'Burr' Author Stewart Debunks Treason Charge

David StewartDavid O. Stewart, a noted historian and legal scholar, joins the Oct. 27 edition of the MTL Washington Update radio series Oct. 27 to discuss his latest book, American Emperor: Aaron Burr’s Challenge to Jefferson’s America, which was released this week. Join him, my co-host Scott Draughon and me with your questions on the live show, available worldwide on the My Technology Lawyer (MTL) network founded by Draughon. Click here to listen live or later by archive. For questions and comments, call (866) 685-7469 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Mac users need “Parallels.”

Stewart, a prominent Washington-based litigator as well as author, has a rare gift of drawing timely lessons from his historical research in a popular manner, as he did last month in the Huffington Post in describing how Burr's "non-partianship" helped make him a target more than two centuries ago. This month Stewart explored how the charge of "treason" is affecting high-stakes U.S. politics these days, just as it did at the nation's founding. He debunks today's claims as having little in common with real-life fears when treason law developed. He began his Huffington Post column, Treason on the Cheap, thus:

It's called "the king of crimes." In political debate, it can serve as the ace of trumps, an incendiary accusation that appeals to emotion rather than reason. And, like much in our culture, it has been cheapened almost beyond recognition. Governor Rick Perry of Texas, a Republican presidential candidate, started the latest round of treason-slinging, denouncing Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke's anti-recession policies as "almost treasonous." Fellow Republican Jon Huntsman turned the tables, claiming that Perry's statement that U.S. borders probably cannot be secured is "pretty much a treasonous statement."

Then came the drone strike that killed Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen, in Yemen. Some justified the killing by claiming that al-Awlaki's role with al Qaeda in Yemen made him a traitor. Cries of treason have echoed around the Wikileaks prosecutions of both founder Julian Assange and accused leaker Private Bradley Manning of the U.S. Army.

But, concludes Stewart:

This parade of treason accusations would dismay the men who founded the United States more than two centuries ago. They experienced our most famous treason: Benedict Arnold joining the British in 1780. Yet they feared the abuse of treason as a legal weapon. James Madison wrote in The Federalist No. 43 that treason accusations are "the great engines by which violent factions... have usually wreaked their alternate malignity on each other."

David Stewart Burr Cover American Emperor examines Burr’s remarkable Western expedition, "an undertaking that shook the nation’s foundations at a time when those foundations were none too solid." Like his previous books, the Burr analysis is winning high-praise.

Among the first reviews, Jon Kukla, wrote in the Washington Independent Review of Books. "It is no wonder that Brown University’s Pulitzer-winning Gordon S. Wood, reigning dean of historians of early America, recently placed David O. Stewart on his short list of ‘popular historians who dominate narrative history-writing in the United States today.’”

After practicing law for more than 25 years, Stewart turned to writing history (though he still practices law). His first book, The Summer of 1787: The Men Who Invented the Constitution, was a Washington Post bestseller and won the Washington Writing Award as Best Book of 2007. Two years later, Impeached: The Trial of President Andrew Johnson and the Fight for Lincoln’s Legacy, was a Davis-Kidd Bestseller and was called “by all means the best account of this troubled episode” by Professor David Donald of Harvard.

Check his author's site and speaking schedule here. The Washington Lawyer published an excellent interview with him this month by Kathryn Alfisi, focusing on the Burr book: Books in the Law: American Emperor, Interview of David O. Stewart. For a decade, he authored the Supreme Court monthly column for the American Bar Journal. He is president of the Washington Independent Review of Books, an online book review, and a longtime friend of mine. We're thrilled that he plans all three segments with us, beginning at 17 minutes past the hour.

We begin the show with weekly news round-up, emphasizing major stories not yet registering with the national media. Among them this week will be my reports on allegations of misconduct by Associate Justice Clarence Thomas and other current political developments.



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Listed here are excerpts of relevant columns:

David Stewart Website, Pub Date! Oct. 25, 2011. No, it’s not the day we crawl from bar to bar, drinking heavily.  It’s publication day, when American Emperor officially hits the bookstores and Amazon starts shipping.  It’s one of those exciting days when the author passes people on the street and thinks, with a flitting sense of dismay, “They don’t even know that my book came out today!” But then the author returns to his or her lair, gazes fondly but not too long at the newly printed book, and pretends to get down to work on the next one.  Hah!
Huffington Post, The Perils of Nonpartisanship: The Case of Aaron Burr, David O. Stewart, Sept. 14, 2011. The polls and the pundits agree that Americans detest the partisanship that nearly melted down the government this summer over the debt ceiling issue. The nation cries out for civil compromise as Republicans and Democrats wrestle over the national steering wheel, seemingly oblivious to economic catastrophe around the next curve. Yet history teaches, and President Obama is discovering, that determined nonpartisanship can generate even greater public disdain. Americans despair of politicians who will not relinquish their narrow political preferences in times of crisis, but they absolutely despise those who seem to have no political views at all. Though the president claims he seeks bipartisan problem-solving, his fellow Democrats complain that he is slipping into the black hole of American political life: nonpartisanship. An earlier discoverer of this hard truth was our third vice president, Aaron Burr, who died on Staten Island 175 years ago today. Burr was the bad boy of America's founding: he killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel, led a shadowy expedition to liberate Spanish colonies and trigger an insurrection in New Orleans, and beat a treason rap before Chief Justice John Marshall.