THE GREAT AMERICAN RASCAL by Philip Vail

THE GREAT AMERICAN RASCAL

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Vail is much impressed with the paradoxes of Aaron Burr's character and career and this somewhat odd biography treats him as an admirable cad. Unfortunately he does little to illuminate Burr's 25-year feud with Alexander Hamilton which led eventually to the infamous duel in which the latter was slain, though their enmity is the key to Burr's political antics and eventual ruin. Neither does Vail cast much light on the sinister intrigues (was Burr really planning to lead a secessionist movement?) with which his name has been identified -- albeit largely by rumor. As the founder of the New York Tammany machine Burr incurred the wrath of both Federalists and Jeffersonian Republicans and during his four-year term as Vice President official Washington apparently conspired to keep him isolated and powerless -- a humiliation Burr could not forgive. Vail seems at times to imply that Burr's greatest sin was his unwillingness to observe the gentlemanly decorum of his compatriots in the ruling elite -- his ambition was too crude and vulgarly obvious. Psychologically Burr is a fascinating character -- brilliant and recklessly courageous, he read Rousseau and married a woman who would have been at home as a hostess in the salons of the Ancien Regime. It's too bad that Vail does so little to explicate either his motives or his devious personality. If you bother to read The Great American Rascal you may suspect that Vail secretly wanted to rehabilitate this much-disliked man, but either his nerve or his scholarship failed him.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1972
Publisher: Hawthorn