Tuesday, January 28, 2020



Way back in  1800, (according to Monday’s Los Angeles Times), Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr, both running for president, were tied—amazingly--in Electoral College votes.  One house of Congress was forced to decide between them.

As it developed, the political party making the decision did not feel either man represented their beliefs, but decided that Aaron Burr would be much easier to control, that he would bend to their wishes. Ready to cast their votes for Burr, they were stopped by an incensed Alexander Hamilton, who stepped in to dissuade them.  Noting that Burr was a man he knew well from New York political and legal circles, he said Burr was “deficient in honesty”  and “one of the most unprincipled men in the UStates.” 

Hamilton also said, “When a man unprincipled in private life, desperate in his fortune, bold in his temper; possessed of considerable talents” . . . “having the advantage of military habits—despotic in his ordinary demeanor—known to have scoffed in private at the principles of liberty—when such a man is seen to mount the hobbyhorse of popularity—to join in the cry of danger to liberty—to take every opportunity of embarrassing the General Government and bringing it under suspicion—to flatter and fall in with all the nonsense of the zealots of the day—it may justly be suspected that his object is to throw things into confusion that he may ‘ride the storm and direct the whirlwind.’”    

Still, the deciding party had already observed that Jefferson’s principles, as Secretary of State, did not please them.  Yet Alexander Hamilton persisted in his arguments. If Burr was made president, Hamilton said, “he will disturb our institutions,” and “disgrace our Country abroad.”  He would “listen to no monitor but his ambition,”  and further, he was (to quote the Times) governed by a singular position—“to get power by any means and keep it by all means.”

Though Hamilton knew Jefferson did not please the deciding party, he would not give up his clamor against Aaron Burr.  At least, he said in one of his dozen letters to Congress, Jefferson was a man devoted to the Constitution. 

In today’s impeachment conflicts, Adam Schiff has become our Alexander Hamilton, quoting this astute distant scholar for the benefit of the American public—noting how much Burr and Trump have in common. 

But it was the Los Angeles Times that made this point: “In a striking echo to the impeachment charges against Trump, Hamilton further noted that if Burr ever reached the White House, there was a risk that, for the purpose of self-benefit, he would undertake  “a bargain and sale with some foreign power, or combinations  with public agents in projects of gain by means of the public monies.” 

The dismissal of Burr’s candidacy did not come easily: It took 36 ballots to achieve the presidency in Thomas Jefferson’s favor.  As we look back at Aaron Burr—this earlier version of Donald Trump—some of us wonder whether our country and our constitution would have survived under the dishonesty and political ambitions of Aaron Burr.  Would he, too, have lied to the public some 4000 times? 

How often has Trump bragged that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue in  New York City and “my voters would still support me.” 

Well, the irony is, years ago, that exact scenario occurred: In a duel that should have been stopped, Aaron Burr killed Alexander Hamilton.  And ever since, everyone who has read a history book has come to despise the name of Aaron Burr. 

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