Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Who needs punctuality when you can have tardiness for free?

Hello whoever and however numerous you may be, at least I check this thing. Please forgive two late posts in as many weeks, where have my manners gone? I just don't know what I shall do with myself. There's an interesting article in Today's paper, which I unfortunately cannot link you to (the Wall Street Journal's online edition is a separate subscription), but thought was nonetheless intriguing: A small, obscure organization of New England history buffs called the Aaron Burr Association (I know, sounds like a good band name) has come forward with the news that they've discovered a living direct descendant of our nation's third vice president, more famous for being the man who killed founding father Alexander Hamilton in a duel in 1804. Burr was married in 1782 to a British army officer's widow, a woman ten years his senior, with whom he had one daughter named Theodosia (What an awful name! True, it was her mother's name as well, but that's hardly an excuse). The couple also had one son who died in infancy (unfortunately quite common at the time), and Theodosia is not known to have had any children, so that Burr was heretofore considered to be without direct descendant. Enter Mrs. Louella Burr Mitchell Allen, a retired nurse who now resides in Philedelphia, whose family has an oral history and some sparse documentation that links her to Philedelphia barber and free black abolitionist John Pierre Burr, allegedly the illegitamate son of Aaron Burr by one of his household servants (Whew! that seemed less complicated before I decided to write it all down). In any case, this claim (although no DNA testing has occured) has been quite welcomed by the Aaron Burr Association, who are eager to garner new information and clear their namesake's good... uh, name. Yeah. The big problem with this is that like many illegitamate families, there really isn't much documentation or concrete evidence of anything that Mrs. Allen can bring forward to do this, all she can say is that her wing of the Burr family always thought well of Grandpa Aaron (Actually, Great-great-great-grandpa Aaron), even though he was too busy not being married to grandma and running for political offices to really be around all that much. Maybe I'm not much of a historian, but I'll actually be dissapointed if the new findings clear up the Burr story much. I don't really want the truth to be buried, but the story as it stands is a pretty good one, if it's true. Burr's a genuine piece of American history: This guy was the great grandson of evangelist/revivalilst Jonathan Edwards. He was at Valley Forge with Washington. In the election of 1800, he ran for vice president alongside Thomas Jefferson. The problem is that our electoral system at the time was not quite the well-oiled machine that it is now (seriously, it's gotten a lot better), and the ticket was not technically divided. This means that everyone who voted for Jefferson also voted for Burr (naturally, since they were running together for President and Vice President), so that when the votes were counted it was determined that they had tied. No, I'm not kidding. Anyhow, in the event of this happening it's supposed to go to congress to decide the winner (U.S. Constitution, Article II, Section I). The general story goes (as I recall) that Burr saw here an opportunity to win the presidency for himself, which would've been the most cowboy move in American history had Burr's old law partner and former Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton not used his influence with key members of congress to push things in Jefferson's direction (Congress voted a tie 35 times before finally choosing Jefferson). The behind-the-scenes rivalry between Burr and Hamilton continued, with Burr blaming Hamilton for his political failures including his loss in the election to the governorship of New York in 1804, until July 11, 1804, when Burr (still Vice President of the United States, mind you) shot Hamilton at ten paces in a duel. A duel! Not every day you hear about that happening. Nobody was jailed, no cops were called. The Vice President shot the former Secretary of the Treasury! Actually they both fired, but Hamilton, who'd spent his military career as Washington's aide-de-camp and not in a combat command, missed. Burr was later accused of trying to start a war with Spain in order to grab some of the Western territories belonging to spain and start a new country, but he was acquitted. His first wife had died after twelve years of marraige in 1794 (but I'd say the spark of the relationship was gone beforehand, since Mrs. Allen's great-great-grandfather was reportedly born a few years before then), and he did not remarry until he was 77 years old in 1833, when he wed another widow. That one didn't last all that long either, since she left him and sued for divorce within a year of the wedding, which he finally granted her on the day he died, in 1836. Well, that's a little bit 'o history for you this week. I hope you didn't learn too much, partly because you've probably heard all of this before at some point, and partly because I'm pulling much of this from memory and it's probably not all factually true. In any case I wish you a good week, feel free to post and say hello at any time. I must now go off to my tennis class (yes I'm taking one, and yes it's to fulfil a phys. ed. requirement), hopefully to improve on my partner's and my own fortunes from the first round of our class' mixed doubles tournament, in which we were destroyed. Oh yeah, in the interest of respecting the law, my sources for this post were primarily Greg Ip's article in today's Wall Street Journal entitled Fans of Aaron Burr Find Unlikely Ally In a 'New' Relative, And the following web sites: http://www.ushistory.org/valleyforge/served/burr.html ; http://odur.let.rug.nl/~usa . Thanks for checking in!

6 comments:

Kate said...

Thanks for the refreshing splash of US history. The biographical bits are always my favorite.

Speaking of history from memory, have you read William Cuppy's book,THe Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody, or my favorite, Walter, Sellars, and Yeatman's book, 1066 and All That: a Memorable History of England Comprising All the Parts You Can Remember, Including 103 Good Things, 5 Bad Things, and 2 Genuine Dates

I think you's get a kick out of them.

Best,
Kate

D.Cous. said...

Wow, I haven't read any of those. Thanks for the recommendation, I'll have to see if the library has any/all of them.

D.Cous. said...

Whoa! I didn't expect that to happen. Apparently some people are pretty snippy about their images being copied onto other peoples' sites, although I don't know why. I would think that if you really don't want other people using your images, you wouldn't put them on the internet. Sorry about that, I guess no fun illustration of the Hamilton/Burr duel.

berdingo said...

Wasssup, Do-to-the-Pat?

I just had a splendid evening with the Skelator and he was inquiring about your whereabouts and general health. He wanted me to pass along warm greetings and says he still enjoys the memories of "those days" with D.

berdingo said...

By the way, i enjoyed the history lesson as well. After reading it, I was reminded about how much I miss getting the WSJ. Man, student subscriptions were the best....

D.Cous. said...

Skeletor? Oh man, those were the days. Pass on my best to him and Mrs. Skeletor.