A Celebration of Women Writers

"Part VII, Chapter 68." by Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall (1876-)
From: This country of ours; the story of the United States by Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall (1876-) New York, George H. Doran company, 1917.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom


CHAPTER 68
JEFFERSON–ABOUT AN AMERICAN WHO WANTED TO BE A KING

WHEN Jefferson had been chosen President, another man named Aaron Burr had run him very close. And, when the final choice fell on Jefferson, Aaron Burr became Vice-President. He was much disappointed at not becoming President, and a few years later he tried to be elected Governor of New York. But again, someone else was chosen, and Burr was again very much disappointed, and he began to blame Alexander Hamilton, who for many years had been his constant rival, for all his failure. So he challenged Hamilton to fight a duel.

Aaron Burr, 1756-1836;

he challenges Hamilton to fight, 1804;

In those days, duels were still common, for people had not come to see that they were both wicked and foolish. Hamilton did not want to fight, but he knew people would call him coward if he did not. He was not brave enough to stand that. So he fought.

 

Early one July morning in 1804, the two men met. Burr took steady aim and fired, Hamilton, firing wildly into the air, fell forward dying.

 

Hamilton had been selfish and autocratic, and many people disliked him. Now when they heard of his death, they forgot that. They only remembered how much the nation owed to the man who had put their money matters right. The whole country rose in anger against Burr, and called him a murderer.

 

Seeing the outcry against him becoming so great, Burr fled to Philadelphia. But even there, people looked at him askance, so he decided to go for a tour in the West.

he goes for a tour in the West;

His travels took him to Marietta, Ohio, the little town which had been founded by Rufus Putnam; then to Cincinnati and Louisville, and so southward till he reached New Orleans.

 

There he began to have secret meetings with all the chief men, for Burr was now full of a great idea.

 

He had failed to get into power in the United States, and his failure had made him bitter. He had killed the man who he thought was his greatest enemy. And that, instead of helping him, had caused the people to cast him out altogether. Now he determined to own an empire for himself, and have nothing more to do with the United States. He had in fact made up his mind to divide the West from the East, and make himself Emperor of the West under the title of Aaron I. The Empire was to be kept in the family, and his beautiful daughter Theodosia was to be Queen after him; but it was gravely debated whether her husband could take the title of King or not.

he decides to make himself Emperor;

The mad scheme grew daily. Burr's plan was suddenly to seize both President and Vice-President. Then having the heads of government in his power he would next lay hands on the public money and the navy. He would take what ships he wanted, burn the rest, and, sailing to New Orleans, he would proclaim his empire. But Burr dare not let every one know his real intentions, and so he gave out that he meant to lead an expedition against Mexico.

 

As time went on hundreds of people knew of his conspiracy. It was talked of everywhere. But Jefferson paid no heed. He did not believe that Burr meant any treason against the Union. So the conspirators went on building boats, and arming men, undisturbed.

 

But things did not go so smoothly as Burr had hoped. He had expected to get help from Britain, and he got none. He had expected help from Spain, and he got none. Still he went on with his scheming. He had even written out his Declaration of Independence it was said, when suddenly the end came. One of Burr's friends betrayed him and at length President Jefferson woke up to what was going on.

 

At once he issued a proclamation declaring that a conspiracy against Spain was being carried on, and commanding all officers of the United States to seize the persons engaged in the plot. No name was mentioned in the proclamation, but Burr knew his plot was discovered. Once more he had failed; and he fled. He changed clothes with a boatman on the Mississippi, and vanished into the forest.

his plot is discovered, 1807;

he flees;

For a month no one knew where he was, for beneath the battered white felt and homespun clothes of a river boatman no one recognised the dapper politician.

 

Meanwhile Burr was slowly making his way east hoping to reach the coast, and get away in some ship. He had still many friends, and one night he stopped at a cottage to ask his way to the house of one of these friends. In the cottage were two young men. One of them, named Perkins, looked keenly at the stranger. It seemed to him that his face and clothes were not in keeping, and his boots looked to smart for the rest of his get up.

 

After the stranger had gone he still thought about it. Then suddenly he said, "That was Aaron Burr. Let us go after him and arrest him."

 

The other man, however, laughed at him, and refused to stir. So Perkins went off alone to find the sheriff, and soon the two were riding posthaste after the stranger.

 

When they reached the house to which Burr had asked the way, Perkins stayed outside with the horses, and the sheriff went into the house. He was going to arrest a bold bad man, and it would be a great feather in his cap. So in he marched feeling very firm and grand, expecting to find a terrible ruffian of a fellow. But instead of a terrible ruffian the sheriff found a pleasant, delightful gentleman, and a brilliant talker. So the poor sheriff's heart failed him. He really could not arrest this charming gentleman, and instead he stayed to hear him talk.

 

Meanwhile out in the cold Perkins waited with the horses, and as the hours went past and the sheriff did not return he guessed what had happened. But he was not going to be done out of his capture. So he went off to the captain of the fort, and told him of his discovery. The captain was not so easily charmed as the sheriff, and before the next evening Burr found himself a prisoner in the fort.

he is taken prisoner;

There he remained for about three weeks; then he was sent to Richmond, Virginia, to be tried.

 

It was a journey of about a thousand miles, and in those days there were of course no railways and even few roads. A great part of the way led through pathless forest and wilderness, and the whole journey had to be done on horseback. But Perkins undertook to see the thing through, and with a guard of nine men they set off.

 

It was a toilsome march. They had to carry food with them, and as often as not had to sleep in the open air. They swam their horses over rivers, and picked their way through swamps, while hostile Indians hung about their track. Every day was the same, but still day after day they pushed on.

 

Once Burr tried to escape. They were riding through a small town in South Carolina where he knew that he had many friends. So suddenly he leapt from his horse crying out, "I am Aaron Burr, a prisoner. I claim your protection."

he tries to escape;

But as quick as lightning Perkins was off his horse too, and with a pistol in either hand he stood before Burr.

 

"Mount," he said; "get up."

 

The two men glared at each other.

 

"I will not," replied Burr defiantly, heedless of the pistols.

 

Perkins had no wish to shed blood. Burr was not a very big man. For an instant Perkins measured him with his eye. Then throwing his pistols down, without a word he seized his prisoner, and lifted him into his saddle, as if he had been a child. And almost before the townspeople had realised what had happened the company was well on its way again.

 

The trial was long and exciting. Most people believed Burr guilty of treason, but it was difficult to prove. So in the end he was set free.

he is tried and set free;

The American people, however, would have nothing more to do with him. The law might say he was innocent, but nevertheless they felt he was a traitor. So he was hunted and hounded from place to place, and at length changing his name he slipped on board a ship and sailed for Europe.

he goes to Europe;

But even there he found no peace. He was turned out of England, and looked upon with suspicion in France. He was often penniless and in want, and after four years of unhappy wandering he returned home.

returns to America, 1812;

He found that he and his misdeeds were well nigh forgotten. No one took any notice of him. So taking no more part in public life he quietly settled down in New York.

 

Under all the blows of fortune Burr never bowed his head. For although every one else might think him a traitor his beautiful daughter Theodosia believed in him and loved him. He as passionately loved her, and in all his wanderings he carried her portrait with him.

 

But now the worst misfortunes of his life overtook him. For a few weeks after he landed in America, Theodosia wrote to tell him that her little boy had died. This was a great grief to Burr, for he loved his grandson only a little less than his daughter.

 

The worst was still to come, however. Theodosia set out from Carolina to visit her father. But the ship in which she sailed never came to port. It was never heard of again, and all on board were lost.

his daughter is drowned

Now at length Burr's head was bowed. Life held nothing more for him, and he cared no longer to live. But death passed him by. So for more than twenty years he lived, a lonely forsaken old man. He was eighty years old when he died.

 

[Next]

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

This book has been put on-line as part of the BUILD-A-BOOK Initiative at the
Celebration of Women Writers.
Initial text entry and proof-reading of this book were the work of volunteers at
Ambleside Online.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom