AARON BURR: Conspiracy to Treason

Buckner F. Melton, Jr., Author
Buckner F. Melton, Jr., Author Wiley $27.95 (288p) ISBN 978-0-471-39209-5
Reviewed on: 10/22/2001
Release date: 11/01/2001
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Aaron Burr's contemporaries did not think very highly of him. Alexander Hamilton, who could not know how prescient he was, called the vice president "a dangerous man, and one not to be trusted with the reins of the government." John Adams exclaimed that Burr was an "encouragement to party intrigue, and corruption!" Others referred to him as a "modern Machiavelli." And Burr, as Melton shows, had little trouble living up to his reputation. Feeling spurned by his own partner in office, President Jefferson, who indeed had little affection for him, Burr set out to make his own fortune by conspiring to unite the territory west of the Mississippi and secede from the United States. Plotting elaborately, Burr tried to play the English government against the U.S. and manipulated the Spanish government in an attempt to gain access to its western territory. But Burr's reputation had long preceded him, and both the British and the Spanish, as well as numerous would-be supporters like Andrew Jackson, turned Burr in to Jefferson as a traitor. Although Burr was never convicted of treason, he left the U.S. soon after his highly publicized trial and died a broken and lonely man. Melton, a professor of law at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, provides a scintillating blow-by-blow account of Burr's treason trial, introducing players like Judge John Marshall who were to become key figures in the history of U.S. jurisprudence. Drawing on the rich documentary history of the Burr conspiracy case, he weaves a spellbinding tale of betrayal and intrigue against the backdrop of a new nation struggling to define its laws and its geographical boundaries. Maps and illus. (Nov. 30)

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