Burr, Hamilton, and Jefferson: A Study in Character

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9780195140552: Burr, Hamilton, and Jefferson: A Study in Character
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This book restores Aaron Burr to his place as a central figure in the founding of the American Republic. Abolitionist, proto-feminist, friend to such Indian leaders as Joseph Brant, Burr was personally acquainted with a wider range of Americans, and of the American continent, than any other Founder except George Washington. He contested for power with Hamilton and then with Jefferson on a continental scale. The book does not sentimentalize any of its three protagonists, neither does it derogate their extraordinary qualities. They were all great men, all flawed, and all three failed to achieve their full aspirations. But their struggles make for an epic tale.
Written from the perspective of a historian and administrator who, over nearly fifty years in public life, has served six presidents, this book penetrates into the personal qualities of its three central figures. In telling the tale of their shifting power relationships and their antipathies, it reassesses their policies and the consequences of their successes and failures. Fresh information about the careers of Hamilton and Burr is derived from newly-discovered sources, and a supporting cast of secondary figures emerges to give depth and irony to the principal narrative. This is a book for people who know how political life is lived, and who refuse to be confined within preconceptions and prejudices until they have weighed all the evidence, to reach their own conclusions both as to events and character.
This is a controversial book, but not a confrontational one, for it is written with sympathy for men of high aspirations, who were disappointed in much, but who succeeded, in all three cases, to a degree not hitherto fully understood.

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About the Author:


Roger G. Kennedy has served as Director of The National Park Service, as Director of The Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, and as Vice President, Finance, of the Ford Foundation. He has written nine books, has appeared in his own series on the Discovery Channel, and was a White House correspondent for NBC. He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

From Kirkus Reviews:

In a study of three Founders, Kennedy, director emeritus of the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History and a prolific author (Hidden Cities, 1994, etc.), demonstrates his devotion to underdogs, in particular Aaron Burr. New York attorney general and vice president of the US, Burr was once tapped as Jefferson's successor to the presidency, but his political career shriveled when he lost a gubernatorial election, and in 1806, Jefferson accused him of treason. His papers were lost, and his daughter, his most promising hagiographer, died before beginning a biography of her dad. That 19th-century notables including Harriet Beecher Stowe and John Quincy Adams maligned Burr as a womanizing rapscallion didn't help Burr's reputation. A spin doctor's nightmare? In Kennedy's hands, Burr appears admirable: a proto-feminist, taken with Mary Wollstonecraft's writings; a defender of Kennedy's other favorite underdog, Native Americans; and a committed abolitionist. Kennedy explores the careers and characters of Hamilton and Jefferson as well, arguing that they cannot be understood without first knowing Burr. If Burr is the hero of this book, neither Jefferson nor Hamilton is quite the villaineach was ``ambitious,'' each ``on occasion noble, generous, and touching in [his] willingness to express [his] affections.'' Kennedy has a penchant for unsubstantiated psychobabble. Pause critically when he waxes Oprah-esque about the psychic damage done to Burr and Hamilton by traumatic childhoods; raise a quizzical eyebrow at his suggestion that Jefferson's vitriol was stoked by Burr's matchmakingin introducing James Madison to Dolley Payne, Burr no doubt altered the relationship of ``the great little Madison'' and the Sage of Monticello, two ``brilliant and lonely men'' who had toiled together as ``bachelor partners'' for 14 years after the death of Jefferson's wife, though that's hardly grounds for branding your VP a traitor. Kennedy is no Gore Vidal, yet, in an engaging and lightly ironic tone, he offers a worthwhile portrait of powerful politicians in early America. (30 photos) (First printing of 40,000; Book-of-the-Month Club and History Book Club alternate selections; author tour) -- Copyright ©1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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