Sunday, January 29, 2017

Burr

Burr

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Death is a refuge especially for people of history boxing them too either category: as a god or the devil. What I like most about this book is that it humanizes them, the American founders.

Aaron Burr has served under Benedict Arnold and George Washington during the Revolutionary War. He also had a successful law practice thereafter, sometimes taking cases together with Alexander Hamilton. He was vice president under Thomas Jefferson only at the 36th ballot in the House of Representatives; the 35 other times were tied.

His political career took a big slide after fatally shooting Alexander Hamilton in a duel. Wandering about in the new western territories Burr ended up in the middle of a conspiracy that would divide the United States. Along with guilt or innocence, Burr’s trial for treason, also pitted the rights and powers of the executive and that of the courts against each other. Although he was never pronounced guilty Aaron Burr was effectively thereafter a political corpse.


After reading the book I Google him up and most summaries of his life does end in the trial. There’s a vacuum of information which only increases the beauty of the book; that is the need to be understood. Aaron Burr is a lawyer, a father to a daughter, and founding father to a country; he yearns to speak and the book would have him narrate his life.

The novel has the magic of a deathbed confession as the living man who has been with the giants of young United States begins talk, say his side of things. It was human of me, and of the imaginary writer, to want to hear him out, talk about his contemporaries like an expert witness.

Gen. Washington was a bad general; losing more battles than he won probably because he was prone to surrounding himself with sycophants. Generals who won big battles were never in Washington’s favor, Burr adds. He also wonders would Hamilton’s reputation be as broken if he had won the duel? There’s pain in Burr’s tone at being vilified for a duel which was legal and cleanly won.

Thomas Jefferson, Burr always described as the true politician, unlike the almost philosopher king like image he carries today. In his words Jefferson would be the grandfather of fake news so prevalent today. And he would use these to advance his causes, if the novel’s point of view if to be believed. Losing the presidency had an added dimension because his daughter wanted it more than he did.

I confess that I am a non American which is why I find this point of view attractive having none of national loyalties that would otherwise require me to deify a founder. Maybe an American would see such tone of voice as mere self aggrandizement.

But I have always believed that such people, regardless of country, are people like us. They deal with sycophants, incompetents, traitors; the usual game of politics in the individual sense. There’s always a way to unite in a crisis and to each his own come peace time. Besides everyone has the right to be heard right?

The author swears to the historical accuracy of the events highlighted in the flashback scenes especially with Thomas Jefferson who always writes about everything. But as a novel, a form purposely chosen by the author for the purpose, he states that he has taken liberties with points of view which always had to be Aaron Burr’s.

In the trial that may be the only thing that will ever be known of Burr’s life, Chief Justice John Marshall famously subpoenaed Thomas Jefferson for all evidence that had led him to conclude in the first place of the former Vice President’s guilt. We should hear, see, read all available evidence on Aaron Burr’s or anyone else’s. This book is a good start.