Reports of the Trials of Colonel Aaron Burr

Aaron BURR   |   David ROBERTSON

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Reports of the Trials of Colonel Aaron Burr
Reports of the Trials of Colonel Aaron Burr

"JOHN MARSHALL'S FINEST HOUR": 1808 REPORTS OF THE TRIALS OF COLONEL AARON BURR THAT PITCHED JEFFERSON AGAINST HIS LONGTIME FOE MARSHALL IN DECIDING BURR'S FATE IN "THE MOST FORMIDABLE SECESSION CONSPIRACY PRIOR TO 1860"

(BURR, Aaron) ROBERTSON, David. Reports of the Trials of Colonel Aaron Burr, (Late Vice President of the United States,) for Treason, and for a Misdemeanor, In preparing the means of a Military Expedition against Mexico… Philadelphia: Hopkins and Earle, 1808. Two volumes. Octavo, original tan (Volume I) and blue (Volume II) paper boards, original spine labels, uncut and partly unopened. Housed together in a custom clamshell box. $2900.

1808 edition of the two-volume report on the trial of Aaron Burr, preferred first edition with the transcription of attorney David Robertson in his detailed chronicle of "the greatest criminal trial in American history," one that electrified a clash between Jefferson, his former vice president Burr, and Jefferson's "old enemy" John Marshall who, "by issuing a subpoena for Jefferson's records… established that no president is above the law."

Aaron Burr "was accused early in the year 1807 of treasonable designs against the government in connection with an alleged conspiracy to invade Mexico, seize the city of New Orleans, separate the states west of the Mississippi form the rest of the Union and set up an independent government there" (NYU, 1027-28). Historian Samuel E. Morison refers to Burr's extraordinary intrigue as "the most formidable secession conspiracy prior to 1860" (Oxford History, 370). Edward Corwin, "a leading constitutional historian, called the Burr treason trial 'the greatest criminal trial in American history and one of the notable trials in the annals of the law'… For one thing, it involved a three-way legal, ideological and personal contest among three prominent statesmen of the early republic. The clash between President Jefferson and his former vice president Aaron Burr set the case in motion… [and] Jefferson's extensive and unprecedented involvement in the trial proceedings, in turn, brought him into conflict with his old enemy Chief Justice John Marshall… the legal and constitutional issues in the trial—the definition of treason, the constitutional rights of criminal defendants, and the meaning of the separation of powers in the Constitution—have attracted the attention of constitutional and legal historians" ever since (Newmyer, Treason Trial, 1).

In light of Marshall's strict reading of the Constitution, to many scholars "the Burr trial was John Marshall's finest hour… the Constitution, Marshall said, defined treason as levying war against the U.S. or giving aid to its enemies. For a conviction, there must be an overt act, testified to by two witnesses in open court… and by issuing a subpoena for Jefferson's records, Marshall also established that no president is above the law" (New York Times). "David Robertson's Reports is most frequently cited as documentation for discussions on the Burr trials" (Congressional Record: Proceedings and Debates , V119). "Robertson stopped detailed reporting of the proceedings of the trial following Marshall's August 31 opinion and the jury's acquittal of Burr the next day." His transcription "taken in short hand" is a "favorite among historians of the trial, perhaps because it was his account that appeared in serial form in the Richmond Enquirer, the paper that in turn was cited by other newspapers around the country" (Newmyer, 166, 3). Robertson's Reports is preceded by a three-volume edition based on the shorthand of T. Carpenter that began publication in 1807: titled The Trial of Colonel Aaron Burr. Volume I without half title. Copies were issued in at least two colors of paper boards; this copy has brown paper boards on Volume I and blue paper boards on Volume II. Sabin 9434. Harvard Law Catalogue II:1030. Howes B1013.

Text generally fresh with scattered foxing. Volume I with expert restoration to spine, spine labels, and endpapers. Volume II is rebacked with the original printed paper spine label restored. Occasional light marginal dampstaining.

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