Monday, December 7, 2009

Reading Rainbow: Fallen Founder: The Life of Aaron Burr by Nancy Isenberg

Not being an historian of any sort myself (I haven't taken a proper history class since my junior year of high school in 1996-'97), I have to admit that I am no authority on the American Revolution.

With that admittance out in the open, Nancy Isenberg's thoroughly researched 2007 biography of the controversial Aaron Burr is absolutely convincing in painting its portrait of a man who has been short-changed in the larger eye of history. Taking into account the hyper-partisan press, the Alexander Hamilton-led Federalist party, and the myriad jealousy-driven factions within his own disjointed Republican party, Isenberg lays more than ample groundwork to make her case.

Through her extensive research, she is able to tell the story of the nation's third Vice President. His potential for broad appeal affixed a target to his back, and his opponents (read: nearly every man wielding any political power after the slightly mishandled election of 1800) took nearly every chance they got to take him down. Despite his best efforts--or possibly because of them--to remain neutral and independent, he ended up getting dragged through the mud worse than any of his peers.

*The notes and index run a whopping 125 of the hardcover's 540 total pages.

Having had his character repeatedly assailed by the spurious and pernicious Alexander Hamilton, the fed-up Aaron Burr finally made the fateful challenge. All of this came closely on the heels of his President abandoning him, fearing for the preservation of the Virginia Dynasty and buying into the baseless lies sold by Burr's foes in print and politics (although little separated the two).

Following those two career-destroying events and fueled by his financial woes resulting from his failed land speculating in years past, he made a run at a privatized liberation of Spanish territories to the west of the Louisiana Territory (any government involvement would have been viewed as an act of war). Unbeknownst to Burr, he had taken a double agent into his inner circle, who then sold Burr out to sitting President Thomas Jefferson by misrepresenting Burr's intent as having been secessionist.

Already we're talking about a pretty compelling story, complete with very vivid personal letters lending Burr's own voice to his biographers set of tools. There is also further characterization of Thomas Jefferson as a politically insecure, passive-aggressive douchebag with a penchant for trusting the wrong people. So clearly what we're talking about is one of the most interesting, historically maligned figures from out batch of founding fathers. Coupled with a fresh take (I hesitate to label this revisionist because of the bitter pang that the term takes for me, personally), this is totally worth your time and effort.

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