I hate to break it to you, but America's founding fathers were the most argumentative bunch of back stabbing duplictious ego maniacs on the North American continent. Just look at what they thought of each other. Thomas Jefferson called President John Adams a senile fool and a hideous hermaphroditic. Adams called his fellow Federalist Alexander Hamilton, “That bastard brat of a Scottish peddler!”, accusing him of possessing "a superabundance of secretions, which he couldn't find enough whores to absorb!” And Adams described Thomas Jefferson, leader and founder of opposition Democratic- Republicans, as a man whose “soul is poisoned with ambition.” Hamilton called Jefferson a “howling atheist”. And then there was New York's Aaron Burr. Nobody trusted Burr.
The always charming Aaron Burr (above) was urbane and witty, with a healthy disrespect for his own legal profession, asserting “Law is whatever is boldly asserted and plausibly maintained.” He loved politics so much he converted the Tammany Hall social club into the bulwark of New York State Democratic politics for the next 200 years, while still maintaining alliances with moderate Federalists. Aaron's only child, Theodosia, paid him probably the greatest compliment I have ever heard, when she said, “I had rather not live than not to be the daughter of such a man.” The only problem was Aaron Burr kept out smarting the smartest men in America.
“As to Burr...he is a man of extreme and irregular ambition; that he is selfish to a degree which excludes all social affections, and that he is decidedly profligate. “
In early 1799 the Democrat Aaron Burr offered a plan to bring water into Manhattan, and convinced the impulsive and arrogant Federalist leader Alexander Hamilton (above) to support the bill But buried in the minutia was authorization to charter the Bank of Manhattan. And once the bill passed the water project was quickly dropped, and what would one day be Chase Manhattan Bank started moving money for Democratic politicians. Hamilton, “the little lion”, never forgave Burr for fooling him. But the belligerent Hamilton would never admit his grudge with Burr was anything but a matter of principle Federalists like Hamilton favored an active government, and Thomas Jefferson's Democrats preferred a government small enough not to threaten slavery or the bankers.
“It has been a source of great pain to me to have met with so many among [my] opponents who... transferred at once to the person, the hatred they bore to his political opinions.”
"Mad Tom" Thomas Jefferson didn't trust Burrr either. But he needed New York's electoral votes. Under the new constitution each “Presidental Elector” was required to vote for two candidates - at least one from outside his home state - with the second highest vote getter becoming Vice-President. Four years earlier, in 1796, Democrat Jefferson got 60 electoral votes and became Vice President. He then spent the next four years undermining the Federalist Adams administration from the inside. This time the two parties tried to coordinate their votes to ensure the “P” and the “VP” would both be from the same party. But as the secret ballots trickled in to Washington during December of 1800, it “leaked” that the Democrats in South Carolina – the last state in which electors were chosen - had screwed up. Both Jefferson and Burr ended up with 73 votes for President – both one vote short of the required 74 vote majority. It was presumed that most Democrats wanted Jefferson to take the top office. Jefferson certainly thought so.
As designed just 12 years earlier (Article II, Section 1, clause 3 of the Constitution), if two candidates were tied for Presidency, “then the House of Representatives shall immediately chose by ballot one of them for President...each state having one vote.” So, having trudged to the capital through heavy snow on Wednesday 11 February, 1801, the Electoral votes were officially counted. They confirmed the Democrat's worst nightmare. Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr were tied, with 73 votes each for the Presidency. The lame duck House of Representatives (56 Federalists to 49 Democrats), voting by state, could only choose between those two Democrats. And most all of the Federalists voted for the New Yorker, just to spit in Thomas Jefferson's eye.
Everybody knew "Mad Tom" Jefferson would have to swallow a deal. Burr expected it. In December, Burr had written to a supporter in Philadelphia that he would not compete .with Jefferson. “Be assured that the Federal party can entertain no such wish...” Hamilton had offered a deal to the sage of Monticello in January, saying that if Jefferson would promise to preserve Hamilton's First National Bank and to not to fire every Federalist working for the government, then a few Federalists would vote for Jefferson. The principled Jefferson refused. So the process would have to play itself out.
It would only take nine votes to choose a President, with Congress meeting in the dome-less capital (above). But on the first ballot Thomas Jefferson received just eight votes, with the Federalists giving Burr six. The Vermont and Maryland delegations were split and handed in blank ballots. Immediately the House began a second vote, with the same result. After 19 duplicate votes, at 3 a..m the next morning, Thursday 12 February, the exhausted House decided to adjourn until daylight. But nothing changed, not on Thursday, not on Friday the 13th and not on Saturday. Saturday night, Federalist James Asheton Bayard, the single congressman from Delaware, decided somebody had to do something. So he did it.
“Never do today what you can do tomorrow. Something may occur to make you regret your premature action.”
Congressman Bayard (above) offered Jefferson the same deal Hamilton had offered a month earlier – keep the National Bank – forerunner of the Federal Reserve system – and don't replace the Federalist custom officials in Philadelphia and Wilmington. If Jefferson would promise that, then Bayard (and Delaware) would abstain on the next vote. That would still leave Jefferson with just eight votes, but that would now be a majority "of those states voting". On Sunday, 15 February, while the offer was transmitted to Jefferson in Monticello, Bayard broke the news of his offer to the Federalist caucus. According to Bayard, the resulting cries of “traitor” were loud and “prodigious, the reproaches vehement.” Bayard finally agreed to wait until Burr could respond to the same deal.
Jefferson's response arrived Monday morning, 16 February – a quite impressive less than 24 hour turn around, given that Monticello (above) was ninety miles each way by terrible roads from the new “Federal District.” Jefferson would later claim to have turned down the deal But once in the White House he kept the National bank, despite his campaign promises to dismantle it. And he kept most of the Federalists officials in Baltimore, Maryland and Wilmington, Delaware. And when Aaron Burr's response arrived later that same morning, the deal was sealed. Someone destroyed Burr's letter, but Congressman Bayard wrote later, “Burr has acted a miserable paltry part. The election was in his power.” Whatever Aaron Burr's sentiments, there is no evidence he had lifted a finger to challenge Jefferson for the Presidency. And for that, Thomas Jefferson never forgave him.
“I fear Mr. Burr is unprincipled, both as a public and a private man. In fact, I take it he is for or against nothing but as it suits his interest and ambition.”
At noon on Monday, 17 February 1801, the House cast its 36th ballot. Delaware abstained, and Thomas Jefferson became the third President of the United States. Aaron Burr (above) became Vice President. Federalist leader Alexander Hamilton had been writing his allies for two months that they should be accept Jefferson, telling one, “Mr. Jefferson, though too revolutionary...is yet a lover of liberty...Mr. Burr loves nothing but himself.” It seems that the Secretary of the Treasury hated Burr more than he loved his own politics.
And where was “the most restless, impatient, artful...and unprincipled intriguer in the United States” (according to Hamilton) during the week that he could have become the third President of the United States? During the first half of February, 1801, Aaron Burr was in Albany, New York, supervising and attending the wedding of his daughter, Theodosia Burr (above) , to Mr. Joseph Alston, a plantation owner from South Carolina. The newlyweds were the first couple known to have honeymooned at Niagara Falls. The proud father of the bride did not leave Albany until well after the election was settled. It seems that most of the intrigue and duplicity attributed to Aaron Burr, existed mostly in the imaginations of his political opponents..
“Hamilton was indeed a singular character. Of acute understanding...honest, and honorable in all private transactions...yet so bewitched and perverted...as to be... (convinced) that corruption was essential to the government of a nation.”
Distrusted by Jefferson, Aaron Burr served only one term as Vice President. Instead, in 1804 he ran for Governor of New York but fell victim to a nasty smear campaign directed by Alexander Hamilton. On Wednesday, 11 July, 1804, the two old enemies met on the same field in Weehawken, New Jersey, where Hamilton's son had been killed in a duel ten years earlier. (above) Hamilton's shot missed. Burr's shot hit Hamilton in the abdomen and the Federalist leader died the next day. And that was the end of Aaron Burr's political life. He exiled himself to Europe for two years.
In 1807, on the direct orders of President Thomas Jefferson, Aaron Burr was arrested and charged with treason. With Theodosia at his side, and after a month long trial (above), Aaron Burr was acquitted, after no wittiness could testify to any act of treason on his part. Burr then returned to New York City , where, in December of 1812, he was expecting Theodosia to arrive for a visit. Her ship, The Patriot, was assumed to have sunk in a hurricane off Cape Hatteras, with all hands lost. Burr continued to wait on piers in New York City, never fully recovering from her death. In 1834 Aaron Burr suffered a stroke and died two years later.
“Remember democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.”