Monday, January 2, 2017

New Year, New Goals and a Video on Burr

In 2017, my goal is to refrain from writing new books, but to spend more time promoting the books I have already written or published. I also plan to support and promote the work of other writers, dead or alive, whose contributions I value.

With that in mind, I would like to share this video from the year 2000 of  Roger G. Kennedy talking about his book  Burr, Hamilton, and Jefferson: A Study in Character.

The video takes an hour to watch, and I hope you will set aside that time to watch it. For me, highlights from Kennedy's talk include his mention of the following points:

  • at the time when Burr was successfully campaigning as an abolitionist, free blacks and women who owned property could vote in the state where Burr was soliciting their vote.
  • when Burr suggested to Jefferson that women should be allowed to hold high office, Jefferson wrote back that this was something for which neither the public nor he himself were prepared.
  • while Burr was promiscuous and insolvent -- vices he shared with Hamilton and Jefferson -- he was never mean or cruel to anyone. 
  • Hamilton projected onto Burr all his own issues, and he used Burr as a means to commit suicide.
  • Burr was a war hero as soon as the war began and preferred to serve in active combat than on George Washington's staff -- for which Washington never forgave him.
  • Thomas Jefferson personally indicted Aaron Burr of treason. There was no grand jury. There was no inquiry or investigation. It was the one and only presidential indictment in American history.
  • Burr was tried for treason three times, and all three juries acquitted him. One of those juries also indicted Jefferson for even bringing such baseless charges against Burr.
  • People remember the charges leveled at Burr more than they remember the outcome of the cases brought against him
  • The second historian was a revisionist. Any true historian looks for the truth, rather than repeating what someone else has written about the past.
Roger G. Kennedy was a great and engaging speaker, as well as a persuasive and scholarly writer. He died in 2011. When asked in the year  2000 what contemporary politician reminded him of Burr, he said "Adlai Stevenson." This rather startled me. For one thing, I don't even think of Adlai Stevenson as contemporary. For another, the man was a progressive Democrat  -- not my cup of tea. But Roger Kennedy was on Dwight D. Eisenhauer's campaign staff, so Stevenson was a contemporary of his. And Kennedy also worked for Bill Clinton, so he seems to have been quite versatile, ideologically speaking.

Realizing that I am well out of my depth in evaluating Kennedy's life and politics, I nevertheless submit that he has made a meaningful contribution to Aaron Burr scholarship. For this I commend him. 


  1. I definitely want to watch the video, so maybe sometime tomorrow when no one is home so I can focus on it.

    1. Hi, Julia. I do hope you get a chance to watch the video. If you do, please come back and share your impressions of it.