Sunday, June 3, 2007

"Fallen Founder - The Life of Aaron Burr"

While hardly a scholar of the Revolutionary Era, I am well read in that time-frame. My small library includes biographies of Washington, Adams, Franklin, Madison, Monroe, Marshall, and several of Jefferson. Jefferson, despite his flaws, remains one of my chief historical heroes, and I have been to Monticello twice as a result.

In most portraits of the Revolutionary Era, Aaron Burr comes off as a villain. He is the conniver in the Election of 1800, the murderer of Alexander Hamilton and the treasonous adventurer of the western lands. None of these portrayals are accurate, and Nancy Isenberg does a marvelous job of correcting the record in her "Fallen Founder - The Life of Aaron Burr."

Burr had his faults; he was sexually active, he was a politician in all its definitions, he did duel with Hamilton, and he did connive to take actions in the west. However, he was also a brilliant legal and political mind, who was ahead of his time on women's, voting and middle class rights. He often was a voice of moderation. In 1800, Isenberg shows a man who did not attempt to steal the presidency, but instead remained true to Jefferson throughout the ordeal.

While Burr was sexually active, he was no more so than many others of his time. While he did kill Hamilton in a duel the record shows Hamilton unwilling to apologize for defaming Burr's character and Burr giving him ample opportunity to retract the remarks.

Much written about Burr in that time was slanderous; the product of fear by his rivals for control over the New York power base and, nationally, control between Virginia and New York.

Even his western adventures are inaccurately portrayed. He never seemed to have any intentions to split the nation or scheme against the government. In fact, his goals centered on conquering Spanish lands held in the west on behalf of the United States; a not uncommon goal of many, as later history would show.

Lastly, Burr was a brilliant legal mind. Isenberg clearly displays this in her book.

All in all, Burr had faults, as did all of the founders. And yet, he was a man of many virtues and strengths, too; often missing from history's telling. I highly recommend Nancy Isenberg's "Fallen Founder - The Life of Aaron Burr," if you wish to get the fuller picture of the man.

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