Contrary to popular opinion, the opening of the American frontier was not a simple land purchase; it was actually a hardscrabble fight. Even as Meriwether Lewis and William Clark set out on their legendary journey to the Pacific Ocean, other forces were taking the measure of the land with far darker ambitions. Aaron Burr, the charming and treacherous former vice president, determined that if he could not be master of his nation, he would instead become emperor of the next best thing: the Louisiana Territory. Slyly working with the powerful and ambitious commander of the U.S. Army, General James Wilkinson, Burr instigated a plot to seize not only Louisiana, but all of Mexico as well. Told from a time when the wildest plots and the most grandiose dreams thrived, as schemers and revolutionaries conspired to create a new country, Jefferson and the Gun-Men is the riveting tale of this unlikely story From the Trade Paperback edition.
In 1804, Lewis and Clark, at the behest of President Jefferson, made their famous western journey. But they weren't the only Americans with their eye on the West Aaron Burr, former vice-president and senator from New York (and a failed candidate for the New York governorship), was plotting to take over the Louisiana Territory. While the exact details of Burr's vision have long been a matter of historical debate, the gist is that he envisioned a separate country, with New Orleans as capital and himself as impresario with a few important backers, from Andrew Jackson to the Catholic bishop of New Orleans and chief of America's armed forces General James Wilkinson. It is a fascinating tale but one to which Boston journalist Montgomery fails to do justice. Montgomery's portrait of Jefferson is maddeningly inconsistent: he appears at turns indecisive, calculatingly cruel and dim-witted. The puffed-up prose and Montgomery's penchant for the present tense are distracting, and his unconcealed disdain for professional historians will strike the reader as more than a touch defensive. Finally, Montgomery's admission in the last pages of the book that the story he tells here of Burr's wild schemes a story of something that almost happened, but did not is "ultimately irrelevant" will leave readers who plow through the entire volume wondering why they bothered. (July) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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October 16, 2001
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Excerpt from Jefferson and the Gun-Men by Peter Gandy
By way of foreword and caution to the readers
Any new account of the acquisition and exploration of Louisiana, that last huge remnant of French North America, depends on several lifetimes of scholarship by various professional historians. For sheer labor, and utter brilliance, the prize must be shared by two men. Donald Jackson edited The Letters of the Lewis and Clark Expedition with Related Documents, 1783-1854 in two volumes for the University of Illinois Press; the most recent edition is 1978. Jackson also produced the definitive edition of The Journals of Zebulon M. Pike, in two volumes, published by the University of Oklahoma Press in 1966. Gary E. Moulton, at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, has given us nine volumes of the journals, daybooks, and associated papers of that most famous exploration in United States history, all under the general title of The Journals of the Lewis & Clark Expedition. Two more volumes are planned. All of these works, by both men, are on every page witness to thorough scholarship, considerable insight, and almost unbelievable endurance. "The task of writing history," a professor once remarked to a class of new graduate students at the University of Oregon, "requires first, and foremost, one particular attribute." He paused, and we held our breaths, waiting for enlightenment. "An iron butt."
Reading history, on the other hand, should be less taxing. This book has, I hope, jettisoned all intellectual baggage. It is entirely innocent of construction, deconstruction, reconstruction, and post-and pre-modernism. If it is politically correct, I am pleasantly surprised but take no credit for that outcome. Students are hereby warned not to rely on its quotations from the journals of Lewis and Clark for term papers at the collegiate level. While the quotations are brought to the reader as accurately as possible, they have also been translated into modern, conventional spelling and, when it does not change the meaning, into regular English grammar. The originals can be easily located in Moulton, op. cit. Persons who read term papers for a living (underpaid graduate students, for the most part) are inordinately fond of things like op. cit. and exactly quoted material, including wrong tenses and amusing (to them) misspellings. This is a form of sic (sic) humor. It has been my experience that you should not try to get these people to agree that conventional English makes quotations easier to read and understand. That is something akin to trying to teach a hog to whistle. It is impossible, and will only annoy the pig.
This book is organized on the sensible principle elucidated by the Red King as he instructed the White Rabbit on the proper way to give testimony. "Begin at the beginning," the King said, very gravely, "and go on till you come to the end, then stop."