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Counting Votes and Campaigning: Aaron Burr’s “Intriguing” in the Election of 1800

A letter addressed to Doctor William Eustis of Boston, MA.


In a box of letters addressed to Doctor William Eustis, a physician and politician who lived in Boston, some of the political and personal musings of Aaron Burr (Aaron Burr letters, 1777-1802) can be found at MHS. The bulk of letters were written between 1794-1802, right in the midst of Burr’s political campaigns (in 1796 and 1800) for the United States presidency and the height of his political ambition.

As might be expected, Burr references his political opponents and the forthcoming elections in his letters, but the focus of his letters is primarily concerned with counting votes. Burr marks the differences between himself, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and (Charles and Thomas) Pinckney through numbers rather than political views:

“If A. [Adams] has all the Eastern votes he has 69 north of Potomac If Jeffn [Jefferson] has all the Southern votes, he will has 70…” [December 16, 1796]

“It is now probable that N Jersey will not give a vote for A. [Adams]” [July 15, 1800]

“...both Hampton & Alston write positively that Jefferson will have the eight votes of that State both are however apprehensive that P. [Charles Pinckney] will also have them…” [December 5, 1800]

 Burr counts up the votes


In the 1796 election, Burr finished abysmally in comparison to his political opponents: Adams led with 71 votes, Jefferson a close second with 68, Thomas Pinckney in third with 59, and Burr in last place with only 30 votes. Alexander Hamilton wrote “the event will not a little mortify Burr.”[i] While this assessment may have been true, it was not the reaction Burr displayed publically or even in private letters to his friends. Burr’s letters following the election demonstrate that he remained committed to playing a numbers game as before. To Eustis, he writes: “I have no doubt however but he [Adams] will be the Pres’t — and I am very glad that your people had the discretion to throw away some votes rather than give them to P [Thomas Pinckney]” [December 18th, 1796].

As it turns out, Burr had good reason to concern himself with election numbers. In the election of 1800, this tactic, along with some clever political maneuvering, helped Burr come very close to winning the presidency. This was partly due to the way elections were run in the early days of the United States. At this time, presidents and vice presidents did not run on a single ticket. Rather, the man with the most votes became president and the runner-up became vice president. This meant that in addition to Burr running against candidates of the opposing party, Adams and Charles Pinckney (Federalist Party), he was also effectively running against a candidate of his own party, Jefferson (Democratic-Republican Party).

Burr’s campaigning became particularly rampant in the summer of 1800. Hamilton described Burr as “intriguing with all his might in New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Vermont,” and warned “there is a possibility of some success in his intrigues.”[ii] Judging by the cagey, secretive nature of Burr’s letters at this time, Hamilton may not have been far off base in his assessment. On July 1, 1800, Burr writes cryptically to Eustis: “The thing is preparing but not yet done — the labor exceeds what I had imagined — It will be finished & forwarded in the course of this week — I have nothing else now to say which I dare say in this way.”

When the votes had been cast, Burr and Jefferson were tied with 73 votes apiece, leading to a contentious run-off vote in the House of Representatives to determine which one would be president. James Cheetham, a newspaper editor of American Citizen, published a long, unfavorable pamphlet about Burr’s actions during the election, which included the following passage:

 Cheetham attacks Burr


“It is fearful to reflect upon what our condition would, in all probability be, were Mr. Burr at the head of our government….It cannot be concealed that he is a man of desperate fortune; bold, enterprizing, ambitious, and intriguing; thrifting for military glory and Bonapartian fame. A man of no fixed principle, no consistency of character, of contracted views as a politician, of boundless vanity, and listless of the public good…”[iii]

Although Burr lost to Jefferson in the House vote in February 1801, the way Burr ran his 1800 political campaign helped change the way that political elections were conducted in the future. In one of the last letters written to Eustis in our collection, Burr closes his letter with a typically cryptic remark: “My journey Southward is postponed and will I fear be abandoned for reasons which I cannot now detail — ” [August 1, 1801].

 Burr remains secretive


The above transcriptions are preliminary and are not meant to be authoritative. For more information about the election of 1800 and our “intriguing” Founding Fathers, check out the sources below or visit MHS to explore the collections!

[i] Van der Linden, Frank. “The turning point: Jefferson’s battle for the Presidency,” Golden, Colorado: Fulcrum Publishing, 2000.  32.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 14 June, 2017, 4:34 PM

The Lion of the North, caged at the MHS [Updated]

Many years ago as a college student enrolled in a Protestant Theology course, I was required to write a research paper on any topic related to the overall class. I chose to focus on Gustav II Adolf, or King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden, the Lion of the North. During his reign, Gustavus and chancellor Axel Oxenstierna worked together to suspend the long-standing struggle between the monarch and the nobility which, in turn, allowed for some broad domestic political and social reforms. 

Under Gustav II, Sweden saw the formation of its Supreme Court and the setting of its Treasury and Chancery as permanent administrative boards. In the second decade of his reign, Gustavus professionalized local government in Sweden, placing it under direct control of the crown; he promoted education through the formation of the Gymnasia, an effective provision for secondary education in the country; and he gave generously to the University of Uppsala. Despite all these important political and social reforms, however, Gustavus Adolphus is perhaps best remembered, especially outside of Sweden, as one of the most brilliant military minds in European history.

Through much of his reign, which began in 1611 and ran to 1632, the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) raged in Europe. This long-lasting conflict pitted Catholic forces aligned with the Holy Roman Empire against anti-Imperialist Protestant governments and supporters. By 1630 - as our fair city of Boston was founded - the ordeal was going poorly for German Protestants and their allies. It was around this time that the entry of Lutheran Sweden into the fray helped to turn the tide against the Holy Roman Empire. This reversal of fortunes is directly attributed to Gustavus and the military innovations he brought to the table, such as the first effective iteration of light artillery and the successful combination of infantry and cavalry.**

And you might be thinking to yourself, "But Dan, what does this have to do with the MHS?" I'm glad you asked. 

I recently went to the stacks to retrieve a couple of documents from the Curtis Guild autograph collection. As I finger-walked through the folders, I saw one labeled with the name Gustavus Adolphus and was, of course, intrigued. In the folder is a document in fine, albeit small, handwriting. This item, headed with the phrase "In Memorial" and dated 1 November 1632, is signed and sealed by Gustavus Adolphus. Unfortunately, I am not able to make any sense of the text, aside from one or two names that stand out clearly (Oxenstierna being one). 

Accompanying the document is another, written much later, which reads:

Gustavus Adolphus

Fine signature & seal

Signed Nov 1 1632

Just 5 days before his death at

the battle of Lutzen -



Seal (detail) reading "Gustavus Adolphus D.G. Suecorum Gothorum Vandalorum Q Rex M.P. Finlan"

Regular readers of the Beehive may recall that last year around this time I published a post about a document from the Charles Edward French autograph collection which dates from the 12th century and which I could not make any sense of. Thanks to our readers, within 24 hours we had a transcription, a translation, and contextual information about the quitclaim deed. I am putting up this document in the hope that we can, once again, get help from you out there in the world and learn more about it. 

Are you familiar with 17th century Germanic languages? Can you provide any assistance in transcribing and translating this document? Maybe you know someone who does. If so, please leave a comment below!


**While I wish my memory was so good as to remember all of this, I did use some outside help:

- Roberts, Michael, "Gustav II Adolf," Encyclopedia Britannica online, (accessed 9 June 2017).


comments: 2 | permalink | Published: Friday, 9 June, 2017, 2:30 PM

“He plants trees for the benefit of later generations”: John Quincy Adams’s Motto

In the summer of 1830, John Quincy Adams was preoccupied with two projects: planting trees on his properties in Quincy and reading the works of the Roman statesman and philosopher, Cicero, in the original Latin. Just two years earlier, in an 11 May letter to his son Charles Francis, John Quincy had lamented that he had not planted trees in his youth, for if he had, he could now enjoy their fruits and shade. He likewise wished he had read Cicero (106–43 B.C.) in Latin forty years earlier, when it would have been more profitable for his public service. He kept records of his planting and his reading in his Diary, which he had started in 1779, and by his death in 1848, filled 51 volumes.

On 14 August 1830, he started reading Cicero’s Tusculan Disputations, a philosophical treatise that began with “On the Contempt of Death.” In the midst of Cicero’s moralizing and speculation, a quote from the Roman poet Caecilius Statius leapt off the page:

Serit arbores quae alteri seculo prosint

John Quincy, writing in his Diary, made this translation from the Latin:

“He plants trees, says Statius... for the benefit of another century: for what purpose, if the next century were something to him? The diligent husbandman then shall plant trees, upon which his own eyes shall never see a berry? and shall not a great man plant laws, institutions, a Commonwealth?”

Cicero drew a comparison between the farmer and the statesman; but John Quincy was both. In his Diary, JQA followed his translation with this personal reflection:

“I have had my share in planting Laws and Institutions, according to the measure of my ability and opportunities— I would willingly have had more— My leisure is now imposed upon me by the will of higher powers, to which I cheerfully submit, and I plant trees for the benefit of the next age, and of which my own eyes will never behold a berry— To raise forest trees requires the concurrence of two Generations, and even of my lately planted nuts seeds and Stones, I may never taste the fruit— Sero arbores quae alteri seculo prosint.” Here John Quincy altered the Latin significantly, from Caecilius Statius’ “He plants” to “I plant.”

Having lost the 1828 presidential election to Andrew Jackson, John Quincy faced an early retirement from public life. He had passed from planting a republic to planting a garden. He could not forget the brief quote from Caecilius Statius. “Seculo prosint” kept appearing in his Diary as he cared for his trees. But within three months, he was elected to serve in the U. S. House of Representatives, and given a fresh chance to continue to plant laws for another century, another age, another generation.  

In June 1833, President Andrew Jackson, was in Boston inspecting the local troops. While listening to the roar of the cannons in the distance, John Quincy, alone with his seedlings, proclaimed alteri seculo as his motto. The Latin phrase was a shout of triumph in the midst of defeat. His grandson, Henry Adams, recorded that JQA designed a seal, featuring an acorn and two oak leaves, and began using it to seal his letters. He even made a fob for his watch, and carried it everywhere (Catalogue of the Books of John Quincy Adams, Boston, 1938, p. 144–145).

This seal now adorns every volume of The Adams Papers, and appears on the website for the digital edition.


comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 7 June, 2017, 12:00 AM

The Significance of Strawberries

In New England, the arrival of summer is synonymous with strawberries. Strawberry plants (fields) can be found throughout the region, and the strawberry harvest in late May and early June goes hand-in-hand with the most beautiful part of the year. The lovely, fragrant evenings and the final sigh of relief as New Englanders pack their coats away for the summer inevitably lead to the sudden desire to celebrate the arrival of the long-awaited warm months of summer. So, naturally, spring fetes were often “Strawberry Festivals.” The delicious berry was a welcome addition to the kitchen after months of cooking and consuming dried fruit. Every dish on the table was augmented, filled, or garnished with the beautiful, vibrant, and sweet berry.

In the nineteenth century Strawberry Festivals or parties were very popular. The strawberry was the first crop of the summer, and the region was dotted with strawberry farms. Strawberry festivals were popular events celebrated in many New England towns. Here at the Historical Society we have a few examples of broadside advertisements for local strawberry festivals from the late nineteenth century.


Harvard’s Hasty Pudding Club (yes, they were up to the same silliness all those years ago!) produced an annual show called “Strawberry Night” in June. 


But for us at the Massachusetts Historical Society, such festivals have a very special significance as our annual strawberry festival may have indeed led to the bequest of our biggest benefactor. According to Robert C. Winthrop, MHS President from 1855-1885, it was the invitation to the Massachusetts Historical Society’s Strawberry Festival that led Thomas Dowse to donate his prized library to the MHS, and to that end, Winthrop says, “the regeneration of our Society may thus be fairly dated.”

“SPECIAL MEETING, JUNE, 1886. A Social Meeting of the Society was held at the house of Mr. Charles Deane, in Cambridge, on Friday, the 18th instant, at five o'clock, P.M.

The Hon. Robert C. Winthrop then spoke as follows :

 “Passing from this topic, let me say how glad I am to find myself at another social meeting of our old society at Cambridge…

…But another of these Cambridge meetings was still more memorable, and can never be forgotten in the history of our Society. I refer, as I need hardly say, to the meeting at good George Livermore's in 1856, just thirty years ago. From that meeting came the library and large endowment of our great benefactor, Thomas Dowse. Mr. Dowse was a neighbor and friend of Mr. Livermore, and had been specially invited by him to come over to our strawberry festival. Age and infirmities prevented his acceptance of the invitation; but the occasion induced him to inquire into the composition and character of our Society, and he forthwith resolved to place his precious books, the costly collections of a long life, under our guardianship, and to make them our property forever. From that meeting the regeneration of our Society may thus be fairly dated. Cambridge strawberries have ever since had a peculiar flavor for us, - not Hovey's Seedling, though that too was a Cambridge product, but what I might almost call the Livermore Seedling or the Dowse Graft, which were the immediate fruits of our social meeting at Mr. Livermore's.”*

Read more about Thomas Dowse and the Dowse Library here! (



Ten years ago, The Librarian of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Peter Drummey, suggested the library staff resurrect the age-old tradition; one hundred and fifty years later, a Strawberry Festival was once again held by the Massachusetts Historical Society.

The Library Staff of the Massachusetts Historical Society holds a Strawberry Festival every year in late May or early June for the staff, friends, volunteers, researchers and patrons of the Massachusetts Historical Society. We will be hosting our 2017 Strawberry Festival on Friday, June 2nd.


*Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Second Series, Vol. 3, [Vol. 23 of continuous numbering] (1886 - 1887), pp. 53-54


comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 2 June, 2017, 8:51 AM

Origins of Memorial Day, In Brief

The Massachusetts Historical Society will be closed on Saturday and Monday this weekend in observance of Memorial Day. The origins of Memorial Day are rooted in the Civil War, and the rituals of commemoration that sprung up extemporaneously and then in a more collective, organized fashion in the postwar period and during Reconstruction. Decoration Day, later Memorial Day, celebrations honored the dead, celebrated emancipation, and in the white South kept the memory of the Confederacy alive. It was not until the First World War, in the early twentieth century, that Memorial Day became a national day to remember those who had fallen in all violent conflicts in which the United States had been militarily involved. 



The ribbon above [], from 1908, was worn by a participant in the Grand Army of the Republic ceremonies in Washington, D.C. It is one of two ribbons from the day's celebrations held in the collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society. 

We at the MHS wish you the best on this holiday weekend, and look forward to reopening the library on Tuesday for our summer research season.


comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 26 May, 2017, 12:00 AM

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