Don’t Confuse me with the Facts

This week I completed Fallen Founder, the story of Aaron Burr, by Nancy Isenberg. Then I wrote a short review of the book as I always do.  When I perused what others had written, I discovered that several of the other reviews were negative.  Many of the other reviewers thought Isenberg was wrong about Burr because they had read other accounts of Burr’s life by Ron Chernow and David McCullough.

In my opinion fellow historian Isenberg has written a balanced version of Burr’s life, using the first rule of a good history, ‘refer to original documents’ or what historians call primary sources, wherever you can.  And verify, verify, verify. (I’ve done this while working on my family tree and discovered some amazing things.)

The problem with secondary sources is that if they include a lie, mistake, innuendo or hearsay, and they often do, it gets transmitted and repeated until folks think it must be true. Isenberg says, this is what happened with the Aaron Burr story.  Sadly this miscarriage of truth has been turned into a Broadway smash hit.  In 2007, Isenberg challenged most of what had been written about Burr and she found the truth far more complicated.

I came away from the book thinking less of the Federalist Hamilton who was a gossip and a dirty politician, and less of Thomas Jefferson a Republican-Democrat (anti-Federalist) who said stupid things that almost incited a lynch mob.

However,  I came away from the book impressed by Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, John Marshall, who seemed at times to be the only sane person at Burr’s travesty of a series of trials.

Once again, I had impressed upon me, that everyone is owed their day in court, and that double-triple jeopardy  is a bad thing. In court after court, when Burr was found ‘not guilty’ of the charge of mounting an insurrection, there were those who pressed for another and another trial, so sure were they of his guilt.

Today we have trial by Facebook, or TV or the newspapers and it is as evil as it always has been.

                                              ***

 

 

20 thoughts on “Don’t Confuse me with the Facts

    • Are you asking about Aaron Burr? I think ALL the founders were aristocrats of one kind or another who mostly looked out for their own interests, whether it was land speculation, slaves or trade. They exposited noble ideas, but it has taken a long time to implement them…a long time.

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  1. Be they Broadway shows, plays, movies, a lot of “dramatic license” seems always taken telling stories based on biographies, reported facts. I always like to know a great deal about authors of books, theories and scientific research in any discipline, including medical, because their perspective generally reflects their orientation. Knowing this helps me understand and assess what they’re saying. Finished Where Ghosts Walked which really raised lots of thought about parallels between then and now — scarily so! Am reading The F(R)ight to Vote now and surely has been messy with changing and ongoing efforts to limit who can vote as we see efforts practiced today.

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    • Jo, I so enjoy your thoughtful informed comments. Glad you finished WGW. This book, assigned by one of the history professors I greatly admired in my time at GM, helped me to understand how in the heck the Germans I love, being one/fourth German, could elect a Hitler. Yes, I know it’s not bedtime reading.

      I’ve begun reading ‘Leaving Kabul’, by British journalist Christina Lamb, co-author of I Am Malala. She spent 28 years in Afghanistan.

      I’ve read several histories (written by history scholars, not journalists) about Central Asia, all of which included Afghanistan. It will be interesting to read a journalistic impression.

      Recall Ernest Hemingway was a reporter. Although he had witnessed everything from the Armenian genocide to the Spanish Civil War, he had the good sense to write fiction when he turned his hand to writing about world events. A memoire is not history, and a partial video recording of a horrific event is not truth.

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      • Those of German heritage I’ve known came to mind when I read WGW.
        Yes, I, too, wondered how the German people became emeshed with all that took place with WWI & WWII as I had only a cursory knowlege of precipitating events. So much more impacted what happened & I think Large addressing social, cultural issues of the time shed significant light on the environment in which those ideas smoldered and evolved over the years. Too many people didnt take matters and their leader-to-be seriously, then just went along little by little, even when they didn’t support the policies. Ultimately many drank the kool-aid, go along–get along prevailed for many, good men/women doing nothing —- and then it was too late. I respect those today, even if I disagree with their other stances, who recognize obvious truths and have the courage to stand up against anyone vying to lead us astray.

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      • The truth is, every civil right we have today, including the right to vote, was earned and paid for with blood.

        The original founders, were aristocrats, land speculators and elitists. However, they laid out a set of ideals…all are created equal…and principles every generation has had to rediscover and strive for.

        Progress not perfection. Our nation is still progressing. Although we fall off track now and again, so far, we have been able to move forward, albeit two steps forward and one back.

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      • Incidentally, i thought the book was a really good read and I was never bored. The writing really moved along. It was hard to put it down sometimes but i had other things so took longer for me to finish than ordinarily.

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  2. I agree with your premise. My favorite type of book to read is “historical fiction” but I always keep in mind that it is, first and foremost, FICTION.

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    • So true Ginnie. Much of what has been written about Hamilton and Jefferson is fiction. And poor old Burr. He was truly an amazing man brought low by his enemies. And what great man has no enemies?

      However, you and I have been around the block and lived long enough to witness how a really good or even great person can be dragged down by lies and gossip…which is another form of prevarication.

      I used to read lots of historical fiction. Then I discovered it was more fun to read history written by people with different perspectives. Truth is…these is no absolutely true history. At best, with the best records history is only a pale imitation of what happened in the past. And even then, everyone experienced a different history.

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    • Oh Barbara, I’m sitting here laughing, not at you but wth you. I suspect you are informed as I am and have the good sense to not discuss it.

      Writing this post, I didn’t want to get into the Dallas police killings and the Minnesota Facebook fiasco but I really threw everyone for a loop.

      I was purposely writing abot events in the eighteenteenth century, about which I know little, having concentrated on Europe in my recent (2006-2012?) history studies.

      Reading this book on Burr, I was taken by how the public tried and convicted Burr before he had his day in court. When the court heard his case he was found not guilty not unlike the cops here in Baltimore who have been exonerated by the court in the Freddie Grey case. (I predict when all the facts are known, the cop in MN will be found “not guilty” of the murder of the fellow in MN last week.)

      Burr, made mistakes as all humans do, but he never set out to foment a rebellion against the US, the crime of which he was accused.

      Oh there I go again,

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