FALLEN FOUNDER - The Life of Aaron Burr by Nancy Isenberg
“Nancy Isenberg’s beautifully written and artfully constructed biography restores Aaron Burr to his proper place in the American pantheon, giving us illuminating new perspectives on Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, and their fellow founders. Fallen Founder is essential reading for any serious student of our national beginnings.”
In the Epilogue, Isenberg writes:
“The founders were far more numerous than popular history suggests, and far less righteous and dignified. The historic memory does not hold much history. That is why Burr, the fallen founder, is more representative than one might otherwise imagine.
The founders contributed wisdom and often exhibited courage. But to remove them from political time as if they were ever, on a single day, holy men or paragons of virtue misses their true vocation and their true motivation. They did not live inside an impossibly romantic political forum where great minds communed on a regular basis to remind each other of their noblest ideals. They did not spend the bulk of their time sitting at their desks writing treatises, or standing before their congressional peers making sublime speeches. The lawyers among them were more typically engrossed in the ugly details of a property case, or in a dogged debate inside a courtroom; the many speculators among them mulled over the looming threat of debtor’s prison. They spent their time engaged in the polite banter of the tea parlor, and indulged in secret sexual trysts with prostitutes, mistresses, and, in the South, slaves.
These were our founders: imperfect men in a less than perfect nation, grasping at opportunities. That they did good for their country is understood, and worth our celebration; that they were also jealous, resentful, self-protective, and covetous politicians should be no less a part of their collective biography. What separates history from myth is that history takes in the whole picture, whereas myth averts our eyes from the truth when it turns men into heroes and gods.”
Vico’s “error of nations”: to turn the founding fathers into matchless hero’s above the common crowd. Of course, Burr did try to steal the election of 1800, and he did shoot one of my ancestors. So faugh.