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September 1, 1807, Aaron Burr Acquitted of Committing Treason - Today In Crime History

On this day, September 1, in 1807, Aaron Burr was acquitted of committing treason against the United States.

Aaron Burr  was a significant political figure in the early history of the United States.  After serving as an officer in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War, Burr became a successful attorney and politician. He was twice elected to the New York State Assembly, was appointed New York State Attorney General and was chosen as a United States Senator from the state of New York, serving between 1791 and 1797.  Burr reached the apex of his career as the third Vice President of the United States, under President Thomas Jefferson, during his first term, between 1801 and 1805.  

After leaving the Vice-Presidency, Burr journeyed into the lands acquired in the Louisiana Purchase, and eventually leased 40,000 acres of land along the Ouachita River in what is now Louisiana, from the Spanish government.  Though Burr saw war with Spain as a distinct possibility, his expedition of perhaps eighty men carried modest firearms for hunting.  Burr made contact with the Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Army at New Orleans and Governor of the Louisiana Territory for assistance with training and outfitting his expedition.  When Thomas Jefferson, now serving his second term as president, learned of Burr’s expedition, he became convinced that Burr was conspiring to initiate an armed rebellion. Burr was accused of plotting to take over parts of Louisiana and Mexico.  

In 1807, on a charge of treason, Burr was brought to trial before the United States Circuit Court at Richmond, Virginia.   The trial, presided over by the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, John Marshall, began on August 3, 1807.   Prosecutor George Hay argued that Burr wanted to conquer New Orleans and establish it as the center of his own empire.   Article 3, Section 3 of the United States Constitution requires that treason either be admitted in open court, or proved by an overt act witnessed by two people.  At trial no two witnesses came forward to prove an overt act of treason committed by Aaron Burr against the United States.

On this day, September 1, in 1807 Aaron Burr was acquitted, in spite of the full force of the Jefferson administration's political influence being thrown against him.   His "conspiracy", Burr always avowed, was attempting to settle with a group of (armed) "farmers", who were planning to be prepared if war broke out. Though a jury found him not guilty, the public still regarded him as a traitor and Burr went to Europe for several years, never returning to American public life.

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