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to authorize an application (December 2d) to the Governor of Ohio to seize Burr's flotilla in the Muskingum. The Legislature was sitting, and instantly, in secret session, authorized the seizure. The President's proclamation now arrived. Four or five boats coming from Pennsylvania to join Burr (under Major or Colonel Tyler) passed down the river, and Blennerhasset escaped in them, leaving his wife behind. His house and grounds received some very rough usage from a body of militia which next day took possession of them. Graham hurried on to Frankfort. The Kentucky Legislature was in no mood to reënact the scene which had just been exhibited in the District Court. It immediately ordered the seizure of everything connected with Burr's expedition. Militia were posted on the river to intercept descending boats, but Tyler's escaped in the night. Burr and Adair, after reaching Nashville, had parted, the former descending the Cumberland, and the latter pushing across the country for New Orleans. Burr was joined by Tyler near the close of December. Their united force comprised not far from one hundred men. About the first of January, Burr reached the Mississippi territory, and, going on shore, saw in a newspaper the measures which had been taken for his reception at New Orleans. He thereupon withdrew to the Louisiana bank of the river, and formed a camp a few miles above Natchez. The President's proclamation soon reached Mississippi. The Governor of that territory called out a detachment of militia, and made preparations to arrest Burr. The latter, after an interview with the Governor (and after his personal safety had been stipulated), surrendered rather than be immediately attacked, and gave recognizances to appear before the Territorial Court. Poindexter, the Attorney-General of Mississippi, believed that Burr was not amenable to the Territorial Court, having committed no offence within its jurisdiction; and he proposed to send the prisoner to Washington. The court overruled the objection, but no evidence against Burr was sent to the grand-jury, and they, of course, found no bill. On the contrary, they presented the Governor for calling out the militia, the mode in which Burr had been compelled to surrender, and the proceedings at New Orleans, which, they declared, “if sanctioned by the Executive of our country, must sap the vitals of our political existence, and crumble this glorious fabric in the dust.” Under what influences a grand.jury could have been summoned, who were capable of this indecent action, we are not apprised; but nothing is to be considered marvellous or startling where Burr is found to be an actor in the scene.
The malefactor's respite was short. He learned that Wilkinson had sent military officers to arrest him, and he fled eastward. A reward was offered for his apprehension, and in February he was taken in Alabama, shabbily dressed, and accompanied by one man. He was ultimately carried to Richmond for trial.
During these proceedings, the President's correspondence on the subject was uniformly calm and confident. He wrote General Wilkinson January 3d, 1807, and after stating the seizure of Blennerhasset's flotilla, and that Tyler's could not probably escape, he said:
“I believe therefore that the enterprise may be considered as crushed, but we are not to relax in our attentions until we hear what has passed at Louisville. If everything from that place upwards be successfully arrested, there is nothing from below that is to be feared. Be assured that Tennessee, and particularly General Jackson, are faithful.
* * * * * - * * *
“We had considered Fort Adams as the place to make a stand, because it covered the mouth of the Red river. You have preferred New Orleans on the apprehension of a fleet from the West Indies. Be assured there is not any foundation for such an expectation, but the lying exaggerations of those traitors to impose on others, and swell their pretended means. The very man' whom they represented to you as gone to Jamaica, and to bring the fleet, has never been from home, and has regularly communicated to me everything which had passed between Burr and him. No such proposition was ever hazarded to him. France or Spain would not send a fleet to take Vera Cruz; and though one of the expeditions, now near arriving from England, is probably for Vera Cruz, and perhaps already there, yet the state of things between us renders it impossible they should countenance an enterprise unauthorized by us. Still I repeat that these grounds of security must not stop our proceedings or preparations until they are further confirmed. Go on, therefore with your works for the defence of New Orleans, because they will always be useful, only looking to what should be permanent rather than means merely temporary.”
He wrote Charles Clay, January 11th :
“Burr's enterprise is the most extraordinary since the days of Don Quixote. It is so extravagant that those who know his understanding would not believe it if the proofs admitted doubt. He has meant to place himself on the throne of Montezuma, and extend his empire to the Alleghany, seizing on New Orleans as the instrument of compulsion for our western States. I think his undertaking effectually crippled by the activity of Ohio. Whether Kentucky will give him the coup de grâce is doubtful; but if he is able to descend the river with any means, we are sufficiently prepared at New Orleans. I hope, however, Kentucky will do its duty, and finish the matter for the honor of popular government, and the discouragement of all arguments for standing armies.”
* Commodore Truxton.
He wrote Governor Tiffin of Ohio, February 20th, a highly complimentary letter on the zeal manifested by that officer, and by the Legislature of his State, in crushing the conspiracy. He
assigned to Ohio “the most eminent” place in accomplishing this; and he added:
“The hand of the people has given the mortal blow to a conspiracy which, in other countries, would have called for an appeal to armies, and have proved that government to be the strongest of which every man feels himself a part. It is a happy illustration, too, of the importance of preserving to the State authorities all that vigor which the Constitution foresaw would be necessary, not only for their own safety, but for that of the whole.”
He again wrote General Wilkinson, February 3d :
“Although we at no time believed he [Burr] could carry any formidable force out of the Ohio, yet we thought it safest that you should be prepared to receive him with all the force which could be assembled, and with that view our orders were given; and we were pleased to see that without waiting for them, you adopted nearly the same plan yourself, and acted on it with promptitude; the difference between yours and ours proceeding from your expecting an attack by sea, which we knew was impossible, either by England or by a fleet under Truxton, who was at home; or by our own navy, which was under our own eye. Your belief that Burr would really descend with six or seven thousand men, was no doubt founded on what you knew of the numbers which could be raised in the western country for an expedition to Mexico, under the authority of the Government; but you probably did not calculate that the want of that authority would take from him every honest man, and leave him only the desperadoes of his party, which in no part of the United States can ever be a numerous body. In approving, therefore, as we do approve, of the defensive operations for New Orleans, we are obliged to estimate them, not according to our own view of the danger, but to place ourselves in your situation, and only with your information. Your sending here Swartwout and Bollman, and adding to them Burr, Blennerhasset, and Tyler, should they fall into your hands, will be supported by the public opinion. As to Alexander, who is arrived, and Ogden, expected, the evidence yet received will not be sufficient to commit them. I hope, however, you will not extend this deportation to persons against whom there is only suspicion, or shades of offence not strongly marked. In that case, I fear the public sentiment would desert you; because, seeing no danger here, violations of law are felt with strength. I have thought it just to give you these views of the sentiments and sensations here, as they may enlighten your path. I am thoroughly sensible of the painful difficulties of your situation, expecting an attack from an overwhelming force, unversed in law, surrounded by suspected persons, and in a nation tender to everything infringing liberty, and especially from the military.” "
“You have, doubtless, seen a good deal of malicious insinuation in the papers against you. This, of course, begot suspicion and distrust in those unacquainted” with the line of your conduct. We who knew it, have not failed to strengthen the public confidence in you; and I can assure you that your conduct, as now known, has placed you on ground extremely favorable with the public. Burr and his emissaries found it convenient to sow a distrust in your mind of our dispositions toward you; but be assured that you will be cordially supported in the line of your duties.”
This letter (which a little careful scrutiny will show to be far more cautiously worded than may at first view appear) was designed to give Wilkinson to understand that the President thus far sustained his conduct to the extent to which it was known—that he would continue to do so, if that conduct should be marked by the proper degree of prudence; but it does not extend to those general and unqualified expressions which we should expect, had he felt entire confidence in the discretion of this officer.” The statement should not be omitted, that pending the
measures against Burr, between the time of his expedition becoming publicly known and its final dispersion, numerous military bodies in all parts of the country sent addresses to the President volunteering to march at a moment's notice to put down the conspiracy and all its abettors.
1 Printed “acquainted” in Cong. ed.—an obvious error.
* Jefferson's precise feelings toward Wilkinson are expressed more pointedly than elsewhere in a letter to Monroe, January 11th, 1812:
“I have ever and carefully restrained myself from the expression of any opinion respecting General Wilkinson, ... in the case of Burr's conspiracy, wherein, after he ha jo over his first agitations, we believed his decision firm, and his conduct zealous for the defeat of the conspiracy, and although injudicious, yet meriting, from sound intentions, the support of the nation. As to the rest of his life, I have left it to his friends and his enemies, to whom it furnishes matter enough for disputation. I classed
myself with neither, and least of all in this time of his distresses, should I be disposed to add to their pressure.”
Second Session of Ninth Congress—President's Message—Special Message on English Affairs—Congress ask Information in regard to Burr's Conspiracy—Senate pass a Bill to suspend the writ of habeas corpus—The House summarily reject the Bill—Eppes's Speech—Causes of reaction in public feeling—Bollman and Swartwout brought Prisoners to Washington—President's further Information to Congress—Bollman and Swartwout discharged from custody—Broom's Resolution to further secure privilege of the writ of habeas corpus rejected—Bill to suppress African slave trade—Naval defences —The different plans urged—Adjournment—Correspondence—New English Treaty—Its inconsistency with Instructions—The President to Monroe on the subject—He rejects the Treaty without consulting the Senate—Letters to his Cabinet—Spring Elections in 1807–Burr brought to Richmond—The Legal Proceedings before Judge Marshall— Burr held to Bail for a Misdemeanor—His Reception by the Federalists of Richmond— Mr. Wickham's Dinner-Party–Chief Justice and Burr meet as Guests there—Professor Tucker's Explanation of the Circumstance–Burr's Trial—Motion for a Subparna duces tecun to the President—Offer of United States Attorney to voluntarily furnish all necessary evidence—Martin's Attacks on the President—Wirt's Reply—Chief Justice's Remarks—Attacks on the President continued—President's Indignation—Martin's Motives and Character—A Blunder avoided—The Subpoena duces tecum issued—President's Offer in the interim to furnish all needful Testimony—His Answer on receiving the Subpoena, etc.—A practical Commentary–Manner of treating Government Witnesses—Indictment for Treason and Misdemeanor found–Burr confined in his Counsel's house—Arraigned—His Description of his “ Apartments” etc., in the Penitentiary— Trial opened—President's Letters to United States Attorney—Motion to stop the Introduction of Evidence in the Trial for Treason granted—Verdict of the Jury—Trial for Misdemeanor—The Proof relied on by the Prosecution ruled out—The Sequel–Burr held to Bail for a Misdemeanor in Ohio–President's Correspondence with District Attorney–Accused of undue eagerness for Prisoner's Conviction—Accused of Improper Interference–These Charges examined—Burr's Flight—His Miseries in Foreign Lands—Unable to get Home–Finally reaches Home in 1812–His Obscurity and Disgrace—Death of his Family–Dreads Imprisonment for Debt—Subsequent Course and Closing Scene.
PENDING the exciting events of Burr's conspiracy, and before any of the facts were accurately known—and while every current of the atmosphere was surcharged with wild and contradictory reports—the second session of the ninth Congress met at
Washington December 1st, 1806.