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Thursday, May 22, 2014

He Must Be Perfectly Ripe For Bedlam

Burr’s conspiracy has been one of the most flagitous of which history will ever furnish an example. 

 - Thomas Jefferson, crackpot

Aaron Burr is such a fun guy.  Gets away with murder while Veep, which harms his political prospects in the East, then hooks up with a cabalist revolutionary general to essentially found Bundystan in Mexico.  And he gets busted:

Burr’s case by now had become deeply embroiled in politics, with Republicans sup- porting President Jefferson’s measures to bring the accused traitor to justice and Federalists rallying to defend Burr against the charges. Many in heavily Republican Virginia were inclined to believe Burr had acted traitorously, and this popular belief made jury selection more diffi cult and time consuming. After the opening of the spring term of the U.S. circuit court on May 22, 1807, a grand jury of sixteen was sworn in, and Chief Justice Marshall delivered a charge that was not published but reportedly focused on “the definition and nature of treason, and the testimony requisite to prove it.”

Burr’s counsel seized the offense by attacking the prosecution and its motives. Luther Martin, who joined Burr’s defense in time for the grand jury proceedings, assumed the role of principal attack dog. In one notably vitriolic rant, he denounced a President who had “let slip the dogs of war, the hell-hounds of persecution, to hunt down my friend.” Earlier, Jefferson had unwittingly and unwisely made himself vulnerable to such censure by publicly declaring that Burr’s guilt was “beyond question.”
On August 31, Chief Justice Marshall delivered the major opinion of the Burr trial, upholding the defense’s motion to exclude the further admission of testimony. The opinion was dense and complicated, [but] was nonetheless clear and forthright in its essential holding that the Constitution required a strict definition of treason—that is, that the accused had to be shown to have levied war according to the precise terms set out in the indictment.

...Ultimately, Marshall ruled that the indictment was flawed in alleging that Burr levied war on Blennerhassett’s Island. Instead, it should have stated the truth that the accused was absent and that his treason consisted in procuring the assemblage. Such procurement was the overt act that would have to be proved by two witnesses. None of the testimony could establish this overt act. With no further testimony to consider, the jury had virtually no choice but to acquit. In an unusual twist, however, the verdict, instead of a simple “not guilty,” declared Burr “not guilty by the evidence presented.”

The decision of August 31 effectively ended the trial of Aaron Burr and spared him the penalty of death by hanging. His ordeal in court lasted another month and a half, however. After failing to convict Burr of treason, the government halfheartedly tried him on the misdemeanor charge of waging war on Spain. This trial, too, ended in acquittal, on grounds similar to the earlier acquittal. The federal attorney Hay then had one more legal weapon at his disposal: a motion to “commit,” or send, Burr for trial in the federal court of Kentucky or Ohio on treason and misdemeanor charges.

Oddly enough, this ended his political career.  Wonder if Rand Paul ever read about it?


May 22, 2014 in Constitution, Schmonstitution | Permalink


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