Burr, Hamilton, and Jefferson: A Study in Character

Burr, Hamilton, and Jefferson: A Study in Character

Burr, Hamilton, and Jefferson: A Study in Character

Burr, Hamilton, and Jefferson: A Study in Character

Synopsis

This book restores Aaron Burr to his place as a central figure in the founding of the American Republic. Abolitionist, proto-feminist, friend to such Indian leaders as Joseph Brant, Burr was personally acquainted with a wider range of Americans, and of the American continent, than any other Founder except George Washington. He contested for power with Hamilton and then with Jefferson on a continental scale. The book does not sentimentalize any of its three protagonists, neither does it derogate their extraordinary qualities. They were all great men, all flawed, and all three failed to achieve their full aspirations. But their struggles make for an epic tale. Written from the perspective of a historian and administrator who, over nearly fifty years in public life, has served six presidents, this book penetrates into the personal qualities of its three central figures. In telling the tale of their shifting power relationships and their antipathies, it reassesses their policies and the consequences of their successes and failures. Fresh information about the careers of Hamilton and Burr is derived from newly-discovered sources, and a supporting cast of secondary figures emerges to give depth and irony to the principal narrative. This is a book for people who know how political life is lived, and who refuse to be confined within preconceptions and prejudices until they have weighed all the evidence, to reach their own conclusions both as to events and character. This is a controversial book, but not a confrontational one, for it is written with sympathy for men of high aspirations, who were disappointed in much, but who succeeded, in all three cases, to a degree not hitherto fully understood.

Excerpt

Before we go farther, I'd like us to have a talk. I do not intend to delay you for long, and only to offer a little consumer protection. The author has a point of view, a way of thinking about the lives of public men and women that arises from fifty years living either in government or near government, reporting on government, or writing about governments past. Over those years, life has informed me that the established reputation of many public persons, living and dead, is rarely congruent with their true character. I recall my mentor Eric Severeid saying of one such person, "There is less there than meets the eye." But that is not all that needs to be said, for often there is more, especially among those whom history, or journalism, have dismissed as failures. Aaron Burr is the central figure in this book because his character was better than his reputation. Though unquestionably a failure, his role in our history was larger than the credit he has received.

The term "spin control" is modern, but the practice to which it refers is ancient and constant in all political systems. Reputation is a cocoon of many threads, some of them spun around themselves by the characters within, some gathered from others, whether solicited or unavoidably attached by controversy. Appraisals of character require unwinding such cocoons, to examine each strand for authenticity. Any undertaking of that sort must be energized by the unwinder's own needs and guided by the unwinder's own sense of justice. No one embarks on a study of Burr, Hamilton, and Jefferson without preconceptions about them, and few without passionate preconceptions. That is why a candid declaration of bias is important at the outset.

Certainly their contemporaries had strong opinions about each, and . . .

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