Marbury v. Madison may have been their first major legal battle, but President Thomas Jefferson and Chief Justice John Marshall clashed again in the treason trial of former Vice President Aaron Burr.
Burr may now be known best for his fatal duel with Alexander Hamilton in 1804, but by 1807 he was on trial for a plot that may (or may not) have involved fighting a private war against the Spanish; convincing the Western states to secede; and a mysterious cipher letter delivered by a “scoundrel” general into Jefferson’s own hand. In a trial lasting seven months, some of the new nation’s most skilled lawyers fought to define habeas corpus rights, the separation of powers and the constitutional definition of treason.
Professor R. Kent Newmyer reveals all these events in his new book, The Treason Trial of Aaron Burr: Law, Politics, and the Character Wars of the New Nation. He joined The Modern Law Library podcast to discuss his book with ABA Journal Web producer Lee Rawles. The Jefferson/Marshall showdown at what some call the greatest criminal trial in American history almost never came to be; Newmyer shares that Chief Justice Marshall presided over the trial in Richmond, Va., only because in those days Supreme Court justices were expected to ride circuit. He also discusses some of the legal minds who were involved in the trial, including a man named (confusingly) Luther Martin.
“Kent Newmyer, one of the most distinguished legal historians in the country, has written an extraordinarily learned and balanced account of what is arguably the greatest criminal trial in American history. The trial seems as relevant today as it was in 1807.” - Gordon S. Wood, Brown University
Note: The digital version of the book is available now; the print release date has been moved to Oct. 23, 2012.
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