This is the first in a series of essays on Jefferson and Burr.
Originally posted January 24, 2011 at: http://thejvbforum.blogspot.com/2011/01/burr-jefferson-1.htm.
About a week or so ago, I finished reading Henry Adams' circa 1300-page history of Jefferson's two administrations. Adams' portrayal of Jefferson is remarkable and his insights into events is no less remarkable. But, as usual, his view of Burr is badly skewed.
Two things I discovered:
(1) Jefferson was the most revered and most powerful president perhaps ever in American history ... and he ended in utter humiliation and disgrace, nearly having precipitated the secession of New England and quite nearly a revolt, and having completely alienated even his most avid supporters.
(2) Had Burr not left the country, had he stayed and fought it out, he might have had another chance at regaining power.
(3) What Jefferson vehemently persecuted Burr for actually came true after Burr and at the hands of others not in any way affiliated with Burr. This means, Jefferson either anticipated what happened and projected it onto Burr or he acted the part of the persecutor foreshadowing his own persecution.
Today, I determined to write my novel on the internet and to do so in an unusual way. I intend to annotate Henry Adams' tome, filling in on Burr as I go. I've begun to see that the task of reconstructing Burr requires placing him in context and that requires retelling the entire story of Jefferson's two administrations, at the very least (and probably also the electoral tie). If I annotate Adams' book, I can use it and turn it into a novel by supplying the missing scenes and internal dialogues. This is nothing Shakespeare wouldn't have done.
I learned something crucial today. It's amazing how after 30 years of reading on this subject, I still make discoveries. I knew that Burr had claimed that his expedition to the west was sanctioned by the Jefferson administration. Today I came upon a letter from Burr that says the following (original spelling retained):
I am authorised in saying that it is the wish of Govt. that American setlers should go to the country west of the Mississippi in the Orleans Territory -- Indeed a man high in office, & in the confidence of the Pres[iden]t. told me that I should render a very great service to the public and afford pleasure to the administration, if I should take ten thousand men to that country -- (I wish it was in my power) -- Notwithstanding all this, I am told that the utmost alarm has been excited in your neighbourhood on account of preparations which I am making for about 100 or 150 Setlers -- The rumors of my building Gun Boats, Ships &ca. have been fabricated by a few designing men illy affected to the Govt. and I am surprized to hear that some well disposed and intelligent men have become the Dupes (Burr to Edward W. Tupper, 18 Nov. 1806, Kline 2:1002). The editor of Burr's papers writes: "Most contemporary reports indicate that AB and his associates hinted that their friend "high in office" was [Secretary of War] Henry Dearborn" (Kline 2:1004n5).
When one considers that Burr put Jefferson in office, that without Burr's efforts in New York, Jefferson would never have been elected -- not even close --, and that Burr had consistently refused to make a deal with Federalists to steal the election from Jefferson, Jefferson's perfidy in allowing Burr to believe Burr had the Administration's permission and encouragement to go west and settle his lands ... considering, too, that such filibustering expeditions as Burr's planned one into Mexico were supported by Jefferson both before he came into office and after, both before and after Burr's ... one must admit that Jefferson's perfidy is monumental and terrible. So great, in fact, that it should be viewed as evil and one cannot help but see the picture Jefferson caused to be painted of Burr as a giant projection of Jefferson's perpetrated evils upon Burr.