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In 1835, he started his career as a lawyer in the Westmoreland County seat of Greensburg, and around 1839 bought the rights to the newspaper, Pennsylvania Argus, which he used to promote his political views as editor. He was receiving national attention for his fiery debates by the early 1840s.
By 1844, he was debating for Presidential candidate James K. Polk. He further continued his political career as judge of the Tenth Judicial District of Pennsylvania in 1847 which he held until 1855 when he was appointed judge of the Territorial District of Kansas by President Franklin Pierce.
Burrell suffered from malaria, and returned to Greensburg in 1856. He later died of the sickness on October 1, 1856, aged 41.