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

By R. Kent Newmyer | Cambridge University Press | $28.99 | 226 pages | 2012

Much has been written about Aaron Burr’s 1807 trial in Richmond (including my July 2003 column in the Journal). Burr was charged with treason for allegedly leading an expedition to establish a separate government in the lands west of the Appalachians. Professor Newmyer’s softbound volume may provide the most details of procedure and evidence. If you are up to intense concentration, I recommend that you read this book.

Especially interesting is the attention given to counsel. Burr was pro se but aided by a team of six, notably John Wickham and Luther Martin. William Wirt was the star among four prosecutors.

Chief Justice John Marshall presided while riding circuit, as Supreme Court judges did in those times. Was he biased in Burr’s favor and against the interfering President Jefferson? Probably so, and maybe that caused the Scotch verdict: “Not proved to be guilty under this indictment by any evidence submitted to us.”


Don Paine DONALD F. PAINE is a past president of the Tennessee Bar Association. He is of counsel to the Knoxville firm of Paine, Tarwater, and Bickers LLP.