American Emperor: Aaron Burr's Challenge to Jefferson's America

American Emperor: Aaron Burr's Challenge to Jefferson's America

4.8 5
by David O. Stewart
     
 

View All Available Formats & Editions

In this vivid and brilliant biography, David Stewart describes Aaron Burr, the third vice president, as a daring and perhaps deluded figure who shook the nation’s foundations in its earliest, most vulnerable decades.

In 1805, the United States was not twenty years old, an unformed infant. The government consisted of a few hundred people. The…  See more details below

Overview

In this vivid and brilliant biography, David Stewart describes Aaron Burr, the third vice president, as a daring and perhaps deluded figure who shook the nation’s foundations in its earliest, most vulnerable decades.

In 1805, the United States was not twenty years old, an unformed infant. The government consisted of a few hundred people. The immense frontier swallowed up a tiny army of 3,300 soldiers. Following the Louisiana Purchase, no one even knew where the nation’s western border lay. Secessionist sentiment flared in New England and beyond the Appalachians.

Burr had challenged Jefferson, his own running mate, in the presidential election of 1800. Indicted for murder in the dueling death of Alexander Hamilton in 1804, he dreamt huge dreams. He imagined an insurrection in New Orleans, a private invasion of Spanish Mexico and Florida, and a great empire rising on the Gulf of Mexico, which would swell when America’s western lands seceded from the Union. For two years, Burr pursued this audacious dream, enlisting support from the General-in-Chief of the Army, a paid agent of the Spanish king, and from other western leaders, including Andrew Jackson. When the army chief double-crossed Burr, Jefferson finally roused himself and ordered Burr prosecuted for treason.

The trial featured the nation’s finest lawyers before the greatest judge in our history, Chief Justice John Marshall, Jefferson’s distant cousin and determined adversary. It became a contest over the nation’s identity: Should individual rights be sacrificed to punish a political apostate who challenged the nation’s very existence? In a revealing reversal of political philosophies, Jefferson championed government power over individual rights, while Marshall shielded the nation’s most notorious defendant. By concealing evidence, appealing to the rule of law, and exploiting the weaknesses of the government’s case, Burr won his freedom.

Afterwards Burr left for Europe to pursue an equally outrageous scheme to liberate Spain’s American colonies, but finding no European sponsor, he returned to America and lived to an unrepentant old age.

Stewart’s vivid account of Burr’s tumultuous life offers a rare and eye-opening description of the brand-new nation struggling to define itself.

Read More

Editorial Reviews

Joyce Appleby
American Emperor delivers a colorful narrative of the schemes that carried Burr from one reckless venture to the next. Of inestimable value in following his frenzied recruitment of allies are Stewart's thumbnail sketches of "Leading Characters" at the front of the book.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Eschewing recent attempts to rehabilitate Aaron Burr (1756–1836), a brilliant member of the revolutionary generation but remembered mostly as Jefferson's vice-president who killed Alexander Hamilton in an 1804 duel, D.C. lawyer and historian Stewart (Impeached: The Trial of Andrew Johnson) concentrates on the dramatic years of Burr's life that followed. His career in ruins, in 1806 Burr led an armed band down the Mississippi intending to detach western states from the Union and conquer Spanish-ruled Texas and Florida. Among his raffish coconspirators was Gen. James Wilkinson, commander of the U.S. Army, governor of Louisiana, and a paid Spanish agent. With matters well advanced, Wilkinson thought better of it and betrayed the plot. There followed an extensive pursuit and spectacular treason trial during which a vindictive President Jefferson schemed and failed to convict Burr. Great men behaving badly make for entertaining reading, so readers may roll their eyes, but will keep turning the pages of this meticulous, almost day-by-day account of a plot so bizarre that it's hard to believe it actually happened. (Oct.)
From the Publisher
Advance Praise for American Emperor

“A proven storyteller, David O. Stewart takes us on a wonderful journey back to a fascinating chapter of American life: the challenges and controversies embodied in Aaron Burr. American Emperor is a great tale.”
—Jon Meacham, author of American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House

“A luminous portrait of Aaron Burr as well as the first high-definition picture of an endlessly baffling, infuriating, and mesmerizing life.”
—Patricia O’Toole, When Trumpets Call: Theodore Roosevelt after the White House

“Aaron Burr is the American Lucifer, a figure of immense talents and heroic qualities whose voracious ambition thrust him into a position as adversary to the goodness around him. David Stewart captures this tale in all its drama, treachery, and historical dimension. This is a truly absorbing narrative.”
—Robert W. Merry, author of A Country of Vast Designs: James K. Polk, the Mexican War and the Conquest of the American Continent

“The generation of the Founders produced some intriguing characters, but Aaron Burr has to be the most charismatic, quixotic, and mysterious. David Stewart brings the scheming, brilliant Burr to life in this lively but also judicious portrait of grand and unfulfilled ambition.”
—Evan Thomas, author of The War Lovers: Roosevelt, Lodge, Hearst, and the Rush to Empire, 1898

“With remarkable evenhandedness and superb pacing, David O. Stewart has given us a real Aaron Burr and a real Thomas Jefferson in a gripping narrative about a political adventure that might have changed the history of the United States and Mexico.”
—Thomas Fleming, author of Duel: Aaron Burr, Alexander Hamilton and the Future of America

“Stewart’s sympathetic but unapologetic study of the enigmatic Burr…transcends its subject in exposing the frailty of early America’s westward ambitions. Highly recommended for readers of Revolutionary-era biographies and early U.S. history.” Library Journal

“A fresh, vivid exploration of the exploits and trial of Aaron Burr… Two parts adventure story and one part courtroom thriller… A persuasive, engaging examination of the post-political career of a shadowy and much-maligned figure from the era of the Founders.” –Kirkus Reviews (Starred)

“Great men behaving badly makes for entertaining reading…[this book] will keep [readers] turning the pages of this meticulous, almost day-by-day account of a plot so bizarre that it’s hard to believe it actually happened.” Publishers Weekly

“Stewart strives admirably to sort through the maze of facts and speculations about the nature of the conspiracy and Burr’s place in it. This is also a personality study of Burr, in whom Stewart sees an extraordinary combination of talent, vision, arrogance, and insatiable ambition….readers should enjoy this account of a dangerous episode that threatened our young republic.”Booklist

American Emperor offers a compelling, provocative portrait of Aaron Burr….a skilled historian and a splendid storyteller, Stewart makes the most of the episode and its…cast of characters.”Kansas City Star

"American Emperor" is a rousing book (who can turn down a quixotic rebellion?) with a cast of characters that could slip comfortably into a three-volume melodrama of the 19th century.“ —Richmond Times-Dispatch

“Thoughtful, stylishly written and splendidly researched…. Adds valuable dimensions to our appreciation of the world we inherited from the Founders.… A page-turner as well!” —Washington Independent Review of Books

“A rattling tale… While most readers know the broad outlines of the Aaron Burr story…, the tale still retains ample suspense. I won’t spoil the ending.” Christian Science Monitor

Library Journal
While most assessments of the life of Aaron Burr (1765–1836) center on the disputed presidential election of 1800 and his deadly duel with Alexander Hamilton in 1804, Stewart (The Summer of 1787) provides an outstanding account concerned primarily with Burr's suspicious western exploits thereafter and his subsequent trial for treason. Burr's trial played out on a national stage, included an impressive cast of characters from Chief Justice John Marshall to the traitorous Gen. James Wilkinson, and ultimately provided federal courts with a procedural definition of treason. Drawing on his experience in constitutional law, attorney Stewart explains how such an iconic character, standing outside the reign of power, could provoke "generations of speculation and wonder." His gripping narrative reveals a founder driven by ambition, with a passion for expansion into Central and South American. VERDICT Stewart's sympathetic but unapologetic study of the enigmatic Burr, most recently given a full biography in Nancy Isenberg's Fallen Founder, transcends its subject in exposing the frailty of early America's westward ambitions. Highly recommended for readers of Revolutionary-era biographies and early U.S. history. [See Prepub Alert, 4/25/11.]—Brian Odom Pelham P.L., AL
Kirkus Reviews

A fresh, vivid exploration of the exploits and trial of Aaron Burr (1756–1836), the most notorious figure of the early American republic.

In 1800, Burr came within one electoral vote of becoming president of the United States. Instead, as originally intended, he became Thomas Jefferson's vice president, serenely presiding over the Senate while under indictment for the murder of Alexander Hamilton in a duel, an unpleasantness with which Stewart (Impeached: The Trial of President Andrew Johnson and the Fight for Lincoln's Legacy, 2009, etc.) rapidly dispenses in satisfying detail. Dumped by Jefferson in 1804 and frozen out of national political influence, Burr turned to a fantastic scheme. In league with the odious Gen. James Wilkinson, commander of America's tiny army and a lavishly paid secret agent for the Spanish crown, Burr undertook to assemble a private army and redraw the map of North America by uniting the Spanish Floridas, Mexico and whatever American states and territories west of the Appalachians wished to join him, into a new nation under his own leadership. Burr's men were headed downriver for New Orleans when he was betrayed by Wilkinson, arrested and packed off to Richmond to stand trial for treason. Jefferson desperately wanted this conviction and actively meddled in the prosecution's trial strategy, but the presiding judge was Chief Justice John Marshall, a political foe determined to insist on due process for the widely despised defendant. A practicing attorney, Stewart works the miracle of making even early-19th-century legal opinions and argument accessible and vital to modern readers. Two parts adventure story and one part courtroom thriller, Burr's saga unfolds in "a North America of possibilities, not certainties," where borders shifted frequently. The author makes it all sound plausible and lays out this complicated story with admirable clarity, while also explaining the long-term significance of its outcome for individual rights, the judiciary and the stability of the young nation.

A persuasive, engaging examination of the post-political career of a shadowy and much-maligned figure from the era of the Founders.

Read More

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781439160329
Publisher:
Simon & Schuster
Publication date:
10/25/2011
Sold by:
SIMON & SCHUSTER
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
432
Sales rank:
884,619
File size:
8 MB

Meet the Author

David O. Stewart is an award-winning author and the president of the Washington Independent Review of Books. He is the author of several acclaimed histories, including Madison’s Gift: Five Partnerships That Built America; The Summer of 1787: The Men Who Invented the Constitution; Impeached: The Trial of President Andrew Johnson and the Fight for Lincoln’s Legacy; and American Emperor: Aaron Burr’s Challenge to Jefferson’s America. Stewart’s first novel is The Lincoln Deception.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network

     

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >

American Emperor 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Songsue More than 1 year ago
If you know who Aaron Burr was, but aren't entirely sure exactly what it was he did, David Stewart can clear that up for you. In fact, as Stewart makes clear, Burr was trying to do many different things, and some of them were treasonous. Fascinating reading, and if the prosecution had been able to use Stewart as an investigator, Burr's story would likely have turned out very differently.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a look at one of the most mysterious events in U. S. History-was Aaron Burr a traitor. It's fascinating read and well-worth reading.
moodycroatian More than 1 year ago
A must read Just imagine if Burr would have did what he set off to do
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago