If Burr’s conversation is to be credited he is not very far from being a visionary. (He has quoted to me Connecticut as an example of the success of the Democratic theory, and as authority, serious doubts whether it was not a good one.) It is ascertained in some instances that he has talked perfect Godwinism. I have myself heard him speak with applause of the French system as unshackling the mind & leaving it to its natural energies, and I have been present when he has contended against Banking Systems with earnestness & with the same arguments that Jefferson would use. (Yet he has lately by a trick established a Bank, a perfect monster in its principles; but a very convenient instrument of profit & influence.)
Alexander Hamilton to James Bayard, January 16, 1801
Quick notes: If Burr did hold up Connecticut as a good example of democracy at this time, it would have been odd since it didn’t have its own state constitution until 1818 (it was still running under it’s charter from Charles II at this time). And the bank mentioned is the Bank of the Manhattan Company, which Burr opened under the disguise of being a water company, which was supposed to supply clean water to the city, but was instead built to combat the Federalist Bank of New York.
Anna Pauline “Pauli” Murray (November 20, 1910 – July 1, 1985) was acivil rights activist, women’s rights activist, lawyer, and author. She was also the first black woman ordained an Episcopal priest. Born in Baltimore, she later moved to New York and obtained a degree in English in 1933. In 1940 she was arrested for violating Virginia’s segregation laws on a bus. This incident, along with her involvement in the socialist Workers Defense League to free a Black sharecropper from execution for killing his white landlord, led her to become a civil rights lawyer. She enrolled at Howard University’s law school where she, along with James Farmer and Bayard Rustin co-founded C.O.R.E. (Congress for Racial Equality) in 1942.
While at Howard, she became conscious of sexism, or “Jane Crow” as she called it. As one of the few women law students there, she found herself the object not of hostility but of ridicule. On her first day of classes she was shocked to hear her professor announce that he didn’t know why women went to law school, but that since they were there, he guessed the men would have to put up with them. She responded with steely silence. “The professor didn’t know it,” she later wrote, “but he had just guaranteed that I would be the top student in his class.”
After passing the California bar exam in 1945, Murray became the state’s first black deputy attorney general. It would be Murray’s 1950 book States’ Laws on Race and Color that NAACP lawyer Thurgood Marshall would hail as the “bible” of the civil rights movement, directly contributing to the 1954 Brown vs. Board decision. Respect for her mind did not improve her treatment by men in the movement however. In 1963, she became one of the first to criticize the sexism of the civil rights movement. In a letter to civil rights leader A. Philip Randolph, among other grievances, she criticized the fact in the 1963 March on Washington no women were invited to make one of the major speeches or to be part of its delegation of leaders who went to the White House:
I have been increasingly perturbed over the blatant disparity between the major role which Negro women have played and are playing in the crucial grassroots levels of our struggle and the minor role of leadership they have been assigned in the national policy-making decisions. It is indefensible to call a national march on Washington and send out a call which contains the name of not a single woman leader.[x]
Murray lived in Ghana from 1960–61, serving on the faculty of the Ghana School of Law. She then returned to the US and studied at Yale Law School, becoming the first African-American to receive a J.S.D. from the school in 1965. Murray co-wrote the critical position papers on the E.R.A., Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and the American Civil Liberties Union brief for the White v. Crook case, which successfully challenged all-white, all-male juries in Lowndes County, Alabama. In 1966 she was one of the founding members of NOW (National Organization for Women), but resigned when the white women of the organization failed to incorporate analysis of racial oppression into their activism.
[I’ve begun to] reassess my entire relationship to the women’s movement and to ponder how I can remain effective without exposing myself to humiliation, for it is humiliating to be deliberately excluded from participation in an area to which one has devoted many years of one’s life.[x]
In 1973, Murray left law and academia for the Episcopal Church, becoming a priest, and was the first Black woman named an Episcopal saint in 2012.
Nothing is more fallacious than to expect to produce any valuable or permanent results, in political projects, by relying merely on the reason of men. Men are rather reasoning than reasonable animals for the most part governed by the impulse of passion. This is a truth well understood by our adversaries who have practised upon it with no small benefit to their cause.
Alexander Hamilton, letter to James Bayard, April, 1802
We give thanks today for those who have been voices in the fight for equality and recognition. We promise to continue on the paths they created (and continue to create) and carry our voices miles more.
[…] Amid the cultural sensation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton” on Broadway, the protagonist’s arch-rival, Thomas Jefferson, has momentarily lost his place of honor in the founding narrative. If Alexander Hamilton is the hero, the Sage of Monticello, though not the villain (that’s Aaron Burr) is an impediment.
In truth, Jefferson and Hamilton were indispensable, the yin and yang of American democracy: Jefferson’s love of liberty and Hamilton’s taste for centralized power created the balance that built the world’s economic and military superpower. And they had common cause in defending their creation.
Their system was under threat in 1800, when a quirk in the electoral college left the federalist-controlled House of Representatives to award the presidency to one of two republicans, Jefferson and Burr. Miranda portrayed Hamilton as reluctantly drawn out of retirement to endorse Jefferson, but Hamilton’s letters show he was zealous in persuading fellow federalists to choose Jefferson — a man with whom he had more ideological differences than with Burr.
The danger to the new country, Hamilton argued, wasn’t ideological disputes, but the possibility that an unprincipled man would exploit public passions. He called Burr a latter-day Catiline, the ancient Roman senator who attempted a populist uprising against the Republic.
Hamilton’s letters from 216 winters ago, which I re-read this week, provide much relevance to this moment, as our 45th president assumes office.
Hamilton was no apologist for Jefferson, whose politics were “tinctured with fanaticism,” and who was “a contemptible hypocrite.” But, Hamilton wrote to Federalist James Bayard of Delaware, Jefferson is not “zealot enough to do anything in pursuance of his principles which will contravene his popularity, or his interest. He is as likely as any man I know to temporize — to calculate what will be likely to promote his own reputation and advantage; and the probable result of such a temper is the preservation of systems, though originally opposed, which being once established, could not be overturned without danger to the person who did it. . . . Add to this that there is no fair reason to suppose him capable of being corrupted, which is a security that he will not go beyond certain limits.”
Some Federalists thought the non-ideological Burr would be more malleable. But, Hamilton countered, a man without theory cannot be “a systematic or able statesman.” Burr is “more cunning than wise . . . inferior in real ability to Jefferson,” Hamilton wrote. “Great Ambition unchecked by principle . . . is an unruly Tyrant.”
The former Treasury secretary warned that Burr’s trafficking in “the floating passions of the multitude” would lead him to “endeavour to disorganize both parties & to form out of them a third composed of men fitted by their characters to be conspirators.”
“He is of a temper to undertake the most hazardous enterprises because he is sanguine enough to think nothing impracticable, and of an ambition which will be content with nothing less than permanent power in his own hands,” he wrote Bayard. “The maintenance of the existing institutions will not suit him, because under them his power will be too narrow & too precarious; yet the innovations he may attempt will not offer the substitute of a system durable & safe, calculated to give lasting prosperity, & to unite liberty with strength. It will be the system of the day, sufficient to serve his own turn, & not looking beyond himself.” […]
Jefferson and Burr — the Democratic-Republican Party’s choices for president and vice president — got 73 votes each. This was a majority over John Adams’s Federalist ticket, but also an outcome that technically counted as a “tie” that had to be resolved by the House (which would have to choose between them, with the runner-up becoming vice president). And many Federalists — who loathed Jefferson and feared his potential presidency — got the idea that they could throw the election to Burr instead.
Now, Burr could have thrown cold water on this scheme by letting it be known he wouldn’t accept the presidency (or that he’d resign from it if the House installed him, thus making vice president Jefferson the president). Indeed, when asked during the campaign what he’d do in case of a tie vote, Burr had said he wouldn’t stand in Jefferson’s way.
But once the electoral tie was apparent, Ron Chernow writes in Hamilton, “Burr changed his mind.” Though he wouldn’t publicly seek or even privately lobby for the presidency (so far as we know), Burr very conspicuously refused to state that he’d turn it down if the House handed it to him.
Some historians characterize this as merely a “passive” move, but it sure looks nakedly ambitious to me. Burr effectively sent the message that he was willing to go along with his longtime rivals’ scheme to deny his own party’s candidate the presidency, just so he could be president instead.
All this threw the country into a serious constitutional crisis, in which it looked like the obvious rightful winner of the presidency might be denied the office due to his enemies’ intrigues.
In the case of a tie, the (lame duck) House of Representatives was to vote on who became president. But again, each state delegation, not each member, got one vote. And a majority of all the state delegations was necessary to win.
At the time, there were 16 states — so Jefferson needed to win nine state delegations to become president.
Yet when the first vote was taken in February 1801, he only came up with eight. All seven state delegations controlled by Jefferson’s party voted for him — and Georgia’s delegation (which was just one Federalist) joined them. But six other Federalist-controlled state delegations went ahead with their plot to vote for Burr. And two more delegations were each split between the parties and therefore between Jefferson and Burr, so they couldn’t cast a vote at all. With the House divided 8-6-2, nobody was elected president.
As the two sides dug in, 34 more rounds of balloting over the next five days kept producing the exact same outcome. It looked like the Federalists could theoretically stall the installation of a new president until past the scheduled inauguration day of March 4. No one knew what would happen then. Would some sort of interim president be installed somehow? Would outgoing president John Adams decide to stay put rather than stepping down?
A violent crisis seemed quite possible. “Republican newspapers talked of military intervention,” Gordon Wood writes in Empire of Liberty. “The governors of Virginia and Pennsylvania began preparing their state militias for action. Mobs gathered in the capital and threatened to prevent any president from being appointed by statute.”
All this time, Hamilton did in fact frantically lobby the Federalists to choose Jefferson over Burr — in even stronger terms than he uses in the musical. Per Chernow, he called Burr “wicked enough to scruple nothing” and “one of the worst men in the community,” and said that Burr once suggested using the new army to “demolish” the “miserable Constitution.” (It is also possible that Hamilton feared a Burr-Federalist alliance would block his own hoped-for political comeback.)
It wasn’t Hamilton who saved the day in the end, though. Credit goes to Rep. James Bayard, a Federalist from Delaware — who was lucky enough to be his state’s only House representative, and therefore in full control of his delegation’s vote.
Though Jefferson would always strongly deny making any deal for the presidency, Bayard got backchannel assurances from Jefferson’s allies that Jefferson would “preserve Hamilton’s financial system, maintain the navy, and retain Federalist bureaucrats below cabinet level,” Chernow writes.
So finally, enough Federalist House members finally abandoned their support of Burr on the 36th ballot, and Jefferson was elected president. Soon afterward, the Constitution would be amended to prevent another near-disaster like this — electors would now vote separately for the offices of president and vice president.