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tv   Book TV  CSPAN  May 19, 2012 2:40pm-3:20pm EDT

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and the fbi. >> it wasn't that very tight. there are many famous stories of him being at feat famous club in new york city. one of the things that hoover was very noted was the way he hajed public affairs. he did it directly from his office. he personally played a hand in building the image of the fbi working with the reporters. he learned a big lesson during the big role about how big a role the press played and how important it is to have the public behind you. hoe saw how the public turned against mitch. when hoovered was asked to get involved in tracking nazis and communists and the lead to world war ii. hoover asked for legal cover. he knew that the public would turn against him if he didn't have it. as late as the 1950st and the
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60s was the tv show "fbi" hoover review all of the consistents of the scripts of the show to make sure they promoted the fbi as a good guy. more questions? go ahead. [inaudible conversations] [inaudible] >> it is one of my favorite people in american history. quick snapshot on him. to write a biography, as i'm sure any of the writers will tell you, there has to be something that engages you and clues you in. you don't have to like them. hoover is not the most like able person. there has to be amy i are. with boss tweed, he has the head
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of the civil war in new york city. tweed was by for a the most corporate politician who ever served on american soil. the sheer amount of money stole was monument tal. billions of dollars in today's dollars. they did it with management skills that would be the envy of any wall street type today. however, at the same time, tweed was one of the most generous people you could hope to meet. they did more good for people living in new york, and more to build the city than anyone else of the generation. but for the steeling, he would probably be remembered as a great man. however the steal was endemic to who he was he would have not done what he did. the garfield fascination.
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what brought me to that -- i hope -- my the fascination of president garfield. we think about him as the other one. the four presidentings were assassinated. kennedy, mckinly, and who's the other one? that's gar feel. he was shot in the back by a named charles who is a disappointed office seeker. in fact, garfield was killed because we went through a period in the country of political insight of hard-edged partisanship that was reminiscent of the late '90s and the current period of high partisanship under president obama when attack each other personally over seemingly petty things to the point that a man like charles could get is it into his head whether he was insane or not that shooting the
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president in an argument over a job was somehow normal and acceptable. that was that. more questions? >> yes. thank you. during your research, did you come across anything with j. edgar during word war ii with any animosity of he and will yoms. >> i did that. but the question is did i come across during the animosity between hoover and mr. donovan. i did not research that particular thing. i can't say. we have time for more one. is there anyone who hasn't had one. i'll be here afterwards. anyone who hasn't asked a question yet? okay. i'll get you after. >> i forget. thank you. i wanted to know if it's possible to document the efforts
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of. presidents and attorney generals ho get rid of him and how he managed being forced to resign. >> can you document the efforts of several presidents there were several who thought about getting rid of him and why they did or did not. yes, there had been several books written about that. and turns out that several presidents thought about it actively including nixson, kennedy, truman, and others. they all decided not to for various reasons. i think it's overly simplistic to say that hoover blackmailed them. i think the presidents decided that political risk of firing j. edgar hoover the way it would make a president look weak on crime or communism or irritate
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some of the allies on capitol hill was the more important factor. it frankly showed a certain cowardest by the presidents. i thought the best thing that could have happened to j. edgar as a person would have been if harry truman in the late 1940s had fired him on the spot. at that point, hoover would have been in the early 50s. he would have left on a high note. he would have been considered an excellent agency administrator. he could have gotten a job in any of the best law firms in washington. and could have lived a much nicer life than spending his later years as the elder villain, really, at the fbi trying to hold into the job in a very defensive way. thank you very being a great audience. [applause]
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[inaudible conversations] that was ken ackerman on the early career of j. edgar. next from the gaithersburg book festival we hear from david stew wetter on the third vice president of the united states. his called everyone emperor. he he's introduced by john ashman the founder of the gaithersburg book festival. >> surveys are available at the tend. we hope you enjoy the rest of of your day at the festival. [inaudible conversations] good afternoon, everyone. welcome to the third annual gaithersburg book festival. i'm judd ashman a member of the city council. oop. i hope everyone is all right
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over there. [inaudible conversations] it is a i have i vibrant diversity that celebrates the support of the cultural arts. we're pleased to bring the event free of charge thanks to the generous support of our sponsors. for our consideration and everyone here, i should say, please silence any devices that make any kind of noise at all. in order keep improving the event. we want your feedback. please grab a survey from the table over here. from the info booth it'll be up on the website as of later today. please help us keep improving the event. if there's time for qa please come to the microphone with the questions so the audience watching on c-span can hear you. david stern will be signing books immediately after the presentation copies of his book american emperor "american emperor: aaron burr's challenge to jefferson's america" are at
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the tent. sometimes when you look back on it, it's amazing where life leads us. david stewart practiced law for 25 years clerking for justice lewis powell and arguing a couple of cases before the supreme court. his passion for law made for a great career also lead him in an unexpected direction. writing books. years ago, when stewart suspected than 0 boant in a lawsuit was misstating debates from constitutional debates he spent a weekend reading james madison's notes from the con veption. had struck anymore that he had to tell l story. it lead to the book the men who invented constitution which was a fabulous book. stewart's legal experience which included a defense at work as a defense counsel in a senate impeachment trial of a federal judge played a big part in his
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writing the next book, "impeach the trial of andrew johnson and the fight for lincoln's legacy" the large i untold story of a murky figure many american history. aaron burr. we known as the burr of the politician and the dualist who killed ham l ton what about after the dual? as you'll see with the wild teal of an outlandish plan. mr. burr had more in store for history books. one of the stranger than fiction situations. before i bring david up here, i want to acknowledge another wonderful endeavor of his. the law that writing when his involvement in the writing world called his -- so just over a year ago, david founded an online book review site called washington
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independent review of books. you can find it google it or they publish book reviews and features just every day of the week. it's good stuff. it's worthy of all of our support the volunteer efforts. please make consider making it a regular stop for insight into what's going on with books today. without further adieu. a man who turned his passions for law, history, and books into a hobby for the rest of us. david stewart. [applause] thank you very much for the the generous introduction. there is a table over in that direction for the washington independent review on books if you want to go by and say hello sign up for the weekly e-mail. we'd love to enroll you in the raffle. you can get a free book. but i am here to talk about aaron burr.
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before it falls on us. i'm going to get to it. this story attracted me because of what judd was saying it's an outrageous story with a remarkable cast of characters beginning burr. it's important to start with what the united states was like in 1985. it's different that what we're used to. the global power. well, in 1805 we with were a little country. a or 6 million people. 0% of them were slaves. dimensions of the were changing constantly just two years before in 1803 we bought the louisiana purchase which doubled the size of the country. we didn't know the western boundary of the louisiana purchase. it's a wonderful part of the treaty. there were no maps. the treaty actually says, france conveys the united states whatever france got from spain.
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they didn't know. they -- much of what is now the country was spanish coul knees in florida, florida and what was then called west florida where colonies of spain and texas and the west coast. and these were territories that many americans had their eye on. and there was a -- even though we were looking to expand and just had expanded tremendously. there was an instayability within the country. we were going to grow or fall apart. there had been two repealons in the 1890s ten years in before. the whisk whiskey rebollon. americans haven't changed a great deal, they didn't want to pay taxes either. the year before the story picks up, several of the leading politicians in new england, senators and governors
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approached aaron burr. he was vice president of the united states. and they asked burr to lead new york in succession from the united states in joint new england by the story would also suck succeed and they would create new country. burr he declined to do that. there were many movements out west. at that time ohio, county, tennessee over the appalachian mountains. people there didn't feel connected people on the eastern part of the country. they had been talking about creating their own nation. they needed to have good relationships with spain. they needed to send it through new orleans which was controlled by spain for much of the time. indeed, the notion of success was so deeply entrenched president jefferson wrote in two different letters. i was shocked find it. in two different letters he could describe what was bland indifference of the country breaking into two.
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i'm going to quote, whether we refrain one confederacy or conform to atlantic and mississippi conform seis. i believe not very important happiness of either part. those of the western will be as much our children and decent ends as the eastern. i feel identified with the country in future time as with this. an amazing thing if the president of the united states to say. imagine if president obama were to say if california wants to go the own way, whatever. the president is supposed to hold us together. the government itself, though, really wasn't too swift at this time. it was small, of course. and it wasn't working terribly well. i mentioned, i wrote a book on the writing of the constitution. i'm a fan of the constitution. there were big problems l with. one of them was choosing the presidents. it wasn't working. the first two elections were georgia washington and that was easy, everybody was going to vote for him. then in our third election in
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7194 john adams won and his opponent thomas jefferson became vice president. so just think about it today we have president obama and vice president mccain now this happened because the constitution didn't provide for any separate vote for vice presidents. the electors. we still have the system we're supposed vote twice for president. each one had one. whoever got the second most was the vice president. adam's opponent won for vice president. everybody recognized this was a problem. when the next election comes around, jefferson and burr are the candidates for the republicans what are then called the republicans. jefferson clearly spoke to to be the vice vice presidential candidate. nobody who wants to be the guy who votes for two of them.
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all the republicans electors vote for both of them. they finish in tie. nobody won. so the election was thrown into the house of representatives. suddenly in the house of representatives the federal really aists decide they like burr. they like him before than jefferson they start voting for adam witness i'm sorry burr. on the first vote, vote for burr. there was a tie. they vote again, another tie. it for a week they voted 35 times and they tied every time. it was a crisis. they didn't know what was going happen. what john adams hang around a couple of day and open the mail? it was awkward crisis. finally, a letter comes from burr, he's up in albany serves as state legislature and he said nobody should vote for me. and jefferson wins. but this was not a well-established nation. it's important to keep that in
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mind as you look at the story. in the situation, we place aaron burr. our hero for this story. he frame a distinguished family. his father was the president of new jersey which is now price ton. he was jonathan edwards the great three low begans who said we are sinners in the hands of angry god. he doesn't sound like fun but very powerful. burr was a very smart student, a gifted student, but he at the young age, demonstrated what really moved him was military matters. the revolution broke out when he was 19, he ran up to boston where the washington was faced off against the british, and he involve volunteered for one of the worst military expetitions we ever mounted. we innovated canada in late
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november and december. it was a bad idea. the weather was terrible, the hardship was brutal, burr was this small man, a slight fellow in a sort of fancy pants background and it was a shock to many of the soldiers to discover that he was one the toughest solder soldiers in the arm army. he thrived. he rose to the top. there was an unfortunate battle fought at the gates of quebec. there were two offices commended at end of the burr was one of them at the age of 19. it by 21 was in the kern in the arm by by 2e6s 22 he was commanding. he was a successful soldier and it imprinted on that. that became his self-image. he had defected a martial bearing. he was called colonel burr.
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he was politically successful. after the war became a lawyer. he was a wonderful lawyer. he was a smart fellow. he became attorney general in new york and senator from new york, and finally vice president of the united states. he mastered the art of election'ring when he candidates standed to stand for office not run. he was too imwishes to do that he ran for office. in the election he organized the canvas. he had poll workers sleeping at his house. they went door to door. ..
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>> he made an unconventional, he made unconventional choices in his private life, he courted and married a woman ten years older than he. she was the widow of a british officer. it took a lot of guts to marry the widow of a british officer in 1782. when they first started keeping company, she was not yet a widow, but the demise of the colonel was not connected to burr in any respect. and he had a view of women that they had all the talents and, perhaps more than that, of men. and he really made his daughter, theodocia, really an object lesson in that. he had her educated as any young man of privilege would have been educated at the time. she learned all the languages, she learned the natural history
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and philosophy. and when people met her, they would be dazzled by her, and she was often referred to as the best-educated young woman in america. i should also mention that he admired women not only for their intellect. he became a widower at the age of 37 and spent 40 years as a single gentleman. by all accounts, as an avid enthusiast of female company. he -- after he died, one of his longtime friends said it was just as remarkable that colonel burr had achieved all he had since he spent all his time chasing women. and he had a charisma not unconnected to his romantic life which is very difficult to convey over the centuries. among his contemporaries, you had people like, a man like washington whose reputation was gigantic. he was physically gigantic. he would walk into the room and just dominate it by who he was.
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hamilton had a powerful personality. he would come in and just take over a room. if he'd had enough to drink, he'd jump up on the table and start singing songs. burr was not like that. he was a quiet fellow. he was reserved. he could be quite witty, he was charming, but there was a sense of mystery and secrets to him, and that's an important part of this story. one of the things he always told his law colleagues was the three-word piece of advice: things written remain. and he didn't mean that as encouragement to write things down. he meant the opposite. so he didn't write much down. it makes it very hard on people like me who want to write about him because he left what is now enshrined in two volumes of political correspondence. well, hamilton, who lived 30 years less than burr -- which is not a coincidence -- left 35
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volumes. so burr was extremely leery of writing anything sensitive, anything even not terribly sensitive down. we do get personal letters between him and his daughter, between him and his wife. but when it comes to business and politics, the trail is really quite slim. um, okay. the story really starts in 1804 which is aaron burr's very bad year. at the beginning of the year, he learns that he's not going to be a candidate for vice president for the next election which will be at the end of the year. it's not a complete surprise. he knows that he hasn't been getting along very well with jefferson, and jefferson didn't really enjoy that tied election they had back in 1800. burr decides -- but it's disappointing. he decides he's going to run for governor of new york and rehabilitate his political
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career. he runs, he gets crushed, he loses by the largest margin anybody's lost up to that point in new york history. while he is nursing that particular wound, he reads a newspaper article that reports a statement made by alexander hamilton during the campaign. now, just quickly, hamilton had been saying terrible things about burr for about 12 years. it was something he did. he said burr was corrupt, burr was a high car, and burr was power mad. he had different ways of saying it, but that was his triumvirate of observations about burr that he repeated over and over and over. interestingly, there is no surviving record of anything nasty that burr ever said about hamilton. in any event, this newspaper story in 1804 says hamilton said the usual things, burr is corrupt, burr is a liar, burr is crazy for power, an embryo caesar was a phrase hamilton liked. but then it said something else. hamilton is supposed to have
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said -- and i have an opinion of this gentleman that's still more despicable. now, despicable is not a word that strikes the modern era as particularly terrible. but in 1804 it meant sexual perversion. now, don't press me as to what brand of sexual perversion, it apparently covered a variety. but it was an extremely offense bive term to use -- offensive term to use, a corresponding term today would be viewed as extraordinarily offensive, and burr wrote a very stiff note to hamilton saying i see this report of what you said. you must retract that, explain it or meet me on a field of honor, a duel. burr had made such demands of hamilton twice before, and both times hamilton had retracted his previous or reported remark. on this occasion hamilton did not, and he wrote back a rather mealy-mouthed response, they
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exchanged more letters, and after about three weeks of foreplay, they met in the famous duel. now, we know that hamilton lost the duel. it's not as clear that burr won it. because he was stunned to find afterwards, just within a day, that by winning the duel he had converted hamilton into a martyr. and he became a tremendous hero. hamilton's political career had been ruined by this point in his life, and suddenly he was the equivalent of a secular saint. indeed, within just a few days burr was indicted for murder in new york, and then he was indicted for murder in new jersey. so he really had to take off on the lam. and when he stopped for a moment, he's the vice president of the united states. and he's on the run from the law. he heads down to south georgia hoping for things to blow over a little bit.
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they do calm down a bit, and he heads back, and four months after the duel, he resumes his seat as vice president and presides over the united states senate even though he's under indictment for murder in two states. he can't actually travel in those two states, and he's at risk of being extra or dieted to -- extradited to face charges there. but he finishes his term. but by now even aaron burr has figured out that his political career is pretty much done. and be he's going to succeed in the world and he has this vaulting ambition, if he's going to succeed, he's going to have to do it in some unconventional way. and he comes up with this remarkable scheme that he begins right after his term ends, like many americans through history. when his career went south, he headed west. he went through what was then the west, he went through ohio and kentucky, tennessee, indiana
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territory and all the way down to new orleans and then all the way back. he took seven months. it was a very tough trip. he was beating through the forest, sleeping out in the woods, eating what he could kill. but it turned out here's a man in his late 40s, and he's still a tough guy. he loves this kind of life. and hen he travels -- when he travels to the west, he meets all the important people out there. he meets two future presidents, andrew jackson and william henry harrison, he meets three senators, he meets many militia generals. he likes militia generals, he's a military guy. he meets a fellow who not only has a great name, but will play a role in the story, i'll come back to him, but mostly he meets former members of the continental army. at the end of the war, we had not paid many of our soldiers well, so many of them we gave land west in lieu of money. they remembered burr fondly. many were older than he.
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he'd been such a young man during the war. so he was recruiting people for an expedition, a very exciting expedition, but it turned out he was usually recruiting the sons and not the people he had known in the war. but most important, he met a thoroughly preposterous figure, general james wilkinson. wilkinson, again, was somebody i couldn't believe when i understood just what he was. he was general and chief of our army, and that sounds pretty grand. we only had 3300 soldiers at the time, so it wasn't a gigantic operation. he, at the same time he was general in chief, was a secret agent for the king of spain and had been a secret agent for ten years. he received regular bribe payments in return for which he produced reports on american political and military developments. now, i've read his reports. it's not obvious that the spaniards were getting much value for their money. they're not the most wonderful
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and fascinating reports. but it is an astonishing thing to find that the head of the army was, in fact, a traitor. wilkinson was a florid, hard-drinking fellow. he was usually by dinner time at least he'd had a bit too much to drink. he survived multiple court-martials in the army, even as general in chief, he was court-martialed twice, and it was said of him he'd never won a battle or lost an investigation. wilkinson and burr together -- let me just tell one story about wilkinson. it gives you a flavor for him. when the louisiana purchase was being handed over to the americans by the french, there was a ceremony in new orleans, and jefferson sent general wilkinson down there to receive of the transfer. there was to be a big ball at night to celebrate, to mark the
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occasion. many of the people in the new orleans area were french-speaking people, they were called creoles. they were very unhappy at the prospect of becoming part of the united states. it was a foreign country to them, it had a foreign language, foreign legal system, foreign culture. and there was a lot of resentment. so to try to taper things over, they told the orchestra for this event to play, first, one french song and then an english -- american song, and then a french song and then an american song. so they started to do that, and then general wilkinson got a little liquored up, and he demanded they play two american socks in a -- songs in a row. he's the general, so, you know, what are you going to do if you're the orchestra leader? one of the puzzling parts of the story is the second american song was rule brittania -- [laughter] presumably chosen for its ability to annoy french people. at the end of rule brittania,
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all the creoles jump up out of their seats seats and belt out a couple of choruses of a french song, at the end of which a brawl breaks out. and when that finally subsides, general wilkinson leads the americans out of the hall in triumph. and i know the thing you're all thinking is we're missing humphrey bogart. it turn out that if you're a double agent, seeming to be a baa too far is a pretty good coffer, and he managed that -- cover, and he managed that. i think he managed to take in burr. they came up for a plan for an expedition into spanish territory. burr was to recruit private citizens to join this expedition, wilkinson was to bring the soldiers. and jointly they would invade, liberate the spanish colonies in this florida, in texas and mexico, and while recruiting
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burr would tell the people he was recruiting versions of the following story: the atlantic state, the original 13 states, were exploiting the west and that the west in 1805 was like the atlantic states had been in 1776. imagine a former vice president of the united states saying, basically, you should be rebelling. he said that the separation of the west from the rest of the country was inevitable, that war with spain over mexico was highly desirable, and he would consider it a great honor to lead mexicans into mexico city. and that mexico was there for the taking, great piles of silver and land. mexico, at that time, did produce two-thirds of the world's silver. there was wealth in mexico. and he also talked about the opportunity to liberate the mexican people. exporting democracy has always had its appeal to americans. it has it today, and it had it in 1805.
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now, he also talked about the possibility of insurrection among the creoles in new orleans. so out of this melange of potential outcomes, he's creating an expectation of really an extraordinary expedition. and there's always been some confusion. it's one of the reasons i wanted to write the book. there's been confusion about what burr's goals really were. and historians tend to choose up sides. well, he only meant to invade mexico and liberate them. well, he meant an ex-territory of the united states. or he meant to create a new empire. and the more i read and the more i studied this, i concluded that it wasn't any of those things. he wanted all of them. his notion was he would mount this ec we decision and -- expedition and see what he could get away with. that's sort of a glib way to say it, but if it meant annexing parts of the spanish territory to the united states, that would
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be great. he'd be a hero. if it meant creating a new empire, well, that would be interesting. if it meant creating secession of the west, well, that would be even more interesting. and there's evidence to support each of those, and i do believe he had this attitude of he would see what he could do, what was possible. i find myself thinking, you can tell maybe that i have a too-cinematic view of some of this. when i think of burr's intentions, i think of marlon brando in the movie, "the wild ones," where he leads a motorcycle gang into this hokey california town, and he terrorizes them in rather a quaint way. about halfway true the movie the -- through the movie the sweet young thing says to brando, johnny, what are you rebelling against? and brando says, well, what have you got? and burr has that element. and to be serious for a moment,
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he had this need for fame, and fame was something that the founding generation was candid about wanting. people like washington, people like madison and jefferson and adams saw fame as the greatest thing a person could achieve. and it wasn't the sort of empty celebrityhood we see today with the people in the gossip columns. this was people knew who you were because you were important because you did something important, because you were a person of character and integrity. and it was a measure of your worth that you were known. and burr needed that. he needed that in a powerful way. um, the expedition, that the expedition had a dark side, i think, is demonstrated by a variety of facts. one that's very important to me is he went to the ambassadors from spain and mexico and described his intentions. he asked the british ambassador to send a fleet to new orleans
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to support him. you don't need a british fleet if you're just, if you're not going to do anything against the u.s. government. and he asked for $100,000. ultimately, the ec we decision was a botch -- expedition was a botch. there were -- i'm pressed for time. there were a number of things that turned against him. the men who were supposed to show up, he expected 1500 men to show up, only a hundred did. by the time he got down to mississippi, wilkinson had double crossed him. wilkinson decide canned instead offing with a double agent -- decided instead of becoming a double agent, he'd become a triple agent. burr was brought back to richmond in chains and stood trial for treason. here you had a former vice president of the united states facing trial for treason and possible hanging. the trial itself was an electrifying event for the country, it was on the front page of the newspaper, the whole transcript of the trial, for
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four months. burr was a better lawyer than insurrectionist. he got off. he managed to bury an astonishing amount of evidence against him. and ultimately, he was acquitted. he actually then went to europe, tried to talk the british into underwriting him to lead an expedition to liberate spanish america. the british passed. he went to france and asked napoleon to do it. napoleon had other things to do. and he came back and finished his years, 23 years, just practicing law in new york. a rather quiet life. i've to telescope a lot and skip a lot, but i hope you get a flavor for what this extraordinary episode was, and i'd be happy to take a couple of questions. yes, ma'am. [applause] yes. >> how do we know about wilkinson being -- [inaudible] >> the question is how do we know about wilkinson being an


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