Contents and Arrangement Expanded View

Collection Overview

Creator:
Burr, Aaron, 1756-1836
Collector:
Princeton University. Library. Special Collections and Princeton University. Library. Special Collections
Title:
Princeton University Library Collection of Aaron Burr (1756-1836) Materials
Repository:
Manuscripts Division
Permanent URL:
http://arks.princeton.edu/ark:/88435/kw52j8069
Dates:
1771-1958 (mostly 1782-1830)
Size:
2 boxes and 1.7 linear feet
Storage Note:
Firestone Library (mss): Boxes 1; P-000125
Language:
English

Abstract

Consists primarily of letters by Aaron Burr (Princeton Class of 1772) to members of his family and associates, along with some documents pertaining to his legal career.

Collection Description & Creator Information

Description:

The collection consists of over 50 letters and several documents of Aaron Burr (Princeton Class of 1772) and assorted photostats and facsimiles of additional Burr material. Addressees of the letters include Jeremy Bentham, Theodosia Burr (his wife), Theodosia Burr (his daughter), Mary Coles Payne (Dolley Madison's mother), and George Washington. In the latter letter, dated 1779, Burr resigns his rank and command in the Continental Army. Many of the other letters and documents deal with legal cases and legal advice, including a case related to slavery in which Burr represented an enslaver.

Collection Creator Biography:

Burr, Aaron, 1756-1836

Aaron Burr was born in Newark, New Jersey on February 6, 1756, to Aaron Burr, a theologian and second president of the College of New Jersey, and Esther Edwards Burr, daughter of famous revivalist pastor and theologian Jonathan Edwards. The younger Burr's parents died before he was three, and he was raised by his maternal uncle, Timothy Edwards. Burr entered the College of New Jersey at age thirteen, and graduated in 1772 with distinction. After graduation, he studied theology privately before switching his concentration to law. Burr interrupted his studies when he enlisted in the American army attacking Boston in 1775. He rose quickly through the ranks because of his skills on the battlefield, but did not get along well with George Washington. Although promoted to Washington's secretarial staff, Burr transferred to the staff of Washington's second-in-command, Israel Putnam, to avoid conflicts with the general. Burr was successful under Putnam, valiantly leading troops in combat and securing important camps, such as in Brooklyn Heights and later at the battle of Monmouth Courthouse in New Jersey in 1778. Burr resigned from the army in 1779 due to poor health, which was aggravated by the high temperatures and humidity at Monmouth. He continued to study law after leaving the army and recovering from illness, and became a member of the bar of New York in 1782. He married Theodosia Prevost in the same year, with whom he had one child, Theodosia Burr. Professionally, Burr entered a rivalry with Alexander Hamilton, another prominent lawyer in New York. Burr began his political career in 1784 when he was elected to the state assembly. He continued in politics to serve in the United States Senate and ultimately as Vice President of the United States under Jefferson. He was a controversial character in Albany and Washington D.C., not siding clearly with any single faction and repeatedly being accused of self-interested legislation, political conspiracy, and generally unfair and dishonest practices, some of which can be confirmed. Burr's political career was thus tumultuous and he found himself regularly in and out of favor with the ruling powers. He ultimately lost his second candidacy for Vice President when he alienated Republican leadership with sympathies for the Federalists. In the same year, he lost a bid for the governorship of New York. Burr blamed much of his political downfall on Alexander Hamilton and his compatriots. After failing to force Hamilton to apologize for statements made against Burr in the gubernatorial race, Burr challenged Hamilton to a duel. When Burr killed the prominent politician, popular opinion cast him as a cold-blooded murderer, and warrants were put out for his arrest in New York and New Jersey. Burr fled to Philadelphia and then the South to escape capture. On these travels, Burr began dreaming of a new nation formed in the Southwest. Burr believed that conflict between Americans and the Spanish could encourage an occupation of Mexico, allowing a new nation to form. One of his allies in these plans, however, revealed the scheme to President Jefferson, and Burr was indicted for treason. He was acquitted by John Marshall, whose narrow interpretation of the Constitution's definition of treason was influenced by the justice's dislike of and disagreements with Jefferson. In Burr's later life, he lived abroad, attempting to gain support for his plan for a new nation in the Southwest. Upon returning to the United states in 1812, he began again to practice law in New York. He remarried to a wealthy widow, who divorced him for adultery. He died on September 14, 1836, the same day the divorce was granted.

Collection History

Acquisition:

The collection was formed as a result of a departmental practice of combining into one collection manuscript material of various accessions relating to a particular author. Materials were acquired via various purchases and gifts.

Archival Appraisal Information:

No materials were separated from the collection during 2019 processing.

Processing Information:

This collection was processed by Anna Bialek in July 2005. Finding aid written by Anna Bialek in July 2005. Finding aid updated with a new acquisition by Kelly Bolding in June 2019.

Access & Use

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open for research.

Conditions for Reproduction and Use:

Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. No further photoduplication of copies of material in the collection can be made when Princeton University Library does not own the original. Inquiries regarding publishing material from the collection should be directed to RBSC Public Services staff through the Ask Us! form. The library has no information on the status of literary rights in the collection and researchers are responsible for determining any questions of copyright.

Credit this material:

Princeton University Library Collection of Aaron Burr (1756-1836) Materials; Manuscripts Division, Department of Special Collections, Princeton University Library

Permanent URL:
http://arks.princeton.edu/ark:/88435/kw52j8069
Location:
Firestone Library
One Washington Road
Princeton, NJ 08544, USA
(609) 258-3184

Find More

Related Material:

Related collections include C0090 (Aaron Burr, 1716-1757, Collection) and C0081 (Fuller Collection of Aaron Burr, 1756-1836).

Publication Note:

The Dictionary of American Biography (New York, 1977) was consulted during preparation of the biographical note.

Subject Terms:
Lawyers—United States—18th century
Genre Terms:
Legal correspondence--18th century
Legal documents--18th century
Names:
United States. Continental Army
Burr, Aaron, 1756-1836
Places:
United States—History—Revolution, 1775-1783—Sources