Burr and Jeremy Bentham

After his plans for insurrection in the Mississippi Valley and Mexico came to ashes, and after winning acquittal on treason charges in 1807, Aaron Burr traveled to Britain to secure support for the liberation of Spanish colonies in America.  He quickly formed a close friendship of political philosopher Jeremy Bentham, staying at one or another of Bentham’s homes for weeks at a time.


Bentham and Burr shared a commitment to equal rights for women and the end of slavery, while Bentham also espoused a variety of other reform causes:  the right to divorce, opposition to the death penalty, and decriminalization of homosexual acts.  He is often called the father of the philosophy of “utilitarianism.”


Burr — duelist, conspirator, womanizer — is not often classed with major thinkers like Bentham, but their intimacy was real.  Bentham (pictured below) even sought Burr’s comments on essays that the philosopher was preparing.


bentham.jpgBurr wrote glowingly to his daughter of Bentham, “He is, indeed, the most perfect model that I have seen or imagined of moral and intellectual excellence.  He is the most intimate friend I have in this country, and my constant associate.  I live in his house and compose a part of his family.” 


A letter from Burr to Bentham reflects a high level of ease and mutual feeling, as well as Burr’s characteristic attitudes.  “Your billet made us laugh.  Since life is but a span, can anything better be done tha nto fill up that span with pleasure?  I lead here a strick idle life, so congenial to savages.  Lounge, smoke, read a little nonsense, sometimes walk or talk with the squaws.”




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