Year
1807
Month Day
February 19

Aaron Burr arrested for alleged treason

Aaron Burr, a former U.S. vice president, is arrested in Alabama on charges of plotting to annex Spanish territory in Louisiana and Mexico to be used toward the establishment of an independent republic.

In November 1800, in an election conducted before presidential and vice-presidential candidates shared a single ticket, Thomas Jefferson and his running mate, Aaron Burr, defeated Federalist incumbent John Adams with 73 electoral votes each. The tie vote then went to the House to be decided, and Federalist Alexander Hamilton was instrumental in breaking the deadlock in Jefferson’s favor. Burr, because he finished second, became vice president.

READ MORE: Aaron Burr's Notorious Treason Case

During the next few years, President Jefferson grew apart from his vice president and did not support Burr’s renomination to a second term in 1804. A faction of the Federalists, who had found their fortunes drastically diminished after the ascendance of Jefferson, sought to enlist the disgruntled Burr into their party. However, Alexander Hamilton opposed such a move and was quoted by a New York newspaper saying that he “looked upon Mr. Burr to be a dangerous man, and one who ought not to be trusted with the reins of government.” The article also referred to occasions when Hamilton had expressed an even “more despicable opinion of Burr.” Burr demanded an apology, Hamilton refused, so Burr challenged his old political antagonist to a duel.

On July 11, 1804, the pair met at a remote spot in Weehawken, New Jersey. Hamilton, whose son was killed in a duel in 1801, deliberately fired into the air, but Burr fired with intent to kill. Hamilton, fatally wounded, died in New York City the next day. The questionable circumstances of Hamilton’s death effectively brought Burr’s political career to an end.

Fleeing to Virginia, he traveled to New Orleans after finishing his term as vice president and met with U.S. General James Wilkinson, who was an agent for the Spanish. The exact nature of what the two plotted is unknown, but speculation ranges from the establishment of an independent republic in the American Southwest to the seizure of territory in Spanish America for the same purpose.

In the fall of 1806, Burr led a group of well-armed colonists toward New Orleans, prompting an immediate investigation by U.S. authorities. General Wilkinson, in an effort to save himself, turned against Burr and sent dispatches to Washington accusing Burr of treason. On February 19, 1807, Burr was arrested in Alabama for alleged treason and sent to Richmond, Virginia, to be tried in a U.S. circuit court.

On September 1, 1807, he was acquitted on the grounds that, although he had conspired against the United States, he was not guilty of treason because he had not engaged in an “overt act,” a requirement of treason as specified by the U.S. Constitution. Nevertheless, public opinion condemned him as a traitor, and he spent several years in Europe before returning to New York and resuming his law practice.

READ MORE: Aaron Burr's Political Legacy Died in the Duel with Alexander Hamilton

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us! HISTORY reviews and updates its content regularly to ensure it is complete and accurate.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

"The Feminine Mystique" by Betty Friedan is published

Though perhaps not the typical housewife—she had been involved in radical politics from a young age and had a degree in psychology from Smith College—Betty Friedan is often credited as the first to give voice to the suffering of millions of seemingly-content American women. Her ...read more

Tiger Woods apologizes for extramarital affairs

On February 19, 2010, professional golfer Tiger Woods gives a televised news conference in which he apologizes for his marital infidelities and admits to “selfish” and “foolish” behavior. The 34-year-old Woods, one of the greatest players in the history of golf as well as one of ...read more

Exiled writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn reunited with family

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn awaits reunion with his family after exile from Russia. Publication of The Gulag Archipelago, a detailed history of the Soviet prison system, prompted Russia to exile the 55 year-old author. One of Russia’s most visible and vocal dissidents, Solzhenitsyn ...read more

Polish astronomer Copernicus is born

On February 19, 1473, Nicolaus Copernicus is born in Torun, a city in north-central Poland on the Vistula River. The father of modern astronomy, he was the first modern European scientist to propose that Earth and other planets revolve around the sun. Copernicus was born into a ...read more

Donner Party rescued from the Sierra Nevada Mountains

On February 19, 1847, the first rescuers reach surviving members of the Donner Party, a group of California-bound emigrants stranded by snow in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. In the summer of 1846, in the midst of a Western-bound fever sweeping the United States, 89 ...read more

U.S. Marines invade Iwo Jima

Operation Detachment, the U.S. Marines’ invasion of Iwo Jima, is launched. Iwo Jima was a barren Pacific island guarded by Japanese artillery, but to American military minds, it was prime real estate on which to build airfields to launch bombing raids against Japan, only 660 ...read more

Chicago Seven sentenced

The Chicago Seven (formerly the Chicago Eight—one defendant, Bobby Seale, was being tried separately) are acquitted of riot conspiracy charges, but found guilty of inciting riot. The eight antiwar activists were charged with the responsibility for the violent demonstrations at ...read more

This Day In History: FDR orders Japanese Americans into internment camps, February 19, 1942

FDR orders Japanese Americans into internment camps

On February 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs Executive Order 9066, initiating a controversial World War II policy with lasting consequences for Japanese Americans. The document ordered the removal of resident enemy aliens from parts of the West vaguely identified ...read more

Thomas Edison patents the phonograph

The technology that made the modern music business possible came into existence in the New Jersey laboratory where Thomas Edison created the first device to both record sound and play it back. He was awarded U.S. Patent No. 200,521 for his invention—the phonograph—on February 19, ...read more

San Francisco vigilantes take the law into their own hands

An angry mob in San Francisco’s business district ”tries” two Australian suspects in the robbery and assault of C. J. Jansen. When the makeshift jury deadlocked, the suspects were returned to law enforcement officials.  Jansen was working at his store at the corner of Montgomery ...read more

United States calls situation in El Salvador a communist plot

The U.S. government releases a report detailing how the “insurgency in El Salvador has been progressively transformed into a textbook case of indirect armed aggression by communist powers.” The report was another step indicating that the new administration of Ronald Reagan was ...read more

Congress overlooks Benedict Arnold for promotion

On February 19, 1777, the Continental Congress votes to promote Thomas Mifflin, Arthur St. Clair, William Alexander, Lord Stirling, Adam Stephen and Benjamin Lincoln to the rank of major general. Although the promotions were intended in part to balance the number of generals ...read more