American Emperor by David O. Stewart
Aaron Burr's Challenge to Jefferson's America

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In this vivid and brilliant biography, David Stewart describes Aaron Burr, the third vice president, as a daring and perhaps deluded figure who shook the nation’s foundations in its earliest, most vulnerable decades.

In 1805, the United States was not twenty years old, an unformed infant. The government consisted of a few hundred people. The immense frontier swallowed up a tiny army of 3,300 soldiers. Following the Louisiana Purchase, no one even knew where the nation’s western border lay. Secessionist sentiment flared in New England and beyond the Appalachians.

Burr had challenged Jefferson, his own running mate, in the presidential election of 1800. Indicted for murder in the dueling death of Alexander Hamilton in 1804, he dreamt huge dreams. He imagined an insurrection in New Orleans, a private invasion of Spanish Mexico and Florida, and a great empire rising on the Gulf of Mexico, which would swell when America’s western lands seceded from the Union. For two years, Burr pursued this audacious dream, enlisting support from the General-in-Chief of the Army, a paid agent of the Spanish king, and from other western leaders, including Andrew Jackson. When the army chief double-crossed Burr, Jefferson finally roused himself and ordered Burr prosecuted for treason.

The trial featured the nation’s finest lawyers before the greatest judge in our history, Chief Justice John Marshall, Jefferson’s distant cousin and determined adversary. It became a contest over the nation’s identity: Should individual rights be sacrificed to punish a political apostate who challenged the nation’s very existence? In a revealing reversal of political philosophies, Jefferson championed government power over individual rights, while Marshall shielded the nation’s most notorious defendant. By concealing evidence, appealing to the rule of law, and exploiting the weaknesses of the government’s case, Burr won his freedom.

Afterwards Burr left for Europe to pursue an equally outrageous scheme to liberate Spain’s American colonies, but finding no European sponsor, he returned to America and lived to an unrepentant old age.

Stewart’s vivid account of Burr’s tumultuous life offers a rare and eye-opening description of the brand-new nation struggling to define itself.

About David O. Stewart

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David O. Stewart turned to writing after more than a quarter century of law practice in Washington, D.C., defending accused criminals and challenging government actions as unconstitutional. His first book about the writing of the Constitution, The Summer of 1787, grew out of Supreme Court case he was working on. It was aWashington Post bestseller and won the Washington Writing Prize for Best Book of 2007. Impeached had its roots in a judicial impeachment trial Stewart defended before the United States Senate, in 1989, and then argued to the Supreme Court. His most recent book, American Emperor, tells this astonishing tale, which traces Aaron Burr’s descent from made man to political pariah to imperialist adventurer. For more information about the author, go to
Published October 25, 2011 by Simon & Schuster. 434 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, History, Political & Social Sciences. Non-fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for American Emperor

Kirkus Reviews

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A fresh, vivid exploration of the exploits and trial of Aaron Burr (1756–1836), the most notorious figure of the early American republic.

Aug 11 2011 | Read Full Review of American Emperor: Aaron Burr'...

Publishers Weekly

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Eschewing recent attempts to rehabilitate Aaron Burr (1756–1836), a brilliant member of the revolutionary generation but remembered mostly as Jefferson's vice-president who killed Alexander Hamilton in an 1804 duel, D.C.

Jul 18 2011 | Read Full Review of American Emperor: Aaron Burr'...

The Washington Times

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The confusion has persisted because he had several alternative goals, and because he said so many different things to so many different people.” And Wilkinson turned on Burr, saying that his involvement was intended to keep track of what Spain might do, rather than help Burr.

Dec 05 2011 | Read Full Review of American Emperor: Aaron Burr'...

Christian Science Monitor

Stewart’s vivid account of 19th-century American machinations: in 1805, the sitting vice president of the United States was under indictment for murder while simultaneously presiding over a politically motivated Senate impeachment trial of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase, of whom President Tho...

Oct 26 2011 | Read Full Review of American Emperor: Aaron Burr'...

Washington Independent Review of Books

While Stewart does full justice to all the men and women who cross the stage of American Emperor, his brilliant depiction of the hostile relationships of Hamilton, Burr and Jefferson reminds us of historian Henry Adams’s classic remark about sketching the semi-transparent shadows of character “to...

Oct 25 2011 | Read Full Review of American Emperor: Aaron Burr'...

City Book Review

Glory, fame, redemption — all stretched before him on the river route to New Orleans, and then on to Mexico … A single man would spark a revolution, a secession, and a foreign invasion…Unless something went wrong.” Stewart weaves the vivid threads of characters who found themselves ensnared in h...

Nov 29 2011 | Read Full Review of American Emperor: Aaron Burr'...

Burr became the third vice president of the United States in 1801 under President Jefferson, who shut him out.

Nov 11 2011 | Read Full Review of American Emperor: Aaron Burr'...

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