Fallen Founder

Fallen Founder
Nancy Isenberg

Where, exactly, did Aaron Burr go wrong? He had intelligence, professional competence, and charm. He had a respectable resume from the Revolutionary War. He had connections. He seems to have been no more debauched or corrupt than many of his illustrious peers. And, finally, many of the worst charges against him — about his role in the 1800 election and a later filibustering expedition apparently aimed at invading Mexico — were bum raps. But today he is the black sheep among America’s “founding fathers,” remembered mainly for having killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel (true) and attempting to overthrow the government in a coup (not true). So . . . where did he go wrong? Ironically, he appears to have been too idealistic, to the point of naivete. A more cynical type — a Hamilton, say, or Thomas Jefferson — would have done a better job of playing the game. Burr wasn’t, he lost, and as we all know, it’s the winners who write history.