AARON BURR: The Years from Princeton to Vice President, 1756-1805 by Milton Lomask

AARON BURR: The Years from Princeton to Vice President, 1756-1805

Email this review


Vaunted as Hamilton's cagey equal or vilified as his shyer and a traitor, Burr was the subject of much nonsense for which Milton Lomask, going back to the sources, can find no basis. But Lomask has only a balance sheet to put in its place, not new evidence or a fresh, coherent interpretation. Thus, he discredits the tales of a big initial blow-up between Burr, the upstart volunteer, and Commander-in-Chief Washington, acknowledges an instant antipathy between the two, and wishes more were known. And, after recounting successful lawyer Burr's many ""fiscal follies,"" he remarks that they weren't unique--and anyhow Burr might have recovered if he'd eschewed politics! (This at a time when Burr had served as a U.S. Senator and become Vice President.) What in fact propelled Burr into politics, beyond the urgings of others, is inconstruable here. He was not exceptionally ambitious or aggressive, Lomask is at pains to establish; he was too self-absorbed to deal effectively with the malice of others; and--a recurrent charge--he had no political philosophy at all. On that basis, Lomask makes no sense, either, of Burr's emergence' as a Jeffersonian Republican (read, of course, democrat); nor, except on a personal basis, of his subsequent disaffiliation. Lomask's even-handedness is most beneficial as regards Burr's fraught relationships: with Hamilton and Jefferson and such once-disputed matters as his behavior during the 1800-01 Jefferson-Burr tie for the Presidency--though he doesn't, in the latter instance, particularly admire Burr's rectitude: remaining aloof, says Lomask, earned him disapproval in both camps. Bent on weighing the factors that, we are frequently reminded, would eventually lead to Burr's downfall, Lomask attains a measure of fairness (whereas Nathan Schachner, Burr's last major biographer, was his acknowledged champion); but he gives a lackluster accounting of this gifted, wayward man. A second, concluding volume is on the way.

Pub Date: June 18th, 1979
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux