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by H.W. Brands

Pub Date: May 1st, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-307-74326-8
Publisher: Anchor

Most schoolchildren can tell you that Aaron Burr killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel. Brands (History/Univ. of Texas; The Murder of Jim Fisk for the Love of Josie Mansfield, 2012, etc.) chronicles the story of the downward trajectory his fortunes endured thereafter.

Burr’s relationship and devotion to his only child, Theodosia, produced a wealth of correspondence that allows us to see his tortured, often-desperate persona. His break with Thomas Jefferson over political issues and the outrage after Hamilton’s death finished Burr’s political life. More importantly, the press of creditors suggested it was a good time to get out of town. He left New York and headed west to investigate the possibilities of land speculation. While traveling he became convinced of an impending war with Spain, either in Mexico or Florida. He raised a great deal of capital to buy a tract of land in the Louisiana Territory and to outfit an expeditionary force. Burr never actually stated the purpose for the 15 boats, 500 men, firearms and provisions, but his intentions made many nervous. It was to be his ultimate undoing. Jefferson didn’t trust him, and many others saw his moves as an attempt to split the United States in two. Despite charges of treason, no indictment could be reached after two hearings, but Jefferson rejected the findings and called for his arrest. Burr attempted to evade capture but was eventually taken and transported to Richmond to stand trial. The second in the author’s series entitled American Portraits, this is one of the increasingly popular “small stories” that give so much insight into the men, women and events of history.

A short but thrilling page-turner. Brands burrows into Burr’s psyche and exposes his failings as he details the outstanding talents that were so sadly wasted.