Jefferson and Burr
Burr's conspiracy had been one of the most flagitious of which history will ever furnish an example.... But he who could expect to effect such objects by the aid of American citizens, must be perfectly ripe for Bedlam.
Jefferson to Du Pont de Nemours, July 14, 1807 1
When Aaron Burr was tried for treason in Richmond in 1807, the language of the indictment smelled of the Inquisition: "... not having the fear of God before his eyes ... being moved and seduced by the instigation of the devil, wickedly devising and intending the peace and tranquillity of the United States to disturb, and to stir, move, excite insurrection, rebellion and war ..." 2 The odor of brimstone for a time followed Burr into the history books; even the urbane Henry Adams called him "the Mephistopheles of politics." 3 Jefferson, while believing Burr's conspiracy to be "daring and dangerous," 4 nevertheless discounted personal devils as a force in any man's life. He perceived dimly, what many Burr biographers since have not, that where there is so much grandiose lying there must be delusion and madness. John Adams after Burr's capture wrote to Dr. Benjamin Rush that he had never believed Burr a fool, but if he really planned that which he was accused of he "must be an Idiot or a Lunatick." 5 Yet both Rush and Adams were so captivated by Burr's performance at the trial that they were willing to speculate that if he were acquitted he might still become president of the United States. 6 Many were totally baffled, like Senator William Plumer, who said, "Burr is capable of much wickedness, but not so much folly." 7