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Interpreting the Evidence

A Portrait of Aaron Burr (1756-1836), Lantern Slide Created in 1911

  • Documents in this Activity:
  • Historical Era:

    Expansion and Reform (1801 - 1861)

  • Thinking Skill:

    Historical Analysis & Interpretation

  • Grade Level:

    Lower Elementary
    Upper Elementary
    Middle School
    High School
    College University

  • Topics:


  • Primary Source Types:


  • Regions:

    United States

  • Creator:

    NYS Archives Partnership Trust Education Team

  1. Load A Portrait of Aaron Burr (1756-1836), Lantern Slide Created in 1911 in Main Image Viewer

Suggested Teaching Instructions

Document Description
A portrait of Aaron Burr (1756-1836), painted by John Vanderlyn from the collection of the New-York Historical Society, lantern slide created in 1911.
Historical Context
The Louisiana Purchase has been called the greatest real estate venture in history. On April 30, 1803, the United States acquired from France 828,000 square miles of land west of the Mississippi River. This land stretched north from the Gulf of Mexico to Canada and west from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains. This new land nearly doubled the size of the United States!

Many people believe that Aaron Burr, who was Vice-President of the United States from 1801-1805, plotted to take control of the newly-acquired Louisiana, invade Mexico, and set himself up as leader of a new nation.  Burr was arrested in 1807 and tried for treason but was found not guilty.

Essential Question
How do individuals influence national and global events?
Check for Understanding
Describe the individual in the portrait and explain the role of Aaron Burr in westward expansion.
Historical Challenges
Research Aaron Burr. How was he elected Vice-President in 1800? What event is he most famous for? Why was he tried for treason? Why was he found not guilty? Do you think he was guilty? What would have happened to him if he had been found guilty?
Interdisciplinary Connections
Math: About how many dollars per square mile did the United States pay for the Louisiana Territory? If there are 640 acres in one square mile, about how much per acre did the United States pay? Does your number match the amount given by other sources?
Science: Choose five plants or animals that Lewis and Clark discovered on their expedition across Louisiana Territory. Make a booklet including one page for each discovery. For each discovery, draw a picture of the plant or animal, write its common and Latin names, describe the location and climate where it is found, and include any interesting facts about the species.
English Language Arts: Many of Thomas Jefferson’s opponents said that the Louisiana Territory was a worthless purchase and that Jefferson did not have the authority to purchase it without the approval of Congress. Chose a side and write a speech arguing for or against the United States’ purchase of the Louisiana Territory.