Wednesday, November 30, 2005

We Can Be Heroes
an editorial

Number two in a series of editorials discussing real-life and fictional characters that I find important.

You know Washington, Jefferson, Franklin and Adams; but do you recall the most infamous founding father of them all? Aaron Burr is the most compelling figure in ealry American history, in my humble opinion. As we all learned from a milk commercial in the 1990s, Aaron Burr shot Alexander Hamilton in a duel. But Burr was much more than a murderer, he was also the most interesting Vice President in American history.
Long before his infamous duel, Burr was a war hero in the Revolution. Before the Battle of Quebec, Burr disguised himself as a Catholic Priest to sneak across British lines and into Montreal. Later in the war, Burr was said to have saved an entire brigade from capture. Ironically, Hamilton was an officer in that very brigade.
Burr made a name for him in politics and became Vice President after losing to Jefferson in an election that was decided by the House of Representatives after a tie in the Electoral College. After becoming VP, Aaron Burr seemingly slipped into madness; possibly as a result of a stroke he suffered during the war from which he never fully recovered.
It was during his term as VP that the famous duel with Hamilton took place. Hamilton had been talking jive all over town about Burr. Some alleged that Hamilton accused Burr of sleeping with his own daughter. Deeply insulted, Burr demanded that Hamilton take back all insults against his character. When Hamilton refused, Burr decided to man up and challenge Hamilton to a duel under the formal
On the day of the duel, Hamilton decided that he wouldn't fire. Burr obviously didn't. As planned, Hamilton never fired but Burr shot him anyway, fatally damaging his liver. When Burr learned that Hamilton never planned to fire he was quoted as saying, "Contemptable, if true."
After the incident, Burr was charged with murder in New York and New Jersey but was never tried. He fled to South Carolina but returned to Washington D.C. to finish his term as Vice President. Nobody seemed to mind that the Vice President had murdered the former Secretary of Treasury and business went on as usual. Oddly enough, Burr was not asked to serve a second term.
This may seem dry and boring, but consider how insane this would be if it happened today. Imagine if Dick Cheney shot and killed former Secretary of Treasury Robert Rubin and then went right back to work without being tried; what would the media say? But Aaron Burr wouldn't stop with murder, he moved on to treason.
Out of power, broke, and exiled from his home state of New Jersey; Burr went west and got involved in some risky business. Exactly what treasonous scheme he was planning is still uncertain but some claim he was conspiring with a U.S. General on the take with the Spanish to build a new nation in the south and in Texas. Burr purchased large tracts of land in the southern territories of the U.S. and worked with land owners and foreigners to allegedly build a Latin American Empire to rival the United States.
President Jefferson issued a proclamation for Burr's arrest on the charge of treason. Taking the high road, Burr turned himself in to authorities. After an apparent change of heart, Burr jumped bail and fled for Spanish Florida but was captured in Alabama. But the man couldn't keep Burr down; he was acquitted twice on technicalities.
Imagine, once again, our Vice President trying to pull this off. Could he leave office, finance a coup, and then be acquitted? Well, that one may not be so far fetched.
Burr continued his scheming well into old age. At the age of 77, he married a rich widow but after four months, when found out that she wouldn't be inheriting as much as he had anticipated, he left her. On the month of their first anniversary, Burr's wife sued him for divorce. The divorce was granted on the day of Burr's death and in a cruel, ironic twist of fate, Burr was served his divorce papers on his death bed by none other than the son of Alexander Hamilton. A bitter end to a life dedicated to infamy.
Aaron Burr, to me, is an American original. He takes me back to a simpler time when politicians were respected men in the community and could do wrong; a time before corruption and partisan politics destroyed our trust in government. So until Cheney, or some future VP, flips out and decides to start taking out political rivals in shoot-outs, Aaron Burr will remain the most interesting Vice President this country has ever seen.

1 comment:

Hiro Kawabunga said...

HONORABLE MENTION: Fyodor Dostoevsky

Although I used to think this guy was boring as Holy Hell, during some recent research I learned that he wrote Crime and Punishment in hurry to get an advance from a publisher to pay off gambling debts. History is fun.