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Fallen Founder: The Life of Aaron Burr

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Fallen Founder: The Life of Aaron Burr Cover

ISBN13: 9780143113713
ISBN10: 0143113712
Condition: Standard
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Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

This definitive biography of the revolutionary era villain overturns every myth and image we have of him

The narrative of Americas founding is filled with godlike geniusesFranklin, Washington, Adams, Jeffersonversus the villainous Aaron Burr. Generations have been told Burr was a betrayerof Hamilton, of his country, of those who had nobler ideas. All untrue. He did not turn on Hamilton; rather, the politically aggressive Hamilton was preoccupied with Burr and subverted Burrs career at every turn for more than a decade through outright lies and slanderous letters.

In Fallen Founder, Nancy Isenberg portrays the founders as they all really were and proves that Burr was no less a patriot and no less a principled thinker than those who debased him. He was an inspired politician who promoted decency at a moment when factionalism and ugly party politics were coalescing. He was a genuine hero of the Revolution, as much an Enlightenment figure as Jefferson, and a feminist generations ahead of his time. A brilliant orator and lawyer, he was New Yorks attorney general, a senator, and vice president. Denounced as a man of extreme tastes, he in fact pursued a moderate course, and his political assassination was accomplished by rivals who feared his power and who promoted the notion of his sexual perversions.

Fallen Founder is an antidote to the worshipful biographies far too prevalent in the histories of the revolutionary era. Burrs story returns us to reality: to the cunning politicians our nations founders really were and to a world of political maneuvering, cutthroat politicking, and media slander that is stunningly modern.

Synopsis:

A controversial challenge to the works of Ron Chernow and David McCullough

With Fallen Founder, Nancy Isenberg plumbs rare and obscure sources to shed new light on everyoneas favorite founding villain. The Aaron Burr whom we meet through Isenbergas eye-opening biography is a feminist, an Enlightenment figure on par with Jefferson, a patriot, andamost importantlyaa man with powerful enemies in an age of vitriolic political fighting. Revealing the gritty reality of eighteenth-century America, Fallen Founder is the authoritative restoration of a figure who ran afoul of history and a much-needed antidote to the hagiography of the revolutionary era.

Synopsis:

A controversial challenge to the works of Ron Chernow and David McCullough

With Fallen Founder , Nancy Isenberg plumbs rare and obscure sources to shed new light on everyone?s favorite founding villain. The Aaron Burr whom we meet through Isenberg?s eye-opening biography is a feminist, an Enlightenment figure on par with Jefferson, a patriot, and?most importantly?a man with powerful enemies in an age of vitriolic political fighting. Revealing the gritty reality of eighteenth-century America, Fallen Founder is the authoritative restoration of a figure who ran afoul of history and a much-needed antidote to the hagiography of the revolutionary era.

About the Author

Nancy Isenberg is the Mary Frances Barnard Chair in nineteenth-century American history at the University of Tulsa. She is the author of Sex and Citizenship in Antebellum America, which was chosen as the best book in the field for 1999 by the Society of Historians of the Early American Republic.

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rollyson2002, September 10, 2012 (view all comments by rollyson2002)
"It is time to start over," contends Nancy Isenberg in her iconoclastic "Fallen Founder: The Life of Aaron Burr" (Viking, 544 pages, $29.95). Burr is, of course, infamous for killing Alexander Hamilton in a duel. But historians have also branded Burr a Machiavellian villain who schemed to deny Thomas Jefferson the presidency and most likely committed treason, even though he escaped conviction.

Ms. Isenberg faults historians and biographers for not examining Burr's papers ��" although many were lost, thus obscuring the man, she acknowledges. In popular fiction, as well, she notes, Burr has been portrayed as a Gothic villain, highly sexed and unscrupulous, a depiction that derives from the notion expressed, for example, in the "Federalist No. 6," that "sexual corruption (i.e., seductive women) could be equated with disunion." Yet, she adds: "It should be clear that Hamilton was not one degree less libidinous than Burr:"

If one reads the newspapers, rather than simply relying on the papers of prominent founders (Hamilton, Jefferson, Adams), it soon becomes clear that sexual satire pervaded politics. The sexualization of Aaron Burr was a means for his opponents to increase their political capital, because the vocabulary to do so was already part of the political scene ��" not because of Burr's particular shortcomings.

Gore Vidal made the same point in "Burr" (1973), which Ms. Isenberg briefly mentions, but she does not acknowledge that her book validates Mr. Vidal's view of a man abiding by important principles the shifty Thomas Jefferson never respected, and living by a code of honor that the scandalmongering Alexander Hamilton could not fathom. Surprisingly, Ms. Isenberg spares not a word for William Carlos Williams's essay on Burr in "In The American Grain" (1925), which portrays the fallen founder as the very feminist Ms. Isenberg lauds, a man who believed in equal rights for women and practiced his principles in regard to his wife and daughter.

A man with an excellent war record as a staff officer under Washington, attorney general of New York, then a senator, Burr received 30 electoral votes for the presidency in 1796, and tied Jefferson in 1800. Indeed, many electors favored Burr over Jefferson because Burr was a man of both action and principle. He had an admirable reputation in New York ��"arguing for lower and fairer taxes and various public improvements ��" that aroused the envy of his rival, Hamilton.

There is no evidence that Burr tried to undermine Jefferson's election ��" Burr was quite amenable to serving as Jefferson's vice president. But Burr did resent Hamilton's swinging his support to Jefferson in the 1800 election, and the tension between them increased when Hamilton bruited about charges that Burr was a "despicable" man and public servant. Burr demanded that Hamilton explain what he meant, and Hamilton waffled, giving his version of "it depends what you mean by sex."

Hamilton accepted Burr's challenge to a duel in New Jersey (where such affairs of honor were legal), even though Hamilton claimed he opposed dueling. Hamilton left word that he would not aim to wound his opponent. Yet, as Ms. Isenberg notes, Hamilton carefully examined the dueling ground, took up various positions to check the sun's angle, and then put on his spectacles ��" not exactly the behavior of a man who did not intend to shoot straight. Afterward, Gouverneur Morris, a man who was an excellent "bullshit detector" (to use Hemingway's term) doubted the veracity of Hamilton's pre-duel pacifist declaration.

While many condemned Burr ��" even alleging that he had somehow got the drop on Hamilton (it is not clear who shot first) ��" many believed he behaved like a gentleman, and his popularity soared in the South. Jefferson had no qualms about dining several times with Burr after the duel, and all charges against Burr were eventually dropped. He returned to Washington, D.C., and presided with dignity and acumen over the impeachment trial of Justice Salmon Chase, drawing praise even from his political enemies.

But Burr's political career in New York was over. As many Americans did then and since, he went west, hoping to recoup his political power, and earned the admiration of men like Andrew Jackson. Burr's enemies said he was forming an army to occupy the West and overthrow Jefferson's administration. Jefferson himself, besotted with suspicion after reading Republican newspapers and relying on doubtful intelligence, rigged a treason prosecution. Already acquitted by three grand juries, Burr faced trial in Richmond, emerging triumphant both in the jury's verdict and in Chief Justice John Marshall's judgment. At worst, Burr was guilty of a misdemeanor, for organizing a "filibuster," a private army intent on liberating Mexico from the Spanish ��" although no proof was ever produced that such an army actually existed.

As in Mr. Vidal's novel, Thomas Jefferson emerges in Ms. Isenberg's biography as a chief executive who never seems to have understood the crucial importance of an independent judiciary or of the rule of law. It was sufficient for him to believe the "will of the people" had turned against Burr and therefore he should be punished. Burr, for his part, submitted himself to the legal process again and again, trusting in the courts. He was a brilliant lawyer, of course, but his exoneration was no mere "technicality."

I haven't done justice to Ms. Isenberg's scrupulous handling of evidence. Her work is profoundly original, and if American historians do not "start over again," they will be doing their own profession ��" not to mention the history of their country ��" an injustice.
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780143113713
Author:
Isenberg, Nancy
Publisher:
Penguin Books
Subject:
United States - 18th Century
Subject:
Historical - U.S.
Subject:
Political
Subject:
Historical
Subject:
Soldiers -- United States.
Subject:
United States -- History -- Revolution, 1775-
Subject:
Biography-Historical
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Paperback / softback
Publication Date:
20080531
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Grade Level:
from 12
Language:
English
Illustrations:
b/w illustrations and maps throughout
Pages:
560
Dimensions:
8.45x5.54x1.14 in. 1.08 lbs.
Age Level:
from 18

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Related Subjects

Biography » Historical
Biography » Political
History and Social Science » US History » 1800 to Civil War
History and Social Science » US History » 19th Century
History and Social Science » US History » Early American Biographies

Fallen Founder: The Life of Aaron Burr Used Trade Paper
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$6.50 In Stock
Product details 560 pages Penguin Books - English 9780143113713 Reviews:
"Synopsis" by , A controversial challenge to the works of Ron Chernow and David McCullough

With Fallen Founder, Nancy Isenberg plumbs rare and obscure sources to shed new light on everyoneas favorite founding villain. The Aaron Burr whom we meet through Isenbergas eye-opening biography is a feminist, an Enlightenment figure on par with Jefferson, a patriot, andamost importantlyaa man with powerful enemies in an age of vitriolic political fighting. Revealing the gritty reality of eighteenth-century America, Fallen Founder is the authoritative restoration of a figure who ran afoul of history and a much-needed antidote to the hagiography of the revolutionary era.

"Synopsis" by ,
A controversial challenge to the works of Ron Chernow and David McCullough

With Fallen Founder , Nancy Isenberg plumbs rare and obscure sources to shed new light on everyone?s favorite founding villain. The Aaron Burr whom we meet through Isenberg?s eye-opening biography is a feminist, an Enlightenment figure on par with Jefferson, a patriot, and?most importantly?a man with powerful enemies in an age of vitriolic political fighting. Revealing the gritty reality of eighteenth-century America, Fallen Founder is the authoritative restoration of a figure who ran afoul of history and a much-needed antidote to the hagiography of the revolutionary era.

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