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Prof. Robert Ferguson lecture at Catholic University Columbus School of Law:

Updated: Jan 4, 2021

"Stories Can Punish: Treason and the National Imagination in the Trial Of Aaron Burr"

April 20, 2006 Attended by Stuart Johnson, ABA President.

The handout included 7 reference documents:

1. Thomas Jefferson's record of his meeting with Burr 4/15/06 (written in mid May) where he writes that Burr said "that he could do me much harm."

2. William Wirt's Blennerhassett story (memorized by school children later to be sure they would never strive for glory, but be content passive.)

3. John Wickham for the defense; "treason shall consist only in levying war."

4. Excerpts from Marshall's opinion. "The law does not expect a man to be prepared to defend every act of his life which may be suddenly and without notice alleged against him.... The legal guilt of the accessory depends on the guilt of the principal...If those who perpetrated the fact on {Bl(a)nnerhassett's island} be not traitors, he who advised the fact cannot be a traitor... no testimony... can be admitted because such testimony, being in its nature merely corroborative and incompetent to prove the overt act in itself, is irrelevant until there be proof of the overt act by two witnesses."

5. Burr's notation in 1811 while destitute in Paris a French inscription: "To Great Men, the Grateful Country"

6. Burr in 1836 re Texas independence: "There! You see? I was right! I was only thirty years too soon! That was treason in me thirty years ago is patriotism now!"

7. Edward Everett Hale's The Man without a Country (1863) about Philip Nolan, a young officer on the Mississippi. Burr "seduced him and by the time the sail was over, Nolan was enlisted body and soul. From that time, though he did not know it, he lived as "A Man Without a Country."

Stuart Johnson reports that Harvard educated and now professor at Columbia University Robert Ferguson had good and bad things to say about Aaron Burr.

The lecture discussed the need for a "Fallen Angel" among the Founding Fathers. There was important reference to "Paradise Lost".

Here is an internet summary of John Milton's epic poem:


Paradise Lost is about Adam and Eve--how they came to be created and how they came to lose their place in the Garden of Eden, also called Paradise. It's the same story you find in the first pages of Genesis, expanded by Milton into a very long, detailed, narrative poem. It also includes the story of the origin of Satan. Originally, he was called Lucifer, an angel in heaven who led his followers in a war against God, and was ultimately sent with them to hell. Thirst for revenge led him to cause man's downfall by turning into a serpent and tempting Eve to eat the forbidden fruit.


The story opens in hell, where Satan and his followers are recovering from defeat in a war they waged against God. They build a palace, called Pandemonium, where they hold council to determine whether or not to return to battle. Instead they decide to explore a new world prophecied to be created, where a safer course of revenge can be planned. Satan undertakes the mission alone. At the gate of hell, he meets his offspring, Sin and Death, who unbar the gates for him. He journeys across chaos till he sees the new universe floating near the larger globe which is heaven. God sees Satan flying towards this world and foretells the fall of man. His Son, who sits at his right hand, offers to sacrifice himself for man's salvation. Meanwhile, Satan enters the new universe. He flies to the sun, where he tricks an angel, Uriel, into showing him the way to man's home. Satan gains entrance into the Garden of Eden, where he finds Adam and Eve and becomes jealous of them. He overhears them speak of God's commandment that they should not eat the forbidden fruit. Uriel warns Gabriel and his angels, who are guarding the gate of Paradise, of Satan's presence. Satan is apprehended by them and banished from Eden. God sends Raphael to warn Adam and Eve about Satan. Raphael recounts to them how jealousy against the Son of God led a once favored angel to wage war against God in heaven, and how the Son, Messiah, cast him and his followers into hell. He relates how the world was created so mankind could one day replace the fallen angels in heaven. Satan returns to earth, and enters a serpent. Finding Eve alone he induces her to eat the fruit of the forbidden tree. Adam, resigned to join in her fate, eats also. Their innocence is lost and they become aware of their nakedness. In shame and despair, they become hostile to each other. The Son of God descends to earth to judge the sinners, mercifully delaying their sentence of death. Sin and Death, sensing Satan's success, build a highway to earth, their new home. Upon his return to hell, instead of a celebration of victory, Satan and his crew are turned into serpents as punishment. Adam reconciles with Eve. God sends Michael to expel the pair from Paradise, but first to reveal to Adam future events resulting from his sin. Adam is saddened by these visions, but ultimately revived by revelations of the future coming of the Savior of mankind. In sadness, mitigated with hope, Adam and Eve are sent away from the Garden of Paradise.
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