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Aaron Burr treason trial
The early 1800's were an unusual time in the history of the United States. A country in its infancy, growing, turbulent, and filled with intrigue where political and economic fortunes were made and lost overnight. While the country was founded on noble ideas---and no doubt these powerful ideas were taken seriously---how such ideas were to be put into practice created fertile ground for personal ambition and interest to be a stronger motivator than the "common good". In fact, at times it appears that the ideas were little more than vehicles for the personal ambitions---and in the case of this story---the personal vendettas of powerful personalities.
Aaron Burr, brilliant, ambitious, and a great orator, was certainly larger than life. And his battles with Thomas Jefferson---no less a dramatic figure---lead finally to his trial for treason against the United States. This trial was the culmination of a personal political battle between two great figures where Jefferson would stop at nothing to destroy Burr...even if it meant abusing the principles that he himself help enshrine as the basis for the United States. This trial, and the preceding events, are the subject of this paper. Reviewing the facts illustrates that the trial was really more about a vendetta between Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr than the law.
Aaron Burr was born in 1756 and was one of the rising stars of the new republic. A rising star many felt was sure to be the President of the young country and to be a distinguished one at that. Burr's conflict with Jefferson began when they tied for the presidential election of 1800. The election then went to the House of Representatives where Burr rejected Federalist overtures for a coalition, but did not publicly support giving the Presidency to Jefferson. Burr felt that an election should not be won through coalitions and he was especially bitter about the idea of working with the Federalists. Burr, arrogant, confident and trusting in the 'rightness' of his position, made no effort to persuade congress to his side. On the other hand, Jefferson quickly established deals with many of the Federalist congressmen to insure their votes and consequently won the presidency. During several depositions following the election it became very clear to the public that Jefferson had worked with the Federalists in order to secure the election. A founder and the leader of the Republicans had, in the end, sided with the opposition in order to insure his own presidential victory. This political maneuvering to ensure his election made Jefferson look opportunistic and self-serving, and left an enduring black spot on his reputation that was never removed. Jefferson directly blamed Burr, and he would distrust and despise Burr for the rest of his life. A close friend of Jefferson even declared, "that this fixed the destiny of Colonel Burr... Mr. Jefferson's malignity toward Colonel Burr never ceased but with his last breathe."
In the end, the election concluded with Jefferson as President and Burr as Vice President. Their personal enmity only grew worse while they were forced to work together in the White House. Jefferson finally ousted Burr from the Republican ticket during his reelection. After this Burr would attempt to run for the governorship of New York, but through clever planning by Alexander Hamilton he would lose this election. This would result in the infamous dual of honor between Burr and Hamilton, in which Hamilton was fatally shot by Burr. Wanted for murder in two states, Burr would then be forced to flee to the west. Thus began the final chapter of his ambitious career.
Burr was almost fifty when he arrived in the West for the first time. He was amazed by the amount of untamed land and openness of the western plains, but was most impressed by the incredible isolation . His natural charm and great oratorical skill would serve him well in this untamed land. His uncanny ability to sway small and large groups alike--in an land where outsized ideas and ambitions seemed the order of the day--would aid him on the road ahead.
Burr came west with no clear idea what to do. He thought he might simply rebuild his legal career, speculate in ... more
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The Goals and Failures of the First and Second Reconstructions
The Goals and Failures of the First and Second Reconstructions
Some people say we've got a lot of malice some say its a lot of nerve. But, I
say we won't quit moving until we get what we deserve. We have been bucked and
we have been conned. We have been treated bad, talked about as just bones. But
just as it takes two eyes to eyes make a pair. Brother we won't quit until we
get our share. Say it loud- I'm Black and I'm Proud.
The First and Second Reconstructions held out the great promise of rectifying
racial injustices in America. The First Reconstruction, emerging out of the
chaos of the Civil War had as its goals equality for Blacks in voting, politics,
and use of public facilities. The Second Reconstruction emerging out of the
booming economy of the 1950's, had as its goals, integration, the end of Jim
Crow and the more amorphous goal of making America a biracial democracy where,
"the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave holders will be able to
sit down together at the table of brotherhood." Even though both movements, were
borne of high hopes they failed in bringing about their goals. Born in hope,
they died in despair, as both movements saw many of their gains washed away. I
propose to examine why they failed in realizing their goals. My thesis is that
failure to incorporate economic justice for Blacks in both movements led to the
failure of the First and Second Reconstruction.
The First Reconstruction came after the Civil War and lasted till 1877. The
political, social, and economic conditions after the Civil War defined the goals
of the First Reconstruction. At this time the Congress was divided politically
on issues that grew out of the Civil War: Black equality, rebuilding the South,
readmitting Southern states to Union, and deciding who would control
government.1 Socially, the South was in chaos. Newly emancipated slaves wandered
the South after having left their former masters, and the White population was
spiritually devastated, uneasy about what lay ahead. Economically, the South was
also devastated: plantations lay ruined, railroads torn up, the system of slave
labor in shambles, and cities burnt down. The economic condition of ex-slaves
after the Civil War was just as uncertain; many had left former masters and
roamed the highways.2
Amid the post Civil War chaos, various political groups were scrambling to
further their agendas. First, Southern Democrats, a party comprised of leaders
of the confederacy and other wealthy Southern whites, sought to end what they
perceived as Northern domination of the South. They also sought to institute
Black Codes, by limiting the rights of Blacks to move, vote, travel, and change
jobs,3 which like slavery, would provide an adequate and cheap labor supply for
plantations. Second, Moderate Republicans wanted to pursue a policy of
reconciliation between North and South, but at the same time ensure slavery was
abolished.4 Third, Radical Republicans, comprised of Northern politicians, were
strongly opposed to slavery, unsympathetic to the South, wanted to protect newly
free slaves, and keep there majority in Congress.5 The fourth political element,
at the end of the Civil War was President Andrew Johnson whose major goal was
unifying the nation. The fifth element were various fringe groups such as,
abolitionists and Quakers. Strongly motivated by principle and a belief in
equality, they believed that Blacks needed equality in American society,
although they differed on what the nature of that should be.6
The Northern Radical Republicans, with a majority in Congress, emerged as the
political group that set the goals for Reconstruction which was to prevent
slavery from rising again in the South. At first, the Radical Republicans
thought this could be accomplished by outlawing slavery with the passage of the
Thirteenth Amendment. But Southern Democrats in their quest to restore their
rule in the South brought back slavery in all but name, by passing Black Codes
as early as 1865. Both Moderate Republicans and Radical Republicans in Congress
reacted. Joining together in 1866, they passed a bill to extend the life and
responsibilities of the Freedmen's Bureau to protect newly freed slaves against
the various Black Codes. President Johnson vetoed the bill, but Radical and
Moderate Republicans eventually were able to pass it.7
The Black Codes and President Johnson's veto of all Reconstruction legislation
that was unfavorable to the South caused Moderate and Radical Republicans to
change their goals from just ending slavery to seeking political equality and
voting ... more
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