Who was Aaron Burr Jr.? (February 6, 1756 – September 14, 1836)


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Aaron Burr Jr. (February 6, 1756 – September 14, 1836), the third vice president of the United States, serving from 1801 to 1805. Burr had received the same number of electoral votes as Thomas Jefferson in the presidential race of 1800, but Jefferson eventually won, largely due to political pressure from Burr’s enemy, Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton’s continued public attacks on Burr led to a duel in July of 1804, in which Burr killed Hamilton. This, compounded by allegations of Burr’s treasonous plans for the American Southwest, led to his political ruin.

Burr was born in Newark, New Jersey, on February 6, 1756, and educated at the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University), of which his father had been president. He joined the Continental army in 1775 and rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel. Retiring in 1779 because of ill health, he was admitted to the bar in New York City in 1782 and achieved a reputation as one of the foremost lawyers of that city. Burr was appointed attorney general of New York in 1789 and served as U.S. senator from 1791 to 1797. He was a leader of the old Republican party, which later became the Democratic-Republican party, a position that brought Burr into conflict with his professional rival, the Federalist leader Alexander Hamilton.

In the presidential election of 1800 Burr ran with the Republican candidate Thomas Jefferson. Each received the same number of votes in the electoral college, and, according to Article II, Section 2, of the U.S. Constitution, the election was decided by the House of Representatives, which chose Jefferson as president and Burr vice president. In 1804 Burr failed to win renomination as vice president and also failed to win the governorship of New York State because of the forceful opposition of Hamilton. Hamilton for years had attacked Burr publicly and privately, and Burr eventually challenged him to a duel. They fought in Weehawken, New Jersey, on July 11, 1804. Hamilton was killed, and Burr was discredited.

He then became involved in a scheme that made his political recovery hopeless. The so-called Burr conspiracy still remains a mystery, because no one knows what Burr’s intentions were. He purchased land in the newly acquired Louisiana Territory and apparently planned to invade Spanish territory if, as expected, war developed between Spain and the U.S. His plan, allegedly, was either to establish a separate republic in the Southwest or to seize land in Spanish America. The American soldier James Wilkinson, one of Burr’s close associates in the project, denounced him to Jefferson, who had Burr arrested. Burr was indicted for treason, but after a six-month trial in Richmond, Virginia, he was acquitted on September 1, 1807.

Burr  went to Europe and tried to enlist European assistance for his schemes. He spent some years there, often in great financial distress, and returned to New York City in 1812 to practice law. His daughter Theodosia, who had remained loyal to her father throughout his career, was lost at sea while on her way to meet him. In 1833 he married a wealthy widow, Eliza Brown Jumel; within a year she divorced him because of his financial demands. Burr died on September 14, 1836, in Port Richmond, Staten Island, New York.

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