Tuesday, 25 September 2012
I have just read Burr, a brilliant novel by Gore Vidal - the first (chronologically) of his Chronicles of Empire, covering the period from the start of the War of Independence in 1776 to the death of Aaron Burr in 1836. He was the hero of the failed attempt to take Quebec, then New York senator, and Vice President 1801 to 1804. He became notorious after killing General Alexander Hamilton in a duel. After that he set off on a risky attempt to liberate Mexico, was charged by President Jefferson with treason - for which there was no evidence - escaped conviction, but spent the rest of his life in disgrace. Burr is portrayed convincingly as the one honourable man who keeps his word in a world of scoundrels who betray their friends in their struggle for power. He could have been President if he had not kept his promise to help Jefferson to that position - Jefferson the hypocritical 'radical' who owned a bevy of slaves and fathered children by a slave concubine. Two things I learned in particular: that America was dominated from 1776 to 1825 by Virginians, whose farms depended on slave labour; and that the new Republic was from the outset bent on imperial expansion, with the ambition of taking control of the whole of North and South America.