Aaron Burr Jr. was born on February 6, 1756, in Newark, New Jersey. When he arrived, a little sister, named Sally, had already preceded him. Their father was the Rev. Aaron Burr; their mother, Esther Edwards Burr, daughter of the famous Jonathan Edwards, a noted divine of the Calvin school. The younger Aaron Burr was left an orphan when he was two years old, his father and mother (and both maternal grandparents) having died within a year. He did not respond well to the discipline of his austere uncle, Timothy Edwards, several times running away from home and attempting to go to sea. He entered the sophomore class at Princeton at the age of thirteen and graduated with distinction at sixteen in 1772, a year after James Madison and Philip Freneau.
Aaron Burr Jr. was thought to be one of the most brilliant students graduated from Princeton in the eighteenth century. Woodrow Wilson said he had `genius enough to have made him immortal, and unschooled passion enough to have made him infamous.'' His father was Princeton's second president; his maternal grandfather, Jonathan Edwards, was Princeton's third president.
Burr began his military service as a volunteer around 1775. He served as a volunteer during Benedict Arnold's "March to Quebec" . He is actually credited with trying to evacuate the body of General Richard Montgomery after he was killed in action during the invasion. He joined the staff of George Washington in 1776 when he was sent to New York City. He and General Washington apparently did not get along and he left a few weeks later. On June 22 he became an aide-de-camp to General Putnam eventually seeing action in the Battle of Long Island and the evacuation of New York City. He was commissioned Lieutenant Colonel of Malcolm's Regiment on January 4, 1777. He was stationed at Orange County, New York, essentially the commander of the Regiment at the age of 21!
Aaron Burr spent the winter of 1777-1778 at Valley Forge where he was almost involved with the Conway Cabal. After evacuating with the army on June 19, 1778, he commanded a brigade during Monmouth. After the action there, he openly supported General Charles Lee — whom Washington had reprimanded upon finding him retreating from battle. Burr commanded his regiment following the Monmouth Campaign in Westchester County, New York.
Aaron Burr resigned on March 3, 1779 citing ill health. By the fall of the following year, he resumed his career as a student of law. In 1782, he married Mrs. Theodosia Bartow Prevost, the widow of a British officer who was also ten years older than him. They had one daughter, Theodosia, in 1783, who subsequently died at sea in 1813. Aaron Burr and his wife were married for twelve years, when she passed away.
Burr was a very successful attorney. He moved to New York in 1783 and shared a practice with Alexander Hamilton. He desired a career in the political arena, but his attempts always met with failure. His success finally came when the New York Governor, George Clinton named him Attorney General in 1789. He was elected a senator in 1791. He served six years and later won a seat in the state legislature when he was not re-elected to the Senate. After the loss of his seat in the legislature in 1799, he began to organize the Democratic Party in New York City. The group became a political powerhouse that could ensure the election of a democratic President. The ticket was to be Thomas Jefferson as President and Aaron Burr as Vice-President In the presidential election of 1800, he received the same number of electoral votes as Thomas Jefferson, but the tie was broken in the House of Representatives in Jefferson's favor, and Burr became vice-president.
Jefferson gave his vice president little power in the administration and even barred Burr's nomination for a second term as vice president. Ever practical and determined to rise, Burr began a flirtation with the Federalist Party. In 1804, with covert Federalist backing, Burr ran as an independent candidate for governor in New York. Alexander Hamilton, who feared that Burr would take away the power he held in the Federalist Party, had spoken out against Burr. Although Hamilton's efforts had little effect on the election, Burr later read in a newspaper article that Hamilton had expressed a "despicable opinion" of him. On July 11, 1804, on the dueling grounds at Weehawken, New Jersey, Burr shot Hamilton dead.
One of the most famous personal conflicts in American history, the Burr–Hamilton duel arose from a long-standing political and personal bitterness that had developed between both men over a course of several years. Tensions reached a bursting point with Hamilton's journalistic defamation of Burr's character during the 1804 New York gubernatorial race in which Burr was a candidate. Fought at a time when the practice was being outlawed in the northern United States, the duel had immense political ramifications. Burr, who survived the duel, was indicted for murder in both New York and New Jersey, though these charges were later either dismissed or resulted in acquittal. The harsh criticism and animosity directed toward him following the duel brought an end to his political career. The Federalist Party, already weakened by the defeat of
John Adams in the Presidential Election of 1800, was further weakened by Hamilton's death.
Burr's chief counsel at the trial was Luther Martin, a fellow member and one of the founders of the Cliosophic Society. A few years before his death, the society invited Burr to preside at its commencement meeting, and its members took part in the procession at Burr's funeral in Princeton in 1836. President Carnahan preached the funeral sermon in Nassau Hall (in which he decried the evils of dueling). Escorted to the Princeton Cemetery by members of the faculty, students, alumni, a military band, and the Mercer Guards, Burr was buried with full military honors at the foot of his father's and grandfather's graves.