In the months between and including May and September, in 1807, Aaron Burr was tried by the Supreme Court in Virginia on the count of treason against the United States. During the period of 1804 to 1807, Burr allegedly committed several overt acts, which are actions, that may be innocent in themselves, but in combination with the intentions and results of that act, become criminal actions. The trial was about treason, which the Constitution defines as “levying war against [the United States], or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid or comfort,” (Art. III, Sect. 3) and the prosecution must prove that Burr committed the overt act with the testimony of two witnesses, for the treason conviction to stand. In this trial, Burr’s actions outside of the state of Virginia have no bearing on the overt act of assembling troops to levy war against the United States, and therefore the majority of his admissible actions occurred on Blennerhasset’s Island in Virginia.
(Doc 108) Although the prosecution made a strong case for Burr’s guilt, the differentiation between his intentions and his actions, his background as an American patriot and the lack of concrete evidence, one must conclude that Aaron Burr is not guilty of treason. He perhaps was even the victim of a larger governmental conspiracy to rid him of all prestige, honor and legacy. The prosecution tried to prove that Burr used his power to assemble an army of men to conquer New Orleans, then Mexico and eventually found a new nation composed of the Western American states and Mexico. The fault in their argument is that his actions do not necessarily point directly towards this conclusion. It is true that Burr wrote letters and even discussed a new war with Spain and the formation of a new nation, but this does not constitute treason for “individuals may meet together and traitorously determine to make dispositions to bring forces into the field, and levy war against their country; this is a conspiracy, but not treason.” (Doc 108) Therefore, even if Burr intended to eventually enact his plan, the simple act of planning it does not constitute treason. But even the true intentions of Burr remain unclear, for he had recently purchased 400, 000 acres of land in the Western states and perhaps he assembled these men to settle it.
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(Doc 33) His actions of enlisting men, arming them and supplying them does not constitute treason because the overt act remains innocent without confirmation of intent to harm the United States. The case against Aaron Burr made him out to be an evil, anti-American who wanted nothing but personal power. In actuality Burr was something of a patriot, a loyal believer in democratic society and politics. Before his trial for treason, Burr was a Revolutionary colonel, a New York politician and finally the Vice President of the United States.
Now how could a man rise to such upstanding position if he harbored a hate for democracy and American? The answer is he couldn’t, he was a patriot, a valiant figure of democratic-republican ideals. In one battle his commanding officer was hit my a musket ball and “as soon as the General fell… Burr returned back alone and attempted, amidst a shower of musquetry, to bring off his own shoulder, the body of Montgomery… this attempt of Burr’s gave him much eclat with our army.” (Doc 1) This again shows Burr loyalty to America and his devotion to its success. Finally, for any of these charges to even be viable, one this must be present; the testimony of two witnesses to Burr’s overt acts.
The prosecution did not present any two such witnesses; it had Jacob Albright, who saw ships and various armed men, and some letters to and from Burr, that although seemingly incriminating, not true sources of information. General Wilkinson often corresponded with Thomas Jefferson as to Burr’s intentions, but never were these letters written under oath or otherwise verified for truth. Also, multiple witness heard of Burr’s actions and his follower’s actions, but never could place him at the scene, and is therefore irrelevant since “no testimony relative to the conduct or declarations of [Burr] elsewhere and subsequent to the transaction on Blennerhasset’s Island can be admitted.” (Doc 109) In addition to this, even if he did enlist men, for whatever reason, “the mere enlisting of men, without assembling them, is not levying war,” (Doc 107) and since he was never present on the island to “assemble” them men, he is not guilty of treason. The trial against Aaron Burr brought up a whole variety of actions and intentions, some by him, some by his generals and some by our government. The evidence and facts against Burr, although lengthy, do not hold up under critical scrutiny, for they are merely coincidental and often contradictory. Perhaps the most intriguing item that was presented during the entire case was the possibility, and now almost certainty, that there was some form of conspiracy against Burr.
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For in a letter from Thomas Jefferson, the President’s intentions in the case become clear; he wants to use Burr as an example of those who rebel against common ideals and established process in America. Jefferson wrote, “this criminal is preserved to become the rallying point of all the disaffected, and the worthless of the US,” (Doc 113) and in this he further showed his remaining bitterness against Burr for challenging him for the presidency. The acquittal of Aaron Burr on the count of treason against the United States was one brought by a prosecution that did not provide adequate witnesses or evidence and a defense that adequately refuted the prosecutions points; therefore creating reasonable doubt that Burr had committed any overt acts or treason.