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Aaron Burr Trial: 1807

Aaron Burr's Roller-coaster Career, Burr Tried Before Chief Justice Marshall, Definition Of An Overt Act Debated

Defendant: Former Vice President Aaron Burr
Crime Charged: "Treason" within the meaning of Article Ill, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution
Chief Defense Lawyers: Benjamin Botts, Luther Martin, Edmund Randolph, and John Wickham.
Chief Prosecutors: George Hay, Gordon MacRae, and William Wirt
Judges: Cyrus Griffin and John Marshall
Place: Richmond, Virginia
Dates of Trial: August 3-September 1, 1807
Verdict: Not guilty

SIGNIFICANCE: The Aaron Burr treason trial was the only time in American history that a court tried such a high-level official of the United States for treason. Although Burr was acquitted, his political career was destroyed.

With the exception of scholars of American history, most people are oblivious to how unstable the political situation in the United States was in the early decades of the 1800s. In the years immediately following the Revolutionary War, the country suffered under the disastrous Articles of Confederation of 1781 until the states adopted the Constitution in 1789. However, even after the Constitutional Convention, there were serious differences among the political elite. The two main political camps were the Federalists and the Democratic-Republicans, and they had fundamentally different notions over what direction the new United States should take in its foreign policy.

The Federalists believed that, since the United States had been shaped by the cultural and economic influence of Great Britain, the Revolutionary War should not prevent the reestablishment of ties with the "Mother Country." The Democratic-Republicans believed that the United States should ally itself with France instead. Not only had France provided critical assistance to the colonies during the Revolutionary War, but the French Revolution had installed a government in France that professed belief in democratic ideals. Further, an alliance with France, a European great power, represented the only viable opportunity for the fledgling United States to oppose the might of the British Empire. Aaron Burr's political career put him squarely in the center of this schism.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1637 to 1832