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POLITICAL TENSIONS AND THE STRANGE CASE OF AARON BURR

Federalists feared that the country was being debased by virtually every move that Jefferson made. A group of Federalists called the Essex Junto existed in Boston and loudly campaigned against the “decline in public virtue” they saw personified in Jefferson. Thomas Pickering, senator from Massachusetts, saw Jefferson as a “Parisian revolutionary monster.” A younger group of Federalists tried to improve the image of the party, although the Federalist candidate, Charles C. Pinckney, received only 14 electoral votes in the 1804 election.

Aaron Burr was vice president, but after the fiasco of the 1800 election, he had no meaningful role during Jefferson’s first term. Some New England Federalists had spoke of leaving the Union after the Louisiana Purchase and forming a Northern Confederacy. The group tried to get Alexander Hamilton to join them. After he refused, they tried to recruit Aaron Burr, who, seeing no future role in a Washington run by Thomas Jefferson, was trying to become governor of New York. Hamilton accused Burr of attempting to ruin the United States. At this point, Burr challenged Hamilton to a duel (a practice that had been outlawed in the United States). Hamilton died in the duel, and Burr was indicted for murder.

After ending his term as vice president, Burr moved to the West (probably to avoid jail). While in Louisiana, he met up with General James Wilkinson, the military governor there. The two plotted to turn Louisiana into an independent nation, with Burr as its leader. Burr was betrayed by Wilkinson and arrested. Burr was acquitted, but his actions and the actions of other Federalists demonstrate the deep divisions that were developing in the United States, Federalists had plotted secession, President Jefferson wanted a conviction of Burr at all costs, and Federalist John Marshall, who presided over the trial, made several rulings that helped Burr (possibly to discredit the efforts of Jefferson).

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