THE STAGE IS SET
IN Washington, the President of the United States was jubilant. Burr was at last in his power, and he was determined that he should not escape this time. He proclaimed exultantly that
Burr has indeed made a most inglorious exhibition of his much overrated talents. He is now on his way to Richmond for trial."1 But the following day, with a fine inconsistency, he was informing an anonymous correspondent, "No man's history proves better the value of honesty. With that, what might he [ Burr] not have been!"2
Since Wilkinson's vague alarms had come to trouble his ears the preceding November, he had steadily increased his already overabundant spleen toward the man who had made him President. He became judge, prosecutor and jury, all in one. He had tried the question of Burr's guilt in the public eye before his capture; he had given the impression that he had in his possession the most irrefutable proofs of his treason and convicted him accordingly. He had utilized every resource of the Government to achieve his purpose -- to blacken the name of Aaron Burr forever -- whether the means were legal or illegal; and now, during the course of the ensuing trial, he injected himself into what was a judicial proceeding in a way that bespoke the most vindictive persecution and interference with the orderly processes of the law of the land. It is indeed a strange episode in the life of an otherwise great figure in American history. A philosopher displaying spleen, passion and enmity; a democrat acting the tyrant; a scientist rearing a structure of hate on the flimsiest premises; the ardent prophet of the Bill of Rights tearing every constitutional guaranty of personal liberty to shreds; the disciple of the Enlightenment adopting the Jesuitical doctrine that the end justifies the means!
Had Jefferson been sincerely convinced of Burr's guilt, and that the nation was in danger of subversion, his course might at least be understandable, if not wholly to be approved. But the record casts serious doubts on Jefferson's own convictions, no matter what he pretended to the public. His first Proclamation made no mention