Suzanne B. Geissler

Document Type



Spring 1975

Embargo Period



Aaron Burr, Syracuse University Special Collections, Thomas Jefferson, treason, David Robertson, William Wirt




History | United States History


The trial of the former vice-president Aaron Burr for treason established such usable precedents, bringing to the fore the now-familiar issues of "pre-trial publicity," "leaks to the press," and "executive privilege."

The trial was, nonetheless, a "piece of epic action," inspiring some of the most colorful courtroom histrionics ever seen in America. Masters of the rhetorical flourish, such as William Wirt and Luther Martin, played to packed houses throughout the six-month trial. Thanks to David Robertson, a Petersburg Virginia lawyer, who took down the entire proceeding in shorthand, a record of the trial was made available to the public. It amounted to over 1100 pages and constituted, according to its compiler, "a valuable treatise on criminal law, and especially high treason." It is the only reliable account of the trial and while it does not conclusively demonstrate the innocence of Aaron Burr, it clearly points up the lack of evidence against him and the government's zeal in prosecuting a charge of treason on the flimsiest grounds, suggesting that President Thomas Jefferson was, indeed, trying to commit judicial murder.


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