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The Treason Trial of Aaron Burr
Law, Politics, and the Character Wars of the New Nation

$30.99 (P)

Part of Cambridge Studies on the American Constitution

  • Date Published: September 2012
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781107606616

$ 30.99 (P)
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About the Authors
  • The Burr treason trial, one of the greatest criminal trials in American history, was significant for several reasons. The legal proceedings lasted seven months and featured some of the nation's best lawyers. It also pitted President Thomas Jefferson (who declared Burr guilty without the benefit of a trial and who masterminded the prosecution), Chief Justice John Marshall (who sat as a trial judge in the federal circuit court in Richmond), and former Vice President Aaron Burr (who was accused of planning to separate the western states from the Union) against each other. At issue, in addition to the life of Aaron Burr, were the rights of criminal defendants, the constitutional definition of treason, and the meaning of separation of powers in the Constitution. Capturing the sheer drama of the long trial, Kent Newmyer's book sheds new light on the chaotic process by which lawyers, judges, and politicians fashioned law for the new nation.

    • Concise, clearly organised and well written: accessible to a broad range of readers, specialists and general readers alike
    • Original in its approach - which is to capture the role of personality and political ideology in the actual process of law making
    • Makes full use of the stenographic report of the trial (including volume 3 of Thomas Carpenter's report, which other scholars have not fully considered)
    Read more

    Reviews & endorsements

    "Newmyer proves a worthy, wise guide to the Burr treason trial. This book has no heroes. Jefferson is manipulative. Burr is an arrogant anti-hero. Marshall slowly picks and cavils his way toward an independent federal judiciary. Gifted, flawed lawyers successfully defend one of the last men in America worth defending. The epilogue serves as a stunning summary of Newmyer’s brilliant insights on the early republic."
    Mary Sarah Bilder, Boston College Law School

    "This lively narrative is the best short account of the Aaron Burr treason trial, one of the most colorful and dramatic episodes in the nation’s history. Kent Newmyer brings a fresh perspective to the task, showing how a distinctively American law of treason emerged from the clash of outsized personalities gathered in Richmond in the summer of 1807. He is unexcelled in his mastery of the interplay of law and politics in the early republic."
    Charles F. Hobson, William and Mary Law School

    "Kent Newmyer has long been one of our leading constitutional historians, and this book displays his command of both the political and the technical aspects of early American public law. This book is a tremendous scholarly achievement, but that is not all: Newmyer has crafted a riveting story about the all-star cast of lawyers who took part in the trial and, of course, the three great antagonists, Jefferson, Marshall, and Burr himself. A masterpiece."
    H. Jefferson Powell, Duke University School of Law

    "The trial of Aaron Burr for treason in 1807 has been one of those episodes in American legal history to which many people refer and few understand. Kent Newmyer is exceptionally well qualified to unravel the complicated legal and political dimensions of the trial, and he has done so in erudite and accessible fashion."
    G. Edward White, University of Virginia School of Law

    "Kent Newmyer, one of the most distinguished legal historians in the country, has written an extraordinarily learned and balanced account of what is arguably the greatest criminal trial in American history. The trial seems as relevant today as it was in 1807."
    Gordon S. Wood, Brown University

    "Newmyer excels at presenting legal issues with microscopic clarity."
    Daniel Dyer, The Plain Dealer

    "R. Kent Newmyer … has quite a story to tell, and he tells it well."
    The Weekly Standard

    "This engaging and readable work offers a new look at a major historical moment in an early period of the development of the U.S. legal system, and in doing so offers a fresh perspective on a much-studied subject."
    Harvard Law Review

    "Essential."
    Choice

    "… this book is well constructed with useful footnotes, helpful illustrations, and an engaging tone. It should be considered for acquisition by academic libraries (both law and general), especially if they serve patrons who focus on early American trials, lawyers, or federalism."
    Franklin L. Runge, Law Library Journal

    "Newmyer is gifted at telling the story and sketching the personalities, and at explaining the intricacies in this factually and legally complex trial."
    Matthew J. Franck, Claremont Review of Books

    "The noted constitutional scholar R. Kent Newmyer’s latest book illumines the ways 'law and politics were inseparably connected' in the 1807 treason trial of former vice president Aaron Burr, who was accused of attempting to take portions of the United States for his own … Throughout the book Newmyer writes with authority, both relying on the words of the participants and drawing on his obvious mastery of the secondary literature on these three larger than life personalities."
    Ronald L. Hatzenbuehler, Journal of American History

    "… a fine addition to the Burr trial bookshelf."
    Peter Charles Hoffer, The Journal of Southern History

    "… a skilled and detailed recounting of Burr’s trial, [this book] reveals a host of legal and political implications bound up in the trial and its outcome, and it is an entertainingly good read as well."
    Joanne B. Freeman, Law and History Review

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    Product details

    • Date Published: September 2012
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781107606616
    • length: 242 pages
    • dimensions: 226 x 152 x 15 mm
    • weight: 0.36kg
    • contains: 12 b/w illus. 1 map
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    1. Jefferson and Burr on the road to Richmond
    2. Jefferson and Marshall square off
    3. Legal theater in Richmond: Aaron Burr front and center
    4. Treason law for America: the lawyers grapple
    5. Judging the judge.

  • Instructors have used or reviewed this title for the following courses

    • American Constitutional History
    • Early Republic
    • History of U.S. Criminal Justice
    • New American Nation
    • THE FOUNDING FATHERS: THEIR WORLD AND OURS
    • US History I course
  • Author

    R. Kent Newmyer, University of Connecticut
    Kent Newmyer received his PhD in history from the University of Nebraska in 1959. From 1960 to 1997, he taught American history at the University of Connecticut. Since 1997, he has been Professor of Law and History at the University of Connecticut School of Law. He has taught a wide range of graduate and undergraduate courses in American history, specializing in the political, constitutional and legal history of the early national period. He received two awards for teaching and in 1988 was named Distinguished Alumni Professor for excellence in teaching and scholarship, the highest faculty honor bestowed by the university. As an author, Newmyer is best known for Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story: Statesman of the Old Republic (1985) and, most recently, John Marshall and the Heroic Age of the Supreme Court (2001). A second edition of his short volume on the Supreme Court under Marshall and Taney was published in 2006. Newmyer's books have been reviewed in various history journals and law reviews, as well as in The New York Times, the Washington Post and the New Republic. Newmyer has appeared on C-Span's 'Booknotes', and most recently was a commentator in a National Public Television documentary on the US Supreme Court, produced by Channel 13 in New York City.

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