Burr, Aaron

Burr, Aaron (1756-1836) Politician: Burr was born in Newark, New Jersey, on February 6, 1756. His maternal grandfather was famous "Great Awakening" preacher Jonathan Edwards, and his father was descended from Massachusetts Pilgrims. Burr's father, Rev. Burr, became devoted to expanding his small parsonage school into a college, which would eventually become Princeton University. After wearing himself out with his efforts, Rev. Burr died, probably from smallpox, in 1757. The same year, Burr's grandfather, Jonathan Edwards, became president of the College of New Jersey (later Princeton), but died in 1758. Burr's mother, Esther Burr, died a month after her father. Burr's maternal grandmother, who traveled to Philadelphia to take care of Burr and his sister, died two weeks after she arrived. Finally, the two orphans were adopted by their uncle, Rev. Timothy Edwards. Their new guardian was a strict disciplinarian, however, who believed in corporal punishment. Young Burr, however, was apparently unimpressed by this approach to child rearing. At the age of ten, he ran away from home and became a cabin boy on a vessel set to sail. Although the boy's guardian caught up with him in time to prevent his departure to distant ports, the two came to an understanding, and Burr returned home. His guardian agreed to hire a tutor to prepare the boy to enter the College of New Jersey. After an unsuccessful application for admission in 1767, he was accepted in 1769, at the age of 13, with sophomore standing. While Burr was an upperclassman at the College of New Jersey, Alexander Hamilton applied for admission. Although Hamilton was accepted, his request for the right to advance to a more advanced class commensurate with his scholarship was rejected. As a result, Hamilton left New Jersey, and attended King's College (now Columbia University) in New York. It seems that Hamilton and Burr came close to having met each other years before they set into motion the events that would lead to the death of one and the disgrace of the other. Burr graduated from the College of New Jersey in 1772, and spend a couple of years studying for the ministry. After the Battle of Bunker Hill in 1775, he volunteered as a private, and was promoted to lieutenant colonel before the winter at Valley Forge in 1777-78. At Valley Forge, Burr expressed contempt for General Washington's military abilities, and came close to joining Conway Cabal's plot to oust Washington. Bur went on to fight at the Battle of Monmouth, and resigned his commission in 1779, because of illness, as well as possible irritation at not having been promoted. After his military service, he studied law intensely for six months, and awarded a waiver for the minimum requirement of three years of study, and was admitted to the bar in 1782. The same year, he married Theodosia Prevost, a widow with five children. The couple moved to New York City, settling into a house on Wall Street. Burr and his wife lost three children before their daughter Theodosia was born in 1783. After serving as New York State Attorney General (1789-1791), he was elected to the U. S. Senate (1891-1797). Since his wife's health was declining, Burr spent relatively little of his term actually in the Senate. Nevertheless, he used his time on the floor to criticize the controversial financial policies of Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton and others commented on Burr's developing reputation for being unprincipled in public and private life. Burr was defeated for reelection when the Federalists won control of the Senate, but was elected to the New York State Assembly. There, his political and financial wheeling and dealing further contributed to his poor reputation. He used his political influence to support his personal financial investments, including the Bank of Manhattan Company, which later became Chase Manhattan Bank. In 1799, he fought a duel with John B. Church, Hamilton's brother-in-law, but neither combatant was injured. Burr became the political boss of New York City, and founded the St. Tammany Society, although he never became a member of Tammany Hall himself. He ran for the presidency as a Democratic-Republican in 1800, and tied with Thomas Jefferson. This event, the Jefferson-Burr imbroglio, was settled in the Federalist-dominated House of Representatives. The Constitution stated that the House had to break such a tie and, largely due to the influence of Hamilton, the Federalist Representatives decided that Jefferson was the lesser of two evils. Thus, Jefferson became President, and Burr became Vice-President. Hamilton maintained his public animosity toward Burr throughout the latter's term in office. When Burr ran for Governor of New York, Hamilton's writings against him contributed to his defeat. Finally, in a series of letters in 1804, Burr challenged Hamilton to a duel. Although Hamilton tried to evade the challenge because of his moral opposition to dueling and his family responsibilities, he finally accepted. On July 11, 1804, the two men met early in the morning, across the Hudson River from what is now 42nd Street in New York City. In a few moments, Hamilton was fatally wounded, and Burr went into hiding. After finishing his term as Vice-President, he began scheming to take Florida and Mexico from Spain and create a new nation, with himself as its emperor. He raised some money for his plan, but not enough to finance the necessary army. Jefferson had him arrested for treason, but he was found not guilty because of lack of evidence. He traveled to Europe in search of asylum, but, returned after being rejected from Britain, Denmark, Sweden, and France. Upon his return to the United States, he learned that his beloved grandson had died and, when his closest daughter, Theodosia, sailed to meet him in New York, her ship disappeared off the coast of Virginia. In 1833, Burr married his former mistress, Mme. Eliza Bowey Jumel, was divorced from her, and continued a private law practice on Staten Island, New York, until his death on September 14, 1836. He is buried at Princeton University.