CNN Poll: 20% of Americans

Either 20% of Americans have never heard of Aaron Burr, or only 20% of Americans are paying attention.  I can’t decide which, but this CNN poll clearly points to one, or the other, depending on your view:

WASHINGTON (CNN) – A new national poll suggests that one of out of five Americans think that Dick Cheney is the worst vice president in American history.

Twenty-three percent of those questioned in a CNN-Opinion Research Corporation survey released Tuesday say that Cheney is the country’s worst vice president, when compared to his predecessors. Another 41 percent feel that Cheney is a poor vice president, with 34 percent rating him a good number two.

Only 1 percent of those polled say that Cheney is the best vice president in U.S. history.

Aaron Burr, Library of Congress image

Aaron Burr, Library of Congress image

Vice President Richard Cheney, White House photo

Vice President Richard Cheney, White House photo

Aaron Burr, you recall, is the vice president who, when the electoral college organization goofed and put him into a tie with Thomas Jefferson for president, suddenly thought he was better qualified than Jefferson and tried to take the race from him; the only vice president ever tried for treason; and the fellow whose dueling killed Alexander Hamilton, the financial genius of our nation’s early years.

20% of Americans think Cheney was worse than Aaron Burr?  Wow.  Just wow.

Aaron Burr shooting Alexander Hamilton, or Dick Cheney hunting doves in Texas?

Aaron Burr shooting Alexander Hamilton, or Dick Cheney hunting doves in Texas?

19 Responses to CNN Poll: 20% of Americans

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  2. Ed Darrell says:

    Well, you live and learn. I wonder what was the outcome of the other six — did it say?

    One of the better accounts of the last duel is in Joseph Ellis’s Founding Brothers, I think. I’ll have to go back to check to see if he mentions the other duels.

    Still not sure about Madison. I’d imagine Ketcham covers Madison’s duels, if any — but I didn’t get a chance to check it last night at home. I don’t think our library has a copy of it.


  3. Liam says:

    In an amazing coincidence, I went to the Boston Public Library last night and there was an exhibit on Alexander Hamilton. On the panel about the duel it said that the affair of honor which lead to Hamilton’s death was the seventh of his lifetime.


  4. Liam says:

    1. Jefferson didn’t “allow” Burr to be on the ticket. Jefferson needed Burr for his campaigning skill and ability to swing the New York legislature to the Democratic-Republicans. Without Burr, New York’s 12 electoral votes and the election would have gone to Adams. When the election was tied between Burr & Jefferson, Burr did not actively try to curry favor with the House of Representatives. In fact it was the Federalists in the House who wanted anyone but Jefferson and thus prolonged the election. Hamilton didn’t swallow his pride, he just hated Burr more than Jefferson. Burr could do nothing to change the way the House would vote.

    2. First hand reports of the Hamilton-Burr duel are not so clear cut about whether Hamilton missed on purpose.

    3. The argument that certain political leaders sacrificed their personal fortunes while others did not seems to me to be an emotional one and one you’re going to have to provide more evidence to corroborate.

    I highly recommend reading Milton Lomask’s 2-volume biography of Aaron Burr. I think you will find it highly-illuminating and good for separating the myth of Aaron Burr from the reality. While I won’t go so far to argue that Burr was a great man or great leader, I do think you will find that he’s far from the villain he’s been portrayed in popular history.


  5. Ed Darrell says:

    Madison duelled? Hamilton had ten prior duels? Do you have sources for these statements?

    If Burr did not push to be elected president, why didn’t he ask the House to vote for Jefferson over him, as the ticket had been in the general election?

    Seems to be a lot of new history there. Any suggestions as to where it might be corroborated?


  6. BurrIsAGoodGuy says:

    Ok, Burr was not proven guilty of treason, he was acquitted because Jefferson’s (who was quite a madman when it came persecuting Aaron Burr) case against him was pitiful at best. Burr killed Hamilton in a duel, this is true. However, James Madison was in multiple duels, Hamilton had been in 10 prior to his fated trial with Burr, and even Andrew Jackson were all involved in duels. Also, Burr did not “think he was the better candidate than Jefferson” when the fluke tie happened. Burr had nothing to do with the fluke, although I suppose he could have asked the House to select Jefferson. And Hamilton (Not the “pride-swallower”, as suggested earlier) actually suggested that the House elect someone who was not even on the ballot!

    Some guy….


  7. Porlock Junior says:

    I guess you couldn’t explain the 20% by saying they all read Gore Vidal. A bit too much of a stretch. But he has been working to polish the reputation of his egregious ancestor for many years.


  8. bernarda says:

    Unfortunately, neither Cheney nor Bush will ever be tried for treason. I could include a number of neocons as well.


  9. Ed Darrell says:

    I don’t think anything above $1,000 ever circulates anymore — and generally nothing larger than a $100. That makes it tougher on drug cartels.

    You’re right, it’s not a fair question. I think more than anything else, it reveals a lack of historical knowledge about vice presidents.

    I also thought it was rather humorous.

    Don’t get me started on Hannibal Hamlin — nice guy, but where was he during the Civil War?


  10. jd2718 says:

    THe $10,000 doesn’t circulate though, does it?

    Actually, I’m not a fan of the question. We shouldn’t expect people to compare news figures and historical figures.



  11. Ed Darrell says:

    See the post on Robert Zajonc’s death. Kids handle a few bills with Alexander Hamilton on them, and call the bills “dead presidents” — they probably never stop to think of the exceptions. Most of my students guess Franklin was president, too.

    None of them has ever handled a Salmon P. Chase bill (Secretary of the Treasury on Lincoln’s “team of rivals,” as Goodwin labeled them, he’s pictured on the $10,000 bill).


  12. flatlander100 says:

    Since,year in and year out, about a quarter of my incoming students [college US survey history course] think Alexander Hamilton was once president of the United States [falling somewhere between Adams and Jefferson think those who know John Adams was once president; many don’t.], I’d be astonished if it was ONLY 20% who didn’t know who Burr was.


  13. […] impressed with Mr Cheney, but also not reconciled (or considering) such things like the fact that Mr Cheney gives more than […]


  14. Ed Darrell says:

    Burr was a man of many talents, no doubt. However:

    1. He would have been stuck in New York, where Alexander Hamilton had him bested, except for Jefferson’s allowing him to be on the ticket. It was a fluke of the electoral college that put him, Jefferson’s vice president candidate, in an electoral vote tie with Jefferson. A gentleman would have asked Congress to select Jefferson — as indeed Hamilton did, after 35 ballots were fruitless. Hamilton swallowed his pride, and admitted to his fellow Federalists that Jefferson was much the better candidate (the grudge matches between Burr and Hamilton had already started), and Jefferson was selected, finally.

    2. Hamilton shot into the air. Burr’s honor would have been protected had he done the same. It was the gentlemanly way to end a feud that turned to a duel. Burr didn’t shoot into the air.

    Hamilton hadn’t wanted to duel. It was Burr’s idea. Burr insisted, even after Hamilton apologized for the final insult that led to the duel. What would a gentleman and patriot do in such circumstances?

    3. While Hamilton, Jefferson, Adams, Washington and others sacrificed their personal fortunes to serve the nation, Burr looked for every way possible to build his fortune from his offices. However well senators liked him, there was something fundamentally larcenous about him.

    I think a case for Burr is made best in that fashion Blue Ollie does, by comparing Burr to Cheney. Burr shines over Al Capone, too.


  15. Liam says:

    I’ve always thought Burr got a bad rap by historians, mostly because the approach Burr from a pro-Jefferson or pro-Hamilton bias.

    In Burr’s favor:
    * He represented a viable third way in US politics. Both Jefferson and Hamilton were not exempt from using dirty methods to discredit him because they saw him as a threat to their own power and influence.
    * He was greatly admired by all the members of the Senate when he presided over that body. Even his opponents wept when he gave his farewell speech in 1805.
    * Splitting the West off into a separate nation was a popular idea among Westerners at the time and probably seemed more probable then than it does in hindsight. Jefferson did his best to get Burr convicted of treason, even trying to undermine the Constitution, but there was no evidence against Burr.
    * And while I think dueling is an absurd practice, both Burr & Hamilton agreed to the duel under a code accepted at the time, so it’s unfair to characterize it as an assassination.

    Irish leader Daniel O’Connell is generally viewed favorably through the lens of history but he too participated in many duels in his life. Jefferson and Hamilton participated in dirty politics and the former at least has a spotty record on civil liberties, but these are often overlooked due to their many successes. Perhaps if Burr had prevailed in the election of 1800 or succeeded in being the founding father of a trans-Mississipi nation he too may be looked upon more favorably, but history is written by the winners. This is not to say that Burr was a great person, but a good historian needs to look at the way some historical figures are lionized and some are villianized, sift through that and find there’s many shades of gray.


  16. Tony Hoffman says:

    Let’s not forget the little adventure into Florida, a thoughtless act of personal ambition carelessly risking a war with Spain! What a guy.

    Actually, I think it’s a toss up. Cheney may be more dangerous, only because Burr’s vanity and sense of honor made him at least visible.


  17. […] 20% of Americans think Dick Cheney is the worst Vice President in history.  Ergo, at least 20% of Americans have never heard of dueling assassin Aaron Burr; […]


  18. blueollie says:

    1. Burr actually hit was he was aiming at and fired at someone who was trying to kill him.

    2. Burr was probably not profiting from war to the degree that Dick Cheney was.

    3.Burr was honest (or at least open) about trying to wrest the Presidency away. Cheney did it on the sly.

    So you can still make the case, even if you know about Aaron Burr. :)


  19. Unfortunately, I’d guess that more than 20% of Americans haven’t heard of Aaron Burr, or at least couldn’t tell you anything about him.


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