Aaron Burr, Jr. was born February 6, 1756 in Newark, New Jersey.
He had a sister Sally that was one year old.
His father Aaron Burr, Sr. was a Presbyterian minister and the second president of the College of New Jersey.
Then in 1756, just after his son was born, the College and the Burr family moved to Princeton, New Jersey. Today the college is known as Princeton University.
In the fall of 1757, his father Aaron Burr, Sr. died of fever, believed to have been brought on or aggravated by overwork. His remains were interred in the President’s Lot at Princeton Cemetery.
His mother died seven months later, orphaning his three-year-old daughter Sally and the two-year-old Aaron.
Aaron and Sally went to live with the William Shippen family in Philadelphia.
In 1759, the children’s guardianship was assumed by their 21-year-old uncle Timothy Edwards.
The next year, Edwards married Rhoda Ogden and moved to Elizabeth, New Jersey. Rhoda’s younger brothers Aaron and Matthias became the Aaron Burr’s playmates.
The three boys, along with Jonathan Dayton, their neighbor, formed a group that lasted their entire lifetimes.
After being rejected once, Aaron Burr was admitted to his father’s College of New Jersey at the age of 13.
Aside from being occupied with intensive studies, he was a part of the American Whig Society and Cliosophic Society, the 2 clubs the college had to offer at the time.
He received his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1772.
Aaron then studied theology for an additional year, before rigorous theological training with Joseph Bellamy, a Presbyterian.
Yet again, he changed his career path two years later and began the study of law with his brother-in-law Reeve.
When, in 1775, news reached Litchfield of the clashes with British troops at Lexington and Concord, Burr’s studies were put on hold while he went to join the Continental Army.
General Israel Putnam took the young Aaron Burr under his wing; and by his vigilance in the retreat from lower Manhattan to Harlem, Aaron saved an entire brigade (including Alexander Hamilton, who was one of its officers) from capture after the British landing on Manhattan.
In a stark departure from common practice, George Washington failed to commend Burr’s actions in the next day’s General Orders (the fastest way to obtain a promotion in rank). Although Burr was already a nationally known hero, he never received a commendation. According to Burr’s stepbrother Mathias Ogden, Burr was infuriated by the incident, which may have led to the eventual estrangement between him and Washington.
On becoming a lieutenant colonel in July 1777, Burr assumed virtual leadership of Malcolm’s Additional Continental Regiment. There were approximately 300 men under Colonel William Malcolm’s nominal command. The regiment successfully fought off many nighttime raids into central New Jersey by British troops sailing over from Manhattan. Later that year, during the harsh winter encampment at Valley Forge, Burr was put in charge of a small contingent guarding “the Gulf”, an isolated pass commanding one approach to the camp. Burr imposed discipline there, defeating an attempted mutiny by some of the troops.
On June 28, 1778, at the Battle of Monmouth, Burr’s regiment was devastated by British artillery, and in the day’s heat, Burr suffered heat stroke. In January 1779 Burr, in command of Malcolm’s Regiment, was assigned to Westchester County, a region between the British post at Kingsbridge and that of the Americans about 15 miles to the north. In this district, part of the larger command of General Alexander McDougall, there was much turbulence and plundering by lawless bands of both patriot and Loyalist sympathizers, and by raiding parties of ill-disciplined soldiers from both armies.
Aaron Burr resigned from the Continental Army in March 1779 due to his continuing bad health and renewed his study of law. Though technically no longer in the service, he remained active in the war: he was assigned by General Washington to perform occasional intelligence missions for Continental generals such as Arthur St. Clair, and on July 5, 1779, he rallied a group of Yale students at New Haven along with Capt. James Hillhouse and the Second Connecticut Governors Foot Guard, in a skirmish with the British at the West River. The British advance was repulsed, forcing them to enter New Haven from Hamden.
Despite these activities, Burr was able to finish his studies and was admitted to the bar at Albany in 1782. He began to practice in New York City after the British evacuated the city the following year.
Also in 1782, Aaron Burr married Theodosia Bartow Prevost, a widow with five children who was ten years his senior. The Burrs lived, for the next several years, in a house on Wall Street.
Aaron Burr served in the New York State Assembly from 1784 to 1785, but became seriously involved in politics in 1789, when George Clinton appointed him New York State Attorney General. He was also Commissioner of Revolutionary War Claims in 1791. In 1791, he was elected a U.S. Senator from New York, defeating the incumbent, General Philip Schuyler, and served there until 1797. He ran for Vice President in the 1796 election, coming in fourth with 30 votes behind John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Thomas Pinckney. (At the time members of the electoral college cast two ballots but did not specify an office. The first place finisher became President and the runner up Vice President.) This came as shock to Burr as he was convinced that he had arranged with Jefferson’s supporters for them to vote for Jefferson and Burr, in exchange for Burr working to obtain New York’s electoral votes for Jefferson. But instead, many Democratic-Republican electors voted for Jefferson and no one else, or for Jefferson and a candidate other than Burr.
Bored with the inactivity of the new U.S. Senate, Burr ran for and was elected to the New York State Assembly, serving from 1798 through 1799.
In 1800, Jefferson and Burr were again candidates for President and Vice President, and Jefferson ran with Burr in exchange for Burr working to obtain New York’s electoral votes for Jefferson.
At the time, New York presidential electors were to be chosen by the state legislature as they had been in 1796 (for John Adams). The State Assembly was controlled by the Federalists going into the April 1800 legislative elections. In the city of New York, assembly members were to be selected on an at-large basis. Burr and Hamilton were the key campaigners for their respective parties. Burr’s Republican slate of assemblymen for New York City was elected, gaining control of the legislature and in due course giving New York’s electoral votes to Jefferson and helping to win the 1800 presidential election for him.
Aaron Burr became the third Vice President during Thomas Jefferson’s first term as President.
Vice President of the United States
The highlight of Aaron Burr’s tenure as President of the Senate (one of his few official duties as Vice President) was the Senate’s first impeachment trial, of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase.
Burr – Hamilton Duel
In 1804, the last full year of his single term as Vice President, Aaron Burr killed his political rival Alexander Hamilton in a famous duel.
Burr was never tried for the illegal duel, and all charges against him were eventually dropped.
The death of Hamilton, however, ended Burr’s political career.
President Jefferson dropped him from the ticket for the 1804 presidential election, and he never held office again.
After leaving Washington, Aaron traveled west seeking new opportunities, both economic and political.
Aaron had leased some 40,000 acres of land—known as the Bastrop Tract—along the Ouachita River, in what is now Louisiana and Texas, from the Spanish government.
His most important contact was General James Wilkinson, Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Army at New Orleans and Governor of the Louisiana Territory.
Aaron Burr soon realized war with Spain was a distinct possibility.
He decided to launch an expedition of about eighty men to settle what he considered to be his leased land. Then if war broke out with Spain, he would have an army with which to fight and claim this land for himself.
Burr met with Harman Blennerhassett, who proved valuable in helping him further his plan. He provided friendship, support, and most importantly, access to the island which he owned on the Ohio River, about 2 miles below what is now Parkersburg, West Virginia.
Blennerhassett also offered to provide Burr with substantial financial support. Burr used this island as a storage space for men and supplies.
Burr then tried to recruit volunteers to enter Spanish territories.
In New Orleans, Burr met with the Mexican Associates, a group of criollos whose objective was to conquer Mexico. Burr was able to gain the support of New Orleans’ Catholic bishop for his expedition into Mexico.
Reports of Burr’s plans first appeared in newspaper reports in August 1805, which suggested that Burr intended to raise a western army and “to form a separate government.”
Then in November of 1805, Burr met with Anthony Merry, the British Minister to the United States.
Reportedly, Aaron Burr had met with Merry while still Vice President, and suggested that the British might regain power in the Southwest if they contributed guns and money.
Now a rumor spread that indicated that Burr had offered to detach Louisiana from the Union in exchange for half a million dollars and a British fleet in the Gulf of Mexico.
In early 1806, Burr contacted the Spanish minister, Carlos Martínez de Irujo y Tacón, and told him that his plan was not just western secession, but the capture of Washington, D.C. Irujo wrote to his masters in Madrid about the coming “dismemberment of the colossal power which was growing at the very gates” of New Spain. Irujo gave Burr a few thousand dollars to get things started. The Spanish government in Madrid took no action.
Then Aaron returned to Ohio and began to recruit more volunteers for a military expedition down the Mississippi River. He began using Blennerhassett Island in the Ohio River to store men and supplies. The Governor of Ohio grew suspicious of the activity there, and ordered the state militia to raid the island and seize all supplies. Blennerhassett escaped with one boat, and he met up with Burr at the operation’s headquarters on the Cumberland River. With a significantly smaller force, the two headed down the Ohio to the Mississippi River and New Orleans. Wilkinson had vowed to supply troops at New Orleans. But, he had concluded that the conspiracy was bound to fail and, rather than providing troops, Wilkinson revealed Burr’s plan to President Jefferson in a letter that claimed evidence of treason.
As a result, President Jefferson issued an order for Aaron Burr’s arrest, declaring him a traitor even before an indictment.
Aaron Burr read this in a newspaper in the Territory of Orleans on January 10, 1807.
Jefferson’s warrant put Federal agents on his trail.
Burr turned himself in to the Federal authorities twice.
Two judges found his actions legal and released him.
Jefferson’s warrant, however, followed Burr, who then fled toward Spanish West Florida.
Aaron Burr was spotted by a federal land agent who reported the sighting to U.S. Army Lieutenant Edmund P. Gaines. Gaines intercepted Burr at Wakefield, in Mississippi Territory (now in the state of Alabama) on February 19, 1807, and deatined him at Fort Stoddert after being arrested on charges of treason.
In 1807, on a charge of treason, Burr was brought to trial before the United States Circuit Court at Richmond, Virginia.
Burr was arraigned four times for treason before a grand jury indicted him. This was surprising, since the only physical evidence presented to the Grand Jury was Wilkinson’s so-called letter from Burr, which proposed the idea of stealing land in the Louisiana Purchase. During the Jury’s examination it was discovered that the letter was written in Wilkinson’s own handwriting – a “copy”, he said, because he had “lost” the original. The Grand Jury threw the letter out, and the news made a laughingstock of General Wilkinson for the rest of the proceedings.
Since no two witnesses came forward, Burr was acquitted on September 1, in spite of the full force of the Jefferson administration’s political influence thrown against him.
In acquitting him, the jury apparently tried to give something like the Scottish verdict of not proven. Immediately afterward, he was tried on a more appropriate misdemeanor charge, but was again acquitted.
Aaron Burr’s western schemes left him with large debts and few influential friends. In a final quest for grand opportunities, he left the United States for Europe. He remained overseas until 1812, when he returned to the United States to practice law in New York City. There he spent the remainder of his long life in relative obscurity.
Aaron Burr suffered a debilitating stroke in 1834, which rendered him immobile.
He died September 14, 1836 on Staten Island in the village of Port Richmond in a boardinghouse which later became the St. James Hotel.
He was buried near his father in Princeton, New Jersey.
Today, Aaron Burr’s true intentions are still considered unclear to historians, some of whom claim he intended to take parts of Texas and some or all of the Louisiana Purchase for himself.
Now WE know em