TRIED FOR TREASON
HE stage was now set for the final act in the tremendous drama of conspiracy and treason with which the nation had been regaled. For months the country had been tossing in a confused welter of rumors, alarms, tales of phantom armies and desperate rebellion; now the mists had cleared to disclose the slight, elegantly dressed figure of Aaron Burr, pale but composed of face, eyes as brilliantly inscrutable as ever, as the focal-point of all the tumult. The beating spotlight which had hitherto dissipated its energies on diverse and remote sections of the land, now concentrated its blinding gleam on the town of Richmond, in the State of Virginia, and upon the spare, erect little man with hair carefully brushed back from his high, intellectual forehead. Aaron Burr, against whom all the resources of Government, all the ingenuity of President and Cabinet, all the power of public propaganda and an envenomed press, were to be directed in a mighty effort to convict him of high treason and sedition, and thereupon hang him high upon a gallows, his head snapping in the encircling noose, his trim feet dancing for the last time on the insubstantial breeze. No wonder the nation quivered and thrilled with an emotional orgy, and all eyes -- and numerous feet -- were directed to the gracious, aristocratic precincts of Richmond. The drama was approaching its climax.
Richmond had been chosen as the seat of the trial because of an unfortunate dictum tossed off by Marshall in the course of his opinion discharging Swartwout and Bollman from custody. To support the charge of treason, he had said, "war must be actually levied . . . To conspire to levy war, and actually to levy war, are distinct offenses. The first must be brought into open action by an assemblage of men for a purpose treasonable in itself, or the fact of levying war cannot have been committed." This was sound constitutional law. For the Constitution of the United States had clearly defined treason against the United States to consist "only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort." Obviously the two prisoners had neither