There are many villains throughout American History. Those villains are always compared to each other to figure out exactly who is the number one bad guy in American History. Many names come to mind: Benedict Arnold, Julius & Ethel Rosenberg, Timothy McVeigh, John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald and so on. There is one name however that is always amongst that list although he's on that list for the wrong reason. That name is Aaron Burr. Aaron Burr is most famous for killing Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton, but to our surprise, that is actually not the worst thing Burr did. So what could be worse then killing a member of the Presidential cabinet? Well it would involve a backdoor deal, raising his own army, siding with an enemy and trying to establish a new nation.
Well, we can't mention Aaron Burr and not mention his duel with Alexander Hamilton. The duel took place on July the 11th of 1804 in Weehawken, New Jersey. The cause was simple; the two men didn't like each other. Vice President Burr and former Secretary of the Treasury Hamilton had a long ongoing political feud. The tipping point came during the New York Gubernatorial Race of 1804. Hamilton blasted Burr in the New York papers as being incompetent for the job, mainly because Burr had beaten Hamilton's father-in-law in the previous Senate election. However, the duel was just not personal but also was political, it would be the last battle between the Democrat-Republicans and the Federalists. In the Presidential election of 1800, Hamilton's political strength and power of persuasion would cause Burr to become Vice President and not President. This would then push Burr out of the Presidential campaign of 1804 and into the New York Gubernatorial race against Hamilton. Burr even had to run as an Independent in the race because Hamilton, a Federalist, supported and financed another Democrat-Republican, Morgan Lewis, just in spite of Burr. So there was only one way to settle this personal and political feud: a duel! The duel was set and happened, however a little known fact about the duel is that Hamilton's son actually died while partaking in a duel in Weehawken ten years prior. It was because of this that Hamilton swore off dueling and only accepted to keep his honor. Burr on the other hand loved to duel, being a veteran of several. Now, everyone knows the story of how Hamilton aimed away but Burr set his sights right onto Hamilton and fired, fatally wounding Hamilton. So what could be worse than killing a former Secretary of Treasury and most likely a future Presidential candidate? Well Burr's next move of course.
But how could Burr be demonized even more? Hamilton's death ended Burr's political career, Burr was charged with murder in both New Jersey and New York. He fled to his daughter's home in South Carolina to escape the ongoing investigations and threats made against him. He would return to Washington D.C. and finish his term as the Vice President. He was said to have finished his work with dignity and honor. His farewell speech was said to be "heartfelt and would even move his harshest critics to tears." But what was next for Burr? A new celebrity lifestyle? A reclusive private life? A political educator? Well it is actual none of these but instead he tried to start his own nation. Now that doesn't sound that bad, but what if I told you the land he tried to start his new nation already belonged to the United States, now that is pretty bad. Burr would lead a group of men, farmers, politicians, military and so on out west in hopes of establishing a new nation, one in which Burr could fulfill his dreams of becoming President.
Aaron Burr had this grand idea that he could head west and obtain land, cultivate it, establish communities and thus create his own nation, "Burrsburg" (Made that one up, sorry). But how? Well, Burr being the politico that he was, saw on oncoming conflict with the United States and Spain, now that the U.S. held the Louisiana Territory there was the growing tension between the two nations on the frontier. Burr planned on leasing the eastern part of the Texas Territory from the Spanish with the hopes that the Gulf coast region would join his new nation, Burrland (Again just making these names up as I go along). Burr agreed with the Spanish government that if a war was ever to break out between the U.S. and Spain, Burr's new nation of Burrmerica would side and fight with Spain against the U.S. Now as if siding with Spain wasn't bad enough Burr then pulled a Benedict Arnold. That's right as if he couldn't make things any worse for his reputation, Burr sought a deal with those limey British bastards! The deal had been in the works for years by this time. When Vice President, Burr tried to strike a deal which involved British supplying arms and money for Burr's southwestern expedition. In exchange Burr offered use of the port of New Orleans as home for the Royal Navy. Even after his time as V.P., Burr still tried to get British aid in support of his new nation. However, The Brits had no real interest in Burr or his idea. But what was next? Burr really had no support and no funds to start up Burrmany. So he did what all good politicians do and that is to go grass roots campaigning.
After Burr realized the Brits could care less about his cause, he packed up his things and hit the old campaign trail. He traveled throughout the Louisiana Territory looking for men to join his cause but more importantly financial supporters. His key supporter was Harman Blennerhassett, a lawyer from West Virginia, who not only funded Burr's cause but supplied Burr his own private island from which he could establish his new nation. Burr also gained a large support from a New Orleans group, The Mexican Associates whose main goal was to take over Mexico, another war in which Burr pledged his and his armies support to. Burr's campaign was picking up not only support, but national recognition. It was reported in 1805 that Burr was not only growing an army but planned on forming a new and separate government. Needless to say his support died down and this forced Burr to seek help from elsewhere. So he tried the British and they bailed on him, he lost his grass roots support so he sought out support from the Spanish, his hopefully forgotten ally. The Spanish had a growing wary about the United States' westward expansion, so those in North America did see Burr's idea as a solid option. Unfortunately for Burr, the Spanish government didn't feel the same way and only offered him a few thousand dollars as seed money and then nothing more after. So now that Burr had some money and a few supports, it was time to start his secession from the Union. However, it would be one of Burr's closest partners that would put an end to the creation of a Burrtopiea.
Say hello to Jimmy "The Snitch" Wilkinson. Wilkinson was one of Burr's top guys, a veteran of the Revolutionary War, two time Commanding General of the U.S. Army and Governor of the Louisiana Territory. Oh and by the way the reason he was Governor of Louisiana was because his good buddy Aaron Burr appointed him the position. In 1806, Burr met with Blennerhasset and began to gather and inventory the supplies and enlist and house men on Blennerhasset Island. The Ohio Governor was worried about the amount of supplies and men Burr had and sent in the Ohio Militia to seize the island and its contents. Burr and Blennerhasset escaped and headed down the Mississippi River to New Orleans. It would be in New Orleans that Wilkinson would have men and supplies ready for Burr to retake the island and begin to show their strength. Unfortunately for Burr, Wilkinson ratted him out to President Jefferson which ultimately led to Burr's arrest. Burr then faced trial for treason and was found not guilty due to lack of evidence. Burr actually denied every piece of evidence they use to prove he was trying to start a new nation and his own army. Burr was acquitted of all charges and released. But it was too late for him and his political life was officially over not only in America but across the globe. He tried his had at politics in both England and France which resulted in failure. His finance were in shambles and he continuously changed his name to avoid paying his debts. Burr died in 1836 on Staten Island as a poor debtor that the U.S. had forgotten about.
But Burr has been getting a bum rap for the last 200 years. Aaron Burr has achieved much more then many other people we see as heroes. First, he is a Revolutionary War veteran. He took part in the invasion of Quebec, fought in the Battle of Monmouth and was involved in several other key events of the Revolution. Second, he was a Vice President and during that he was also President of the Senate. During this time Burr oversaw the first impeachment trial in American History. Third, he was New York State Attorney General and a U.S. Senator. Four, and most famously he killed Alexander Hamilton. So how can that be a good thing? Well, if you know your history, it was actually Hamilton that blasted Burr in the public forums of the day and it was mostly unprovoked. Sure they were political enemies but it was also Hamilton who shot his mouth off constantly. Burr had every right to change Hamilton to that duel and had every right to take that shot, I mean come on, it was a duel. Fifth, Burr embodies America. How, you may ask? Well he is a war hero and a defender of Independence, I mean that was the whole point of him starting his own nation. The people on the frontier and Louisiana Territory felt neglected by Washington D.C. and Burr was a advocate of Independence and was a believer in the Spirit of '76. So, actually what Burr did can be compared exactly to the Founding Father, Civil Rights leaders and who knows, even Occupy Wall Street protestors to some extent. Finally, the last example of why Burr is on his way to becoming a good guy is that Burr is on the ballot for the 2012 New Jersey Hall of Fame. That is right, the "Newark Nightmare" Aaron Burr, who was born and raised in the Garden State is about to be given that states highest honor. He'll be right up there with Edison, Sinatra, Springsteen, Lombardi, Schwarzkopf and the rest of the great New Jerseyites. So in the end, we see Burr as a man who defends his honor to the death and defends the ideas and ethics of America. All in all Burr's reputation will and should change for the better, hopefully I shed a little light on Burr, his achievements and his life.