Who Was Aaron Burr?
Aaron Burr was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1791. In 1800, he ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. presidency, and became vice president instead. During a duel in 1804, Burr killed Alexander Hamilton. In 1807, he was charged with conspiracy, which ruined his political career. In 1812, he rebuilt his law practice.
Aaron Burr was born in Newark, New Jersey, on February 6, 1756, to a long line of English gentry who had been active in politics. Burr's father was a Presbyterian minister and the president of the College of New Jersey. After the loss of both of his parents, Burr and his sister went to live with their wealthy maternal uncle.
In 1769, at the age of 13, Burr enrolled at the College of New Jersey, graduating summa cum laude in only three years.
Military and Law
After graduating from the College of New Jersey, Burr began attending Litchfield Law School in Connecticut. His studies were soon put on hold, however, with the start of the Revolutionary War.
As a revolutionary soldier, Burr joined Benedict Arnold's men in their expedition to Quebec. By the spring of 1776, Burr had achieved the rank of major, and was appointed to serve under George Washington at his home in New York. He eventually transferred to the staff of General Israel Putnam, under whom he fulfilled an array of posts until he retired from his commission in 1779.
The following year, Burr returned to studying law. In 1782, he became a licensed attorney and was admitted to the bar. After opening a successful private practice in Albany, New York, Burr moved to New York City, where he would spend the next six years practicing law. In 1789, he was appointed attorney general of New York.
Just after passing the bar, Burr married a widow named Theodosia Prevost. In 1783, Theodosia gave birth to the couple's only child, a daughter who was named after her mother. Burr and the elder Theodosia would remain happily married until her death in 1794. Later, in 1812, Burr would experience the tragic loss of his daughter, who was killed in a shipwreck.
Burr would not remarry until he was 77 years old.
In 1791, Burr beat General Philip Schuyler, Hamilton's father-in-law, for a seat in the U.S. Senate. This marked the onset of an ongoing rivalry between Burr and Hamilton. After six years in the Senate, Burr lost re-election to Schuyler. Bitter about the loss, Burr blamed Hamilton for ruining his reputation and turning voters against him.
In 1800, Burr ran for the U.S. presidency with Thomas Jefferson. Because they each received the same amount of electoral votes, members of the House of Representatives were left to determine the winner. When the House met to discuss the election, Burr's rival, Hamilton, vocalized his support for Jefferson and his disapproval of Burr. In the end, Jefferson secured the presidency and Burr became vice president under the Democratic-Republican Party. Burr was incensed, believing that Hamilton had manipulated the vote in Jefferson's favor.
Duel With Alexander Hamilton
Nearing the end of his term as vice president, Burr ran for the governorship of New York but lost. Again, he blamed Hamilton for besmirching him as a candidate, and, eager to defend his honor, challenged Hamilton to a duel. Hamilton accepted, and the face-off took place on the morning of July 11, 1804; it ended when Burr shot Hamilton to death. The public was outraged. Burr fled New York and New Jersey but eventually returned to Washington, D.C. where he completed his term safe from prosecution. The indictments in the case never reached trial.
In 1807, Burr was brought to trial on charges of conspiracy and high misdemeanor, for leading a military charge against Spanish territory and for trying to separate territories from the United States. Chief Justice John Marshall acquitted Burr on the treason charge and eventually revoked his misdemeanor indictment, but the conspiracy scandal left Burr's political career in ruins.
Burr spent the four years following his trial traveling throughout Europe, attempting unsuccessfully to garner support for revolutionizing Mexico and freeing the Spanish colonies.
Admitting defeat, in 1812, Burr returned to the United States. Utterly broke, he attempted to rebuild his law practice in New York with moderate success. By 1830, he had grown dependent on his friends' financial support. Three years later, Burr married a wealthy widow, Eliza Jumel, but the marriage didn't last. Following the divorce, Burr suffered multiple strokes that left him partially paralyzed. He died under the care of his cousin on September 14, 1836, in the city of Port Richmond on Staten Island, New York.
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