In 1807, Aaron Burr was tried and acquitted on charges of treason for his "adventures" in the American West, but he had fallen out of favor in American life long before, after he had run for president against Thomas Jefferson, served a single term as vice president, and shot and killed Alexander Hamilton in an 1804 duel. A free spender, a womanizer, and the only Founding Father who was actually descended from the English aristocracy, Burr was famously secretive and conspiratorial. In this lecture, historian Gordon S. Wood, Alva O. Way University Professor and Professor of History Emeritus at Brown University, argues that Burr's true treason was not his actions in the West but his naked ambition and his lack of principles and character that made him a threat to the young republic.
The exploration and settlement of the American West coincided with the development of the medium of photography. Photographic images, reproduced in books and newspapers and available for purchase on their own, helped shape Americans’ perceptions of the West by reinforcing ideas about the region as a pristine wilderness of spectacular natural wonders; as a symbol of the future and the realization of manifest destiny; and as a land of economic opportunity, where fortunes could be made by extracting natural resources.