SUNY Potsdam History Professor Honored for Aaron Burr Article


Dr. Thomas N. Baker, an associate professor of history and director of the honors program at SUNY Potsdam, received the Ralph D. Gray Article Prize from the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic.

SUNY Potsdam Associate Professor of History Dr. Thomas N. Baker has been recognized for excellent scholarly work leading to new historic understanding of the third Vice President of the United States, Aaron Burr. 

The Society for Historians of the Early American Republic has awarded its Ralph D. Gray Article Prize to Dr. Baker, in recognition of his piece, “‘An Attack Well Directed’: Aaron Burr Intrigues for the Presidency,” which was published in the Journal of the Early Republic last year.

In July, Baker accepted the award at the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic's annual meeting in Baltimore. The tribute to the article described it as “painstakingly-researched and compellingly-presented” and praised “his finely-grained and creative interpretations.”

The SUNY Potsdam professor’s article challenges a reigning interpretation of the pivotal contested U. S. presidential election of 1800: the view that Aaron Burr did not try actively to wrest victory from his running mate Thomas Jefferson. In the piece, Baker offered new evidence of behind-the-scenes scheming to sustain the case that Burr did indeed act to compass the presidency for himself, including a newly discovered incriminating letter.

“In uncovering Burr’s ‘stealth campaign to compass the presidency for himself,’ during the election crisis of 1800, Baker not only provides a significant contribution to our understanding of the election and its aftermath, but also offers a sharp contrast to recent scholarly depictions of Burr,” the award committee wrote. “Ultimately, the essay shows that meticulous archival work, coupled with the re-reading (and re-re-reading) of published sources, can yield new insights into even the most well-known of stories.”

Thomas N. Baker earned his Ph.D. in American history from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1995.  Since 2002, he has been teaching at SUNY Potsdam, where he is an associate professor in the Department of History and, since January 2011, has served as director of the College’s honors program. His book, “Sentiment and Celebrity: Nathaniel Parker Willis and the Trials of Literary Fame” (1999), explores the early history of the culture of celebrity in the United States. In addition to the prize-winning article on Aaron Burr and the election of 1800, Baker has also published essays or articles on national histories in the 19th century, on the Rev. Lyman Beecher’s memories of infidels at Yale, on deism in New York State in the early American republic, and on a long-overlooked pseudonymous letter sent by “A Slave” to President Thomas Jefferson in 1808. His course offerings in 19th century American history regularly consider the kinds of historical questions he addresses in his scholarship.

History students at SUNY Potsdam explore the human experience in a wide variety of times, geographical settings and cultural contexts. While studying the past with a faculty committed to excellence in the classroom, students develop essential skills in critical reading, writing, speaking and thinking. About half of the department’s majors go on to careers in education, while the rest seek and receive a broad liberal arts education that prepares them for a variety of careers.

To learn more about SUNY Potsdam’s Department of History and its dedicated faculty, visit

Founded in 1816, and located on the outskirts of the beautiful Adirondack Park, The State University of New York at Potsdam is one of America’s first 50 colleges. SUNY Potsdam currently enrolls approximately 4,350 undergraduate and graduate students. Home to the world-renowned Crane School of Music, SUNY Potsdam is known for its handcrafted education, challenging liberal arts and sciences core, excellence in teacher training and leadership in the performing and visual arts.