Forgotten Feminist Father – The “Burr” Under Hamilton’s Saddle

07/04/2017 by syrbal-labrys

Happy 4th of July! Are you enjoying your right to own guns and die of damned near anything while keeping your filthy liberal mouths shut so the NRA “fist of truth” doesn’t come for you?

I’m not sure the term “enjoyment” much comes into my Independence Day experience these days.  We read a lot here, taking refuge in reexamining elements of our own American history to look for answers to modern conundrums; the Manchild-T-Rex has been studying a personal hero of his with more than his usual intensity this month.  He is laid up with a fractured spinal vertebra while awaiting the VA’s leisure to actually DO something about it, you see?  So he is reading up on a much maligned figure in American history and politics: Aaron Burr – a man whom I remembered from high school studies with a sense of confusion.

Burr was reviled nearly as badly as the actually traitorous Benedict Arnold, and yet I never found reason for it.  He always seemed a really excellent example of how it could have been, if not a definite how it should have been.  He is mostly recalled as the man who killed Alexander Hamilton, a man all the rage presently – for reasons that are murky at best.  Legend says “poor” Hamilton chivalrously fired his shot in the air right before being murdered by Burr.  But the actual witnesses say Hamilton fired AT Burr and missed.  (Hamilton frequently dueled – over a dozen times.) But this post isn’t primarily about Hamilton (the Federalist who set in motion the banking system of America — the one that has grown tentacles to rip off the common citizen right and left) – it is about the man who might have started a third party movement in America way back when it would have changed how politics was “done” here.

Burr lived his life as an honest agnostic.  Unlike many of his age,  who personally ridiculed religious affiliation until death bed confession time – Aaron Burr was steadfastly skeptical.  He didn’t think women’s lives were meant to be hollow pretty household drudges, either.  He married and apparently adored a woman ten years his senior; he educated his daughter very well from toddlerhood onwards.  In all of their lives together (tragically short) he wrote letters to his daughter, sharing all thoughts honestly and completely on every imaginable topic.  He even sarcastically commented once on others apparently disbelieving women were even endowed with souls!  He fought legal cases FOR women as well.  As modern agnostics and atheists often find the case, Burr was frequently accused of being unethical personally and politically – but repeated efforts to prove this failed.  He never was found to have used political office for personal benefit; though Alexander Hamilton was well known to do so at every opportunity.

Burr was often accused of being a Federalist because he did take some ideas where he found them to be useful, possibly because of his fondness for Jeremy Bentham, whose utilitarianism would naturally encourage a pragmatic approach over ideology alone.  Burr also found Mary Wollstonecraft’s philosophy appealing — the behaviorist idea that social conditions shape human behavior was significant to him.  Thus, between these philosophical poles, he believed it was the task of government to provide the most happiness for the most citizens, not only for an upper class.

Burr often advocated for the common man, including saying they deserved voting rights — which Hamilton did NOT believe or support.  Hamilton thought only rather well off gentry sorts, the “upper class” should vote and participate in government; rather as he thought a President should be allowed to quash any act of Congress and be Executive for LIFE.  But then, Hamilton, UNLIKE Burr, was actually known as “number 7” to British intelligence and DID provide them with information. There were also accusations of treason against Burr, claims he intended to break the union and form a separate state; but in the early years of the American republic this was not uncommon thought.  Even Ethan Allen wanted an independent Vermont at one stage!  And the southern colonies were talking about their own union before the ink was dry on the Constitution.

I look at America today, while the scent of cordite fills the air, and see vast political divisions and hatred being fanned as if that is the fire that can warm us through winter.  The times seen by our founding fathers was just as contentious, frankly; and yet the pablum taught in schools is a gloss of bronzed-over bullshit telling us nothing of hatred and political assassinations in our past.  We are left with confusing leftover bits like Aaron Burr’s revilement as a traitor and murderer that are broken pieces from complete pictures of real history — even an amateur historian must be an archaeologist of sorts to find the whole story.

Alexander Hamilton was a good and brave soldier, he was a splendid writer and a stalwart of his party.  But as a person?  He was flawed — as are we all in some fashion — but he believed in letting personal hatred dominate his politics.  Hamilton was actually a political pariah at the time of his death due to some pretty nasty things said and done (like telling Washington to shoot complaining soldiers at Valley Forge?!), he never met a war-drum he didn’t love.  He reportedly told others that he had blackmail material ON his doting father-figure George Washington, that he would use if other management techniques failed!  He married for money and committed adultery with his sister-in-law, amongst others.  All that saved him from being a historical non-sequitur was the self-pitying letter he wrote for publication the night before he met Burr in the fatal duel.  Setting the prettier bits of his life and writings to music really is insufficient to my mind!  We see a replay in our times of tumult and personal enmity taking precedence over governance, without the least ruffle of feathers in our eagle-clad mythology?

So today? Fuck Hamilton (and Donald Trump who would have LOVED his “Prez for Life” ideas) and glasses here today will be raised to a man for whom religious ideas were null — but who took into his household refugees and penniless orphan children of his legal client, as well as legally adopting sons who might have been his own bastards.  A man who took care of his own lawyer who suffered a stroke – until the man’s death!  A man never convicted of repeated charges brought by political enemies, a man that Hamilton’s own biographer lauded to the skies as the epitome of grace under pressure:

“…Dignity unruffled by misfortune or success.  He was never arrogant and never abased…deferred hopes and private sorrows, the neglect and contumely of his fellow-countrymen found him still the same – smiling, courteous, considerate for the feelings of those whom he met.  He also had extraordinary courage, daring to undertake, persistent in th carrying out, and patience under failure and adversity.”

*I began with page attributions…but that became cumbersome.  Three main books on Burr (and incidentally Hamilton) were used for information referred to in this post:

A Fatal Friendship by Arnold Rogow

Fallen Founder by Nancy Isenberg

Duel by Thomas Fleming





The name of this blog, and my Dreamwidth blog, Herlander Refugee, is taken from a 1915 feminist novel "Herland". It makes my heart sing that modern women are experimenting with creation of a new "Herland"! Yes, comments are closed. Anyone who just MUST reach me can do so at syrbal6 at gmail dot com.

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