Aaron Burr (1756-1836)
Aaron Burr was a successful and important politician, infamous for his involvement in the death of Alexander Hamilton. He was born in New Jersey, the son of a Presbyterian cleric and grandson of theologian Jonathan Edwards, but after studying theology for two years he turned instead to the practice of law. After serving in the Continental Army, he began to organize the Democratic Party in New York and eventually ran for president against Thomas Jefferson in 1800. The two candidates received an equal number of electoral votes, and fellow New Yorker Alexander Hamilton lent his support to Jefferson. Jefferson won the presidency and Burr became Vice President. Burr’s animosity for Hamilton grew when, in 1804, Burr ran for governor of New York and lost. He blamed his loss on Hamilton’s political maneuvering.
Burr claimed to be offended by remarks attributed to Hamilton, and he challenged Hamilton to a duel. On July 11, 1804, they met in the early morning at Weehawken, New Jersey. Hamilton and Burr both fired one shot. Hamilton’s bullet missed its mark, but Burr’s struck Hamilton in the hip. Mortally wounded, Hamilton died the next day. Burr was charged with murder but was never brought to trial. Stop by and take our Constitution knowledge duel inspired by Hamilton and Burr's famous duel.
After the duel Burr went south to New Orleans. At the time, the Spanish were conspiring for control of the Mississippi valley. Burr allegedly made plans with James Wilkinson, the governor of the Louisiana Territory, to support a rebeliion. He was arrested and charged with treason – he was accused of attempting to establish an independent republic in the Southwest. John Marshall presided over his Virginia trial. Burr was acquitted in the first application of the Constitution’s provisions for the crime of treason.