General Jackson, having now established his camp and headquarters at New Orleans, extending to a distance of •about four miles all round, was actively engaged in providing to meet any renewal of the attack lately made, and in strengthening every point where it was possible that the enemy might undertake to penetrate a second time into Louisiana. So effective were his measures, that toward the end of January, the State was in a condition to defy double the force that had at first attacked her.1
The British army had finally withdrawn from Louisiana on the 27th of January, carrying away one hundred and ninety-nine negroes. General Jackson had already taken steps to claim them as private property, and to demand their restoration to their legitimate owners, when, on the 31st Claiborne addressed him on the subject, and inquired if anything further had been heard from the British commander-in‑chief respecting those slaves. "You will excuse my solicitude," he said, "on a subject so immediately interesting to many good citizens of the State, and in whose behalf, in my character p512as civil Governor, I would wish to address a letter to the British commander, and to convey it by three distinguished citizens, if you should not already have effected the restoration of their property." This seems to have been looked upon by General Jackson as an officious kind of intermeddling, which excited his displeasure. Was his zeal doubted on the subject? If not, why not leave it in his hands altogether? Could the remonstrances of an obscure Governor of a feeble State which had just sprung into existence, have more influence over the British authorities than those of a victorious General representing the United States, and acting on their behalf? General Jackson did not reply himself, but his Adjutant-General and Aid, R. Butler, writing in the name of the General, informed Claiborne in a few stiff words, that Captain Henley had been appointed to receive the slaves who might be delivered, but that from information obtained, although not official, "it appeared that the restoration of those slaves was not to be hoped for." Claiborne laid this correspondence before the Legislature with a special message, and, on the 2d of February, that body adopted "Resolutions" approving the course pursued by the governor, and requesting him to take all other steps "which, in his wisdom, might be thought expedient to attain the object he had in view." This was evidently an attempt to give more weight to an interference which was already deemed exceptionable. It certainly had no tendency to remove some bad feelings which, for some time past, had produced a coolness between Jackson and Claiborne. The former had not been remiss, however, in his exertions to obtain the abducted negroes, but they had been without success. General Lambert pretended that the negroes had not been taken away, but had come of their own accord to the British camp. "I did all I could," he said, "to persuade p513them to return at the time, but not one was willing, as will be testified by Mr. Célestin, a proprietor whom I had detained until the British forces had evacuated their last position. This gentleman saw the slaves that were present, and did all he could to urge them to go back."
On the 12th of February, Lieutenant-Colonel Lawrence, who had so bravely and successfully defended Fort Bowyer, at Mobile Point, on a former occasion, informed General Jackson that "imperious necessity" had compelled him to enter into articles of capitulation with Major-General Lambert," feeling confident, he said, "and it being the unanimous opinion of the officers, that we could not retain the post, and that the lives of many valuable officers and soldiers would have been uselessly sacrificed, I thought it most desirable to adopt this plan." General Jackson felt keenly this insignificant discomfiture; he grudged his adversaries this small success, and he thought that the resistance of Lawrence had not been sufficient. His mind was so peculiarly constituted, that it never permitted him to entertain the idea of defeat, much less of capitulation and surrender, either in his military or political career. A surrender could not but strike him as something unnatural and monstrous. It is not, therefore, to be wondered at if he wrote to the Secretary of War: "This is an event which I little expected to happen but after the most gallant resistance. That it should have taken place without even a fire from the enemy's batteries is as astonishing as mortifying." But General Jackson's mortification made him unjust on this occasion. Fort Bowyer had been attacked by such overwhelming forces, by land and water, that the surrender followed of course, and there was in it nothing "unexpected, astonishing, or mortifying." According to General Lambert's opinion, expressed p514to Lord Bathurst, "the fort was formidable only against an assault, and batteries being once established, it was bound to fall speedily," which event took place as soon as the enemy had succeeded in erecting powerful batteries, on which were mounted sixteen guns, within one hundred yards of our parapets. Major Latour relates professional minuteness all the details of this siege, and concludes with these observations:
"From this circumstantial account of the taking of Fort Bowyer, the impartial reader will see that the brave garrison who defended it, being left to their own resources, deprived of all communication, and cut off from all hope of receiving relief, exerted all the means in their power to defend the fort intrusted to them; never failing to annoy the enemy, when he came within the range of their guns. What could they do more? What useful purpose could it have answered to expose themselves to a bombardment in a fort entirely constructed of timber, so combustible that a single shell falling within the parapet would have sufficed to set the whole fort on fire? Attacked on the land side, what defence could they make against sixteen pieces of artillery, within so short a distance and behind strong intrenchments? Those pieces in less than half an hour would have battered down the parapet of the fort, which, on that side, was not more than •three feet thick above the platforms."
A court of inquiry held at the request of Lieutenant-Colonel Lawrence, and assembled at New Orleans, acquitted him of all blame for the surrender of Fort Bowyer. The conduct of Major Overton and his men in Fort St. Philip, when attacked as we have before related, was more in accordance with General Jackson's own temper, and therefore was more gratifying to him. "They nailed their own colors to the standard," he wrote to the Secretary of War, "and placed those of the enemy underneath them, determined never to surrender the post."
The correspondence between General Jackson and General Lambert was conducted with the most high-level p515courtesy, and with feelings which do honor to both; but the one which took place between Commodore Patterson and Admiral Cochrane seems to have been rather of a rugged nature. On the 12th of February, Admiral Cochrane complained to General Jackson of the style adopted by Commodore Patterson, and said that he would hold no further correspondence with that officer in relation to the exchange of prisoners. General Jackson replied: "The Naval and Military Departments in our service being totally independent, I am not permitted to defend, still less to censure, the conduct or correspondence of the officer at the head of the former. His distinguished merit and general correctness of conduct make it presumable that he will be able to justify his proceedings to the Government, to whom alone he is accountable." On the 13th, Admiral Cochrane wrote to General Jackson: "I have exceeding satisfaction in sending to you a copy of a bulletin that I have this moment received from Jamaica, proclaiming that a treaty of peace was signed between our respective Plenipotentiaries at Ghent, on the 24th of December, 1814, upon which I beg leave to offer you my sincere congratulations." On the 19th, General Jackson was also congratulated on the prospect of peace by General Lambert, who said: "I hope I shall soon have to communicate to you the notice of the ratification being exchanged." On the 20th, General Jackson addressed, as follows, Admiral Cochrane, in relation to the slaves belonging to several inhabitants of Louisiana, and now on board the British fleet: "I had written to General Lambert on this head two successive letters, in consequence of his informing me that these persons would be delivered to their masters on their application. To the first I received no answer; to the last, I am informed that General Lambert has nothing to do with it. Mr. White, to whom an order was given to p516receive such as were willing to return to their masters, having reported to me that he found several who were ready to accompany him, but that he was not permitted to take them, I am now obliged, Sir, explicitly to ask whether the property thus taken is intended to be restored, and if it be, that a time and place may be appointed for its delivery." He further inquired of Admiral Cochrane how far he considered the news of peace, communicated by him, authorized and required a cessation of hostilities between the military and naval forces of Great Britain and those of the United States in the district in which they had been lately carried on with such activity.
Whilst the hopes of peace were thus entertained by both parties, a chivalrous incident took place, which is not unworthy of being recorded. Major-General Keane, who had been severely wounded on the 8th of January, had lost his sword on the battle-field. It was in the possession of General Jackson, who, on such a desire being expressed by General Keane, sent it back through his Aid, Colonel Livingston, with courteous inquiries after the health of his defeated enemy. The British General acknowledged the compliment in these words: "Major-General Keane presents his best respects to General Jackson, and feels particularly thankful for the kindness he has experienced from him through the medium of Colonel Livingston. He is still further obliged for General Jackson's kind wishes for his recovery." Jackson rendered an account of this incident to the Secretary of War in these simple and noble words: "Major-General Keane having lost his sword in the action of the 8th of January, and having expressed a great desire to regain it, valuing it as the present of an esteemed friend, I thought proper to have it restored to him; thinking it more honorable to the American character to return it, after the expression of those wishes, than to retain it as a trophy p517of victory. I believe, however, it is a singular instance of a British General soliciting the restoration of his sword fairly lost in battle."
He further stated that some entire Congreve rockets had been found, which, with a rest from which they are fired, would be sent to the seat of Government, together with the instruments of the British band of music and their quarter-flag. "General Keane's trumpet," he wrote, "as well as that which was used on the right column of the enemy, were taken in the action of the 8th January. These instruments are in the possession of General Coffee's Brigade, where I hope they will be permitted to remain."
General Jackson continued to press upon General Lambert the question of the restoration of the negroes to their masters; and the magnanimous courtesy which he had lately shown to Major-General Keane ought to have disposed the British authorities to be accommodating at least in their transactions with him. To these continued solicitations General Lambert replied on the 27th of February, from Dauphine Island: "With regard to the negroes that have left their masters and are with this force, any proprietor, or person deputed, that chooses to present himself to me will be received, and every facility afforded him to communicate with those people, and I shall be very happy if they can be persuaded all to return, but to compel them is what I cannot do." It is worthy of remark that, in 1815, the Commander-in‑Chief of a British army was not afraid to say in an official document, that he would be happy if slaves could be persuaded to return to their masters. In 1864, the year in which we record this fact, any Englishman, placed in the same position with General Lambert, would probably utter some popular sentimental cant p518about the blessings of liberty for the poor injured sons of Africa.
In the same communication General Lambert gives a singular proof of the infatuation which had possessed the minds of the invaders as to the disposition of the Creoles toward them. With bull-dog tenacity they seem to have clung to the last to the idea, that what they considered as the French element of the population of Louisiana was still inclined to hail them as friends, notwithstanding the manifest demonstration to the contrary given on the battle-field and in every other possible way. It appears that Major-General Villeré had written to General Lambert, after the retreat of the British army, to claim payment for a considerable number of cattle which had been swept from his plantation. General Lambert appears to have been astonished at this call for full indemnity, and at what he considered the unfriendly tone of the communication, as if he could have expected anything else. He forwarded it to General Jackson with these remarks: "I should have been glad to have known the Major-General's sentiments previous, as I certainly should not have troubled myself about his concerns, or endeavored to render as little painful as I was able, not living in his house, the unavoidable circumstances attending the immediate theatre of war toward his son, whom he had left unprotected."2
On the 6th of March, General Jackson informed General Lambert of his having just received intelligence from Washington, which left little doubt in his mind that the treaty signed at Ghent between the United States and Great Britain had been ratified by the President p519and Senate of the United States, but that, by some unaccountable accident, a dispatch on another subject had been substituted for the one intended to give him official information of that event:
"The one I have received, however," he continued, "is accompanied by an order from the Postmaster-General directing his deputies to forward the express carrying intelligence of the recent peace. Of this order I inclose a copy, and from other sources to which I give credit, I learn that the same express brought official notice of the treaty to the Governor of Tennessee. I have deemed it a duty, without loss of time, to communicate the exact state of those circumstances, that you might determine whether they would not justify you in agreeing, by a cessation of hostilities, to anticipate the happy return of peace between our two nations, which the first direct intelligence must bring to us in an official form. [. . .] I pray you, with the assurance of high respect, to receive that of the satisfaction I feel in reflecting that our correspondence, begun as commanders of hostile armies, should terminate as officers of nations in amity."
On the next day, the 7th of March, he informed General Lambert that, in consequence of the intimation contained in his former letters that every facility would be given to the proprietors of slaves now with the British forces to induce them to return, he had given permission to certain individuals to pass under a flag of truce to the fleet for the purpose of seeing and reclaiming their slaves, and "he prayed that those slaves might be returned to them."
On the 17th, General Jackson communicated to General Lambert that official information had reached him of the ratification of the treaty of peace, whereupon he proposed to make such arrangements as might be necessary to receive such forts, garrisons, artillery, munitions, or other property as might be embraced in the first article of that treaty. General Jackson further claimed under the treaty such slaves as might be within the control of p520the British commander, belonging to any inhabitant or citizen of the United States, to the end "that their owners might again obtain possession of them." On the 18th, General Lambert informed General Jackson that he and Admiral Malcolm had issued orders for the cessation of hostilities, and for all detached posts and ships to be withdrawn in their respective commands. He added that Fort Bowyer would be restored in every respect as when it fell into his hands, with the exception only of a brass mortar, cast in George the Second's reign, which had been sent away the day after the surrender. With regard to his construction of the treaty in relation to the restoration of property, he said, with bad logic and equally bad phraseology:
"In the fulfilling the first article of the treaty, I cannot consider the meaning of 'not causing any destruction, or carrying away any artillery, or other public property, originally captured in the said forts or places, and which shall remain therein upon the exchange of the ratification of this treaty, or any slave, or other property,' as having reference to any antecedent period to the 18th of February, the day of the exchange of ratifications; because it is only from that time that the article could be fulfilled in a long war. If those negroes (the matter now in question) belonged to the territory, or city, we were actually in occupation of, I should conceive we had no right to take them away; but by their coming away, they are virtually the same as deserters, or property taken away at any time of the war, I am obliged to say so much in justification of the right; but I have from the first done all I could to prevent, and subsequently, together with Admiral Malcolm, have given every facility, and used every persuasion that they should return to their masters, and many have done so; but I could not reconcile it to myself to abandon any, who, from false reasoning perhaps, joined us during the period of hostilities, and have thus acted in violation of the laws of their country, and, besides, become obnoxious to their masters. Had it been an object to take the negroes away, they could have been embarked in the first instance; but they have been permitted to remain in the hope that they might return."
On the next day, the 19th of March, General Lambert, p521in another communication written from Dauphine Island, said to General Jackson: "The preparations for a long voyage may detain the troops here a few days longer, but no exertion will be wanting to embark the whole as soon as possible." He concluded his letter with such expressions of high-toned courtesy as it is pleasant to see exchanged between men who had lately met as foes on the battle-field. "As I may not have another opportunity of addressing you," said Lambert to Jackson, "permit me to avail myself of the present to wish you health and happiness, and to express my regret that circumstances will not allow me to assure you personally of the same."
Major Woodruff had been appointed by General Jackson to receive the negroes to be delivered by the British under the treaty of peace. But, on the 20th, all hope that the treaty would be executed on that point was put at an end by the following note addressed by General Lambert to that gentleman: "I answer to that part of your letter which touches upon the negroes who have come into the British force previous to the ratification of the peace, that is, on the 18th of February last, that I do not feel myself authorized to deliver them up under the treaty, without their consent." On the 23d, Major Woodruff communicated to General Jackson the strange interpretation put on the treaty by General Lambert: "He informed me," said Woodruff, "that he would be prepared to execute, on the part of his Government, every article of said treaty, except that part relating to slaves, as it was totally incompatible with the spirit and constitution of his Government to recognize slavery at all; that he would use his influence in persuading them to return to their masters, by every argument in his power; but that he would not use force in compelling their obedience, or permit it to be used within the British lines."
p522 Governor Claiborne, who, thus far, had delayed acting in conformity with the "Resolutions" passed by the Legislature on the 2d of February, approving his intention to intervene in the negotiation carried on in relation to the slaves between Jackson and Lambert, and who, on reflection, had probably seen the propriety of waiting until it was concluded, now determined, on the 25th of March, apparently with a sort of ingenuous belief in his own importance or that of the Legislature, to send Commissioners to General Lambert, in order to obtain that in which General Jackson, acting in the name of the United States, had failed to succeed. "These gentlemen," he said to Lambert, "at the solicitation and in behalf of the owners of the negro slaves who are understood to have followed the English army to Dauphine Island, have repaired to your headquarters for the purpose of receiving, and providing the means of sending back to their masters, such of the negro slaves aforesaid as, in conformity to the first article of the treaty of peace, your Excellency shall deem proper to decline carrying away." Major-General Power, who had been left in command during the absence of General Lambert, replied:
"I should feel happy in rendering any assistance to those gentlemen, to enable them to execute the object of their mission, but agreeably to the determination of Major-General Lambert before he went away, all those slaves who were not willing, and who objected to return to their former masters, have been embarked for the Island of Bermuda, to be sent from there to Trinidad. The Major-General did everything in his power to induce the whole of the slaves who deserted from New Orleans to return; but he did not feel himself authorized to resort to force to oblige them to do so, as they threw themselves on his protection, which they were entitled to, having served with the British army, and which they did voluntarily and without compulsion."
"All territories, places and possessions whatsoever, taken from either party by the other during the war, or which may be taken after the signing of this treaty, excepting only the islands hereinafter mentioned, shall be restored without delay, and without causing any destruction, or carrying away any of the artillery or other public property, originally captured in the said forts or places, and which shall remain therein, upon the exchange of the ratification of this treaty, or any slaves or other private property."
It seems to us clear that, in this document, the Government of Great Britain acknowledges slaves as property, and yet, in the face of it, a British General is seen assuming the responsibility of declaring that he would not execute that part of the treaty relating to slaves, because "it was totally incompatible with the spirit and Constitution of his Government to recognize slavery at all." To elude what to him is an obnoxious stipulation, he further resorts gravely to a miserable quibble, unworthy even of a pettifogger. He alleges that the slaves were not carried away, according to the expressions used in the treaty, but that they carried themselves away, and were therefore to be looked upon in the light of deserters, forgetting that they could not be deserters, and treated as such, if they were property, as expressly acknowledged in the treaty, the words being "slaves or other property." He further takes the extraordinary ground that he is only bound to restore what property belonged to the city or territory the British were actually in possession of on the 18th of February, the day of the exchange of ratifications, so that the treaty being signed on the 24th of December, and the British officers having had ample time to know its contents before it was ratified and the ratifications exchanged, had only to remove beyond their p524actual lines every sort of private property they had taken in order to escape the obligation of restoring it, on the exchange of the ratifications. Thus General Lambert, according to his interpretation, was not bound to restore any private property which he might have carried away from the Parishes of St. Bernard and Plaquemine, antecedent to the 18th February, but only such as he might have taken on Dauphine Island, of which he was still in possession at that time. This concession, however, restricted as it was, he refused to apply to slaves, because they could not, as he maintained, be property according to the Constitution of England. For instance, on or after the 18th of February, he would have considered himself bound not to carry away any slaves belonging to Dauphine Island, which was still in British hands, but had a slave and a cow come to his camp pitched on that island, he would have restored the cow and not the slave, although in the text of the treaty a cow and a slave were placed on the same footing as property. As this same forced construction was put on the treaty by all British officers, from the shores of Maryland to those of Louisiana, without the possibility of previous consultation and agreement, it is fair to suppose that during the time which elapsed between the 24th of December and the 18th of February, the British Government, alarmed at the consequences of the concession which it had made in the treaty, and which probably threatened to provoke the resentment of Exeter Hall and other congregations of negro worshipers, had sent secret instructions for the non-execution of that part of the treaty. The government of the United States remonstrated with uncompromising firmness and unanswerable logic, but the British Government adopted, if it had not dictated, the construction put upon the treaty by its agents. John Quincy Adams, then the Minister Plenipotentiary of the United p525States at the Court of St. James, although himself an abolitionist of the deepest dye, and supposed to be hostile to the South, demonstrated victoriously, in his correspondence with Lords Bathurst and Castlereagh, how erroneous were the views of the British government on the subject.
According to grammar and to the common understanding of language, it would seem that there could be no doubt but that the terms of the "First Article" had established in a most guarded manner a distinction between public and private property. All territories, places and possessions (with a particular exception) were to be restored, without destroying or carrying away any of the artillery, or other public property, originally captured in the said forts or places, and which remained there upon the exchange of ratifications. Had it been intended to put slaves and other private property on the same ground with artillery and other public property, the terms originally captured in the said forts and places, and which shall remain therein on the exchange of the ratifications of this treaty, instead of being inserted after "artillery and other public property," would have been put at the end of the sentence after "slaves and other private property." In that case both interests, the public and the private, would have been subject to the same restraint. But, by separating them from each other, and putting the restrictive words immediately after "artillery and other public property," it showed that it was intended to confine their operation to these subjects only, excluding from it "slaves and other private property."
This is amply demonstrated by a reference to the procès verbal of the conferences between the British and American Plenipotentiaries. The first project of the Treaty of Ghent was offered by the American Plenipotentiaries, and that part of the first article relating to p526slaves was therein expressed in the following manner:
"All territories, places and possessions, without exception, taken by either party from the other during the war, or which may be taken after the signing of the treaty, shall be restored without delay, and without causing any destruction, or carrying away any other public property, or any slaves or other private property."
The British Plenipotentiaries proposed the following alterations:
"All territories, places and possessions, without exception, taken by either party from the other during the war, or which may be taken after the signing of the treaty, shall be restored without delay, and without causing any destruction, or carrying away any of the artillery or other public property, or any slaves or other private property, originally captured in the said forts or places, and which shall remain therein upon the exchange of the ratifications of this treaty."
It will be observed that, in this proposal,3 the words "originally captured in the said forts or places, and which shall remain therein upon the exchange of the ratifications of this treaty," operated as a modification of the article as originally proposed in the American project. Instead of stipulating that no property, public or private, artillery or slaves, should be carried away, they limited the prohibition of removal to all such property as had been originally captured in the forts and places, and remained there at the exchange of the ratifications. They included within the limitation private as well as public property; and had the article been assented to in this form by the American Plenipotentiaries and ratified by their Government, it would have warranted the construction which the British Commanders gave to the article as it was ultimately agreed to, and which it cannot admit. But the American Plenipotentiaries proposed to p527transpose the words, "originally captured in the said forts or places, and which shall remain therein upon the exchange of the ratifications of this treaty," and to insert them before the words "slaves or other property," instead of after, as they stood. This was agreed to by the British Plenipotentiaries. It is as evident as anything can be, that it was intended by this transposition of words to admit, with regard to artillery and public property, the limitation proposed by the British project, but not to assent to it with regard to slaves and private property. On the contrary, we asked such a transposition of the words of limitation as would leave them applicable only to artillery and public property, and would except slaves and private property from their operation altogether. The British Plenipotentiaries could not but understand the meaning of this transposition, and could not plead ignorance of the views of the other party in persisting in the general prohibition to carry away slaves and private property, while acquiescing in the limitation with respect to artillery and public property. With this implied, if not expressed, understanding, the British Government agreed to the transposition of the words; and, accordingly, that part of the "First Article" of the treaty stood and was ratified as it reads now. Had its grammatical construction been in any way equivocal, this statement of the manner in which it was drawn up would have sufficed to solve every doubt of its meaning. Therefore, John Quincy Adams contended with great force that the article, as originally drawn by the American Plenipotentiaries, was plain and clear; that it admitted of no other construction than that for which the American Government now contended; that it avowedly and openly contained a stipulation that, in the evacuation of all the territories, places and possessions to be restored, no slave should be carried away; that p528an alteration was proposed by the British Plenipotentiaries, which was accepted only in part; that in this partial acceptance the British Government acquiesced; that when Great Britain proposed an alteration to the American project, of the meaning of which there could be no doubt, when her alteration was accepted conditionally, and under a modification to which she agreed, she was bound to perceive that the modification thus insisted upon by the other party was not a mere verbal change in the phraseology of her proposal, but, so far as it extended, a substantial adherence to the original draught of the article.
"That the British Government gave it then another construction," added Mr. Adams, "was not only never communicated to the Government of the United States, but was impossible to be foreseen by them. When Great Britain had solemnly agreed, without hinting an objection, to the principle of restoring captured slaves, it could not have been foreseen that the engagement could be narrowed down to nothing by the strained station of a condition, limited by the words of the treaty to another species of property. It was impossible to anticipate a construction of an important stipulation which should annihilate its operation. It was impossible to anticipate that a stipulation not to carry away any slaves would by the British Government be considered as faithfully executed by British officers in carrying away all the slaves in their possession. The only foundation which these naval commanders have alleged for this procedure was a construction of the paragraph containing this stipulation so contrary to its grammatical sense and obvious import, that the undersigned is well assured, if the same phrase had occurred in any municipal contract between individuals, no judicial tribunal in this Kingdom would entertain for a moment a question upon it — a construction under which the whole operation of the words 'slaves or other private property' was annihilated, by extending to them the limitation confined by the words of the treaty to artillery and private property."
Notwithstanding these unanswerable arguments, the British Government still contended that the limitation not to carry away slaves applied only to such of them as p529had been originally captured in certain forts or places, and still remaining therein upon the exchange of the ratifications of the treaty, well knowing that there was not perhaps one single slave to carry away in all those which were occupied by the British troops when the treaty was concluded. In his desperate attempts to escape from Mr. Adams' inexorable logic in relation to the manner in which the "First Article" of the treaty was drawn, Lord Bathurst, a member of the British Ministry, made use of this extraordinary language: "It is certainly possible that one party may propose an alteration, with a mental reservation of some construction of his own, and that he may assent to it on the firm persuasion that the construction continues to be the same, and that, therefore, he may conciliate, and yet concede nothing by his assent." Mr. Adams witheringly observed, in relation to this passage, that "he trusted that some error of a copyist had left its meaning imperfectly expressed."
Considering some of the features assumed by the war carried on between the Confederate States and the United States of America, after the lapse of about half a century since that correspondence, it is curious to notice several of the grounds taken by John Quincy Adams in his discussion with the British Ministry in relation to the Treaty of Ghent. For instance, he maintained that, according to the usages of war among civilized nations, no private property, including slaves, ought to be taken; that all private property on shore partook of that sacred character; that it was entitled by the laws of war to exemption from capture; that "slaves were private property." Lord Liverpool4 said that he thought they could not be considered precisely under the general denomination of private property; a table or a chair, for instance, might be taken and restored without changing its condition, p530but a living and human being was entitled to other considerations.
"I replied," wrote Mr. Adams to the Secretary of State at Washington, "that the treaty had marked no such distinction: the words implicitly recognized slaves as private property in the articles alluded to: 'slaves or other private property.' Not that I meant to deny the principle assumed by him: most certainly a living, sentient being, and still more a human being, was to be regarded in a different light from the inanimate matter of which other private property might consist. And if, on the ground of that difference, the British Plenipotentiaries had objected to restore the one while consenting to restore the other, we should readily have discussed the subject; we might have accepted or objected to the proposal they would have made. But, what could that proposal have been? Upon what ground could Great Britain have refused to restore them? Was it because they had seduced away from their masters by the promises of British officers? But had they taken New Orleans, or any other Southern city, would not all the slaves in it have had as much claim to the benefit of such promises as the fugitives from their masters elsewhere? How then could the place, if it had been taken, have been evacuated according to the treaty, without carrying away slaves, if the pledge of such promises was to protect them from being restored to their owners? It was true, proclamations inviting slaves to desert from their masters had been issued by British officers. We considered them as deviations from the usages of war. We believed that the British Government itself, when the hostile passions arising from the state of war should subside, would consider them in the same light; that Great Britain would then be willing to restore the property, or to indemnify the sufferers by its loss. If she felt bound to make good the promises of her officers to the slaves, she might still be willing to do an act of justice by compensating the owners of the slaves for the property which had been irregularly taken from them. Lord Liverpool manifested no dissatisfaction with these remarks, nor did he attempt to justify the proclamation to which I particularly alluded."
The British Government, however, would not recede from the position it had taken, and, after several years of negotiation, the decision of the question was referred to the arbitration of Russia, who declared in favor of p531the American construction of the treaty, and Great Britain finally paid a certain sum of money for the slaves she had carried away.
Verily is history full of strange contrasts. We now see the United States denying what they compelled Great Britain to acknowledge, by the treaty of Ghent: that negroes are property. We see them asserting at one time, through Mr. John Quincy Adams, their Minister Plenipotentiary in London, that private property on shore, according to the usages of modern warfare, cannot be captured by belligerents; that proclamations to induce slaves to desert from their masters are unjustifiable; and that such practices are deviations from the usages of war. We see them now informing that same Government of Great Britain, through Mr. Adams, their Minister Plenipotentiary, and a son of the former minister, that it is right for them to capture private property on land, to destroy it in every possible way, to cut down crops, to break all agricultural implements, to produce a general famine in the land they invade, to remove even clothing, food and medicine from the desolated homes of the widow and the infant; we hear their loud proclamation, reverberating throughout the world, that not only is it right to seduce away slaves from their masters, but that it is in conformity with the usages of civilized war, and one of its necessities, to arm slaves against their masters. Mr. John Quincy Adams charitably expressed the hope that when the hostile passions arising from a state of war should have subsided, the Government of Great Britain would consider the impropriety of its conduct in its proper light. We entertain the same hope in relation to the Government and people of the United States, notwithstanding the variety of the monstrous national crimes which have been perpetrated, notwithstanding the Congressional denial that eight p532millions of their fellow-beings had "any rights whatever."
There was one man, however, who, it is said, succeeded in getting back most of his negroes, if not all of them. It was Major Lacoste, afterward major-general in the militia of the State. He was a man of commanding presence, having a striking military air, and really looked superb in full uniform. There was a great deal of dry humor and practical shrewdness concealed under his somewhat exaggerated loftiness of manner, and, as he was a man of real worth, the occasional ebullitions of a temperament inclining to pomposity were sources of amusement even to those who liked and appreciated him the most. He had been one of the planters authorized by General Jackson to repair to the British camp at Dauphine Island, with a view to regain their slaves, and was told, with the rest, that he could have his negroes only with their consent. He did not lose his time, however, in remonstrating with the British officers against their shameful construction of the treaty, but seemed to assent with cheerful philosophy to this manifestation of their Punic faith. This apparent acquiescence, and a stately urbanity which could not be ruffled, predisposed the British in his favor. He did not speak one word of English, but several of the British officers spoke French perfectly. They and the Major soon became friendly; his dignified conviviality won their hearts and commanded their respect. "Surely," said the Major to them, "you will spare me the humiliation of coaxing, in the presence of anybody, my runaway slaves to return to me. British officers cannot but be gentlemen, and must appreciate the feelings of one in my position. I doubt not, therefore, that you will permit me to remain alone with my slaves, and use with them what arguments I can find, without being overheard by any evil-disposed p533witnesses who may laugh at my vain efforts. What I am compelled to do is sufficiently vexatious without unnecessarily making it more painful to me." The British officers, whom he had put in good-humor, and whose vanity he had gently patted on the shoulder, assented to his desire. "But," said they, "there must be no force used, Major; the slaves must express clearly their consent to return." "Force!" exclaimed the Major; "you speak in derision. What force can I use in the circumstances in which I am, unless you allude to the force of persuasion?" "Oh! no," replied the British officers, laughing; "that kind of force is legitimate. You have our consent to that." With this understanding, the Major was taken to the quarters of his negroes, who behaved with some degree of civility when they saw him, and who were particularly struck with the military honors paid to their master as he approached the guards who watched over them. This did not escape the keen eye of the Major, and, taking advantage of this circumstance, he bowed with great majesty and condescension to the officers who had accompanied him, and who retired according to their promise. As soon as he was left alone with his slaves, he drew himself up to his full height and assumed a menacing attitude and tone. "Ah! my darkies, here you are!" he said. "You thought you could escape me, you fools! You never knew before what a great man I am; you never dreamed that the British respect me so much that they are willing to be commanded by me and have your master for their chief. But you see it with your own eyes; nobody tells you that. I flogged the British well, as you know; and I will flog you well too, if you continue to misbehave as they once did. But now I am their friend, because they have repented, — so much have they repented that they want to kill you for having left me as you did, you ungrateful p534rascals! 'Major Lacoste,' they said to me, 'is it true that these dirty, stinking fellows used to steal your chickens and your pigs?' 'Yes,' said I; 'it is but too true.' 'Well, what did you do with them on such occasions?' — 'I shook my fists at them, and threatened to cut their throats, but never did it, as you see, because I loved them like children.' — 'Ha, ha, Major Lacoste,' they said, 'that is not the way to treat niggers. Now that we are friends, if you say the word, we will make an example of them for having left so kind a master. We will shoot every one of them, and bring you better niggers from Africa for ten dollars apiece.' I see that you look terrified, brigands; but you know I am good — too good. I pardon you all, unfortunate wretches." He seemed so powerful, he looked so grand, so imposing, that the negroes fell on their knees and thanked him for his mercy. "Rise, hypocritical scamps!" he continued, with an expression on his face of Olympian benignity, which still retained something of the awful and the terrible, "rise; I will save your lives; not because I believe in your repentance, not because I am your dupe (Major Lacoste cannot be duped by anybody); but because I am used to you, and we may as well grow old together. I will take you home safely without loss of time. The British may soon get drunk like Choctaws; it is their habit; and then perhaps I could not save you. Form a line, two by two, keep behind me, close on my heels — no straggling — and I will carry you safe through the British lines to the boat which awaits us." The trembling negroes did as he commanded. Putting himself at their head, he marched toward a company of British soldiers who had been commanded to watch him, and to ascertain if the slaves followed him willingly. As he approached in the full dress of his grade, the soldiers were courteously ordered to present arms. "Don't fire," p535exclaimed the Major, in French, waving his hand in a manner which might be taken for a sign of command, or an acknowledgement for the honors paid to him. "Don't fire, they follow me willingly;" then turning to the negroes, he said, in their corrupt French idiom, which they alone could understand: "You see! they wanted to shoot you and I prevented them. Now, speak your mind. Do you want to come with me? Yes or no." "We want to go with master; we want to go home," shrieked the negroes, huddling round the Major, and almost huddling them in their arms. There was no denying such a manifestation of consent. The Major bowed superbly to the bewildered Britons and marched off. He met on his way several other corps of British troops, and the same scene was reacted with equal success, until he reached his boat and departed in triumph. It is reported that the Major was fond of relating this exploit, of which he was very proud, and would say, on such occasions, with ineffable self-complacency and a dash of contempt: "I taught those thick-witted Englishmen how to interpret a treaty."
The happy effects of peace were soon felt in Louisiana. On the 16th of March, Governor Claiborne wrote to Mr. Monroe, Secretary of War: "Great is the change which the return of peace has already made in this capital (New Orleans). Our harbor is again whitening with canvas; the levee is crowded with cotton, tobacco, and other articles for exportation. The merchant seems delighted with the prospect before him, and the agriculturist finds in the high price for his products new incitements to industry." This war had been conducted on the part of the British with an inhumanity and with a contempt of the usages of civilization which it is the duty of the historian to censure; they had armed negroes and Indians, and had showed a love for devastation p536and plunder which could be expected only from barbarians. In many letters written at the time by British officers, and which fell into the hands of the Americans, that love for plunder is openly developed, and proved beyond contradiction. Colonel Malcolm, in a letter to the Rear-Admiral of that name, expresses his chagrin that his share of the prize-money at St. Mary's "did not exceed five hundred pounds." In another communication of a similar tone from the same to the same, the hope is entertained "that New Orleans will repay the troops for all their trouble and fatigues." Sir Thomas Cochrane laments that St. Mary's was taken two days before his arrival, which, of course, "cut him out of what had been captured." He adds in the same mercenary strain: "It was at first supposed, as is usual on these occasions, that a great deal of money would be made, but if they do clear thirty thousand pounds, it will be as much as they will do." Condoling with Captain Evans on the defeat of the British army at New Orleans, Admiral Cockburn said: "We have been more fortunate here in our small way. We have taken St. Mary's, a tolerably rich place." Another individual writes to Lieutenant Douglas, of the brig Sophia, off New Orleans: "We have had some fine fun and plenty of plunder at St. Mary's. How are you off for tables and chests of drawers, etc."? Here are the words of J. Gallon to J. O'Reilly, of the ship Tonnant, off New Orleans: "We have had fine fun since I saw you. What with the Rappahannock, and various other places, we have contrived to pick up a few trifling things, such as mahogany tables, chests of drawers, etc. One J. R. Glover writes from Cumberland Island, on the 1st of February, to Captain Westful of the Anaconda: "We have established our headquarters here, after ransacking St. Mary's, from which we brought away property to p537the amount of fifty thousand pounds; and had we two thousand troops, we might collect a good harvest before peace takes place." Captain Napier informs Captain Gordon that he has "petitioned the Prince Regent for a good slice of prize-money, and hopes to succeed."
From these specimens of the greedy disposition of the British officers at the time, we can easily imagine what "fine fun" they would have had if they had taken possession of New Orleans, and what would have been the fate of the "chests of drawers," and other valuables of the inhabitants of that city, if they had come in contact with the hands of these gentlemen. It is generally believed in the United States that, on the memorable day of the 8th of January, the parole and countersign of the enemy's army were "booty and beauty." That belief, which contains a most heinous and almost incredible charge against so civilized a nation as Great Britain, is founded partly on the rapacity exhibited, and the brutish depredations committed by the British army wherever it landed in America, and partly on the concurrent report of a great number of the British prisoners and deserters. It is hardly probable that they should have agreed in such an invention. Was it a calumny? In that case, why was not the infamous report contradicted? Why was not the proof of the genuine parole and countersign on that day furnished by the British Government? They must have been easily obtained, for they must have been consigned on the orderly-books of every corps in the army. It was correctly observed at the time, "that the fame of General Packenhamº and his officers, the moral character of the British military, strongly implicated by a charge of this nature, and the honor of the British Government, all imperiously demanded that it be refuted, if capable of refutation;" and yet no such p538attempt was made, although so grave an accusation was blazoned forth in every newspaper and periodical publication in the United States, and thus assumed the authority and importance, as it were, of a national act. Was it beneath the dignity of Great Britain to notice it in the same way through her public press? Could it have been derogatory to a great nation to have disproved an allegation which left a stain on her character, and which was made by her peer in power, in rank, in civilization, and in morality? She has chosen, however, to remain silent; and her silence, when her sensitiveness as to her national honor is so well known, must, under the circumstances we have mentioned, be received as an implied confession of the truth of what was universally believed in America. She has, therefore, no right to complain if American historians record that "booty and beauty" were the parole and countersign given by General Packenham on the 8th of January, when he led his troops to the assault of General Jackson's lines. It is from the fate which such words imply that General Jackson saved New Orleans and so horrible are the scenes which they must conjure up in the imagination of every one, that it is really to be wondered at that the Legislature of Louisiana refused to vote him a sabre, as proposed, and to include him in those thanks which they lavished on every human being who had participated in the defence of New Orleans. Not only had Louisiana been protected against an army of fifteen thousand men, but this large army of veterans had been driven away with a loss of more than four thousand men, whilst our casualties consisted in 55 killed, 185 wounded, 93 missing — grand total, 333. This is an historic fact, as well authenticated as any one of those which are accepted without a doubt; p539and yet it must be confessed that it presents itself in the shape of fiction, although sober truth claims it as belonging to her domain.
So certain of success had the British been when they attacked Louisiana, that they had come ready prepared with all the officers necessary for her civil administration — which shows what we must think of their assertions that they had come to restore to their allies, the Spaniards, a province which they had lost. On the subject of that "certainty" which had possessed itself of the British mind, Colonel Malcolm wrote to Admiral Malcolm: "From all accounts New Orleans is very strong. [. . .] What a disappointment it will be in England, should you fail! The chance of failure has not been calculated on, and from the force employed it has been made too sure at first."
Having dismissed the British, loaded with humiliation instead of that plunder and glory which they had expected, we shall now proceed to record and examine some of the events which had taken place in New Orleans during the invasion, and which we had purposely passed over, with the intention of returning to them after we had done relating in a connected manner the military operations against Louisiana and their conclusion by the treaty of peace.
We have already mentioned in the preceding pages that, on the 28th of December, 1814, in the morning, the halls of the Legislative Assembly had been closed by military authority, and the members prevented from meeting as usual. This order was enforced until the next day, when it was revoked early in the morning, and both Houses permitted to resume their functions. Their first act was to appoint a Joint Committee to inquire into the cause of this extraordinary proceeding, and to ascertain the source from which it had emanated, General p540Jackson was immediately addressed on the subject, and his reply was as follows:
"Camp at Macarty's, 4 miles below New Orleans,
"The Major-General commanding has the honor to acknowledge the receipt of the joint resolution of both Houses of the Hon. the Legislature of the State of Louisiana, now in session, dated the 30th inst., and communicated to him by a Joint Committee of both Houses, to which the General gives the following answer:
"That just after the engagement between the British and American armies had commenced on the 28th inst., when the enemy was advancing, and it was every moment expected they would storm our lines; as the General was riding rapidly from right to left of his line, he was accosted by Mr. Duncan, one of his volunteer Aids, who had just returned from New Orleans. Observing him to be apparently agitated, the General stopped, and, supposing him the bearer of some information of the enemy's movements, asked what was the matter. He replied that he was the bearer of a message from Governor Claiborne that the Assembly were about to give up the country to the enemy. Being asked if he had any letter from the Governor, he answered in the negative. He was then interrogated as to the person from whom he received the intelligence; he said it was from a militia Colonel. The General inquired where this Colonel was; that he ought to be apprehended, and if the information was not true, he ought to be shot, but that the General did not believe it. To this Mr. Duncan replied that the Colonel had returned to New Orleans, and had requested him, Mr. Duncan, to deliver the above message.
"The General was in the act of pushing forward along the line, when Mr. Duncan called after him and said: 'The Governor expects orders what to do.' The General replied that he did not believe the intelligence, but to desire the Governor to make strict inquiry into the subject; and if true, to blow them up. The General pursued his way, and Mr. Duncan returned to the city. After the action, Mr. Duncan returned, and on the General's stating to him the impropriety of delivering such a message — publicly, in the presence of the troops, as well as the improbability of the fact — he excused himself by the great importance of the intelligence; and then, for the first time, the General heard the name of Colonel Declouet as Mr. Duncan's author.
[. . .]
"The above statement the General gives as a substantial one p541of the matter referred to in the Resolutions of the Senate and House of Representatives; and to this he adds, that he gave no order to the Governor to interfere with the Legislature, except as above stated."
The next application for information, on the part of the Committee, was to Governor Claiborne. He replied that he had never sent any message to General Jackson on such a subject, either through Colonel Declouet, or anybody else. On the morning of the 28th, on hearing the discharges of the artillery and musketry, which announced to him that an engagement had begun, the Governor was advancing toward General Jackson's camp with an escort of cavalry, when he met his Aid, Colonel Fortier, who said to him: "Major-General Jackson has received the information that the Legislature is on the point of assembling to give up the country. His orders are that the Governor should immediately close the doors of the State House, surround it with guards, and fire on the members should they persist in assembling." Colonel Fortier said that these orders had been delivered to him by Abner Duncan, one of General Jackson's volunteer Aids. The Governor immediately returned to the city and executed what he believed to be instructions from the Commander-in‑Chief. The Governor expressed his regrets that there should have been an error, or misunderstanding, and that it should have given rise to so grave a measure as a military interference with the functions of the Legislature, but added that, with regard to the part he had taken in it, he confidently believed that, with the information which had been given him, and in the extraordinary circumstances in which the State was placed, he had pursued the course which prudence and duty required;5 for, admitting that the information p542was without real foundation, it was not the less evident that suspicions very injurious to the Legislature had been spread among the public, and that the mere fact of the meeting of the Legislature on that day might, and probably would, have caused some popular commotion, the repression of which would have been difficult. On the other hand, supposing the information to have been well founded, the momentary suspension of the services of the Legislature had then become essential to the safety of the State. Such was the substance of the Governor's declaration made on the 4th of January, and transmitted to the Legislature.
Colonel Fortier related that, on the morning of the 28th, being on his way to our lines, he met Mr. Duncan coming to New Orleans, who said to him: "Have you seen Colonel Declouet? — Yes. — What did he say to you? — Nothing, except that our affairs were going on well at Camp Jackson, and that the British were retiring. — Has he not told you something else? — No. — Do you know if the Legislature is in session? — No. — Do you think that they are to meet to‑day? — I do not know, but I do not believe it; for I saw, not long ago, several members, and among others, Mr. Harper, who was on his way to the camp with his gun." After this Colonel Fortier, as he alleges, received the message which he transmitted to Governor Claiborne.
General Jackson's volunteer Aid, Abner Duncan, seems to have been the cause of the regrettable occurrence which had taken place. He had misapprehended the orders given him, and he had not even carried and reported them as he had understood them to be. According to his own declarations before the Committee, he had met Colonel Declouet, who was coming from the city in p543great haste and in a great state of agitation, and who begged him to inform General Jackson that there was a plan among several members of the Legislature to surrender the country to the enemy, and named the individuals who were engaged in the plot. He admits that Colonel Declouet never told him that he was sent by the Governor, and he avers that he never told General Jackson that the message came from the Governor, "although," he says, "the General seems to have been under that impression at the time." As to General Jackson's orders, he believed them to have been, as far as the agitation in which he was permitted him to understand and remember them: "Tell the Governor to prevent it, and if they attempt it, to blow them up." Even this message he did not transmit faithfully, and he assumed the responsibility of prescribing to Claiborne the measure which was to be taken, instead of leaving what was to be done to the wisdom of that magistrate. If there is any excuse for Mr. Duncan, it must be looked for in the perturbed state of mind in which he confesses to have been. To this cause it must be safe also to attribute the discrepancy existing between General Jackson's circumstantial account and Duncan's declarations.
Colonel Declouet certainly found himself in a very critical situation. According to Duncan's and Davezac's testimony, which is given at length in the report of the Committee of Investigation, he had accused the Legislature of treason; he had accused Guichard, the Speaker of the House, Blanque, Marigny and others who always voted with Blanque, a very influential member of the House, of being at the head of the movement. He had asserted that Guichard had attempted to obtain his co-operation by telling him that General Jackson made war after the Russian fashion, which was to destroy everything rather than give up the possession of the p544country to the British, whilst the enemy would respect property. Major Tully Robinson and Major Tessier also swore that Declouet had mentioned to them Blanque, Guichard and Marigny as using their influence in the Legislature to dispose that body to a capitulation, in order to prevent the destruction of property, "which should not be sacrificed to military pride."
Davezac, one of the voluntary Aids to General Jackson, being at headquarters, conversing with the General a short time after the meeting of Duncan and Declouet which we have related, the latter, accompanied by the former, as Davezac believes, entered the room in which he, Davezac, and the General stood. Declouet, who seemed to labor under some degree of embarrassment, having told the General that he wished to speak with him in private, Davezac was preparing to withdraw, when the General desired him to remain and to serve as interpreter, because he did not understand the French language, which was the only one used by the Colonel. Declouet spoke slowly, and Davezac interpreted each phrase as it came out. The purport of Declouet's communication was as follows: "That since the invasion of the country he had had with one of his friends, a member of the Legislature, a conversation which he considered of the utmost importance." He refused at first to name the individual, but on being assured of secrecy, he declared that it was Mr. Guichard, Speaker of the House of Representatives. After some vague observations relating to the pending hostilities, Mr. Guichard had said with much warmth, "that war, such as it was carried on by General Jackson, was horrible; it was a Russian war; Jackson would destroy everything after the Russian fashion, and was worse than the British." Having observed to Guichard that he did not understand why the Legislature continued in session in such times as these, p545Guichard replied that "it was to save the country, and take proper measures to preserve it from ruin." To this he answered not, but made many reflections which he imparted to a friend, who advised him to discover to General Jackson what he knew. Being still in a state of indecision, during the late attack of the 28th, he had met Duncan, whom he had desired to communicate these facts to General Jackson. What had induced him to take that step was the apprehension that should our army meet with a disaster, the Legislature would treat with the enemy. He stated his private opinion to be, that the feelings and dispositions of the majority of the Legislature agreed with those of Guichard. By the majority, he explained that he meant such members as always voted with Blanque, and composed the French side of the House, with the exception of Rouffignac and Louaillier, who sometimes dissented. He believed that the men he named had sufficient influence to control and lead the Legislature as they wished. Such was, in substance, Davezac's testimony.
On examining all the proceedings of the investigation carried on by the Committee of the Legislature and all the documents annexed to their Report, it seems evident to us that Colonel Declouet had only intended to put secretly General Jackson on his guard against the danger which he apprehended, and had never anticipated his being brought out publicly to confront the Legislature with hostile denunciations against any of its members. Great, therefore, was his embarrassment; he shrank from the dangerous position he was made to take so unwillingly and unexpectedly, and he looked round for some shelter against the storm which he had raised. He denied having accused anybody, either Blanque, Guichard or Marigny; he knew nothing positive; he had no facts to allege; he knew of no plot or well-ascertained design p546to capitulate; no treasonable proposition had been made to him, or, with his knowledge, to any other human being; the tone and tenor of his conversation with his friend Guichard had confirmed and even increased that alarm. He had conceived apprehensions, and those apprehensions he had communicated to General Jackson. But, said the Committee to him, "Since you knew nothing treasonable, on what grounds were your apprehensions founded?" His reply was: "I always apprehended, from the very beginning of the war, a considerable diversity of opinions, a want of unanimity in the Legislature." "Are these sufficient reasons capable of surrendering the country to the enemy?" "I believed that division would prevail among the Legislature as in all deliberative assemblies; and, as I have a right to my apprehensions,6 I feared that the Legislature would capitulate rather than see the city destroyed and sacked; and as by that capitulation I did not see that the war would be terminated, because more troops would come from the upper country to recover the State, I was terrified at the consequences. But I never told anybody that there were traitors in the Legislature." "If the Legislature had put the British in possession of the country, according to those apprehensions which you wished to communicate to General Jackson, would you not have considered the members of the Legislature as traitors?" "If the British had beaten us, I should have feared, as I did fear, a capitulation on the part of the Legislature, for the reasons which I have already given." This was, to use an inelegant but expressive word, dodging the question. But the Colonel was probably anxious not to commit himself any further; the ground on which he stood was sufficiently full of p547perils and enmities. Hence the discrepancies of his statements, as related by himself and by those to whom he had made them; hence the vague nature, the clumsiness of his answers, and the "inconsistencies and absurdities" with which he is taxed in the Report of the Committee. The only individual who was somewhat implicated by anything positive, which Declouet did not deny or retract, was Magloire Guichard, whose conversation, as related by Declouet, was translated by Davezac to Jackson. Guichard was, therefore, interrogated by the Committee as to what had passed between him and Declouet on the day preceding the 28th, when Declouet's apprehensions, after that interview, had become so pressing as to induce him to communicate them to General Jackson.
But before giving the narrative of Guichard, which is of a very striking nature, it is proper to ascertain who this Colonel Declouet was, who had thus been made to assume the attitude of an accuser, face to face with so formidable a body as the Legislature of the State. It is not a little singular that he seems to have been a favorite with that same Legislature, who, a short time before, had voted a stand of colors to his regiment, a favor which, so far as we know, had been granted to no other. In delivering that stand of colors, the Governor had addressed the Colonel in these words:
"In the name and by the authority of the General Assembly, I have the honor to present to your regiment a stand of colors. They will be borne to you by the Adjutant-General, and you will be pleased to receive them as evidence of the highest confidence in the patriotism and valor of yourself and your companions-in‑arms. The regiment under your command is particularly distinguished. It composes the first corps of militia which Louisiana furnished for the service of the great family, to which she is united by the indissoluble ties of interest, affection and gratitude. The occasion which called you to the field was of the greatest importance to your p548country, nor could the zeal and promptitude with which the call was met escape the notice and approbation of your Government. With these sentiments I commit this standard to the protection of your regiment."
This is, certainly, a flattering testimonial by the Legislature and by the Governor of the State to the worth and importance of Colonel Declouet. It will be sufficient to add, that he belonged to one of the oldest and most distinguished families of Louisiana, and that the Committee of Investigation, although censuring him with severity for his groundless and extravagant apprehensions, acknowledged his high social position and his unblemished reputation as a man of honor and integrity.
Let us now see how Magloire Guichard treated such a man, if Guichard's testimony is to be received without full allowance for the ill-concealed irritation which he seems to have felt against Declouet for his disclosures — which irritation may have produced a distempered recollection of what had passed between himself and that individual.
On the 27th of December, in the evening, Guichard was visited by Declouet. "The conversation was entirely carried on by him," says Guichard. "I took very little part in it, if any, and I should be much embarrassed to tell what it was about. About eight o'clock I entered bed-chamber, with the intention of going to bed. He followed me, and said: "Whyº do you go to bed so early?" I replied that, being fatigued, I needed rest, and that when he should be ready to follow my example, he would find his bed ready prepared." There certainly are very few men who, on receiving such an intimidation, would not have retired and left Guichard to himself. Colonel Declouet remained, however, observing "that it was early yet, and that they might still continue to talk a little while." "Very well," replies p549Guichard; "don't mind what I do, and talk as much as you please." Upon this, he unceremoniously undresses himself and goes to bed. Did Declouet cease the monologue with which he is represented having bored his friend since the beginning of the evening? No. "He seated himself by the fireside," says Guichard, "and began to talk — on what — I cannot recollect. What I perfectly recollect is that, as I did not answer, he said to me once or twice: 'You sleep, I believe.' 'No,' I replied, 'go on' — but the fact is that I went to sleep, whilst he was speaking, without my being able to say what he talked about, and when he stopped." This time Declouet retires, not, however, to quit the house in which he was treated with so little consideration, but to accept that bed which Guichard had so pointedly advised him to seek.
On the next morning, at nine o'clock, he is called to breakfast — during which, he asks Guichard why the Legislature had not adjourned. The answer was: "I do not know. After all, there is nothing which I should like better; for my private affairs suffer in consequence of the Legislature continuing to sit." It is strange that the Speaker of the House of Representatives should not have remembered that the Legislature had refused to adjourn for reasons which had been made public and recorded in their journal7 — and of which one was: "That accidents might happen, and unforeseen cases might occur, when the interference of the Legislature might be necessary." To these reasons he might have referred his inquisitive visitor.
The conversation then fell on the invaders of the country and on the attack of the 23d. "I recollect perfectly," continues Guichard, (and it will be observed that he always recollects perfectly what has a p550tendency to make Declouet an object of ridicule or enmity,) "that I expressed to him my surprise that he had not attacked them in the rear.8 I remarked to him that, if he had struck a blow at the British with his five hundred men at the time when our forces from the city were pressing them in the opposite direction, the campaign would have been closed that evening, as they would have surrendered." This reproach must have been keenly felt, for Declouet, to use Guichard's words, pretended to become so desperate as to make a show to pull off his hair, and expressed great regret at not having been master of his own movements on that occasion. He had desired to attack, but General Morgan had not consented; he, however, and the General had, about midnight, made up their minds to reconnoitre a picket of twelve men who fired at them twelve shots, to which they replied with precisely the same number of shots. After this exploit they had retired, and in their retreat, General Morgan, in order to conduct it with more security and celerity, had ordered his men to vault clear over the fences which might be in their way. In so doing, the militia came tumbling upon each other and in such disorder that they could all have been routed or taken, if they had been pursued by a handful of British soldiers who were at a short distance. "Many and deep were his lamentations," says Guichard, "and they provoked my laughter." All these circumstances, Guichard, who had not noticed what Declouet had been talking about for hours, distinctly remembers, for their bearing was to excite the displeasure of General Morgan and of his saltatory militia, and to bring Colonel Declouet before the public in the light of a buffoon who tugged at his p551hair in mimic rage. The personage who had been so burdensome to Guichard had now become amusing; "but," observes Guichard, sarcastically, "as one grows weary of everything,9 I left the table to retire to my chamber and write. I had opened my desk and taken a cigar which I was lighting, when he entered, took a chair, sat by the fire, and, taking hold of my arm, said to me in a friendly and mysterious tone: 'Tell me, my friend, do you believe that the British wish to keep the country for themselves, and that it is in their power to do so? For my part, I do not believe it.' 'Nor I,' replied Guichard. 'It is impossible.' 'How is it reported that they treat the inhabitants below?' added he. 'Do they commit depredations?' 'It is said that they do not,' answered Guichard. 'Besides, they are too politic not to use moderation. It has always been a part of their tactics to present themselves as friends and protectors wherever they go.' "
Guichard's memory, which had been oblivious of so much of Declouet's insignificant and tiresome conversation, now revives, and he is put in mind that his insupportable guest had said: "I do not believe that the British will do any harm. We do worse than they do; for our militia will plunder; they steal all the cows; the planters complain of it." If Declouet held such language, it is impossible to reconcile it with those extreme apprehensions which drove him into the imprudent position which he took the next day, and which had induced him to be so nervously inquisitive, on his visit to Guichard, about the supposed intention of the Legislature to capitulate. Be it as it may, Guichard's mind again loses suddenly its retentive faculties and forgets the rest of Declouet's remarks. Probably they were not of a nature to expose that gentleman to any resentment. "But I p552remember," swears Guichard, "his concluding observation to be that, should the British take the country, and should the Americans retake it, he would be crushed." These scraps of recollection which rise up, by fits and starts, from Guichard's vast fount of oblivion, are so evidently impregnated with venom, that we cannot but receive them with some degree of caution. We almost yield to the suspicion that their object was to turn the tables upon Declouet. "Tell me frankly," continues Declouet, "what you think would happen, if the British succeed?" "I think," replied Guichard, "that the country would be ruined." "He believes," he added, "that he had good reasons to know them, as they had once been the cause of his losing all he had."10
Here Guichard attempts again to get rid of Colonel Declouet, as he had attempted more than once before, and betakes himself to his desk. The imperturbable Declouet, nothing abashed, takes his stand before the fireplace, and for the second time asks Guichard why the Legislature does not adjourn? "I have already told you," replies Guichard, "that I do not know, and that I could not know the opinion of all the members who compose it. Why, and always why! And why (since you are so fond of why) did you not co-operate in repulsing the enemy on the evening of the first attack? You would have added to the glory of the American arms; instead of which, you have left the inhabitants of the country exposed to be sacrificed." Why such a question should have been so unpalatable to Guichard, why it should have produced such an ebullition of temper, remains to be explained. "At this point of the interview there was a pause," observes Guichard; and well might there be a pause; for it is incredible that Guichard's deportment p553had not compelled Declouet, to put an end to his visit long before. But it seems that there was merely a "pause," during which Declouet, who may be supposed to have been stunned, probably took breath. "The why came back again," says Guichard: "Why these nocturnal meetings? Why those secret sessions? Guichard does not answer, but shrugs up his shoulders. "Why, when the Governor wished you to adjourn, did you not comply with his request? Tell me what it means. There must be something in it. Why did you give no answer to his message?" "You are insane, I believe," exclaims Guichard, with what he takes care to call "an air of contemptuous commiseration."11 "Is the Legislature the creation of the Governor, and to obey his whims? Finally, all these whys weary and displease me." Captain Declouet, whose openly professed friendship for Guichard must be supposed to be the cause which prevented him from taking offence at these repeated acts of rudeness, meets this unkind retort with these deprecating words: "What I say does not apply to you; for nobody renders more justice to your character, and loves you more than I do. But there are in that Legislature so many intriguers, who would like to usurp authority, or set the country topsy-turvy, that I have my misgivings. The Legislature can have no reason for not adjourning, and cannot but have suspicious intentions when refusing to do so. It is I who tell you so." "On hearing this remark," relates Guichard, "I left my desk abruptly,12 and said with bad-humor to Declouet: 'You will always be the same; you never will part with your suspicions;' and borrowing his own manner and tone when making his last remark, I said that the Legislature p554was to be the people's sentinel, and should be ready in these critical times to take such measures as the calamities of the war and other circumstances might render necessary. But, I added, to cut the matter short, let us break off here." Not contenting himself with thus closing the door to further conversation, Guichard went back to his desk, as he declares, took his hat, and left his bed-chamber to the sole possession of Declouet.
It results from this circumstantial narrative made by Guichard, that he denies the language attributed to him by Declouet. Which spoke the truth? Without deciding this question, it is evident that the interview, even admitting to have been as Guichard represents it in all its details, increased instead of allaying Declouet's apprehensions, and induced him to communicate them to General Jackson. The testimony of Guichard closed the evidence which was laid before the Joint Committee of Investigation, who, in their Report, declared, as the conclusions they had come to, that there had not existed the slightest cause for the measure which had been taken against the Legislature; that military orders had been issued to close their doors without the faintest proof establishing any guilt on their part; finally, that so violent a proceeding had been resorted to with little foundation; that Abner Duncan had perverted the orders he had received, and had been the sole cause of the incredible and unprecedented outrage which had been committed; that, as to the message sent by Jackson to Claiborne, "it had been dictated by prudence itself; that a Republican, a military man, who finds himself at the head of an army, in the midst of a battle on which depends perhaps the fate of the country whose defences had been intrusted to him, and who receives such information as was conveyed to him by Mr. Duncan, could not have held a language more discreet, p555nor more characteristic of his love for his country; that the conduct of Declouet had been extravagant, and his declarations full of inconsistencies, contradictions and absurdities; that he had yielded to chimerical apprehensions, and to that miserable mania which some people have of seeking to make themselves important near those who are in power, of pretending to penetrate into the minds of men and envenoming their word; that Governor Claiborne had sent no message to General Jackson in relation to any intended capitulation on the part of the Legislature; that, if the order he had received had emanated from the General, nothing ought to have induced him to execute it;º that the Committee had seen with extreme surprise the course pursued by him; that his paramount duties were those he had assumed toward the State and her Constitution; and that it was evident that he could not obey those orders without violating the oath he had taken to support that Constitution. This Report was presented and unanimously adopted on the 6th of February.
On the same day, Governor Claiborne transmitted to the Legislature the following letter, which he had received from General Jackson:13
"Sir: The Legislature of your State being on the eve of closing their labors, it is necessary, as much for the honor of the members of that body, as for the interest of those whose defence is intrusted to me, that I should take cognizance of the different testimonies and other documents which have been collected by the Committee instructed to investigate the causes of proceedings, which, on the 28th of December, had a tendency to produce an accusation of treason against that body. If so grave an accusation has been unjustly brought by any one of the officers of my army, he must be immediately prosecuted, and the innocence of every member of the Assembly whom he has so shamefully calumniated must be p556made public. On the other hand, if this denunciation can be justified by proofs against such of the members as it may concern, it is equally necessary that they should be prosecuted without delay, in order that the guilty may be punished and the innocent sheltered against any suspicion. Were it possible for me to obtain all that part of the proceedings of the General Assembly which relates to this matter, I might perhaps cease to find myself under the necessity of making an inquest which now seems to me exceedingly important."
The Legislature immediately voted that a copy of this Report, and of the documents annexed to it be transmitted to General Jackson by the Secretary of the Senate, and adjourned sine die. It does not appear that, after receiving that copy, General Jackson thought it advisable to take further action in the matter.
That adjournment had not taken place without voting thanks to all those who had in the slightest degree contributed to the defence of the State, except General Jackson. A Resolution to present him with a sabre of the value of $800, as a testimonial of gratitude on the part of the State, had passed the House of Representatives, but had been rejected by the Senate. Yet that very same Legislature had, on the 1st of December, 1814, voted thanks to General Jackson for the "great and important services" which he had rendered out of the State! His subsequent services in the State, which were incomparably greater and more important, they chose to pass over in silence! We had adopted the popular impression that this remarkable silence had been observed by the Legislature in consequence of the offensive orders issued against that body on the 28th of December, but on examination we soon discovered our error; for instead of being blamed, he was, as we have shown, unanimously praised and approved for the message which he had sent to Claiborne on that occasion.14 p557Why, therefore, was the name of the savior of Louisiana so strikingly omitted in those resolutions of thanks which embraced the names of Generals Coffee, Carroll, Thomas, Adair, and others much less conspicuous than the Commander-in‑Chief? We cannot but feel that it is a curious subject of inquiry. General Coffee, in his reply, took notice of that glaring omission:
"To know," he said, "that we have contributed in any degree to the preservation of our country, is to myself and the brave men under my immediate command a source of the most pleasing reflection. To have received so flattering and distinguished a testimonial of our services adds to the pleasure which that consciousness alone would have afforded.
"While we indulge the pleasing emotions that are thus produced, we should be guilty of great injustice, as well to merit as to our own feelings, if we withheld from the Commander-in‑Chief, to whose wisdom and exertions we are so much indebted for our success, the expression of our highest admiration and applause. To his firmness, his skill, his gallantry, to that confidence and unanimity among all ranks produced by those qualities, we must chiefly ascribe the splendid victories in which we esteem it a happiness and an honor to have borne a part."
This was an indirect but keen rebuke. We cannot but think that it would have better comported with the dignity of the Legislature to have shown a proper sense of the services of General Jackson, and, at the same time, expressed the censure or disapprobation which they might have thought that any of his acts deserved. As it is, we are left to our conjectures. Can it be permitted to suppose that, whilst they solemnly acquitted him of all blame, and even lauded him for the propriety of his message to Claiborne on the 28th, they secretly nourished feelings of resentment? Was it because they believed that the General had not sufficiently appreciated the zeal of the Louisianians in the defence of their country? The pages of this History establish that his heart was full of gratitude for their patriotic co-operation p558in every possible way, and that he had expressed it in energetic and beautiful language in more than one official document. Even a few days before the adjournment of the Legislature he had written, on the 27th of January, to Nicolas Girod, the Mayor of New Orleans, the following letter, which ought to have removed any such impression, if it had ever existed in the mind of anybody:
"Sir: Deeply impressed since my arrival with the unanimity and patriotic zeal displayed by the citizens over whom you so worthily preside, I should be inexcusable if any other occupation than that of providing for their defence had prevented my public acknowledgments of their merits. I pray you now to communicate to the inhabitants of your respectable city the exalted sense I entertain of their patriotism, love of order, and attachment to the principles of our excellent Constitution. The courage they have shown in a period of no common danger, and the fortitude with which they have rejected all the apprehensions which the vicinity of the enemy was calculated to produce, were not more to be admired than their humane attention to our own sick and wounded, as well as those of that description among the prisoners. The liberality with which their representatives in the City Council provided for the families of those who were in the field evinced an enlightened humanity, and was productive of the most beneficial effects. Seldom in any community has so much cause been given for deserved praise; while the young were in the field and arrested the progress of the foe, the aged watched over the city, and maintained its internal peace; and even the softer sex encouraged their husbands and brothers to remain at the post of danger and duty. Not content with exerting for the noblest purpose that powerful influence which is given them by nature (and which in your countrywomenº is rendered irresistible by accomplishments and beauty), they showed themselves capable of higher efforts, and, actuated by humanity and patriotism, they clothed by their own labor, and protected from the inclemency of the season, the men who had marched from a distant State to guard them from insults. In the name of those brave men, I beg you, Sir, to convey to them the tribute of our admiration and thanks; assure them that the distant wives and daughters of those whom they have succored will remember them in their prayers; and that, for myself, no circumstance of this important campaign p559touches me with more exquisite pleasure than that I have been enabled to lead back to them, with so few exceptions, the husbands, brothers, and other relatives of whom such women only are worthy.
"I anticipate, Sir, with great satisfaction, the period when the final departure of the enemy will enable you to resume the ordinary functions of your office and restore the citizens to their usual occupations — they have merited the blessings of peace by bravely facing the dangers of war.
"I should be ungrateful or insensible, if I did not acknowledge the marks of confidence and affectionate attachment with which I have personally been honored by your citizens; a confidence which has enabled me with greater success to direct the measures for their defence; an attachment which I sincerely reciprocate, and which I shall carry with me to the grave.
"For yourself, Mr. Mayor, I pray you to accept my thanks for the very great zeal, integrity, and diligence with which you have conducted the arduous department of the police committed to your care, and the promptitude with which every requisition for the public service has been carried into effect.
"Connected with the United States, your city must become the greatest emporium of commerce that the world has known. In the hands of any other power it can be nothing but a wretched colony. May your citizens always be as sensible of this great truth as they have shown themselves at present; may they always make equal efforts to preserve this important connection, and may you, Sir, long live to witness the prosperity, wealth and happiness that will then inevitably characterize the great sea-port of the Western world."
Certainly, this eloquent tribute to the merits of the citizens of New Orleans must have more than surpassed the expectations of the most exacting. To some other cause, therefore, than the want of a just appreciation of the Louisianians on the part of General Jackson, must the feelings of the Legislature against him be attributed. Can such deep resentment have been produced by so trifling a cause as General Jackson's answer to a communication by Claiborne in relation to the discharge of some of the militia from military duty? "Applications p560being hourly addressed to me," wrote Claiborne to Jackson on the 31st of January, "by the militia officers of the State to learn the disposition to be made of the various detachments now at this place, and finding a wish very general on the part of the citizens to return to their respective homes, I take the liberty to ask whether, in your judgment, the services of the whole, or what part of the militia of the State now in the service of the United States, can be dispensed with, and at what period." Major Butler answered in the name of Jackson: "The15 Major-General requests me to announce to you that, as long as the enemy shall be within six hours' sail of New Orleans, no part of the militia shall be dismissed; and that they should not apply for it under such circumstances." This correspondence was, on the same day, laid before the Legislature by Claiborne, but we do not feel justified looking to this refusal for the explanation which we desire, as the effect would be too disproportionate to the cause; and yet we do not find anything else on record to which we might turn for a solution of the difficulty. In the absence of any positive evidence, we shall resort, as we have already said, to conjectures founded on what we believe to be logical and impartial deductions.
We have seen, in the course of this History, that there had been no harmonious concert of action between the Governor and the Legislature, and that this officer, even before Jackson had set his foot on the soil of Louisiana, had, in his correspondence with him, used language which showed his apprehensions that the Legislature would do more harm than good during the impending crisis. For this reason, perhaps, if not for others, Jackson and Claiborne, as soon as Louisiana had been actually invaded, had desired the adjournment of that body. p561Besides, it was thought both by Jackson and Claiborne that the enemy being within •six miles of the capital, the presence of the members of the General Assembly would be more useful in the field in front of the invaders than in the halls of legislation. Such had been the opinion of several of the members themselves, who had left their seats and had repaired to the camp of General Jackson. The majority, however, had decided otherwise, and soon discovered that their decision had been disapproved, not only by the Chief Magistrate of the State, not only by the Federal Commander-in‑Chief, to whom their defence had been intrusted, but also by a considerable portion of the public and of the army. It is not in the nature of man to feel amiably toward those by whom he suspects that he is censured. Hence a degree of restive sensitiveness on the part of some of them, as strikingly evinced in the interview between Guichard and Declouet, when the propriety of their motives for not adjourning seemed to be questioned. It must be recollected that one of their reasons16 for continuing in session was, "that contingencies might happen and unforeseen cases might occur, when the interference of the Legislature might be necessary." Could it be a matter of astonishment, had those who were dissatisfied with the refusal of the Legislature to adjourn, whispered that there was some definite and dark purpose concealed under the vague meaning of these words? Martial law had been proclaimed; the guns of the enemy were thundering at the gates of the besieged city. What could be those "contingencies," what could be those "unforeseen cases" which might require the "interference" of the Legislature? Interference in what? interference with whom in such critical times? Was not everything in the hands of the Commander-in‑Chief? Hence unfounded suspicions may have arisen; p562they may have been expressed, or guessed at; and the consequence was some soreness on the part of the Legislature, who thought themselves unjustly treated. Such was the state of things when, on the 23d, during the battle, or shortly before, it was reported that General Jackson, if defeated, would destroy the city. It created great consternation;17 the lamentations were loud; the censure of General Jackson's defensive measures was unsparing; the doubts as to his capacity for command were not concealed; and the cry that he was conducting war after the Russian or Barbarian fashion was raised. Application was made to Major Butler, who had been left in command of the city, to know the truth of the report; he refused to admit or to deny it; this increased the alarm. It is not unusual to imagine that some of the members of the Legislature, witnessing the terror of many of their constituents, and perhaps trembling for the safety of their families and property in the midst of a general conflagration, may have blamed the supposed determination of General Jackson, and that their expressions of censure or dissent may have been spread among the public in a distorted sense, and reported with exaggerations to General Jackson, engendering feelings of an unpleasant nature. We fancy that we can trace up to the refusal to adjourn and to the report that the city was to be destroyed in case of a disaster to the American arms, the origin of the mutual distrust and estrangement which sprang up between General Jackson and the Legislature.
In a letter written nine years after, on the 22d of March, 1824, General Jackson said:
"When I left the city and marched against the enemy on the night of the 23d of December, 1814, I was obliged to leave one of my aids in command, having no other confidential officer that could p563be spared from command. A few days after, Mr. Skipwith, in person, applied to my Aid to be informed what would be my conduct, if driven from my lines of defence, and compelled to retreat through New Orleans — whether I would leave the supplies for the enemy or destroy them? As reported by my Aid to me, he wanted this information for the Assembly, that, in case my intention was to destroy, they might make terms with the enemy. Obtaining no satisfaction from my Aid, a Committee of three waited on me for satisfaction on this subject.º To them I replied: 'If I thought the hair of my head knew my thoughts, I would cut it off or burn it' — to return to their honorable body, and to say to them from me, that if I was to be so unfortunate as to be driven from the lines I then occupied, and compelled to retreat through New Orleans, they would have a warm session of it."
Skipwith, who was President of the Senate in 1815, noticed these charges by publishing the following address to General Jackson:
"It was on one of the nights about the time alluded to by Major Butler, that, returning from patrol duty from the ground round of the city, in passing, and seeing lights in the house of Mrs. F–––––, an old and much respected acquaintance of mine, and a great admirer of yours, I called in to pay her my respects, and found with her another very interesting lady, Mrs. E–––––, who, in the course of her conversation, mentioned a report, as circulated in the city, I think she said, by some Kentuckians just from your lines of defence, that, if forced, you would destroy rather than see the city fall into the hands of the enemy. A day or two after, at the request of the military council of the City Guard, of which I was a member, I waited on Major Butler concerning a citizen under arrest, and not directly or indirectly charged with anything concerning that report; and being asked by him, 'if there was anything new in the city,' I remember replying that such was the report 'among women.' Conscious, General, of having, through life, treated the names and characters of married ladies with the most scrupulous caution and respect, I cannot believe that I mentioned the names of the two ladies, between whom I heard the report; and never having, at any time, attached to it myself either belief or importance, I could not have made it a subject of serious communication to the Senate, to the Military Council, or to any member of them, individually. I am willing, therefore, to rest the truth of my assertions, p564in repelling this most slanderous and bolstered charge of yours, and consequently its utter falsehood, as far as it criminates my conduct and views, on the testimony not only of the remaining individuals who composed the Senate and the Military Council, but on the testimony of any two or three remaining individuals in society, who were eye-witnesses of my conduct at the invasion of New Orleans, and whose oaths would be respected by a well-composed jury of their vicinity.
"I may well, then, Sir, pronounce this last charge of yours to be false, utterly false, as applying to me individually, or to the Senate over which I presided, or to the military Council of which I was a member, and deny that the most distant hint, or wish, was ever expressed in any of their deliberations, or in private, by any one of their members with my knowledge, or within my hearing, 'to make terms with the enemy.' And more false, if possible, is it still, that the Legislature should, with my consent or connivance, depute a Committee to wait on you on that subject, or on any other during the invasion, in which I had any agency, that was not founded, in my humble estimation at least, on principles of patriotism and honor. I may, therefore, hope to find indulgence in every honest breast for having expressed, in some degree, the profound contempt which this charge so justly merits, and which it is impossible for me, with life, to cease to feel."
On reading Skipwith's letter to General Jackson, Thibodaux,º who was a member of the Senate at the time, and a man of great political influence, addressed to Skipwith a communication, in which he said that the notoriously ungenerous and unmerited accusation which had been cast upon the whole Legislature of Louisiana, and particularly upon the Senate, by General Jackson, was, in his humble opinion, such as ought to be taken up and repelled with the indignation it really deserves.
"This charge," he added, "was not laid upon you alone, but it embraces the whole Senate. Could you not, Sir, as being then the President of that honorable body, could you not, with propriety, call upon the members who were sitting with you, and prevail upon them to join in clearing, through the same medium that was made use of, those shameful stains with which that body was stigmatized? And would it not be but fair if this infamous calumny recoiled p565toward its source and against its very author. A supine silence appears to operate on the part of the members of the General Assembly as a conviction of the truth of the accusation; and this opinion, as you may know yourself, is circulating in the public by the exertions of the General's friends. I beg leave to be excused for attempting to suggest the right course you have to follow. These are the dictates of a heart indignantly offended at the rash attack of the General, and, although it does not fall upon me directly (for you will recollect I was on active service), it rebounds upon me very heavily, and wounds me to the very heart's core."
Without attempting to reconcile the conflicting assertions of Major Butler and General Jackson, with the denegations of Skipwith and Thibodeau,º we think that we have now sufficient light before us to review understandingly the extraordinary proceedings which took place on the 28th of December, and to discover the cause of the secret feeling of hostility existing between the Legislature and General Jackson. After much reflection and patient examination we have come to the gratifying conclusion that the Legislature of the State, including all its members, and, among others, those influential leaders, Blanque, Marigny and Guichard, whose names are mentioned in the testimony of Declouet and other witnesses before the Committee of Investigation, acted with undeviating patriotism, and that, after the arrival of General Jackson, they had, as a body and individually, done all that could be expected of them to secure the defence of the State. Blanque, in particular, had, on the 15th of December, introduced into the House of Representatives this short spirited address to the citizens of that State of Louisiana, which had been enthusiastically adopted:
"Your country is in danger; the enemy is at your doors; the frontiers of the State are invaded. Your country expects of you the greatest efforts to repulse the bold enemy who threatens to penetrate, in a few days, to the very hearth-stones of your homes; the safety of your persons, that of your property, of your p566wives and children, yet depends on you. Rush to arms, fellow-citizens, enlist promptly under the banner of General Jackson, of that brave chief who is to command you; give him all your confidence; the successes he has already obtained assure you that to march under his standards is to march to victory. There is no longer any alternative; dear fellow-citizens, we must defend ourselves; we must conquer, or we must be trampled under the feet of a cruel and implacable enemy, whose known excesses will be as nothing when compared with those which he will perpetrate in our unfortunate country. To arms! Let us precipitate ourselves upon the enemy; let us save from his cruelty, from his barbarous outrages all that is dear to us, all that can bind us to life. Your Representatives have supplied the Executive with all the pecuniary means which he required of them for the defence of the State, and they will give you the example of the devotion which they expect of you."
It was to Blanque that Lafitte had appealed when he wished to offer his services and those of his companions to the State, and it was because he knew the undoubted devotion of that gentleman to the cause which he, Lafitte, desired to be permitted to embrace.
We say with a feeling of legitimate pride, that after having made the most minute researches, we have not been able to discover the slightest proof that the Legislature ever entertained treasonable purposes, or that any member of that body ever thought of "making terms with the enemy," as long as all the means of the most obstinate defence should not have been exhausted. But, at the same time, it is not equally demonstrated to us that there were not many members of the Legislature in favor of capitulating, when capitulation could have been honorably made, rather than destroying New Orleans and exposing its numerous population to all the horrors which would have been the consequence of such an act. They may have thought that the destruction of that city would not have answered the same purpose which had been obtained by the conflagration of Moscow, because p567it would have been done under different circumstances. It is probable that, entertaining such views, and whilst in a state of excitement which was but too natural, on witnessing the agonies of terror which prevailed in New Orleans when the uncontradicted report spread that the city was to be set on fire in case of a defeat, some of them, by words or actions which were misconstrued, gave rise to those suspicions which we have found existing against them to an extraordinary extent, as we shall show. That one man, that Declouet should have been visionary and should have taken as realities the dreams of his own over heated imagination, we admit to be possible; but it seems to us totally inexplicable that the same delusion should have been shared by so many others, if there had not been some grounds for its existence. If the refusal to adjourn had not been interpreted in a manner as injurious to the Legislature as represented by Declouet, if those suspicious nocturnal meetings, those secret sessions with which he taxed them when addressing the very head of one of the Houses, had never been held, how comes this dreamer to have obtained such credit with Duncan, a distinguished member of the New Orleans Bar and an Aid to General Jackson, when he was understood to accuse the Legislature of treason? Would Duncan have been thrown into a violent state of agitation? Would he have given faith to such a charge, would he have admitted the possibility of such an event, had he not been disposed to it by something antecedent? In a matter of this importance, would General Jackson have acted on a mere verbal message delivered to his Aid by a militia Colonel whose name he, Jackson, did not even know at the time? Would he not have scouted at so startling an intelligence brought to him in this loose manner, if he had had full confidence in the Legislature? Would he have ordered to make p568strict inquiry into a fact which he would have thought impossible, and which he did not believe? Would he have empowered the Governor, whom he understood to be the accuser of the Legislature, to become also their judge, to pass sentence on their guilt, and to "blow them up," if he had not been laboring under a degree of indignant excitement which blinded his reason, and which shows that he did not altogether discredit, as he pretended, the probability of the event? Are we not warranted in believing that we interpret correctly the state of his mind on that occasion when we take into consideration his letter of the 22d March, 1824, which informs us of what occurred between the President of the Senate and Butler, and between a Committee of the Legislature and himself in relation to their "making terms with the enemy?"
Colonel Fortier, Governor Claiborne's Aid, a native of the State, a man of extensive family connections, who had friends and relations in that Legislature, does not show any astonishment at the wonderful message of which Duncan is the bearer. He transmits it without doubts, remarks or comments of any kind, as far as we know. The Governor is startled, it is true, as we are informed, but consents to execute, in clear violation of his official oath, and against those whom it was his duty to protect, the mere verbal order of a Federal officer, which might have been altered or modified in passing through the lips of two different persons — and what an order! to prevent by force the meeting of the Representatives of that sovereign State of which he was the Chief Magistrate! Could anything so monstrous have happened without foundation; and, if that foundation was laid in error, was there not something plausible, or having the color of truth, for that error or delusion to stand upon? General Labatut, a State officer, who commanded the p569corps of veterans to whom the guard of the city had been intrusted, receives the Governor's mandate to close the doors of the State House, and to fire at the members of the Legislature if they attempt to meet notwithstanding his prohibition, and he obeys with as little hesitation as if he had been commanded to pass a review according to law; he obeys it as readily as Harrison and Worsley, when, at the beck of Cromwell, they caused the British Parliament to be thrust out of doors by a file of musketeers. If there had not been something in the public mind against that guiltless but unfortunate Legislature, would Labatut, the kindest and mildest of men, a respectable and peaceful merchant of the city, have accepted the responsibility of a measure, for which there were then but two precedents in history? Would he have shown the unreasoning obedience of a janissary? Would the Governor himself, who did not leave behind him the reputation of a rash man, and whose desire for popularity was said to be the weak part of his character, have dared to justify that measure in a special message to the Legislature — in which he said "he had pursued the course which prudence and duty required?"18 Would he, whom his very friends accused of shrinking too much from taking responsibilities, have assumed one of this frightful magnitude without feeling sure that there was a condition of things existing which would shelter him from all consequences? Would he have boldly told the Legislature themselves, "that so much suspected were their intentions by the public, that had they met on the 28th there might have been a popular commotion which he could not have repressed?" If these facts had not been true, or had been even doubtful, would he have ventured to assert them in an official document destined for publication? Would not the Legislature, between p570whom and him there never had existed any very good understanding, have turned upon him and crushed him for inventions of so calumnious a nature? Would they not have arraigned the Governor at their bar? Would they not have insisted upon a retractation? Would they have permitted his communication to have remained unexplained, unanswered, on their records, as an eternal proof of their tacit assent to the truth of his declarations? Can we admit that mere slanderous accusations, without at least some superficial appearances of fact to rest upon, would have produced among the people such a state of distrust of the Legislature as is described by the Governor — a Legislature composed, almost without an exception, of men of high social positions, and whose personal influence throughout the State must have been greater than that of their calumniators? It is commonly said, in familiar parlance, that there never is smoke without fire. On this occasion, as there was no little smoke, there must have been some sparks of fire.
The truth was, we suspect, as we have already said, that there were some members of the Legislature who, after having exhausted all means of defence, and after having made all the necessary efforts to repulse the enemy from New Orleans, were in favor of a capitulation, if it could be made honorably, rather than of destroying the city, because they considered that destruction would have no practical and advantageous results, and wouldº be a "mere sacrifice to military pride." We are confirmed in coming to this conclusion by the following language which we find in the Report of the Committee of Inquest: "It is glorious, no doubt, for citizens to bury themselves under the ruins of their city rather than surrender it to the enemy; but that man never was reputed a traitor who, no longer able to resist a barbarous and triumphant enemy, has sought, by an honorable p571capitulation, to preserve for his children the roof under which they were born." Such may have been the dominant idea in the mind of more than one of the members of the Legislature. Accordingly, those whose views agreed on the subject may have met to consult together and attempt to devise some means, legal in their opinion, by which they might prevent the calamity they dreaded. They might have considered it as one of those "contingencies and unforeseen cases which they said might arise and might require the interference of the Legislature," and to meet which they had refused to adjourn, when desired to do so by Claiborne and Jackson. Those members may, in an informal way, have sent a Committee to wait on General Jackson, to know his real intentions, as he mentions in his letter of the 22d of May, 1824; and as this may not have been done in any of their regular sessions, either public or secret, according to official forms, but in one of those irregular meetings which are frequently preparatory to legislative action, it is not astonishing if no record was kept of such proceedings in their journals. Their object may have been to capitulate after a disaster, and the public, alarmed at what may have appeared to be indications or symptoms of disaffection, agitated by the reports of secret sessions, misconstruing ambiguous expressions, exaggerating the import of hasty words of passion or vague threats, may have supposed that the intention of the suspected members was to capitulate before a disaster — which was very materially different. Hence the public excitement; hence the strange declaration of Claiborne to the Legislature: "If you had met on the 28th of December, there probably would have been a popular commotion which it might have been impossible to repress."
Although there might have existed, and, according to Claiborne's positive and official declaration, there did p572exist, among the public considerable apprehensions that the Legislature entertained some mischievous purposes of capitulation, whilst our forces were still confronting defiantly the enemy, and although these apprehensions can be easily conceived, because in days of great and imminent danger the masses seldom reason and are carried away by impulses, yet we do not believe that General Jackson anticipated any such action on the part of the Legislature, because something like absolute impossibility would have stood in their way. It was evident that as long as his army remained intact between New Orleans and the enemy, the Legislature, if unpatriotic and ill-disposed, could not treat with the enemy without his consent, even if they had possessed the competent authority. But he probably knew that he was bitterly censured for his supposed intention to destroy the city, rather than allow the British to take possession of it; he may have believed in a disposition, on the part of certain members of the Legislature, to attempt to frustrate that design in case of a disaster to his army; and he may have looked upon it in a very different light from what they did. They thought, as expressed in the Report of the Committee of Inquest, that it was no treason. He may have thought it was. He may have thought that, as Commander-in‑Chief of the forces of the United States, he was the sole authority to decide whether or not the destruction of New Orleans was a military necessity; that he was in duty bound to assume that responsibility; and that actual resistance to any of his military measures would be treason. Although the members of the Legislature who may have been opposed to what was called making war "after the Russian fashion," may not have been able to agree to any feasible plan to prevent Jackson from carrying into execution his supposed determination to imitate in New Orleans the conflagration of Moscow, p573yet their intention may have been known at headquarters, and they may have been looked upon as contingent traitors. Otherwise, how came Jackson to send them this stern message: "Tell them that if I am so unfortunate as to be driven from the lines I now occupy, and compelled to retreat through New Orleans, they will have a warm session of it?" Certainly, this was not the friendly language of confidence and esteem; it rather sounded like the warning threat of angry distrust. If such a message was sent and carried to its destination, it explains that secret state of feeling which prevented any vote of thanks to General Jackson, although he was publicly acquitted of all improper interference with the Legislature on the 28th of December, and even praised by that body for the discretion and patriotism which he exhibited on that occasion. If the deductions which we have drawn from the facts we have stated are not correct, we do not see how it is possible to account, in any rational way, for the mysterious historical anomaly which we have recorded.
We regret that the Legislature, at the time, did not act with a foresight, a firmness and a dignity which would have redounded to their credit, and would have freed them from unworthy suspicions. We think that, if they had attached any importance to the report that General Jackson intended to reduce New Orleans to ashes in case of he retreated through that city, they might with propriety, in one of their public sessions, have appointed a Committee to ascertain what truth there was in it, in order, not to "make terms with the enemy," but to provide for the removal of the numerous women, children, and old men whom New Orleans contained, and to make arrangements to procure for them food and shelter in the interior of the country; they might have represented that such had been the precautions taken in p574Russia, and that Moscow had been deserted by its population before it was burned. We believe that this would have been a legitimate interference, and would not have been looked upon by Jackson as exceeding their proper sphere of action. We are under the impression that, whilst assuring the General that they were still disposed to co-operate with him as they had previously done, to the full extent of the resources of the State, and ready to make every sacrifice which patriotism might require, and whilst disclaiming all idea of entering into any conflict with the exercise of his military authority, and leaving with him all the unrestrained responsibilities of his acts as Commander-in‑Chief, they might have remonstrated with him on his determination to destroy New Orleans, as not being in their opinion an imperious necessity of defence, and as a measure which would have inflicted on the community incalculable losses and sufferings without adequate results. Such a course, which would have threatened no resistance to what he might ultimately decide, would have entitled them to his respect and confidence, to the commendation of the world, and might have strengthened their rights to claim afterwards from the United States a full compensation for the wanton destruction of their property. Such proceedings, held openly, in broad daylight, conducted with moderation and with the deference due to him who was intrusted with the defence of the State, might, if it could not have prevented the dreaded calamity, have put it beyond the power of their enemies to misrepresent their intentions.
Much as we admire General Jackson, we cannot coincide with the Legislature in commending him for the "prudence, patriotism and propriety" of his message to Claiborne on the 28th of December — a message which he sent on the mere information of a militia colonel p575whose name he did not even know at the time. The General understood the Governor to accuse the Legislature of treason, and what was his order? "Tell the Governor to make strict inquiry into the subject; and, if true, to blow them up," — which meant: tell the Governor that I empower him to decide if his own accusation is well founded, and in that case to apply the penalty which I decree — "blow them up." We suspect that Duncan, who was a lawyer, and understood the rights of the accused, was struck with the monstrosity of the order of which he was the bearer. He well knew that if the members of the Legislature were guilty of treason, if they had committed any overt act, they might be arrested, but that they were entitled to trial, and that the Governor of the State was not the competent tribunal before which that trial could take place. He knew very well that if, on the other hand, they had not committed any overt act, but merely meditated treason, they might be prevented from carrying their purposes into execution, but that they could not be punished for a mere intention. Hence his changing of the order, according to all probabilities, and his merely "requesting the Governor to prevent the Legislature from meeting in order to ward off the anticipated evil."19
We cannot but remember that General Jackson, when he gave his celebrated order, had received the information which provoked it, within the hearing of his troops and in the midst of a battle, and we are willing, therefore, to make ample allowances for the circumstances in which he was placed. Nevertheless, we think that the Legislature ought to have protested in suitable terms against his message to Claiborne, as being wrong in itself and as establishing a dangerous precedent, and that, at the same time, they ought to have had the magnanimity p576and justice to vote him thanks and the proper testimonials of gratitude he was entitled to for his military services. We think that, on receiving communication of Jackson's letter to Claiborne, on the 6th of February, in which he expressed the opinion that it was "as much for the honor of the members of the Legislature as for the interest of those whose defence was intrusted to him" that he should proceed to an investigation of the causes which had led to an accusation of treason against their body, they ought to have shown their gratification at his determination, and instead of contenting themselves with coldly sending to him a copy of the proceedings of their Committee, they ought to have expressed the wish that he should go on with his own investigation, in order, as he said, "that if any officer of his army had unjustly brought such an accusation, he should be punished as he deserved, and the innocence of the calumniated be made manifest; and on the other hand, if the charges were well founded against some members of the Legislature, that they should be prosecuted, and the rest sheltered against further suspicion." They might have made their position still stronger by appointing a Committee to join and assist him in his investigation. If such an attitude had been taken by them, they would not have made themselves liable to Thibodeau'sº reproach in his letter to Skipwith: "that a supine silence appears to operate on the members of the General Assembly as a conviction of the truth of the accusation."
We think that the mild censure which the Legislature passed on Governor Claiborne for his blind and unconstitutional obedience to Jackson on the 28th was not sufficient. We think that they ought to have demanded of him full and satisfactory explanations about the contents of his communication to them, of the 4th of January; p577we think that they ought to have appointed a Committee to inquire into the causes of the suspicions which, according to the Governor's assertions, had taken such root in the public mind as to work injuriously to their character and their usefulness as Representatives of the people, and which had prevailed to such an extent that, "had they met on the 28th, a popular commotion might have taken place." It would also have been necessary to have had it explained why they had been made more obnoxious on that day than on any other. If the Legislature had pursued such a course, they could not have been exposed to any painful suspicions; or those suspicions, if they had existed, would have been instantly removed; and we should have been spared the mortification, after the lapse of half a century, of defending their memory against unfounded charges of guilt, whilst at the same time admitting, with what we believe to be a becoming impartiality, that those charges seem to have originated in their want of prudence, firmness and dignity on an occasion which required a judicious exercise of those qualities.
1 Latour's Historical Memoir, p204.
2 In that passage General Lambert alludes to General Villeré's youngest son who had remained in the hands of the British, when his brother, Major Villeré, made his escape on the 23d of December, 1814.
3 John Quincy Adams to Lord Castlereagh, August 9th, 1815.
4 John Quincy Adams to the Secretary of State, August 22d, 1815.
5 Not having the original English text, I regret that I cannot give the very words of the Governor. I am compelled to retranslate from a French translation, which is, however, official and sanctioned by the Legislature, as it is published in the French side of their Journal.
6 Et comme je suis maître de mes appréhensions.
8 Colonel Declouet was under General Morgan at the English Turn, and that body of militia had made, but too late, an effort to operate a division in favor of General Jackson, who was attacking the enemy in front.
9 Mais comme on s'ennuie de tout.
10 Guichard was a native of France, or of St. Domingo, where he is said to have been ruined by the effects of British influence on the negroes.
11 D'un air de pitié.
12 A ce propos, je quittai mon bureau avec vivacité, et dis avec humour à M. Declouet, etc.
13 Having failed to procure the original in English, I am again compelled to retranslate from a French translation.
15 A retranslation from a French translation.
19 See Duncan's Testimony, Journal of the Legislature.
Images with borders lead to more information.
Gayarré's History of Louisiana
A page or image on this site is in the public domain ONLY
Page updated: 13 Mar 13