We all have that one friend, the one who is super creative and fun to have around, always coming up with cool ideas and causing you to occasionally question his or her sanity. You know, the person that just takes an idea and runs a little too far with it. This friend does the most in every situation and can’t be talked out of any crazy idea ever. Aaron Burr, 19th-century American politician and third vice president of America, was that friend.
Yes, I agree that the name “Aaron Burr” sounds like just another name from your history class, the guy who basically does nothing and is happy to just have his name mentioned once in a textbook.
Well, we are both wrong (shocking, I know). Aaron Burr was no average politician. Some of you might know of Burr from the popular Broadway musical, Hamilton. However, I bet you don’t know about his legendary life filled with excitement, failure, and intrigue which started as average and took a dramatic, somewhat villainous turn. While he may not be the most incredible role model, Burr is proof that you can never count someone out of history. His life is also just too interesting not to give tribute to. Here are the reasons why:
#1. Political Career: A series of unfortunate events
If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again...or in the case of Aaron burr, try try try try try try again. It is almost humorous how many times and how many different ways Aaron Burr tried to get into office. He ran and ran, but the people just were feeling him. Finally he was appointed attorney general by the New York Governor George Clinton. From there he won a seat in state legislature. Was his career finally on the upswing? No way. After serving a six-year term, he was not re-elected. Fortunately, Aaron Burr never. gives. up. He started to organize the Democratic Party in New York City, and finally got his big break running for president on the Democratic ticket against Thomas Jefferson. Unfortunately, but no surprise, that didn’t work out too well for him either.
#2. Scandal! Burr Marries a Woman 10 Years Older than Him.
It began as an illicit affair. Burr was a young, handsome (ok, yes this is subjective, gosh) soldier. Her name was Theodosia Bartow Prevost, and she was the wife of a powerful officer in the British Army, with whom she had five kids. She was also 10 years older than Burr, something unheard of at that time. They shouldn’t, they couldn’t be together. But their love was too strong. They openly became lovers and when her husband died, Theodosia robbed the cradle (ok I could have just said she “married Burr”, but which sounded cooler, huh?) Scandal!
#3. Burr Becomes Vice President in a Historic Tie
So Burr is running for president of the United States! His hard work is finally paying off. His dreams are coming true! Oh, wait, nope. At this time, electors would cast two votes for president instead of one. The person who received the most votes would become President, and the runner-up would become Vice President. Thus, Burr and Jefferson found themselves part of a dramatic tie for office. It was left up to the House of Representatives to choose between the two. At first, Burr graciously deferred the Presidency to Jefferson. However, when Jefferson supporters urged Burr to publicly declare that he would not accept the office, Burr got angry. He quickly released a statement saying that no honorable man would decline the presidency nor declare himself unfit for the position. And he certainly considered himself to be an honorable man. Thus began a bitter battle for the Presidency. In the end, Burr’s track record of misfortunes continued, and he became Vice President to Jefferson. As you can imagine, the two did not get along all too well.
#4. Burr Engages in an Intense, Long-Standing Feud with Alexander Hamilton
As mentioned above, Burr became heavily involved in the Democratic Party and was chosen to run for the Democratic nomination against Thomas Jefferson. The vote was tied between them. Deadlock. So how did Jefferson win? Alexander Hamilton. Famous for his involvement with the constitutional convention and his successful political career, Hamilton used his immense political power to sway the vote in Jefferson’s favor. And you can bet your bottom dollar that Burr was bitter. He blamed Hamilton for the vast failures of his political career. Thus began a long-standing feud between Hamilton and Burr, which would be resolved one fateful July night in 1804.
#5. Scandal Part 2
Sadly, Burr’s wife Theodosia died of stomach cancer in 1794. Luckily, Burr had his mistress to keep him company. Their affair was dramatic for several reasons. First, the other woman, Mary Emmons, was Theodosia’s maidservant! While this was probably more common that we would like to think, it was still greatly frowned upon. On top of this Emmons was of East Indian descent. Having an affair with an Indian, unfortunately, was also considered a dastardly deed. Finally, while he and Theodosia were married, Burr fathered not one, but two illegitimate children with Emmons. Poor Theodosia. Burr would not marry again until the ripe old age of 77. Classic.
#6 Burr Challenges Hamilton to a Duel
Here it is. The moment you have been waiting for. You are all like, “I know about this!”, and I’m all like “Well let me tell you more!” to which you are hopefully all like “Please do!” (Just go with me here, ok?) So Burr hates Hamilton for kind of causing him to lose the election against Jefferson. They have an intense feud. Burr decides to take action. He challenges Hamilton, his nemesis, to a duel or as he called it, an “affair of honor”. A bold move for Burr. Duels as such were common at the time, and the complexity of their rules usually led to the honorable resolution before any weapons were fired. The enemies met a 7:00 a.m. at the dueling grounds near Weehawken, NJ, weapons raised. There are conflicting stories about what actually happened that morning. Those in favor of Hamilton say that at the last second, he decided the duel was morally wrong and intentionally fired his gun into the air. Burr’s fans, however, argue that Hamilton fired at Burr and missed. Either way, a bullet entered Alexander Hamilton’s stomach, killing him. The nation was outraged at Burr for murdering such an influential man. You would think Burr would give up here, cut his losses, run and hide, live the life of a recluse, you know, things a normal person would do. But no! Burr decides to take it up a notch. He’s got nothing to lose, right? Wrong.
#7. Burr Conspires to Create His Own Empire To Rule
Yeah, you read that right. Following his unfortunate duel with Hamilton, Burr was discredited. People hated him a lot. So what does Burr do? He goes rogue. Burr begins conspiring with the commander of the U.S. Army to seize the Louisiana Territory. Yes, again, you read that right: the WHOLE Louisiana Territory to create an independent empire. Burr would be the emperor (of course) and lead his empire into violent battles for more power and territory until finally, they would take over the world...or something like that? He was crazy, ok?! Anyway, Burr definitely tried to make this happen. But, as we already know, he is not the most fortunate man.
#8. Burr Sails Around Europe Trying to Get Support for His Revolution
Burr is trying really hard to get this Empire thing going. All he needs is money, people to rule over, oh and an empire! No big deal. So he starts to travel around, searching for support and funding. He gets none. He even reaches out to Napoleon, who, unsurprisingly, is not interested. By this point, Burr has no money. He is so poor that he cannot even get home! Finally, he hitches a ride on a French ship, but of course, with Burr’s luck, the ship gets captured by the British and he gets detained. (Hahaha, the misfortunes just don’t end for Burr, do they?). BUT NOTHING WILL STOP HIM. When he eventually gets back, he attempts again to gain support for the empire, this time in Spanish America. And of course, he is unsuccessful.
#9. Burr is Accused of Treason
The federal government eventually finds out about Burr’s crazy conspiracy plot (took them long enough). As to be expected with his track record, he is ratted out by his partner, who accepts a plea deal, and Burr is charged with treason and sentenced to death. BUT THEN (you’re gonna want to sit down) SOMETHING DECENT HAPPENS TO BURR. He is released on a legal technicality! Is his life on the upswing? Maybe, except that everyone still hates his guts and wants him dead. So it’s kind of the same situation as before. A series of misfortunate events.
#10. Burr’s has an Illegitimate Son..and it's Martin Van Buren?
This one is kind of random, but I felt that I HAD to include it. It’s just an incredible theory: Burr may have been the father of an illegitimate son who would become President, Martin Van Buren. Burr certainly fathered several children out of wedlock, so it would not be all that surprising if he had an illegitimate son given his enthusiasm for women. In fact, in his later life, he raised two young men in his home who many presumed to be illegitimate sons. Burr and Van Buren were 26 years apart. They were friends and often associated together on legal cases in New York City. Both were small men who cared largely about their appearances and apparently looked somewhat alike. Each also had an affinity for political scheming and devious behavior. While there is no solid proof of this theory, knowing Burr, I would not be surprised. Would you?