1807 – Former U.S. Vice President Aaron Burr was found innocent of treason.


Aaron Burr’s trial and the Constitution’s treason clause.

It was on this day in 1807 that former Vice President Aaron Burr was acquitted of treason charges. The trial was truly a “Trial of the Century” in its time and one of the first tests of the Constitution’s Treason Clause.

The clause reads as follows in Article III, Section 3, of the Constitution:

“Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. No person shall be convicted of treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open court. The Congress shall have power to declare the punishment of treason, but no attainder of treason shall work corruption of blood, or forfeiture except during the life of the person attainted.”

The Treason Clause was carefully worded to limit the charge to the most serious of crimes. Part of this was because of the application of treason charges, in a broader sense, in Great Britain.

The clause, as it was developed by James Wilson at the 1787 convention is Philadelphia, borrowed part of its wording from the English Statute of Treason, and it limited the ability of Congress to define treason. It also put a high burden of proof in place by requiring “the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act.”

Since the Constitution went into effect in 1789, treason charges have been brought fewer than 30 times. And Burr’s landmark treason trial was one of the earliest, featuring some of the same people who were at the Constitutional Convention.

Working on Burr’s treason defense team in 1807 were Edmund Randolph and Luther Martin (as the lead attorney), both former constitutional delegates. President Thomas Jefferson directed the prosecution from the White House, with George Hay, and future attorney general William Wirt assisting Jefferson.

How Burr came to be arrested in Alabama in 1807 was a long story in itself, but the brief version is that Burr was rejected by his own party, the Democratic-Republicans, for opposing Jefferson in the 1800 presidential election runoff in the House, and then shunned by the Federalists and others for killing Alexander Hamilton in a duel.

for the complete article ..  constitutioncenter.org