Aaron Burr was born on February 6, 1756 in Newark, New Jersey. When he first arrived, a little sister named Sally had already preceded him. Their father was Reverend Aaron Burr, and their mother was Ester Edwards Burr, daughter of the famous Jonathan Edwards, a high honor at the Calvin school. Aaron Burr Sr. was also the second president of Princeton. He represented all that was austere and hopeless in Puritanism. But Aaron, Jr. inherited only one tenet out of all the rigorous dogma into which he had been born he believed in predestination.
During the Revolutionary War, Aaron Burr took part in General Benedict Arnold’s expedition into Canada in 1775, an arduous trek of over 500 miles in winter. Upon arriving before the Battle of Quebec, Burr was sent up the St. Lawrence River to make contact with General Richard Montgomery who had taken Montreal, and escort him to Quebec. Montgomery promoted Burr to Captain and made him an Aide de camp. Although Montgomery was killed in the attack, Burr distinguished himself with brave actions against the British.
His courage made him a national hero and earned him a place on Washington’s staff in Manhattan, but he quit after two weeks because he wanted to return to the field. Never hesitant to voice his opinions, Burr may have set Washington against him. However, rumors that Washington then distrusted Burr have never been substantiated. General Israel Putnam took Burr under his wing, and by his vigilance in the retreat from lower Manhattan to Harlem, Burr saved an entire brigade from capture. Alexander Hamilton was an officer of his group.
In a stark departure from common practice, Washington failed to commend Burr’s actions in the next day’s General Orders and that is 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 Matthew Ogden, Burr was infuriated by the incident, which may have led to the eventual estrangement between him and Washington. On becoming Lieutenant Colonel in July 1777, Burr assumed the command of a regiment called the “Malcoms”.
During the harsh winter encampment at Valley Forge, he guarded the “Gulph,” a pass commanding the approach to the camp, and necessarily the first point that would be attacked. On June 28, 1778 at the Battle of Monmouth, his regiment was decimated by British artillery, and Burr suffered a stroke in the terrible heat from which he would never quite recover. In January 1779, Burr was assigned to the command of the lines of Westchester County, a region between the British post at Kingsbridge and that of the Americans about 15 miles to the north.
In this district there was much turbulence and plundering by the lawless elements of both Whigs and Tories, and by bands of ill-disciplined soldiers from both armies. Burr established a thorough patrol system, rigorously enforced martial law, and quickly restored order. He resigned from the Continental Army in March 1779 on account of ill health, renewing his study of law. Burr did continue 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, having to enter New Haven from Hamden. Despite this brief interlude, 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 its evacuation by the British in the following year. He lived in Richmond Hill an area just outside of Greenwich Village. That same year, Burr married Theodosia Bartow Prevost, the widow of James Marcus Prevost and British army officer who had died in the West Indies, during the Revolutionary War.
They had four children, of whom the only to grow to adulthood was Theodosia Burr Alston. Born in 1783, she became widely known for her education and accomplishments. She married Joseph Alston of South Carolina in 1801, and died either due to a shipwreck off the Carolinas in the winter of 1812 or early 1813. Burr and the elder Theodosia were married for twelve years, until her death from stomach cancer. In 1833, at age 77, Burr married again, this time to Eliza Bowen Jumel, the extremely wealthy widow of Stephen Jumel.
When she realized her fortune was dwindling from her husband’s land speculation, they separated after only four months. 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 commissioner of Revolutionary War claims in 1791, and that same year he defeated a favored candidate, General Philip Schuyler for a seat in the United States Senate, and served in the upper house until 1797. As a U. S. Senator, Burr was not a favorite in the yes of George Washington. He sought to write an official Revolutionary history, but Washington blocked his access to the archives, possibly because the former colonel had been a noted critic of his leadership, and possibly because he regarded Burr as a schemer. Washington also passed over Burr for the ministry to France. After being appointed commanding general of American forces by President John Adams in 1798, Washington turned down Burr’s application for a “brigadier” general’s commission during the Quasi-War with France.
Adams wrote, “By all that I have known and heard, Colonel Burr is a brave and able officer, but the question is whether he has not equal talents at intrigue. ” Hamilton, who by then despised Burr, still had Washington’s ear at this time. Earlier, Burr had told Hamilton that “he despised Washington as a man of no talents and one who could not spell a sentence of common English. ” However, Washington’s wartime strategies may have colored Burr’s opinion of the General. Because of his influence in New York City and the New York legislature, Burr was asked by Jefferson and Madison to help the Jeffersonian crew in the election of 1800.
Another crucial move was Burr’s success in getting his slate of New York City and nearby Electors to win over the Federalist slate, which was chosen and backed by Alexander Hamilton, who lost. This event drove a further wedge between the former friends. Burr is known as the father of modern political campaigning. He enlisted the help of members of Tammany Hall, a social club, and won the election. He was then placed on the Democratic-Republican presidential ticket in the 1800 election with Jefferson. At the time, state legislatures chose the members of the U. S. Electoral College, and New York was crucial to Jefferson.
Though Jefferson did win New York, he and Burr tied for the presidency with 73 electoral votes each. Upon confirmation of Jefferson’s election, Burr became Vice President of the United States, but despite his letters and his shunning of any political activity during the balloting he lost Jefferson’s trust after that, and was effectively shut out of party matters. Some historians conjecture that the reason for this was Burr’s casual regard for politics, and that he didn’t act aggressively enough during the election tie. Jefferson was tight-lipped in private about Burr, so his reasons are still not entirely clear.
However, Burr even-handed fairness and his judicial manner as President of the Senate were praised even by his bitterest enemies, and he fostered some time-honored traditions in regard to that office. At least one historian Forrest MacDonald has credited Burr’s judicial manner in presiding over the impeachment trial of Justice Samuel Chase with helping to preserve the principle of judicial independence. When it became clear that Jefferson would drop Burr from his ticket in the 1804 election, the Vice President ran for governor of New York instead.
Burr lost the election, and blamed his loss on a personal smear campaign believed to have been orchestrated by his own party rivals, including New York governor George Clinton. Hamilton also opposed Burr, due to his belief that Burr had entertained a Federalist secession movement in New York. But Hamilton exceeded himself at one political dinner, where he said that he could express a “still more despicable opinion” of Burr. After a letter regarding the incident written by Dr. Charles D. Cooper circulated in a local newspaper, Burr sought an explanation from Hamilton.
Although still quite common, dueling had been outlawed in New York and was legal in New Jersey, but Hamilton and Burr were not citizens of New Jersey, so on July 11, 1804, the enemies met outside of Weehawken, New Jersey, and Hamilton was mortally wounded. There has been some controversy as to the claims of Burr’s and Hamilton’s seconds; while one party indicates Hamilton never fired, the other claims a 3 to 4 second interval between the first shot and the second shot. Hamilton’s shot missed Burr, but Burr’s shot was fatal. The bullet entered Hamilton’s abdomen above his right hip, piercing Hamilton’s liver and spine.
Hamilton was evacuated to Manhattan where he lay in the house of a friend, receiving visitors until he died the following day. Burr was later charged with multiple crimes, including murder, in New York and New Jersey, but was never tried in either jurisdiction. He fled to South Carolina, where his daughter lived with her family, but soon returned to Philadelphia to complete his term as Vice President. As leader of the Senate he presided over the impeachment of Samuel Chase. It was written by one Senator that Burr had conducted the proceedings with the “impartiality of an angel and the rigor of a devil. Burr’s heartfelt farewell in March 1805 moved some of his harshest critics in the Senate to tears. By this point all of Burr’s hopes for a political comeback had been dashed, and he fled America and his creditors for Europe, where he tried to regain his fortunes. He lived abroad from 1808 to 1812, passing most of his time in England where he occupied a house on Craven Street in London. He became a good friend, even confidant, of the English Utilitarian philosopher, Jeremy Bentham, even residing at Bentham’s home on occasion. He also spent time in Scotland, Denmark, Sweden, Germany, and France.
Ever hopeful, he solicited funding for renewing his plans for Mexico, but was rebuffed. He was ordered out of England and Napoleon Bonaparte refused to receive him although one of his ministers held an interview concerning Burr’s aims for Spanish Florida or British possessions in the Caribbean. After returning from Europe, Burr used the surname “Edwards,” his mother’s maiden name, for a while to avoid creditors. Aaron Burr suffered a debilitating stroke in 1834, which rendered him immobile. In 1836, Burr died in Port Richmond, Staten Island. He was buried in Princeton Cemetery near his father and grandfather in Princeton, New Jersey.