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The Treason Trial of Aaron Burr: Law, Politics, and the Character Wars of the New Nation (Cambridge Studies on the American Constitution) Paperback – November 15, 2012

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Product Details

  • Series: Cambridge Studies on the American Constitution
  • Paperback: 237 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; 1 edition (November 15, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1107606616
  • ISBN-13: 978-1107606616
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 5.9 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,025,698 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"Newmyer proves a worthy, wise guide to the Burr treason trial. This book has no heroes. Jefferson is manipulative. Burr is an arrogant anti-hero. Marshall slowly picks and cavils his way toward an independent federal judiciary. Gifted, flawed lawyers successfully defend one of the last men in America worth defending. The epilogue serves as a stunning summary of Newmyer's brilliant insights on the early republic."
Mary Sarah Bilder, Boston College Law School

"This lively narrative is the best short account of the Aaron Burr treason trial, one of the most colorful and dramatic episodes in the nation's history. Kent Newmyer brings a fresh perspective to the task, showing how a distinctively American law of treason emerged from the clash of outsized personalities gathered in Richmond in the summer of 1807. He is unexcelled in his mastery of the interplay of law and politics in the early republic."
Charles F. Hobson, William and Mary Law School

"Kent Newmyer has long been one of our leading constitutional historians, and this book displays his command of both the political and the technical aspects of early American public law. This book is a tremendous scholarly achievement, but that is not all: Newmyer has crafted a riveting story about the all-star cast of lawyers who took part in the trial and, of course, the three great antagonists, Jefferson, Marshall, and Burr himself. A masterpiece."
H. Jefferson Powell, Duke University School of Law

"The trial of Aaron Burr for treason in 1807 has been one of those episodes in American legal history to which many people refer and few understand. Kent Newmyer is exceptionally well qualified to unravel the complicated legal and political dimensions of the trial, and he has done so in erudite and accessible fashion."
G. Edward White, University of Virginia School of Law

"Kent Newmyer, one of the most distinguished legal historians in the country, has written an extraordinarily learned and balanced account of what is arguably the greatest criminal trial in American history. The trial seems as relevant today as it was in 1807."
Gordon S. Wood, Brown University

"Newmyer excels at presenting legal issues with microscopic clarity."
Daniel Dyer, The Plain Dealer

"R. Kent Newmyer ... has quite a story to tell, and he tells it well."
The Weekly Standard

"This engaging and readable work offers a new look at a major historical moment in an early period of the development of the U.S. legal system, and in doing so offers a fresh perspective on a much-studied subject."
Harvard Law Review


"... this book is well constructed with useful footnotes, helpful illustrations, and an engaging tone. It should be considered for acquisition by academic libraries (both law and general), especially if they serve patrons who focus on early American trials, lawyers, or federalism."
Franklin L. Runge, Law Library Journal

"Newmyer is gifted at telling the story and sketching the personalities, and at explaining the intricacies in this factually and legally complex trial."
Matthew J. Franck, Claremont Review of Books

"The noted constitutional scholar R. Kent Newmyer's latest book illumines the ways 'law and politics were inseparably connected' in the 1807 treason trial of former vice president Aaron Burr, who was accused of attempting to take portions of the United States for his own ... Throughout the book Newmyer writes with authority, both relying on the words of the participants and drawing on his obvious mastery of the secondary literature on these three larger than life personalities."
Ronald L. Hatzenbuehler, Journal of American History

"... a fine addition to the Burr trial bookshelf."
Peter Charles Hoffer, The Journal of Southern History

Book Description

The Burr trial featured some of America's most gifted lawyers and pitted Marshall, Jefferson, and Burr in a three-way contest that tracked the political and cultural differences of the new republic. This book focuses on the complex interaction of legal doctrine, political ideology, and character in the lawmaking process. The law that came out of the trial - the rights of criminal defendants, the constitutional meaning of treason, and the separation of powers, indeed the rule of law itself - left a permanent mark on American history.

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Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
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The book, like the trial itself, reads like a thriller even if you know the outcome.
Leonard Fleisig
And, as Mr. Newmyer demonstrates Aaron Burr,s treason trial was one of the most important trials in the history of our nation.
Dr. J. J. Kregarman
Newmyer tells the story with gripping prose making his non-fiction book read as if it were a suspenseful novel.
Israel Drazin

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Israel Drazin TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 26, 2012
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The two prior detailed reviews of this splendid book describe the history of the Burr trial, a trial considered one of the most significant in US history because of the legal, personal, and political issues presented in the trial and the people involved, some of the most prominent of the age. These included the Supreme Court Justice John Marshall, President Thomas Jefferson, Vice President Aaron Burr, and the leading attorneys of the time. Other famous people who commented on the trial include the writer Washington Irving, the ex-president John Adams, and several future presidents. Therefore I will only comment briefly upon the history and say a few words about R. Kent Newmyer's writing skill.

Aaron Burr had been vice president of the US for four years when Thomas Jefferson was president, from 1800 to 1804. He was a charismatic handsome man, very popular among the ladies, but was controversial. Jefferson did not want him in his second term, so Burr ran for governor of New York. Burr lost because Alexander Hamilton made disparaging remarks about him. He challenged Hamilton to a duel and killed Hamilton on July 11, 1804 in the duel, and people debated whether he acted properly. Many say that Hamilton fired his first shot into the air to avoid hitting Burr, but Burr then took advantage and shot to kill him.

How did Burr become vice president and why didn't Jefferson want him as vice president in his second term? In 1800, Burr had made a deal with Jefferson to allow Jefferson to be president and he vice president, but the voting became confused, and it was left to Congress to decide who would be president. In those days, the candidate who received the most votes would be president and the runner-up would be vice president.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Leonard Fleisig VINE VOICE on January 28, 2013
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
John Greenleaf Whittier

There have been dozens of "trials of the century" since the founding of the republic. Be it the O.J. Simpson trial, that of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, or the impeachment trials of Bill Clinton and Andrew Johnson, these trials (for good or ill) captured the public imagination and bombarded us with breathless wall-to-wall media coverage. But of all these trials the first great American `show-trial', the trial of Aaron Burr may be the one that had the longest and most permanent impact on the American `justice system'. R. Kent Newmyer's "The Treason Trial of Aaron Burr" sets out to tell not just the story of this trial and its legal machinations but to also put that trial in the social and political context of the times. It is no exaggeration to say that this trial saw America coming to terms with the new Constitution that governed it and it set the stage, in good part, for two hundred years of criminal and Constitutional jurisprudence that followed it. Newmyer has done an exemplary job and he has created a book that it is as entertaining as it is informative.

The treason trial of Aaron Burr pitted the might and power of a sitting President, Thomas Jefferson against his former Vice President, the tarnished and diminished Aaron Burr. The chare was treason as defined in Article III, Section 3 of the Constitution. (Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.) Exercising, rather injudiciously, the prerogative of office, Jefferson not only publicly accused Burr of treason but repeatedly pronounced him guilty.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By John B. TOP 500 REVIEWER on December 10, 2012
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is an interesting and informative book that discusses one of the most important trials in American history - important not only in terms of what Aaron Burr did or did not do, but also because of its impact on the American justice system. Given that other reviews have discussed Aaron Burr and the trial itself, I will limit this review to the way in which the book handles these events and some of the important things that it discusses.

The book, by a legal historian, does a good job of discussing the details of the case, the political milieu in which it was conducted, and the conduct of the trial itself and its implications. While the book is ostensibly about Burr's trial, much of it is actually devoted to the struggle between John Marshal and Thomas Jefferson, and to a discussion of their beliefs about how the US should be governed. It paints Thomas Jefferson in a very negative light, John Marshal in a very positive one, and Aaron Burr if not favorably, at least not guilty of being a traitor to the US. I would recommend this book to legal scholars and serious students of US history and governance. However, more casual readers may find the book a bit too legalistic and oriented to a scholarly audience.

What is in the book -
· The book starts with an overview of Burr and Jefferson, who served together as vice president and president respectively and why Jefferson hated Burr. (Burr the nominal vice presidential candidate did not step aside in favor of Jefferson, the presidential candidate, when they both had the same number of electoral college votes in the election of 1800.)
· There is then a discussion of Jefferson and John Marshal, and a bit about why there was so much animosity between the two.
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