Book in Brief

The Burr Conspiracy: Uncovering the Story of an Early American Crisis, by James E. Lewis, Jr. (Princeton University Press; 728 pp., $35.00).  This well-written and readable book considers the political and social context of the so-called Burr Conspiracy (1805-06), in which Jefferson’s former Vice President Aaron Burr was rumored to have plotted to enlist conspirators to free Spanish Mexico from the Spanish government, to establish a trans-Appalachian empire, and to take land acquired from the Orleans Territory for his followers.  At the center of the controversy were Burr himself, Jefferson, and James Wilkinson, then ranking general in the U.S. Army and governor of the Louisiana Territory.  Though Jefferson, in his proclamation to Congress, avowed his belief in Burr’s guilt, Burr was afterward tried in Richmond in the court of Chief Justice John Marshall and acquitted, whereupon he exiled himself to Europe.  Nevertheless, the facts of the case have never been resolved to anyone’s satisfaction.  “Rather than retelling the story of the Burr Conspiracy,” Professor Lewis writes, “this book focuses upon the stories about the Burr Conspiracy that were told at the time and over the next few decades.”  Lewis’s interest is in demonstrating how the intense concern with which Americans, east and west of the Appalachian range and in...

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