Two of the young republic’s most brilliant politicians, Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr, served as president and vice president from 1801–1805. But in 1804, Burr, who had killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel, was pushed off Jefferson’s re-election ticket. In 1805, Burr led an 80-man expedition down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, ostensibly to settle land in Louisiana. Jefferson, however, publicly accused him of treasonously plotting to separate the Western states and territories from the Union and ordered his arrest.
Burr was captured and arraigned on treason charges in Richmond before Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall, setting the stage for what arguably would be the most sensational trial in U.S. history, in the summer of 1807. Marshall’s decision would serve as the benchmark definition of treason for the next 140 years.
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