Aaron Burr, engraving by E.G. Williams & Bro., N.Y., based upon a painting by James Van Dyck (Princeton University Library)
After the fateful duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr in 1804, Burr’s political career took an interesting turn. Murder charges against him in New York and New Jersey were dismissed, but the ramifications of the fatal skirmish persisted. After serving out his term as vice president, Burr headed west to gather support for the creation of an empire beyond the Appalachian Mountains—or so it seemed.
Burr’s true intentions were mysterious. Was he planning to liberate Spanish Mexico? Was he promising land in the Orleans Territory? Rumors grew–even including the installation of his daughter, Theodosia, as empress of the seceded land. Growing fears of a conspiracy led to Burr being tried for treason in 1807, with President Thomas Jefferson the driving voice behind the prosecution.
James E. Lewis Jr., associate professor of history at Kalamazoo College, uses the uncertainty about Burr’s intentions in the fall of 1806, and the trouble that followed, to address the role of conspiracy and crisis in the Early Republic’s politics and political culture. He also looks at how biased newspaper reports, partisan politics, the federal government, and notions of honor and gentility played out in the matter of the “chief villain of the Founding Fathers.”
Lewis’ book The Burr Conspiracy: Uncovering the Story of an Early American Crisis (Princeton Press) is available for sale and signing.