Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

We’re finding out now what might have happened if Burr had won the election of 1800 & what that means for North Korea

America's close call in 1800 is back with a vengeance

Aaron Burr, the third vice president of the United States; U.S. President Donald Trump on the South Lawn of the White House Dec. 4,  in Washington, D.C. (The New York Historical Society via Wikimedia Commons; Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Aaron Burr, the third vice president of the United States; U.S. President Donald Trump on the South Lawn of the White House Dec. 4, in Washington, D.C. (The New York Historical Society via Wikimedia Commons; Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Aaron Burr, the third vice president of the United States; U.S. President Donald Trump on the South Lawn of the White House Dec. 4, in Washington, D.C. (The New York Historical Society via Wikimedia Commons; Alex Wong/Getty Images)

We tend to forget it now, but Aaron Burr, a truly bad person, came very close to becoming president. The results of the 1800 election were deadlocked, so it went to the House of Representatives, which voted some 35 times without breaking the tie between Burr and Thomas Jefferson. On the 36th try, Jefferson was elected.

Everyone agreed that Burr was no good. Alexander Hamilton hated Jefferson, but he despised Burr. Of Burr, he wrote to a friend, “He is as unprincipled & dangerous a man as any country can boast; as true a Cataline as ever met in midnight conclave.”

I mention this because I think we are now finding out what it would have been like had Burr, a man of unlimited selfishness, been elected. The difference now, of course, is that our Burr has a nuclear weapon.

We tend to forget it now, but Aaron Burr, a truly bad person, came very close to becoming president. The results of the 1800 election were deadlocked, so it went to the House of Representatives, which voted some 35 times without breaking the tie between Burr and Thomas Jefferson. On the 36th try, Jefferson was elected.

Everyone agreed that Burr was no good. Alexander Hamilton hated Jefferson, but he despised Burr. Of Burr, he wrote to a friend, “He is as unprincipled & dangerous a man as any country can boast; as true a Cataline as ever met in midnight conclave.”

I mention this because I think we are now finding out what it would have been like had Burr, a man of unlimited selfishness, been elected. The difference now, of course, is that our Burr has a nuclear weapon.

So, in the spirit of the times, I am now establishing the “Official Best Defense Meter for War with North Korea by the End of 2018.” I am setting it at 54 percent.

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Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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