« AnteriorContinuar »
Swartwout of New York reached Wilkinson's camp at Natchitoches, ostensibly to bear a letter of introduction from Jonathan Dayton to Colonel Cushing, the second in command, but carrying secret dispatches in cipher from both Dayton and Burr to Wilkinson. Burr wrote Wilkinson:
"Yours, postmarked 13th of May, is received. I, Aaron Burr, have obtained funds, and have actually commenced the enterprise. Detachments from different points, and under different pretences, will rendezvous on the Ohio, 1st November -everything internal and external, favors views; protection of England is secured. Tis going to Jamaica to arrange with the Admiral on that station; it will meet on the Mississippi. —, England, -, navy of the United States are ready to join, and final orders are given to my friends and followers: it will be a host of choice spirits. Wilkinson shall be second to Burr only, Wilkinson shall dictate the rank and promotion of his officers. Burr will proceed westward, 1st August, never more to return; with him goes his daughter; the husband will follow in October with a corps of worthies.
"Send forth an intelligent and confidential friend with whom Burr may confer; Le shall return immediately with further interesting details; this is essential to concert and harmony of movement. Send a list of all persons known to Wilkinson, west of the mountains, who may be useful, with a note delineating their characters. By your messenger send me four or five commissions of your officers, which you can borrow under any pretence you please; they shall be returned faithfully. Already are orders to the contractors given to forward six months' provisions to points Wilkinson may name: this shall not be used until the last moment, and then under proper injunctions. The project is brought to the point so long desired. Burr guarantees the result with his life and honor, with the honor, and fortunes of hundreds of the best blood of our country.
"Burr's plan of operation is, to move down rapidly from the falls on the 15th of September, with the first 500 or 1,000 men in light boats, now constructing for that purpose, to be at Natchez between the 5th and 15th of December; there to meet Wilkinson; there to determine whether it will be expedient in the first instance to seize on or pass by Baton Rouge. On receipt of this send an answer. Draw on Burr for all expenses, etc. The people of the country to which we are going, are prepared to receive us. Their agents, now with Burr, say, that if we will protect their religion, and will not subject them to a foreign power, that in three weeks all will be settled. The gods invite to glory and fortune; it remains to be seen whether we deserve the boon. The bearer of this goes express to you; he will hand a formal letter of introduction to you from Burr. He is a man of inviolable honor and perfect discretion; formed to execute rather than to project; capable of relating facts with fidelity, and incapable of relating them otherwise. He is thoroughly informed of the plans and intentions of Burr, and will disclose to you as far as you inquire, and no farther. He has imbibed a reverence for your character, and may be embarrassed in your presence. Put him at ease, and he will satisfy you."
Dayton wrote Wilkinson (July 24, 1806):
"It is now ascertained that you are to be displaced in next session. Jefferson will affect to yield reluctantly to the public sentiment, but yield he will. Prepare
yourself therefore for it. You know the rest. You are not a man to despair, or even despond, especially when such projects offer in another quarter. Are you ready? Are your numerous associates ready? Wealth and glory-Louisiana and Mexico. Dayton."
Wilkinson, having deciphered Burr's letter, communicated its contents to Colonel Cushing, announcing his determination to march immediately to the Sabine, and make such terms with the Spaniards as would enable him to send the greater part of his force for the defence of New Orleans; and in the meantime to forward the information he had obtained to the President.
Wilkinson inquired of Swartwout what would be the course of Burr's expedition. "He said this territory (Louisiana) would be revolutionized, where the people were ready to join them, and that there would be some seizing he supposed at New Orleans; that they expected to be ready to embark about the 1st of February, and intended to land at Vera Cruz, and to march from thence to Mexico." He also intimated that a forced loan would be made from the bank at New Orleans, for the purpose of equipping the expedition.
Wilkinson made an arrangement with the Spaniards, and reached New Orleans on the 25th of November. Claiborne, Governor of Orleans territory, received the following letter, dated November 12th, from General Andrew Jackson, of Tennessee:
"Put your town [New Orleans] in a state of defence, organize your militia, and defend your city as well against internal enemies as external. My knowledge does not extend so far as to authorize me to go into detail, but I fear you will meet an attack from quarters you do not at present expect. Be upon the alert; keep a watchful eye on our General, and beware of an attack as well from your own country as Spain. I fear there is something rotten in the State of Denmark. You have enemies within your own city that may try to subvert your government, and try to separate it from the Union. You know I never hazard ideas without good grounds, you will keep these hints to yourself. But, I say again, be upon the alert; your government, I fear, is in danger; I fear there are plans on foot inimical to the Union; whether they will be attempted to be carried into effect or not I cannot say, but rest assured they are in operation or I calculate boldly. Beware the month of December. I love my country and government; I hate the Dons; I would delight to see Mexico reduced, but I will die in the last ditch before I would yield a foot to the Dons, or see the Union disunited."
This letter lost none of its force from the fact that it betrayed such strong suspicions of Wilkinson, and that the writer was known to have but recently received and entertained Burr in
a friendly manner.
Suspicions of the former were common in all of those western States where Burr and his emissaries had moved. Whatever other reasons might have existed, for this, there was a very obvious one in the fact that wherever the conspirators had attempted to extend their plot, their first declaration had been that Wilkinson and other principal men in the army and navy were their active confederates.
The most alarming rumors reached New Orleans. Martial law was proclaimed. A meeting of the citizens was held, at which a voluntary embargo was agreed upon to furnish seamen to man the gunboats in the river. The militia was placed under Wilkinson's command, and numerous volunteers offered their services. Strong bodies of troops were kept under arms, and fortifications rapidly erected.
Dr. Bollman, who had communicated with Wilkinson as an avowed emissary of Burr, Swartwout, who had brought Burr's letters to Wilkinson, and Ogden, another active emissary in the conspiracy, were placed under military arrest. Bollman was immediately brought before a judge of the Superior Court by a writ of habeas corpus, and Wilkinson returned to the writ that what he had done had been necessary for the safety of the city, and that he should continue to arrest dangerous persons. He sent Bollman and Swartwout to Washington by sea. Somie other arrests took place, and sharp contests arose between the Commander-in-Chief and certain judges-they attempting to discharge his prisoners on habeas corpus, and he resisting their interference, and in one instance placing in confinement not only the counsel for the prisoner, but the judge who issued the process. Altogether, the scene was much like one witnessed a few years later in the same city, when the officer placing himself in conflict with the civil laws was General Andrew Jackson. In the latter part of September the President had received some intimations of Burr's movements, but they were too vague to admit of any action, except maintaining a greater watchfulness. Towards the close of October "the objects of the conspiracy began to be perceived, but still so blended and involved in mystery that nothing distinct could be singled out for pursuit."' The President, however, immediately dispatched a special agent to the scene of operations, clothed with powers to call upon the 1 Special Message, January, 22d, 1807.
civil and military authorities to take such steps as circumstances should require. Learning that boats and stores were collecting on the Ohio, and that an unusual number of suspicious characters were in motion, he also dispatched orders to the Governors of Orleans and Mississippi territories, and to the commanders of the land and naval forces, to be on the alert and prepared to resist all illegal attempts. Special orders were forwarded to
LEGAL PROCEEDINGS IN KENTUCKY.
The first communication of the latter officer was received by the President, November 25th; and on the 27th he issued a proclamation warning all persons to withdraw from unlawful enterprises, and dispatched orders "to every intersecting point on the Ohio and Mississippi from Pittsburg to New Orleans" to put the civil authorities in motion, and to direct the employment of the regulars and militia to seize every man and thing connected with Burr's enterprise. As new facts came to light; orders were issued for still wider preparations.
Daviess, the United States Attorney for the district of Kentucky, had, acting on his own information, offered a motion before the District Court sitting at Frankfort, on the third of November, that Burr be brought before the court, to answer a charge of being engaged in an unlawful enterprise. The judge refused to issue the process, but ordered a grand-jury to be impanelled. Burr appeared in court with his counsel, and declared his readiness to meet an immediate investigation. But Daviess could not procure the attendance of his principal witness, and the jury were discharged. On the 25th, the District Attorney applied for a new grand-jury, and subpoenaed General Adair to attend as a witness. The latter did not appear. Daviess moved to be allowed to attend the grand-jury in their room, to examine the witnesses, which he contended was necessary to bring out and explain the connection of testimony in reference to a plot of which the jury had no knowledge. The motion was denied, and the grand-jury not only threw out the bill, but signed a written declaration expressing their belief that Burr meditated nothing dangerous to the peace and well-being of the United States. A motion was granted that a copy of this paper might be taken for insertion in the newspapers. This triumph of the conspirators was celebrated by a ball at Frankfort; and then Burr and Adair departed together.
This turn of affairs has been thought, in some measure, due to the talents, consummate address, and high popularity of one of Burr's counsel, Henry Clay, who had been, six days before, chosen United States senator, to fill the vacancy occasioned by the resignation of Adair himself—and the star of whose professional and political greatness had just begun to beam splendidly on the western horizon. But if any improper or ill-timed proceedings were in part the result of his efforts, none will doubt that he acted under erroneous impressions of the facts. He undoubtedly at the time wholly discredited the charge against Burr.'
The proofs at hand were at best very imperfect-Burr had great tact in glossing over his designs, and stopped at no bold deception-Kentucky, at that time, was rent by bitter party and personal feuds, and Daviess, a warm Federalist, was unjustly suspected of having party and personal objects in view. Wilkinson, as has been already said, was distrusted; and if any information of his later movements had reached Kentucky, it was vague, confused, and contradictory. And an authorized attempt on Mexico was one of the most popular things which could be proposed in the West.
Graham, the confidential agent of the Government, proceeded to Marietta, and easily drew from Blennerhasset enough
1 In Mallory's Life of Mr. Clay (prefixed to an edition of his speeches), is given Burr's letter to Clay, when he solicited his aid. In this he utterly disavowed all criminal or illegal intentions. In justice to Mr. Clay, and as a specimen of Burr's matchless effrontery in falsehood, we subjoin an extract from the letter.
I have no design, nor have I taken any measure, to promote a dissolution of the Union, or a separation of any one or more States from the residue. I have neither published a line on this subject, nor has any one through my agency or with my knowledge. I have no design to intermeddle with the government or to disturb the tranquillity of the United States, or of its territories, or of any part of them. I have neither given, nor signed, nor promised a commission to any person for any purpose. I do not own a musket, nor bayonet, nor any single article of military stores; nor does any person for me, by my authority, or with my knowledge. My views have been fully explained to, and approved by, several of the principal officers of Government, and I believe are well understood by the Administration, and seen by it with complacency. They are such as every man of honor and every good citizen must approve. Considering the high station you now fill in our national councils, I have thought these explanations proper, as well to counteract the chimerical tales which malevolent persons have so industriously circulated, as to satisfy you that you have not espoused the cause of a man in any way unfriendly to the laws, the Government, or the interests of his country."
Mr. Clay (says Mallory), on reaching Washington as a senator, and seeing the evidence collected against Burr, and particularly the letter in cipher from him to Wilkinson, became apprised of his former client's true character. The same biographer further asserts (vol. i., p. 25) that Clay and Burr next met, after an interval of some years, in the court room of the City Hall in New York. The latter approached former, "tendering him his hand with the customary salutation." Clay refused to receive his hand. Burr, however, endeavored to engage him in conversation, complimenting him on his conduct at Ghent. Clay "turned a deaf ear, replying very briefly to his inquiries, and giving him no encouragement to proceed." Burr requested an interview. Clay named his lodgings; but the other never came-anticipating, probably, that his cringing pertinacity would meet a still more summary repulse.