Aaron Burr

Aaron Burr was born in Newark, New Jersey in 1756. He graduated from The College of New Jersey where he studied theology for a short time and then turned to Law. He served in the Continental Army with General Benedict Arnold and later served on General George Washington’s staff with the rank of Lt. Colonel.
After the War, he practiced Law in Albany, New York, and later moved to New York City. He was elected Attorney General for 3 years and then United States Senator for 6 years. Defeated for re-election to the Senate, he was elected to the New York State Assembly.
Burr and Thomas Jefferson were nominated for the Presidency, and when the Electoral College met and voted, Burr and Jefferson both had 73 votes. Since there was a tie, the election was thrown into the House of Representatives where it took five days and thirty-six ballots before the deadlock was broken. Thomas Jefferson was elected as the third President and Aaron Burr became Vice President.
At the time of this election, the law was that each State had Presidential Electors, one for each Congressman and Senator. They met and the Presidential candidate getting the highest number of votes became President and the second high man became Vice President. This explains how Burr lost the Presidency but became Vice President. Changes in the law since the early days provided for separate elections for Presidents and Vice Presidents. Further changes in our election laws allow the President and Vice President to run as a team.
Burr served four years as Vice President, and in his last year he decided to run for Governor of New York. His old foe Alexander Hamilton worked to bring about his defeat. Hamilton published articles in the newspapers calling Burr “a dangerous man, one who should not be trusted.” This charge led to the duel that snuffed out the life of Hamilton.
Burr’s political career came to an end after the Hamilton tragedy. We next hear of Aaron Burr several years later when he engaged in what has been called the “Burr Conspiracy.” He was accused of treason for his part in planning to set up an Empire west of the Mississippi River with Aaron Burr as the King.
The trial was held in Richmond, Virginia, with Chief Justice John Marshall presiding. Burr’s defense was that his idea was to mount an invasion of Mexico and take over that country and make it a part of the United States. After a spectacular trial, he was found not guilty of all charges. Burr left the Untied States after his trial and spent the next five years in Europe. He returned to the U.S. and spent the rest of his life in the practice of Law in New York City.
One of the highlights of his political activity in New York City was the organizing of a social and political club which he named the “Tammany Society,” the forerunner of the famous “Tammany Hall.”
Now here are some personal items about this most controversial figure in our early history. Aaron Burr had a beautiful daughter named Theodosia. She met and married Governor Alston of South Carolina. They lived on a thirteen thousand acre estate on the Waccamaw River between Georgetown, South Carolina, and Myrtle Beach, named Brookgreen. When I was a boy, we lived just five miles from Brookgreen at Murrell’s Inlet. My oldest brother years later moved back to Murrell’s Inlet and worked at Brookgreen Gardens as it is called today.
If you travel up Route 17 North from Charleston, you will see a statue of two huge fighting stallions that mark the entrance of Brookgreen. Some wealthy people bought Brookgreen and filled its beautiful gardens with some of the world’s finest statuary, and it is now a state park. The old Southern mansion burned many years ago, but the gardens remain a showplace.
Lastly, a note of tragedy. Theodosia Burr Alston decided to visit her father in New York. She sailed from Georgetown, South Carolina, the port near Brookgreen. She never arrived in New York. The ship was lost at sea. No trace of ship, crew, cargo or passengers was ever found. They had disappeared completely. There is an old tradition around Brookgreen and Georgetown that sometimes on a cold misty night, a dim outline of a ghost ship can be seen with winds filling every sail as it moves out of Winyah Bay and into the broad Atlantic. Some of the old sailors who claim to have seen this ghost ship say that at the rail stands the pale and pathetic figure of Theodosia Burr Alston.
Aaron Burr was a sad and tragic figure. He spent his last days wandering the streets of New York City where his steps led him every day to the waterfront where he would stay for hours looking out across the harbor waiting and watching for a ship that never came in.

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