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Smith, L. (1943). Aaron Burr. Psychoanal Q., 12:67-99.

(1943). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 12:67-99

Aaron Burr

Louis Smith

Perhaps no person in the history of this country has been more of an enigma to his contemporaries and to posterity than Aaron Burr. Seemingly possessed of almost every requisite for a splendid career, he crowned a half century of graceful, varied, and successful activity by attaining the Vice Presidency of the United States, and very narrowly missed achieving the greatest political honor any citizen of this country can attain. At its height, his public career, which had ascended with the impressive power and brilliance of a rocket, exploded in a burst of pyrotechnics, dashing him to earth and to thirty years of obloquy and failure, his very name betokening to the vast majority of his fellow citizens the most sordid levels of political renegadism and irremediable infamy. In the century and more since his death, many writers, attracted by the Luciferian quality of his dramatic career, have sought to unravel the riddle of his fall, but without complete success. Today it still cannot be stated with clarity or completeness what Burr's schemes actually encompassed, or what combination of hidden and overt causes brought about his humiliation. Indeed, it cannot be decided whether his motives and actions were such as to mark him as a very great rascal or as a much maligned patriot. He has been called both, which suggests that the truth lies somewhere between these extremes of honor and perfidy; just where, men have been unable to agree.

In what follows there is presented what appears to be a conspicuous infantile repetitive psychodynamic pattern which was a strong unconsciously motivating force in Burr's personality. Such an oversimplification cannot account for all the actions of such a complex individual as Burr, but it can make some sense out of the otherwise senseless behavior of a person whose progress in his life deviated egregiously from his potentialities and from commonly accepted reality.

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