Aaron Burr

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Portrait of Aaron Burr.

Aaron Burr was the third Vice President of the United States of America.

Burr was born in Newark, New Jersey, on February 6, 1756. Burr studied theology at Princeton University but chose the law rather than the ministry as a career. Burr joined the Continental Army during the American Revolution and served briefly on the staff of General George Washington. He retired his commission due to poor health in 1779 and began a legal career. He quickly rose to prominence in New York politics. He became the state's attorney general in 1789 and served as a United States Senator from 1791 to 1797. Burr failed to win reelection to the Senate, but he did win a seat in the New York legislature. Burr was a major player in state politics due to his involvement with the Tammany Society.

In 1800, Burr was the Democratic-Republican Party's vice-presidential candidate. Thomas Jefferson, the party's presidential candidate represented the Democratic-Republicans against John Adams, who ran for re-election with the Federalist Party. The Democratic-Republican candidates easily defeated Adams in the Electoral College, but Jefferson and Burr received the exact same number of votes. At this time, the person who finished first in the Electoral College became president and the runner-up became vice president. With a tie in the Electoral College, the House of Representatives voted to determine the next president. After a number of votes, Jefferson won the election in the House of Representatives. Burr became the third vice president of the United States.

Burr's term as vice president was unremarkable. Jefferson refused to work with his vice president, especially after Burr had actively campaigned for the presidency in the House of Representatives. Burr was an outsider in Jefferson's administration. He campaigned for the New York governor's seat in 1804. He lost that election and failed to secure re-nomination for the vice presidency in that same year. Burr blamed Alexander Hamilton, the founder of the Federalist Party, for his political difficulties and challenged Hamilton to a duel. Burr and Hamilton met in a New Jersey field on July 11, 1804, to settle their differences. Burr won the duel and killed Hamilton.

By 1805, Burr had begun to seek his fortune in the western territories. Some of the people that Burr met became convinced that he was planning a rebellion against the United States. They thought that he was working to break away the western part of the United States to form a new country that he would lead. Burr later denied that he was planning any sort of rebellion against the United States.

Burr convinced Ohioan Harman Blennerhassett to participate in his ventures. In September 1806, Blennerhassett ordered the construction of fifteen boats. Burr and Blennerhassett would use the vessels to transport up to five hundred followers. Blennerhassett spent much of his fortune paying for the planned expedition.

The United States government heard of the uprising and took the rumors seriously. Governor Edward Tiffin of Ohio dispatched the state's militia to the convergence of the Muskingum and Ohio Rivers. The militia was to stop all river traffic traveling down the two rivers. The United States government also sent a detachment of Virginia militia to seize the Blennerhassetts' home on an island in the Ohio River. Burr was arrested and was charged with treason. Burr later was found innocent in a trial presided over by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall. The trial set a number of important precedents in American law, most notably a very narrow definition of treason under United States law.

Burr's adventure ended, but he continued to seek support for his schemes in Europe. He remained in Europe from 1807 to 1812, when he returned to New York. He reestablished his law practice and lived relatively quietly for the rest of his life. He died on September 14, 1836. He is buried in Princeton, New Jersey.

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