Thursday, October 11, 2007

Executive privilege

Wherein Aaron Burr's grand jury for treason


More from Fallen Founder, the life of Aaron Burr:
[Thomas] Jefferson may have lost his objectivity with regard to Burr's case, but he certainly had not lost his desire to win. In the weeks leading the grand jury's May 22 meeting, he redoubled his energies. The federal government sent out agents to find witnesses, collect depositions, and round up anyone who might testify against Burr, whether or not that person was a credible witness. The administration spent nearly $100,000 in the attempt to convict Burr, a sizable sum for a president who had long opposed a strong central government. Jefferson relied on executive privilege when he sent Hay a batch of blank pardons, and urged the prosecutor to give complete immunity to any of Burr's so-called "accomplices" who could be persuaded to testify against him.

******

Burr was not deterred. He launched into a speech justifying his criticism of the president. "Surely" it is an established principle, sir," he said, "that no government is so high as to be beyond the reach of criticism." In an attempt to destroy a man, vigilance was necessary. Burr went on to cite violations of the law, reminding the court that his "friends had been every where seized by the military authority; a practice truly consonant with European despotisms." Burr's allies in New Orleans had been dragged before tribunals, and forced to give testimony; Burr's own papers and property had been unlawfully seized, and his letters stolen from the post office. Speaking in the third person, Burr went on: An "order had been issued to kill him, as he was descending the Mississippi." All the while the government looked the other way. And now Burr remarked, with undisguised irony, "nothing seemed too extravagant to be forgiven by the amiable morality of this government.

*******

Just as Jefferson had done, Wirt, a future U.S. attorney general, had twisted the rule of law in contending that Burr's guilt was so irrfutable that bringing him to trial was superfluous.

Wickham could hardly believe what he had heard Wirt say. Did he really mean that "the acquittal of Colonel Burr will be a satire on the government"? It was a sad day when the president's handpicked prosecutor confessed "that the character of the government depended on BUrr's guilt."

*******

The court then issued Burr's subpoena to Jefferson. The president complied, up to a point; he gave Hay permission to hand over Wilkinson's letter and any other documents pertaining to Burr's case, though he reserved the right to withhold any information considered confidential.

4 Comments:

Blogger Pastor_Jeff said...

Having read Chernow's bio of Hamilton, I thought of Burr quite negatively, also -- not that Hamilton was an angel himself. Now you're making me want to read more on Burr.

But whatever perspective on Burr and Hamilton is lost to history, hopefully we can all agree that Jefferson was a brilliant, gifted, dishonest, backstabbing, self-serving, hypocritical, egotistical, scum-sucking rat bastard.

10/11/2007 03:13:00 PM  
Blogger bill said...

I was thinking about reading the Chernow biography, but Callimachus didn't care for it. I'll have to ask him for another recommendation.

Isenberg is a very engaging author and almost paints a picture of Burr being the only honest man in the Colonies. That seems a bit much. It's an enjoyable book and I look forward to tracking down some other perspectives.

10/11/2007 03:35:00 PM  
Blogger bill said...

Another thing to keep in mind is that I'm not pulling balanced quotes. While Isenberg thinks her accurate historical record should partially resurrect Burr's reputation, it's not as lop-sided as my quotes may lead you to believe.

10/11/2007 03:44:00 PM  
Blogger Pastor_Jeff said...

Oh, I figured everyone is selling "their" guy -- this most recent stuff on Jefferson just reinforces my above opinion.

10/11/2007 04:11:00 PM  

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