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The Undeniable Rizz of Aaron Burr


He was charming, disarming, and presciently alarming.

We’ve covered the lawyering skills and brilliant scheming of Aaron Burr in the past, and now we’re going to focus on his rizz. “Rizz,” if you didn’t know, was Oxford’s Word of the Year in 2023. It’s a new colloquial noun, almost certainly short for “charisma,” and it means “style, charm, or attractiveness; the ability to attract a romantic or sexual partner.” But we’re not going to dig into the romantic or sexual parts of Aaron Burr’s rizz (yet). Instead, we’re diving into his incredibly disarming charm and intense power over people, as seen in two examples from the single month of March 1805.

Listen to the episode:

After killing Alexander Hamilton in a duel, Aaron Burr was indicted for murder in both New York and New Jersey. To avoid arrest, he fled to the South for a few months. But then he had the gall to come back to Washington, DC to finish his term as Thomas Jefferson’s Vice President. He might have been impeached if Congress wasn’t busy impeaching Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase, in a trial that Burr (as President of the Senate) presided over. Unlike Samuel Chase, Burr’s conduct as judge was unimpeachable. Despite still having murder charges against him, he was about to leave politics on a high note. And then it came time for his valedictory speech—his farewell to the Senate. No one expected it to move men to weep inconsolably and put them in a sort of trance, but that’s exactly what Burr did as he unleashed his rizz upon the Senate floor.

We dig into that speech and its effect on the audience, as well as the powerful warning the Burr gave the Senators and how that warning applies just as much today.

Then, we follow Burr out of town as he boards a ship with Senator John Quincy Adams and his family. Both John Quincy and his wife Louisa are predisposed to loathe Burr, but they soon find themselves the recipients of his unexpected charms. A special thank you to Gwen Fries for answering my questions and for writing the blog post that brought the story of Burr on that ship to my attention: Sympathy for the Devil: John Quincy Adams’s Brush with Aaron Burr

Correction: At least once in the episode, I mistakenly say “1804” instead of 1805.” Numbers are hard.

 


Sources:

Sympathy for the Devil: John Quincy Adams’s Brush with Aaron Burr by Gwen Fries, The Beehive Blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society
John Quincy Adams Digital Diary, March 3, 1805
Diary of Louisa Catherine Adams, March 19, 1805
“Whiggery Hooking Speeches,” The Democratic Signal, Raleigh, North Carolina, June 7, 1843
“Melancholy Suicide of Ex-Speaker White,” The Courier-Journal, Louisville, Kentucky, September 25, 1845
Letter from Samuel Latham Mitchill to his wife taken from chapter “Politics and the Ambivalence of the Private Sphere” from “Family, Slavery, and Love in the Early American Republic: The Essays of Jan Ellen Lewis,” 2021
Contemporary definitions of demagogue, rabble, and usurper from “A Dictionary of the English Language” by Samuel Johnson, 1768

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