On Doing The Right Thing

Upon his return to the U.S. from his European exile in 1812, AB found many shoulders he’d once rubbed against with industry had turned frightfully cold.

One such man, an old college classmate, had been someone who’d called himself a friend of AB for what seemed a lifetime. AB dashed off a note announcing his return, requesting a meeting. The self professed “friend” replied in a manner that revealed his awareness of the social-implications of association with AB at the time. With clear dejection, AB made this diary entry on the episode:

“When a man takes time to consider whether he will do a good or civil action, be assured he will never do it. The baser feelings, the calculations of interest and timidity, always prevail…”

The reply from his friend made the attempt at feigning the illusion of continued friendship and consideration of the request, but AB was right, the “Friend” never followed-up.

Published in: on December 11, 2013 at 7:54 pm  Leave a Comment  
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On Consumerism

For most of his life, Aaron Burr was the consumate consumer of the finer things. A man of epicurian tastes in everything – clothing, furniture, housing, books, wines – he was never coy when it came to his love of opulence. In fact, he had a keen understanding of himself and his innermost desires. He just loved having nice…stuff. For him, if he wanted something, even if it was cost prohibitive, he just acquired it and accumulated debts accordingly. He made really good money for his day, but really only saw his vocation as a way to satisfy his base need for…stuff. His wants and needs shared a fine line, often blurred by a world view that can best be called materialist:

“We cannot control necessity, though we often persuade ourselves that certain things are our choice, when in truth we have been unavoidably impelled to them.”

I can clearly see AB being a neighbor of mine…A guy with a three car garage jammed with so many things he “just HAD to have” that he can’t get his dandy carriage in it. He was one of the Jones’ I wouldn’t have wanted to keep up with. I imagine Christmas under the Burr family tree was a sight to behold!

On Burr’s War

Subject of a Grand Jury inquiry, Burr had assembled a team of legal eagles that were amongst the best & brightest of the time to conduct his defense. But make no mistake, his was the mind coordinating the effort to save his own neck. The prosecution team was formidable, being led behind the scenes by none other than Thomas Jefferson.  

On the eve of the arrival of the prosecution’s star witness, prosecutors made a motion to have Burr committed to prison for treason, even though he had not been charged with a crime to this point. They ultimately failed in their attempt to cage him, AB going as far as to voluntarily recommend that his own bail be doubled from $10,000 to $20,000 to prove his intention of sticking around to defend his position to the fullest extent of the law. His bail was doubled, four friends posted the additional funds, and he remained free.  Brilliant.

On the subject of the charges the government were trumping up, he had this to say:

“Six months ago, he [President Jefferson] proclaimed that there was a civil war. And yet, for six months they [government officials] have been hunting for it, and still can not find one spot where it existed. There was, to be sure, a most terrible was in the newspapers; but no where else.”

The government would then need to call nearly 150 witnesses over the ensuing weeks to try to find someone who could speak directly to overt acts of treason. And they would call them…

Published in: on December 19, 2009 at 2:29 pm  Leave a Comment  
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On Relocation

When AB’s term as Vice President ended in 1805 he had very few options. Between his handling of the Hamilton affair and the machinations of the Virginia mafia , he was personna non grata in Washington. He couldn’ t really go home to New York either, because he could be extradited to New Jersey to face murder charges, and his debts were mounting, leaving his creditors eager to get their hands on him as well. He wrote of his situation to his son-in-law Joseph Alston:

“In New York I am to be disenfranchised, and in New Jersey hanged. You will not…conclude that I have become disposed to submit tamely to the machinations of a banditti.”

AB was determined to find a place to exercise his many talents legitimately. The American West offered the greatest promise for a man of his circumstance. And off he went, his energies focused on reclaiming his name and reputation as a man who could get things done.

Published in: on December 18, 2009 at 12:57 pm  Leave a Comment  
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On The Law

Aaron Burr was one of the nation’s top litigators in his day. He was renowned for making simple, concise and shrewd arguments that were hard, if not impossible, to counter. Alexander Hamilton, while a master with words and an effusive orator, was himself not as effective in a courtroom as AB. In fact, many don’t know, but the two actually practiced side-by-side in several high-profile cases in their time.

Of the law and the many things he said of it, one of his more famous quotes amongst litigators and jurists:

“Law is whatever is boldly asserted and plausibly maintained.”

Burr was an economist with words. Each one was conservatively chosen for it’s very specific meaning, and all inference it could carry. He was a master of overt subtlety.

Knowing this, what do you think he was telling us about the law with this quote?

Published in: on December 9, 2009 at 8:26 pm  Leave a Comment  
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On the Deep South US

In the summer of 1805, Aaron Burr took a 450+ mile trek through the deep south – New Orleans, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee among the places he visited in Late June through August…

“…vile country, destitute of springs and of running water–think of drinking the nasty puddle-water, covered with green scum, and full of animalculae–bah!”

Doesn’t sound like he saw a lot of future growth potential here. Old school “Dirty South?”

Published in: on December 8, 2009 at 4:26 am  Leave a Comment  
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Welcome To The League of Honest Men

Aaron Burr, Jr. (1756-1836) – US Vice President, US Senator, NY Atty. General, NY State Assemblyman, US Colonel, Patriot, Lawyer, Father, Husband, Student, American Benefactor, Feminist, Adventurer – many things history ignores. Not one to defend himself publicly, he remains much maligned and little understood.

Our agenda: increase contemporary knowledge and appreciation of the man. To that end, he’s presented in his own words, so that his true character may be revealed.

Published in: on December 5, 2009 at 9:06 pm  Comments (2)  
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On Being a Citizen

AB’s treason trial was a drawn-out affair, with many starts, stops and long periods of delay in the proceedings. Tempers flared frequently on the prosecution’s side, in that they were consistently out-lawyered by AB and his world class representation. At one point, U.S. Attorney George Hay made a heated objection to a very mundane request from AB to have justice Marshall instruct jurors about the admissibility of certain pieces of evidence. Hay inferred that the instruction amounted to special treatment, and that AB was on “the same footing with every other man charged with a crime.” To which, AB replied:

“Would to God that I did stand on the same ground with every other man! This is the first time that I have been permitted to enjoy the rights of a citizen.”

Published in: on November 5, 2009 at 3:02 am  Leave a Comment  
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On Slander

As AB settled in to a much-less-than public life, he withdrew even further from critics and the judgements of history. He never went on record anywhere defending himself from even the most damning of assertions, other than in open court. It seemed that whatever anyone wanted to dream up about him would find it’s way into the media of the day and remain there in the public mind, unanswered and unchallenged. At a point, even his “friends” stopped stepping in for him. Later in his life, when he was contemplating writing a “real” history of the revolution, he seems to have regretted his “no comment” position. Of slander, he had this to say:

“Slander has slain more than the sword.”

He would know…

Published in: on October 19, 2009 at 2:47 am  Leave a Comment  
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A Jeffersonian Tool?

As sitting Vice President, in January 1805 AB presided over the Senate impeachment trial of Supreme Court Justice Samual Chase. Chase was a signer of the Constitution and political enemy of Thomas Jefferson. AB had a personal history with Chase, and regarded the judge as a drunken, crude, and arrogant individual. Prior to Chase’s arrival in the Senate chamber for the trial, and armchair had been placed for the defendant to sit in. Burr had the chair removed. Chase arrived, requested a chair, and Burr is said to have uttered this famous line:

“Let the Judge take care to find a seat for himself.”

But there’s more to the story…

The quote attributed to AB was sourced to Federalist Senator William Plumber of New Hampshire. In 1803, Plumer just happened to be one of several New England Federalists who proposed secession from the United States due to lack of support for Federalists, rising influence of Jeffersonian Democrats and the diminished influence of the North due to the Louisiana Purchase. Plumer fanned the flames of discord by using the trial of Chase as yet another example of partisan hazing, which many argue it clearly was. But Plumer chose to single out AB as the tool of the administration, and seized the opportunity to paint Burr a Jeffersonian thug by claiming in the press that he heard AB say:

“In Great Britain when an officer is impeached & Appears before the House of Lords-instead of having a Chair, the Accused falls on his knees & rises not till the Lord Chancellor directs him.”

Thus the party most often accused of loyalty to the Crown would attempt to turn the tables on the francophiles & Jacobin’s! Burr’s reputation was already in the tank due to that little thing with Hamilton, and he had become a lightning rod for all partisan attacks, despite his reputation as being “his own man”.

Chase was ultimately acquitted by AB himself, in a move that has been pointed to as AB’s “final straw” with Jefferson.

Despite bipartisan praise for AB’s professional conduct and level handedness in executing his presiding duties at the trial, he’s often overlooked for the crucial role he played in helping to stop the executive purge (and puppet rule) of the judiciary. Because it’s Chase’s acquittal that many historians say helped ensure the independence of the judiciary. But funny enough, you have to dig very deep in the annals to find anyone willing to admit it!

Published in: on October 16, 2009 at 5:26 am  Leave a Comment  
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