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ously, their efforts have been circumscribed and their results defective. How could it be otherwise?
The worst of it is that to these galleries alone have our children had access. Accordingly, the views they hold are distorted, mean and jaundiced. It is just as easy to create in the mind of a child a false picture as it is to fix in it a right one. And it is difficult to effect exchanges later in life, for some of these pictures are swung high on the walls out of reach. For example, if I may be pardoned, I had attained my junior year in college without ever so much as questioning the fact of Burr's treason. Nobody did. The books set it down. I was as sure of it as our historians could make me with their handicraft in the galleries! But suddenly one day-I shall not forget it—a true picture swung into place and Burr was no longer a traitor! But even today, with all the evidence available, a few die-hard disciples of the old school mope and growl, and point to the dusty pictures with regret at their eclipse.
The life of a man, as that of a state, can truthfully be written only when all the facts are carefully appraised and those facts fitted into the frame of the times. It takes a clear eye and a keen ear, and a delicate faculty for weighing and adjusting details, to make a good biographer or historian. And over and above these qualifications, there should be genius, which has its springs in the nebulous regions of the Soul. Even then, as I have somewhere written:
"History is after all but a fascinating show, seen by no two men alike. At its worst it is a shifting train of illusions. At its best it reveals itself only in hazy pictures trailing some whither across the screen of time."
It was a quiet little world into which Aaron Burr was born on February 6, 1756, and how contrasted with the turbulent one into which he was presently to emerge. His birth was attended by no miraculous shooting of stars or other divine demonstration of indulgence. He was just plain Aaron Burr, named after his father, an eminent divine and teacher, who was presently to go from a pastorate in Newark, New Jersey, to the presidency of Princeton College.
Aaron Burr, the father, was an excellent and able man, but destined at forty-two to be taken off with a fever. And, as though the Fates were early at their conspiracies, a few months later, Esther, the mother, daughter of Jonathan Edwards, followed her adored husband across the sundown slope. Two little orphans were left, Sarah and Aaron. They came at length to live in the household of Timothy Edwards, where they were reared, perhaps, with not too much kindliness.
Aaron probably wore his swaddling cloths like most babies; it was only when he got into knee breeches and bounded off to school that he demonstrated his superiority. When he graduated from Princeton he was but sixteen. Already, however, he had shown to those with whom he had come in contact that he was of a superior mould. With a mind that functioned almost automatically, with his perceptions keen as a lance, he entered the precincts of the world armed for its conquest.
For two or three years Burr loafed and studied and flirted as youth will; had it out with his people who expected him to adopt the Church, in keeping with the family tradition; chose the Law instead and em
barked on its study, little witting that its pursuit would eventually lead him into politics, and politics to his doom!
When the foremost winds of the Revolution whipped across the land, Burr was one of the first to espouse the cause of the colonies, and when the conflict broke he was early found in the camp before Boston. He went with the American Army of invasion into Canada and came back with citations for valor; he became an officer and for a time commanded the lines above New York City. At length he retired from the Army, married and embarked on his life's work-the Law.
It was a love marriage, that of Aaron Burr and Theodosia Prevost; and when Theodosia, the daughter, came Burr's polar star was fixed. The love of Burr for his Theodosia raises him high above the ranks of ordinary mortals, who too often bring children into the world and loose them to return to the Infinite, perhaps the poorer for their earthly pilgrimage. Burr's married life with Theodosia Prevost was admirable in the last degree, measured in human terms; and her death was a catastrophe, the import of which, as affecting his life, there is none can appraise. Certain it is that the old Burr went into the grave with her and the Burr that remained behind?-well, you shall see for yourself.
In 1800, six years after his wife's death, Burr's political troubles began in earnest. Then it was he came to issues with Jefferson, when, quite unexpectedly, the two were tied in the Electoral College for the office of President of the United States. Had Burr been a trickster he might easily have been chosen
Chief Executive; but he was playing the game squarely. However, he did not save himself from the jealous, suspicious Jefferson, who at once saw that he had to reckon with a leader of men, and from that day forward Burr was marked for destruction. No measure or opportunity was to be overlooked, and so to the end was Burr trailed by a pack of hounds yelping lies and digging up bones the gossips had buried, rotten bones of defamation and treachery.
Jefferson, with all his genius, had in his makeup a cankerous taint which was vented in his doublecrossing and persecution of Burr. Sad and depressing spectacle. The duel with Hamilton was indirectly the outcome of the President's hostility, for Burr realized that he could maintain himself in the party only through the backing of the great State of New York-and to keep that backing meant that Hamilton must cease his lying attacks. And to silence Hamilton? It took a pistol shot, and the story of that encounter has been written all over our history. Possibly no single event has been so exaggerated, and certainly the dwarfed figure of Hamilton has been stretched until the canvas has cracked and torn. Presently we shall have a new portrait of him. I wonder whether we shall be able to recognize the man in his new frame?
The climax of Jefferson's persecution was reached in the trial of Burr for treason, one of the most deliberate, cold-blooded prosecutions that history records. The President left nothing undone to convict Burr. He pardoned some of the accused; he bribed Eaton, a plain liar, with public funds; and saved Wilkinson, a dastardly wretch, from public condem
nation-all to no avail. The results of that trial might be offered as a biting corollary to the Bill of Rights, which Jefferson himself is credited with writing-a choice bit of irony out of the ages.
In the life of Burr the episode known as the Conspiracy stands pre-eminent. Our history holds none other to match it in mazy colors and puzzling combinations. It was a movement in its evolution as logical as any fact of our times, but for a century, because of coils and cross-currents, subterfuges and deceptions, it fell a confused picture upon the Page. And its clarification? We shall leave our biographers to tell of it. I should like to say, however, emphasizing the futility of mere human effort, that we should be cocksure of no event whatsoever. There is no such thing as finality in our House of History. For example, for a hundred years Burr was regarded as a traitor. It is not difficult to explain this unwavering adherence to tradition, if one bethinks him how slow is Time to reconstruct her designs. Nor is the operation of human faculties and perceptions any less slow to reshape, to retouch the pictures that line the cave-like galleries wherein is sketched the story of the race.
When Burr had escaped with his life from the trial for treason at Richmond, he found himself little better than an outcast, one dogged by poverty and by Jefferson's sleuths. No wonder the door blew open a bit from all the winds that pressed upon it. He fled, as many another, to other scenes and endeavored to work out his fortunes as best he might. The story of his sojourn in Europe has in it all possible aspects of a soul that drifted without attachment on the sea