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 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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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 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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Quotable Burr

These are the two quotes most often attributed to AB:

“The rule of my life is to make business a pleasure, and pleasure my business.”

“Never do today what you can put off till tomorrow. Delay may give clearer light as to what is best to be done.”

It is also said that he uttered the famous words “Go west young man,” but that’s not true! You’ll also find it’s attributed to Horace Greeley. Also not true. It was written by one John Soule and it first appeared in the Terre Haute Express in 1851. Well after AB’s time.

Published in: on September 5, 2009 at 3:07 am  Leave a Comment  
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On the "Burr Conspiracy"

In June, 1834, as AB was in his last days, his friend and biographer Matthew L. Davis is reported to have questioned him on the alleged plot to seize the American West and establish a new republic under his rule. His answer was swift:

“No, I would as soon have thought of taking possession of the moon, and informing my friends that I intended to divide it among them!”

Published in: on September 4, 2009 at 3:27 am  Leave a Comment  
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As a Father

From Letters to Theodosia, his only surviving child by Theodosia Prevost-Burr

“My property, our home with all of its baubles, mean nothing to me, and whatever honors I have won in this world are empty. You are my only true treasure, and in you is the distillation of all that is pure and noble in your ancestry. Live your life to the full, and beware of giving your heart prematurely, for I will not consent to the gift of your hand to any man who is not worthy of you.”

“You know that you and your concerns are the highest, the dearest interest I have in this world, one in comparison with which all others are insignificant.”

“My letters to others are always ready; but toward you, a desire to say something at the last moment; a reluctance resembling that of parting – but all this you know and feel.”

“What book shall I buy for her? said I to myself. She reads so much and so rapidly that it is not easy to find proper and amusing French books for her; and yet I am so flattered with her progress in that language, that I am resolved that she shall, at all events, be gratified. Indeed, I owe it to her.”

“I really think, my dear Theo., that you will be very soon beyond all verbal criticism, and that my whole attention will be presently directed to the improvement of your style. Your letter of the 9th is remarkably correct in point of spelling.”

“I continue the practice of scoring words for our mutual improvement. The use, as applicable to you, was indicated in a former letter.

I am sure you will be charmed with the Greek language above all others. Adieu.”

“Your little letter from Alexandria assured me of your safety, and for a moment consoled me for your absence. The only solid consolation is the belief that you will be happy, and the certainty that we shall often meet.”

On Finding Salvation

September 14, 1836. In his final hours, AB was being attended to by the Reverend Dr. P.J. Van Pelt. When asked if he expected to find salvation upon expiration, AB, fully in possession of his faculties, and in classic AB style, replied:

“On that subject I am coy.”

On 19th Century Paris

In 1810, AB found himself in Paris, what was then the latest state of refuge for the disgraced former Vice President. Acquitted of treason, but guilty of naked ambition, he was eventually shunned whever he went – England, Sweeden, Germany, etc. In writing to his daughter, he had this to say of “modern” Paris.

“No sidewalks. The carts, cabrioles, and carriages of all sorts run up to the very houses. You must save yourself by bracing flat against the wall, there being, in most places, stones set up against the houses to keep the carts from injuring them. Most of the streets are paved as Albany and New York were before the Revolution, with an open gutter in the middle. Some arched in the middle, and a little gutter each side, very near the houses. It is a fine sport for the cabriole and hack drivers to run a wheel in one of these gutters, always full of filth, and bespatter fifty pedestrians who are braced against the wall. The gutters or conduits for the water from the eaves of the houses are carried out a few feet from the roofs, and thus discharge the rainwater over your head. In most places there are no such pipes, and then you have the benefit of the water from the eaves. This was a great ridicule against the city of Albany about twenty years ago; but Albany has reformed the evil.”