Aaron Burr, a thorn in Thomas Jefferson's side, is in the spotlight in David O. Stewart's gripping new book, "American Emperor."
Burr became the third vice president of the United States in 1801 under President Jefferson, who shut him out. When it became clear that Jefferson didn't want Burr to be his vice president for his second term in office, Burr ran for the governorship of New York. He lost the election.
Burr killed rival Alexander Hamilton in a duel in 1804. (Dueling to resolve differences had been outlawed, but men still followed the practice in secret.) Hamilton and Burr never liked each other, and comments made by Hamilton in public spurred Burr to instigate the duel.
After the death of Hamilton, Burr was charged with murder in the states of New York and New Jersey, but was never tried. Eventually the charges were dropped.
Burr left Washington at the end of his term, and became a man desperate for power at any cost. He gathered a group of men and tried to create a country in the newly acquired land from the Louisiana Purchase. Word got to President Jefferson, and he quickly had Burr arrested for treason.
Stewart weaves a compelling tale of a man who is hard to understand in his mannerisms and ambitions. Because the author focuses on Burr's life starting when he became vice president, some of the insight into his psyche is lost. Still, the years Stewart covers reveals more to the man than just the survivor of a duel.
"American Emperor" is fascinating, surprising and a good read.