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2005 Book reviews, etc.

Updated: Jan 4, 2021

Sue Bowles Book Review -- "What Kind of Nation" Sun Mar 6, 2005 16:50

James F. Simon, "What Kind of Nation: Thomas Jefferson, John Marshall, & the Epic Struggle to Create a United States" (2002) This is a very good book with lots of interesting material about Aaron Burr. Not surprisingly, the treason trial is covered thoroughly, & the author provides a serviceable account of the weaknesses of the government case. He also gives Burr credit for masterminding his own defense. What I found most interesting in this book, though, was not the section about the trial, but what came earlier -- namely, Marshall's support of Burr in the tie election. Marshall was Secretary of State in the John Adams administration & when it was obvious that Adams would lose, Marshall shifted his support to Burr. Not being a member of the House he was in no position to affect events directly, but he was a prominent Federalist & could exert influence. We know, of course, than many Feds supported Burr simply to get back at Jefferson, but how rarely do we ever hear of those who genuinely thought Burr would make a good president, in fact a better one than Jefferson! Marshall was one of those & his reasons are fascinating. I recommend this book to our members. ... Sue


Note that Columbia University Magazine (with Madeleine Albright on the cover) has a wonderful three page article entitled "Duel Degree"

on pages 54 to 56.)



During five months in 1734 and 1735, Jonathan Edwards preached a series of sermons that led to a large number of conversions and caught the attention of religious communities in America and England. It was the precursor to the Great Awakening, the religious enthusiasm that swept the colonies later in the 18th century. It earned Edwards the title of father of American revivalism. Curiosities marked Edwards' career. He was dismissed by his congregation after 20 years because of a dispute over what determined church membership. Next came seven years leading a mission school for Native Americans. The Yale University graduate (first in his class) was asked to become president of Princeton upon the death of his son-in-law, that school's second president. Edwards died two months later. But his writings and influence grew with time. His emphasis on personal religious experience resonates still within American Protestant churches. Gura, a professor of literature and culture at the University of North Carolina, superbly explains Edwards' beliefs and how they relate to New England colonial theology. A final irony in Edwards' life: His grandson was Aaron Burr, the vice president indicted for both murder and treason.

Feb 18 from NPR, National Public Radio:

Q: During President Clinton's 1998 impeachment trial in the Senate, Chief Justice Rehnquist presided, as is the rule. I am aware that no Supreme Court justice has ever been impeached. But for the sake of argument, let's say Rehnquist is tried. Who would preside over his trial in the Senate? -- Edward Rao, Providence, R.I.

A: I showed your question to Nina Totenberg, NPR's Legal Affairs Correspondent. Nina points out that there actually has been a Supreme Court impeachment -- that of Justice Samuel Chase in 1804. Republicans, and President Thomas Jefferson in particular, had bristled at what they saw as Chase's overt pro-Federalist partisanship, and so the House impeached him on a 73-32 party-line vote. (None of the articles of impeachment got the required two-thirds majority in the Senate.) Rehnquist wrote about the Chase impeachment in his book, Grand Inquests. Nina notes that Rehnquist credits Chase's acquittal for the subsequent independence of the judiciary. She adds that Vice President Aaron Burr presided over the Chase trial in the Senate, so presumably the veep would preside over any hypothetical Rehnquist trial.

Jefferson's Vendetta - The Pursuit of Aaron Burr and the Judiciary

Dear Fellow ABA Members: I just bought a new book yesterday entitled "Jefferson's Vendetta - The Pursuit of Aaron Burr and the Judiciary" by Joseph Wheelan. It has a copyright of 2005. The book centers around Burr's treason trial and his expedition to the Spanish territories. The book also appears to be more sympathetic to Burr. A quotation from the flap inside the cover: "'Jefferson's Vendetta' challenges the blackened legacy of Aaron Burr and shows the beloved President Jefferson mired in the kind of hateful and manipulative politics that tradition has long depicted him as rising above." This book may provide useful background in preparation for the ABA trial re-enactment in 2007. Sincerely, Frank Burr

Frank: Thanks for the alert. Will purchase when I get home next week and compare to the manuscript "The CONSPIRACY Against Burr" which ABA has and which Lyman Coddington and I are editing in the hope of publishing. It's main theme sounds similar to Wheelan's, although it covers a much broader span of Burr's life. The references to the court records provide ample material to expand on the one-act play presented by our member from Cincinnati at the State House in Richmond a few years ago. Caveat, our audience may not be able to sustain a Eugene O'Neill 4-act play with intermission for dinner.

Harry Anderson I also just finished Jefferson's Vendetta, and found it quite good. (3/13/05) Burr is of course totally innocent, and defended properly in this book. One item I did not like was when Wheelan questioned Burr meeting with England to try to forge an alliance in what was to be an expected war with Spain. Spain was the aggressor crossing the river neutral zone with troops that threatened our pioneers. Why was Burr wrong to try to enlist England's help through Anthony Merry and others? The forging of alliances is quite important as we see in Iraq today. Did not Washington win the Revolutionary War simply because France joined us against England? Surely it was not from the advice he was getting from his helper Hamilton who could do nothing as secretary except write Washington's letters in better English, and challenge members of congress to duel if they questioned Washington's strategy. Why was it wrong for Burr to confer with the English ambassador? We only have the ambassador's secret notes to infer that Burr wanted independence for the western states. And if those states did want to break from Jefferson and the slave powers, why would that have been bad? Wheelan does not mention that the states and territories west of the Appalachians had a net loss in taxes to Washington versus benefits, and no protection from DC along the Mississippi River waterway that they needed open for trade. Remember that Burr tried to keep New England from seceding, with an open mind as he approached all political issues. And he wanted independence for Texas that did happen in his lifetime. I did not know that Spy James Wilkinson was only betrayed a hundred years later when Spanish documents were seized during the Spanish American War. No wonder history painted Burr as bad for being betrayed by the real traitor Wilkinson. (This reminds us of the trick pistols not discovered until 1975.) Interesting account of how Wilkinson took too much whiskey and laudanum while commanding our army. Remember that Hamilton was given laudanum (opium) in the boat by Dr. Hosack. A final comparison: When authors write against the tide to defend Burr, they must be careful about being apologetic for any of his actions. Wheelan was wrong to question Burr's negotiations to get British ships on our side near New Orleans if war with Spain began. It is perfectly understandable. In 1858 James Parton was also wrong to question Burr in starting Chase Manhattan Bank. He never realized the monopoly Bank of America had in lending only to Federalists. But other wise, James Parton and now Joseph Wheelan remain my hero authors for telling us more about Aaron Burr. Pete T.

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