Restoring Burr's tarnished image
<b>Restoring Burr's tarnished image</b>What the generally educated know about Aaron Burr: He fatally wounded Founding Father Alexander Hamilton in a duel. After that, Burr (1756-1836) is usually dismissed as one of the darker characters in the early years of the republic. In <b>Fallen Founder: The Life of Aaron Burr</b>, historian Nancy Isenberg attempts to clarify the man and his life, to provide perspective on oft-published prejudices, and to examine Burr's reputation in the important contextual light of politics. In rectifying prior shoddy research and addressing the infelicities of popular biography, Isenberg gives us a fuller-bodied Burr. The controversies remain to some degree, but their root causes are more clearly defined, and iBurr emerges as a fairly typical man of his time.
The New Jersey-born Burr was of notable stock: He was the grandson of the famous theologian Jonathan Edwards, and he graduated from Princeton, where his father had been president. Burr served as a colonel in the Continental Army, made a name for himself in New York politics, and in 1800 was elected vice president under Thomas Jefferson. What happened with Hamilton in 1804 was the culmination of years of professional and personal sniping, and by any objective assessment, was as much Hamilton's fault as Burr's.
Burr left office a tarnished man, embarked on various bank deals and real estate speculations, explored the West, was later tried for treason (and acquitted) under bogus circumstances, traveled to Europe and eventually returned to America, where he spent his later years doing legal work for women and children. (Burr was perhaps America's first family lawyer.) Financial problems and exaggerations about his womanizing contributed over time to increased negative perceptions of Burr and, when combined with the Hamilton affair, sealed his fate as a blackguard in the American consciousness. Isenberg effectively broadens our view of history, providing some keen insights into the highly contentious post-revolutionary period and establishing Burr's legitimate role within it, as patriot and statesman.