The Exploits of Vice President Aaron Burr Seem A Work of Fiction


There May Be a Good Reason Alexander Hamilton Got in So Many Duels

On This Date In History: In recent years, we have heard the “I” word tossed about rather liberally. That word is impeach.

President Andrew Johnson was impeached but was not convicted by one vote. President Clinton was impeached but also avoided removal from office as the Senate did not vote for conviction. Today, we haven’t heard of anyone calling for the impeachment of the current president or vice-president. Yet. Someone probably will before President Obama’s 4 years are up. There were certainly those who wanted to impeach President Bush and even Vice-President Cheney. These calls came from allegations of malfeasance. But on this date in 1804, there is no doubt about it…Aaron Burr,  Vice-President of the United States gunned down Revolutionary War hero Alexander Hamilton.  And guess what, he wasn’t impeached nor did he go to jail.

Alexander Hamilton

Alexander Hamilton had been an aide-de-camp of Washington during the war and later led a crucial attack at the Battle of Yorktown. He became the first Secretary of the Treasury and served in that capacity for 6 years before retiring. He then formed the Federalist Party, the first political party in America. He detested Thomas Jefferson and the two developed what became known as Hamiltonian ideals and Jeffersonian ideals. Basically, Hamilton wanted a strong central government and Jefferson was for a weak central government with most of the power belonging to the states. Today, Jefferson must be spinning in his grave.

Burr's 1807 Treason Trial

Burr's 1807 Treason Trial

Anyway, in 1804, Burr was the sitting Vice-President under Jefferson and Hamilton had made some unsavory remarks about Burr, who demanded satisfaction and responded with a challenge to a duel! Hamilton had been famous for dueling but had ironically pushed to outlaw the practice in New York. So, Hamilton and Burr went across the river to New Jersey. On this date in 1804, two shots rang out in Weehawken, New Jersey. Hamilton lay mortally wounded. There is great speculation regarding the incident as many suggest that Hamilton missed on purpose as he was a veteran duelist and a good shot. But there were procedures if one was to desire to not shoot one’s opponent. Hamilton did not follow the procedures. Witnesses could not determine who fired first. But what did happen, is that Burr was forced to stay out of New York for the remainder of his term as murder charges were filed.  For most people, Aaron Burr is now left to nothing more as a footnote to history.   Alexander Hamilton, on the other hand, has lived in immortality as the face of the ten dollar bill.  While the duel is probably Burr’s most infamous act, his lesser known final act for history literally made him an enemy of the United States.

Jefferson and Burr At Odds Till the End

If you recall, Burr and Jefferson both had the same number of electoral votes for the 1800 presidential election. The tie went to the House of Representatives who voted for Jefferson only after Tom’s old nemesis, Alexander Hamilton, reluctantly went to bat for the famous statesman.   Hamilton must have really hated Burr for him to vote for Jefferson.  Help from his political rival made Jefferson the President and Burr the Vice-President.  The original Constitution had the second place electoral vote-getter become Vice-President. But that meant that political rivals had to be the team. That obviously created problems and the Constitution was changed. The problem became all too apparent when Burr, as the sitting Vice-President, took out his anger at Hamilton for his support of Jefferson, as well as other items of disagreement, by taking Hamilton to the dueling field.   Even though the murder charge was eventually dropped, the public turned on Burr for his duel and his political career was over in the United States.

Peter Charles Hoffer Wrote About Burr Treason Trials That Had Nothing To Do With the Duel With Hamilton

So, Burr secretly conspired with Britain and Spain to try and set up a new country in the Southwest of what is now the United States and part of Mexico. Of course, Burr would rule the new empire. But, the plot was foiled and Burr went to trial for Treason.  As part of his defense, he had Jefferson, still the sitting President, called to the trial to produce documents that would exonerate him.   On June 13, 1807, President Thomas Jefferson received a subpoena to testify at the treason trial of his former Vice-President, Aaron Burr.   In response to the subpoena, Jefferson cited his right to protect wing up at the trial and he only offered a few of the documents requested.  If Jefferson was trying to send Burr to the gallows it didn’t work because Chief Justice John Marshall declared that the charges were to be dropped due to lack of evidence. 

Tom Jefferson Depicted As Constitutional Destroyer

I’m not a legal historical scholar but I bet that Jefferson’s claim was the precedent for the presidential claim of Executive Priviledge.  Jefferson had also used his position as Commander in Chief to commit US armed forces halfway around the world for the undeclared Barbary Pirate War.  While those two roles of the president seem to pass constitutional muster,  Jefferson’s purchase of the Louisiana Territory and the funding of the Lewis and Clark expedition are seen by some as examples of how Jefferson the President acted perhaps differently than Jefferson the author of the Declaration of Independence.   So often today, when we hear charges that the President is shredding the Constitution, we hear the name of Jefferson invoked.  Yet, some of Jefferson’s opponents viewed him as the enemy of the Constitution as evidenced by the cartoon showing Jefferson offering the document to the alter of Satan while the eagle tries to grab it from his hand.   

Ukraine legislators sometimes operate like Americans did many years ago

The political battles that go on today may seem rough.  But, they pale in comparison to the political wars that went on almost from the beginning of the nation.  After all, it’s been a long time since we had a Senator pull a gun on another in the Senate chamber.  I don’t recall a Congressman almost beating a Senator to death while the Senator sat behind his Senate chamber desk nor a House member attacking another on the House Floor with a pair of fire tongs.  As President of the Senate, Vice President Martin Van Buren carried a side arm to keep the peace.  It’s been awhile since a sitting Vice-President gunned down the former Secretary of the Treasury and a long time since we had a former VP try to set up his own country.  But we have an a couple of impeachment trials of two presidents…oh…and then there was Vice-President Cheney who while Vice-President did in fact shoot his friend with a shotgun blast.

Weather  Bottom Line:  I”m not exactly sure of the mechanism that brought t’storms to the Southeast of Louisville on Saturday.  Snow White and I were out riding bikes and I told her that I was guessing that it was on the 850 boundary of the cold front that came through Friday.  I explained that they were probably elevated storms without much rain but with gusty winds and hail.  Well, I heard on the news that there was hail and gusty winds with the storms.  However, I saw the cold front analyzed way to the South.  So, its doubtful that it was the 850 front.  But, I also don’t buy the explanation of one guy who said it was an outflow boundary.   As I said, I was out riding bikes so I didn’t do an analysis.  It was something but I’m not sure what it was some sort of subtle feature.  Sunday should be warm and dry.  A cold front approaches on Monday and our rain chances will be elevated for at least the first half of next week.

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One Response

  1. I think it was a great article

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