1783; died at sea in January, 1813, was one of the most highly accomplished and brilliant of American women. Her father, to whom she was an object of pride as well as passionate affection, devoted himself to informing her mind and training her character in accordance with his own ideal of womanhood. In her tenth year she read Horace and Terence in the original Latin, spoke French, and was studying the Greek grammar. He was as careful of her physical as of her mental education, and sought to develop the independence of thought and self-reliance that was universally discouraged at the time in the training of girls. After her mother's death, in 1794, Theodosia became mistress of her father's house and the companion of his leisure hours.

On 2 February, 1801, she married Joseph Alston, a wealthy and talented young planter of South Carolina, who in after years became governor of his native state.  The devotion of Theodosia to her father approached idolatry; through all the disasters of his career she clung to him with unshaken fidelity. She and her husband were cognizant of her father's scheme to become emperor of Mexico, her son was to be the heir to the throne, and when Burr was brought to trial at Richmond his daughter was there, and, by the power of her beauty and intellectual graces, did much to stay the torrent of popular indignation and secure a favorable verdict. Her eloquent letters to Mrs. Madison, Sec. Gallatin, and other old friends of Burr paved the way for his return to New York after four years of exile and poverty. 

Before his arrival Theodosia's son and only child died, in his eleventh year. In consequence of this blow she was prostrated by a nervous fever; but, eager to see her father once more, she embarked at Charleston for New York, 29 December, 1812, on a pilot-boat called the "Patriot." A storm soon arose, and raged along the coast, in which the "Patriot" probably foundered off Hatteras. Nothing was ever heard of the vessel again. This event completed the tragedy of the Burr family. The accompanying portrait of Theodosia represents her at the age of nineteen. See " Life of Aaron Burr," by Samuel L. Knapp (New York, 1835);"Memoirs, with Selections from his Correspondence" (2 vols., 1837-'8), and "Private Journal" during his residence abroad, with selections from his correspondence (2 vols., 1838), both edited by Matthew L. Davis; and "Life and Times of Aaron Burr," by James Par-ton (New York, 1858). -- Edited Appleton's Cyclopedia American Biography Copyright© 2001 Stan Klos

Aaron Burr, Sr.

BURR, Aaron, clergyman, born in Fairfield, Connecticut, 4 January, 1716; died 24 September, 1757. He belonged to a Puritan family that for three generations had given to church and state men of eminence. He was graduated at Yale in his nineteenth year, having gained one of the three Berkeley scholarships, which entitled him to maintenance at the College for two years after graduating. While pursuing his post-graduate studies he was converted, and at once turned his attention to theology. 

At the age of twenty-two he became pastor of the Presbyterian church in Newark, New Jersey, where he soon acquired a commanding reputation as a pulpit orator. Here he also established a school for boys, which proved highly successful. He prepared for his pupils a Latin grammar known as the "Newark Grammar" (1752), which was long in use at Princeton. In later years he published a small work on the "Supreme Deity of Our Lord Jesus Christ" (new ed., 1791), with an occasional sermon. 

In 1748, at the age of thirty-two, he became president of the College of New Jersey, but without interrupting his pastoral service. In the summer of 1752 he married Esther, daughter of Jonathan Edwards, of Stockbridge, Massachusetts. In the autumn of 1756 he resigned his charge at Newark and removed to Princeton, where he died from overwork. He left two children, Sarah, born 3 May, 1754, and Aaron. As scholar, preacher, author, and educator, President Burr was one of the foremost men of his time. To his more solid qualities were added a certain grace and distinguished style of manner, which re-appeared in his son. Though nominally the second president of Princeton, he was practically the first, since the former. Jonathan Dickinson, only served for a few months. He was in a true sense its founder, and the College may be said to be his monument. Six of its presidents are buried in Princeton by his side.

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Washington DC
November 17,1800 to Present

Book a primary source exhibit and a professional speaker for your next event by contacting today. Our Clients include many Fortune 500 companies, associations, non-profits, colleges, universities, national conventions, PR and advertising agencies. As a leading national exhibitor of primary sources, many of our clients have benefited from our historic displays that are designed to entertain and educate your target audience. Contact us to learn how you can join our "roster" of satisfied clientele today!

Hosted by The New Orleans Jazz Museum and The Louisiana Historical Center

A Non-profit Corporation

Primary Source Exhibits

727-771-1776 | Exhibit Inquiries

202-239-1774 | Office

202-239-0037 FAX 

Dr. Naomi and Stanley Yavneh Klos, Principals

Primary Source exhibits are available for display in your community. The costs range from $1,000 to $35,000 depending on length of time on loan and the rarity of artifacts chosen. 


U.S. Dollar Presidential Coin Mr. Klos vs Secretary Paulson - Click Here

The United Colonies of North America Continental Congress Presidents (1774-1776)
The United States of America Continental Congress Presidents (1776-1781)
The United States of America in Congress Assembled Presidents (1781-1789)
The United States of America Presidents and Commanders-in-Chiefs (1789-Present)

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