In response to:
The Revenge of Aaron Burr from the February 2, 1984 issue
To the Editors:
Reference: “The Revenge of Aaron Burr” by Gordon S. Wood, your issue of February 2, 1984, pages 23-26.
It would appear that you—the Editor—asked Mr. Wood to do a review of the work of Dr. Mary-Jo Kline on “The Papers of Aaron Burr.” Also, that Mr. Wood submitted a mms. to you and that you published it. But his essay is not a review of Dr. Kline’s publication.
Instead of a review, Mr. Wood has given you a diatribe against Col. Aaron Burr. Perhaps someone else should do a review of Dr. Kline’s work.
The essay which you have published is (in our opinion) biased and slanted. In paragraph after paragraph, Col. Burr is down-graded, misrepresented and maligned.
We are led to ask: “Did Mr. Wood actually read the material which Dr. Kline edited?” But he leaves no doubt about this: Mr. Wood is anti-Burr and any evidence that Burr was a patriotic, supportive and contributing citizen of the USA is belittled, down-graded or brushed aside.
There is no reference to the fact that the Democratic-Republican party carried the national election of 1800 in the State of New York (and therefore in the nation) because of Burr’s masterful management. Without those 12 electoral votes for Jefferson and Burr in New York, the election of 1800 would have gone to Adams and Pinckney. Who would claim that Jefferson carried New York? It was Burr who was responsible for the result.
It was Burr who presided over the impeachment trial of Assoc. Justice Samuel Chase of the US Supreme Court. It was a fair trial. Chase was acquitted of all of the charges brought against him. So, Jefferson failed in his attempt to gain control of the federal judiciary. This in itself should assure Burr a high place of honor in American history.
Col. Aaron Burr was a friendly, compassionate and considerate man. He was deeply interested in the welfare of his immediate family (his wife and daughter), in his associates in the law and in politics and in the welfare of the United States as a nation. None of this is apparent in Gordon Wood’s essay.
Mr. Wood finds fault with Burr because he did not write any long and tiresome articles about his political philosophy, his objectives for society, his religious tenets, etc. His beliefs in these fields were evident in his way of life and did not require written expression. History includes more than the written word. It was quite evident that he believed in political equality, rights and education for women, banking free from politics and that he opposed Negro slavery, etc., etc.
Samuel Engle Burr, Jr.
The Aaron Burr Association
Hightstown, New Jersey
Gordon Wood replies:
It is comforting to learn that Aaron Burr has such an alert organization to look after his reputation. But President General Burr is mistaken to think that I wrote “a diatribe against Col. Aaron Burr.” Quite the contrary. I was praising Burr for contributing (ahead of his time, no less) to the great vote-getting, interest-promoting, and spoils-collecting traditions of American democratic politics—the very sorts of traditions that have made America’s immensely successful political system a marvelous mystery to the entire outside world. What could be better evidence that “Burr was a patriotic, supportive and contributing citizen of the USA”? A stuffy Founding Father like George Washington could not hold a candle to Burr in popular politicking. Washington could never have delivered a state the way Burr delivered New York in 1800; Washington didn’t even like political parties. Aaron Burr is as American as apple pie.
April 12, 1984