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American Emperor Excerpt

American Emperor Excerpt

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Published by Mary Kate Brennan

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Published by: Mary Kate Brennan on Oct 18, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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When did you decide to use/write Aaron Burr as your central character?
I toyed with the idea o writing a book about Burr’s Western expedition orseveral years beore taking it on. I kept eeling rustrated when good books wouldreer to Burr’s Western expedition and add with a bemused shrug somethinglike, “whatever he was up to out there.” Tis man, I would think to mysel, was the third vice president o the United States and was tried or treason orthat expedition! Tere had to be some way to gure out what he was really up to. Tat central riddle—which has vexed writers or two centuries—lies atthe core o the book and drove me to write it. Tere is, in act, a good deal o ambiguity about what Burr was really intending to accomplish. Te witnessesclosest to Burr had big credibility problems: either they had a track record o telling lies, or they had powerul incentives to lie to save their own skins (amotive Burr shared). So solving the central riddle was a ascinating exercise inerreting out the evidence and siting it. I concluded that Burr ostered much o the conusion about his goals both to protect himsel i the plan went awry (asit did) and so he could adjust the plan in mid-ight as opportunities shited. Inshort, he was hoping to do as much, or as little, as he could get away with. I itinvolved creating a new American empire, then so be it.
When most people think of Aaron Burr, they likely think of his duel with Alexander Hamilton. What would surprise people most about Burr?
Much about Burr turns out to be surprising, beginning with the act that thereis no record that he ever uttered or wrote a harsh word about Hamilton beoretheir duel! Te historical image o Burr portrays him as an implacable, vindictiveadversary who murdered Hamilton. Te truth is that he behaved with realrestraint in public dialogue and Hamilton was the intemperate provocateur. Another surprising eature o Burr’s character was his strong belie that women were the equals o men and should have equal rights and opportunities. He wasdismayed by the poor education given to young women and made sure that hisdaughter was the best-educated woman in America. He kept a portrait o Mary  Wollstonecrat, the English advocate o women’s rights, over his replace.
What was Burr’s vision for America?
Burr oresaw a country that would stretch across the North American continentand take its place among the great nations o the globe. Others in his generationshared that view, but Burr was unique in his willingness to do something aboutit—that’s what the Western expedition was all about. Burr was not contentto wait or the Spanish empire to decay and or its colonies break o throughinsurrection; he wanted to liberate Spanish colonies by orce o arms and takethem! Having a pragmatic turn o mind, Burr avoided much o the politicaltheorizing that surrounded the Revolution and the ounding o the UnitedStates. As a New Yorker, though, he was sympathetic to business interests andthought the nation should support them. Indeed, he ounded the ancestor o Chase Manhattan bank.
What were some of his greatest achievements?
Burr never became president (or emperor), so he was unable to leave the sorto legacy he hoped to create. His ocus on the possibilities o the West helpedto orient Americans to the potential o that region and the opportunities orexpansion. Indeed, later leaders achieved much o the expansion he envisioned. Also, Burr proved adept at retail-level electoral politics, extending the principleso electioneering beyond the drawing rooms o the elite. His activities in New  York during the presidential election o 1800 were a laboratory or the new artso attracting votes on a mass basis.
Why does Aaron Burr command attention today?
I would cite three eatures that make Burr worth a close look. He dreamed hugedreams and actually tried to make them come true. In some ways, he embodiedthe American dream on steroids: Go West, conquer huge territories, and launchyour own new nation! Tere is an outrageousness to Burr that is compellingand must be explored to be believed. In addition, he serves as a corrective tothe widespread deication o the other Founding Fathers. Burr was not shy 

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