This Day in History: February 19

Many people know that Aaron Burr killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel, but do you know that he was arrested on this day in 1807 on charges of plotting to annex Spanish territory in Louisiana and Mexico to be used toward the establishment of an independent republic?

Indeed, Burr traveled to New Orleans after finishing his term as Thomas Jefferson's vice president (1801-1805) and met with U.S. General James Wilkinson, who was an agent for the Spanish. Details on what the two plotted is unknown, but historians speculate it may have included the establishment of an independent republic in the American Southwest or the seizure of territory in Spanish America for the same purpose.

In the fall of 1806, Burr led a group of well-armed colonists toward New Orleans, leading to an immediate investigation by U.S. authorities. General Wilkinson got cold feet and decided to turn against Burr, sending dispatches to Washington accusing the former vice president of treason. On February 19, 1807, Burr was arrested in Alabama for treason and sent to Richmond, Virginia, to be tried in a U.S. circuit court.

On September 1, 1807, he was acquitted on the grounds that, although he had conspired against the United States, he was not guilty of treason because he had not engaged in an “overt act,” a requirement of treason as stated in the U.S. Constitution. Still, public opinion condemned him as a traitor, and he spent several years in Europe before returning to New York and continuing his law practice.

Thus, though Burr's resume includes a range of notable accomplishments -- including serving as an officer in the Continental Army during the American Revolution and becoming a successful lawyer and politician -- his legacy will forever be marred by two infamous events: his duel with Hamilton, which resulted in the former treasury secretary's untimely death, and Burr's alleged attempt to establish a new nation.

No comments: