Sunday, November 13, 2011

David O. Stewart's "American Emperor"

David O. Stewart's books include the highly acclaimed The Summer of 1787, the bestselling account of the writing of the Constitution, and Impeached: The Trial of President Andrew Johnson and the Fight for Lincoln's Legacy. He has practiced law in Washington, D.C., for more than a quarter of a century, defending accused criminals and challenging government actions as unconstitutional. Stewart has argued appeals all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and was law clerk to Justice Lewis Powell of that Court.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, American Emperor: Aaron Burr's Challenge to Jefferson's America, and reported the following:
American Emperor tells the story of Burr’s audacious attempt to raise a private force to invade Mexico and Florida. He hoped to form a new empire consisting of those lands and as much of the American West as would be willing to join him. At Page 99, we find Burr dining on an Eden-like island in the Ohio River with Harman and Margaret Blennerhassett, two Irish expatriates who were the most implausible and the most pathetic of Burr’s recruits:
Then forty years old, Harman Blennerhassett cut an Ichabod Crane figure: six feet tall, slender, with gray hair, a large nose and weak eyes. When reading, he held books so close that his nose brushed the page. His mansion included a library and a scientific laboratory. His favorite pursuits were music and chemistry. In contrast, Margaret Blennerhassett was a skilled horsewoman, tall and athletic, able to vault the five-foot fence that surrounded their property. Educated far beyond the norm for the Ohio Valley, the Blennerhassetts liked to display their learning. Harman spouted passages from the Iliad in Greek. Margaret favored Shakespeare, though she also read to guests in French, following with her own translations.
Without a martial bone in his elongated, myopic body, Blennerhassett eagerly joined Burr. The Irishman wrote newspaper essays urging Westerners to secede from the United States, recruited his neighbors to join the effort, and shoveled so much of his money into the enterprise that he impoverished his family. Blennerhassett ended up in a Richmond, Virginia prison, facing trial for treason, though he was released after Burr won an acquittal on the treason charges brought against him.

Throwing in with Burr did not often end well. As one of Burr’s friends wrote years later (quoted on page 297 of the book):
“I have found myself sometimes in company with half a dozen of Mr. Burr’s friends, all cursing him for having duped them, and all duped in a different manner . . . always adapted to their peculiar characters.”
Fascinating fellow, that Burr!
Learn more about the book and author at David O. Stewart's website and blog.

My Book, The Movie: American Emperor.

Writers Read: David O. Stewart.

--Marshal Zeringue