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Am. Dom., Ch. 2

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
History of Louisiana

by
Charles Gayarré

in the edition published by
William J. Widdleton,
New York, 1867

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Am. Dom., Ch. 4

This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

p122 Chapter III
Governor Claiborne's Administration. — Aaron Burr's Conspiracy.

Claiborne, in the beginning of December, 1805, had been compelled to visit the populous county of Attakapas, with a view of putting an end, in person, to disturbances which arose from the assassination of a Frenchman named St. Julien, who was connected by marriage with one of the most influential families of that section of the Territory. Another object of Claiborne's journey was to examine the means of defence on which he could rely, should he be attacked by the Spaniards. During his absence, the administration of the Government devolved upon Secretary Graham, who, on the 2d of January,1 wrote to Madison:

"This day we received by a ship in a very short passage from New York the President's Message of the 3d of December to the Senate and House of Representatives. A copy was immediately sent to the Governor, and if he receives it, I am sure it will hasten his return to the city, unless he finds it expedient to remain a little longer where he is, to make some arrangements for the defence of our western frontiers. He may probably think this the more necessary, as a report has gone abroad that the Marquis of Casa Calvo has been tampering with the Indians in that quarter. p123Whatever he may have done, his journey, I apprehend, must have been undertaken from motives different from those he assigned to the Governor, for he has not yet, I am told, gone where he stated he should go, and he has been already longer absent than he led us to believe he would be. I should unwillingly raise in your mind any improper suspicions against this gentleman, but my opinion is, that he ought not to be permitted to remain in this country. His manners and his character must give him influence, and that influence must be used against us, whenever an occasion for doing so may present itself. If we could get clear of every Spaniard in the country, I should rejoice; for we should then be freed from our most dangerous enemies. From the report made to the Mayor, there are about two hundred and thirty of these people here. They are generally of that description who would be ready to seize any moment of disturbance to commit the vilest depredations; and, whether in peace or in war, they are a nuisance to the country.

"As the President's Message induces me to believe that a rupture with Spain is not an improbable event, I have felt it my duty (the Governor being absent) to ascertain, for your information, what are our present probable means of defence. From the best accounts I can get, we have in this city and its vicinity about three hundred and fifty men, other than French, Spanish, or natives, on whose good wishes we may rely. In this estimate are included all the Americans, and, in fact, all those whose language is not French, or Spanish. I speak of inhabitants. To these we may add a hundred, or perhaps one hundred and fifty sailors, and the regular troops in garrison, from all of which I calculate that we could not draw in a few days more than five hundred men fit for service. In making this estimate, it is far p124from my intention to insinuate that there are not many among the natives, and some among the French, who would join us; but, at present, it is impossible for me to form anything like a conjecture how many would do so. From what I hear, and from what I see, I am induced to think that the prevailing disposition among these two classes of people is to remain neutral, in case of a war between Spain and the United States. Yet I believe this disposition would be more or less general according to the measures pursued by the Americans here. If we show a determination to resist any attack that may be made, many of them, I calculate, will join us — some from principle, and more from a conviction that we must ultimately succeed. But if we do not form a rallying-point for them, they will, I believe, do nothing themselves. Under this impression, the Mayor and myself are endeavoring to draw all our countrymen into a military association for the defence of the city, if it should be attacked by the Spanish forces now on our western and eastern frontiers. [. . .] This association will be put into no regular form until the return of the Governor. He will then give it that which seems to him most proper. The object of it is to draw out, under the exigency of the moment, and to put in military array, men who would not otherwise subject themselves to the inconvenience of doing military duty. The expedient will answer but for a time, and I fear but for a very short time; for the Spanish forces are increasing in our neighborhood, and might, even with their present number, if they are brave, bear down any opposition we could make. This is, at least, the prevailing opinion, and the very circumstance of its being so is alarming, for we have few men here who would take what they supposed to be the weakest side. To save their property would be the great object of nearly all, p125and to take arms on the weakest side might be supposed as the readiest means of losing it. The peculiar circumstances attending the mulatto corps will require much delicacy of management. I have, therefore, thought it most prudent not to say anything to them until the Governor's return."

Claiborne's return was not long delayed, for he arrived on the 5th of January, and he informed Madison, on the 7th, that he had long regretted2 the prolonged residence of the Marquis of Casa Calvo and other Spanish officers in the Territory, because their intrigues weakened the attachment of our citizens to their government, engendered discontent, and were made the ground for belief that the country west of the Mississippi would speedily return to Spain. He added that, for these reasons, he received with pleasure the official communication of the President's determination to urge them to a final departure, and he gave the assurance that he would endeavor to convey this order in the same spirit with which it was sent to him, so as to leave no room for discussion. But the Marquis was still absent, and some uncertainty prevailed as to the place where he might be found. "In the course of to‑morrow," wrote Claiborne, "I will endeavor to obtain correct information on this point, and will communicate to the Marquis, by express, the order for his departure. I think it best that the Marquis should not again visit this city. It is not probable that the order for the departure of the Spanish officers will excite any commotion in the interior of the Territory, or that it would occasion regret to other persons than the connections of the individuals concerned. But in New Orleans there are many adherents to the Spanish interest, a few of respectable standing in society, but for the most part p126composed of characters well suited for mischievous and wicked enterprises. I do not believe that, under existing circumstances, the Marquis would encourage acts of violence and hostility; but as his influence here is considerable, and might, if used on the occasion, give rise to a commotion which could not be checked without bloodshed, I have thought it prudent early to apprise him of the President's orders. I shall, indeed, be sorry if the excursion of the Marquis should have subjected me to the smallest degree of censure. I did not suppose that his real objects were unfriendly to the United States, nor did I accredit assurances to the contrary, which he so readily gave me. But as I doubted my authority to prevent his excursion, I thought it best to state no objections to it."

Claiborne's visit to several of the counties of the Territory had been attended with satisfactory results. Some of the civil authorities, whose regular action had been impeded, had been again set in motion, and gave fair promise to answer the Governor's expectations. He had commissioned many militia officers; he had given on the land laws such explanations as were suited to check the rising discontent; and he had made successful efforts, as he believed, to attach the citizens to the Government of the United States. He was not, however, without considerable alarm; for, on the 8th, he informed the Department of State3 that, in the present crisis of affairs, the regular troops in the Territory were too few in number to give confidence to the well-disposed citizens, or to deter the treacherous from forming mischievous machinations. "The Louisianians," he said, "are a timid people, and so little acquainted are they with the strength of the United States, that the issue of p127a contest with Spain is esteemed by them as doubtful, and, therefore, they (or many of them) would probably be disposed to remain neutral, as the surest means of preserving their property. If war should be deemed inevitable, I esteem it my duty to suggest the propriety of raising and organizing a respectable corps of horse. The country west of the Mississippi is interspersed with immense prairies, and an army could not act to advantage in that quarter without the support of cavalry.

"With respect to the Mulatto corps in this city, to which Mr. Graham alluded in his communication, I am, indeed, at a loss to know what policy is best to pursue. Their organization during the late temporary government was not liked by the ancient Louisianians, nor were there wanting Americans who, with a view to my injury, reprobated the proceeding, both by speaking and writing. Indeed, so much was said on the subject, that the late Legislative Council thought it prudent to take no notice of the Mulatto corps in the General Militia Law. This neglect has soured them considerably with the American Government, and it is questionable how far they would, in time of danger, prove faithful to the American standard. I shall, however, procure a census of the free people of color who reside in and near this city. Those capable of bearing arms may probably amount to about five hundred, and, while proper exertions shall be made to conciliate the goodwill of all, I have little doubt but that those among them who possess property and a fair reputation will, in any event, prove faithful in their allegiance."

On the 10th of January, Claiborne dispatched Capt. Ross in search of the Marquis of Casa Calvo, with a letter informing the Marquis that the President of the United States had directed him and all other persons holding commissions p128from, or retained in the service of, his Catholic Majesty, to quit the Territory of Orleans as soon as possible. He further informed the Marquis that this proceeding had been resorted to as a measure of precaution, rendered the more expedient from the rejection by Spain of the proposals submitted by the envoy Extraordinary of the United States for an amicable adjustment of existing differences — from the reinforcements lately landed at Pensacola — from similar movements on our western frontier — and from the recent acts of aggression committed by the Spanish troops in that quarter. "I repeat to your Excellency," said Claiborne, "that this is only a measure of precaution dictated by the circumstances of the times, and not intended as an act of offence toward your nation, or of rigor against yourself and the other gentlemen attached to the service of his Catholic Majesty.

"In making this communication to your Excellency, it may be proper further to inform you, that you have never been accredited by the President of the United States as a Commissioner of Limits; that no proposal has been made on the part of Spain for setting such a commission on foot, nor indeed can it be considered as necessary, so long as the present difference of opinion continues respecting the lines to be run."

The next day, the 11th, he communicated a similar order to Intendant Morales, who was then in New Orleans, and who immediately remonstrated against the enforcement of such a measure. But Claiborne replied, that he had no power to deviate from his instructions, and that if his Catholic Majesty wished an accredited agent to reside at New Orleans, the proper channel of application would be, through his Minister, to the President of the United States. Claiborne was determined this time to get rid, cost what may, of the presence of p129these dangerous guests, and even instructed Major Porter, who was in command of Fort Claiborne, in the District of Natchitoches,º to use force, if necessary, to prevent the return of Casa Calvo, should that officer attempt, as was expected, to pass through that section of the Territory on his way back to New Orleans.4

Under such circumstances, and when it was still a matter of doubt how the Spanish officers would take this abrupt dismissal from the Territory, where they were lingering with such persevering and mysterious fondness, Claiborne learned, with great displeasure, that General Wilkinson had given a special order to detach one full company from New Orleans to Fort Adams. The regular troops in the city did not exceed two hundred and eighty men at the time, including officers, and of these about sixty were on the sick-list. To withdraw a whole company from such a small effective force was, therefore, a matter of considerable importance.5 Claiborne requested Colonel Freeman, the commanding officer in New Orleans, to suspend the execution of Wilkinson's order. But the Colonel refused, on the ground that he had no such discretionary power. In a case of emergency, Claiborne would, therefore, have had to rely chiefly on the militia, which was far from having yet a proper organization, with the exception of the Battalion of Orleans Volunteers, represented by Claiborne as composed6 of "active, gallant young men, who possessed much military ardor, and who would, if the occasion required it, support with firmness the interest and honor of their country." He also wrote to Madison: "The native citizens of the United States who reside in this city have of late manifested a great share p130of military ardor, and I perceive with satisfaction that a true spirit of patriotism animates many of the young Creoles."7 But he did not express himself so favorably as to the interest taken by the population in the exercise of their right of suffrage; for he thought proper to call the attention of Madison to the "great degree of political apathy" which had prevailed in the community in relation to an election for the House of Representatives, which had been held on the 21st of January.

Perhaps this indifference shown to the Government which had been lately implanted in Louisiana was, to some degree, due to the apprehension on the part of many of displeasing the Spanish authorities still present, by appearing to harmonize with the new possessors of the soil, and to appreciate their institutions; for it must not be forgotten that, in the opinion of many, the cession of Louisiana was far from being irrevocably settled. Hence Claiborne spared no effort to accelerate the departure of these agents of the Government of Spain. Morales, who was anxious to remain where he was, had alleged to Claiborne, as a reason for the delay he solicited, that he was expecting from the Viceroy of Mexico a large sum of money, about four hundred thousand dollars, to pay the debts of his Catholic Majesty to certain citizens of the Territory, which could not be done in his absence. This was intended as a strong argument, from which much was to be hoped; but Claiborne met it in these words: "Should, sir, the money arrive here before a Spanish agent is accredited in this city by the President of the United States, I shall lose no time in forwarding to you at Pensacola a blank passport, in which you may insert the name of such person as you may think proper to vest with authority to receive it, and to p131liquidate and discharge the aforesaid debt." This was not all; and Claiborne, not trusting entirely to the force of his logic to produce on the stubborn pertinacity of Morales the effect which he desired, added this significant paragraph: "I esteem it a duty to remind you that the departure from this Territory of yourself and the gentlemen attached to your department will be expected in the course of the present month." This was allowing very little breathing-time to Morales; for this note was dated on the 25th of January, and to it was annexed a passport couched in the most courteous terms.8 It was no longer possible for the Intendant to expostulate, and, on the 1st of February, he departed for Pensacola.

Thus the obnoxious Intendant had at last been driven out. There remained the lordly Casa Calvo to be also dismissed without delay. Claiborne was anxious to have done with this unpleasant duty; the more so, that every day something occurred which rendered more desirable the complete absence of all Spanish influence in the Territory. For instance, on the 29th of January, Stephen, a free black man, had appeared before Claiborne and declared on oath that the people of color had been tampered with, and that some of them were devoted to the Spanish interest, which declaration Claiborne believed to be true.9 Stephen's information was also corroborated by that of a white man called Horatio Gerel, which was not without effect on Claiborne's mind, although he did not credit, on the whole, the statement of the deponent.

Fortunately, Claiborne's anxiety was relieved by the arrival of Casa Calvo, on the evening of the 4th of February. The Marquis had come from Nacogdoches, through Natchitoches, but without having met with Captain Ross. On the 6th, Claiborne hastened to express p132to him, as politely as possible, "the wish that his departure might not be delayed beyond a few days." The Marquis was shocked, and remonstrated; but Claiborne replied that he could not doubt, nor could discuss, the propriety of the orders of the President of the United States; that they served as a rule for his conduct; and that, on the present occasion, the only duty devolving upon him was to see them executed. Wherefore he required that the Marquis and all other persons holding commissions from, or retained in the service of, his Catholic Majesty, should quit the Territory of Orleans as soon as possible, and he "tendered such services as might be in his power to facilitate their embarkation." The Marquis was far from being pacified by the urbane tone of this communication. He retorted that he looked on the treatment inflicted on him as a shameful act of violence, and an insult to the King his master. "On the contrary," replied Claiborne, on the 11th of February, "the residence of so many Spanish officers in this Territory having been permitted by the President, so long beyond the time prescribed by treaty for their departure, is a proof of his respect for his Catholic Majesty, and of his liberal indulgence toward those employed in his service; an indulgence which, I am sorry to perceive, is not sufficiently appreciated by all who experience it." Then followed a request that the Marquis should depart on or before the 15th day of the present month, with all the officers of Spain remaining in the Territory. The next day, the 12th, he sent to the Marquis a passport, inclosed in a short note, expressing "his best wishes for the health and happiness of the nobleman whose presence had become so unacceptable." Casa Calvo, like Morales, felt that he could no longer tarry, and departed on the day fixed by Claiborne, but full of wrath and indignation.

On the 13th of February, Claiborne informed Jefferson p133that the public sentiment, if he was not greatly mistaken, had of late undergone a change highly favorable to the American Government. "The natives of Louisiana," he said, "are for the most part attached to the Government of the United States, and I am persuaded that most of the men of property would, in the event of war, rally around the American standard." Toward the close of this month, Claiborne rendered to Albert Gallatin, Secretary of the Treasury, an account of his expenses, with his remarks and comments on the subject, among which is a passage depicting a state of things which has continued to this day: "You will probably be surprised at the high charge of printing for the Executive Department; but it is only in unison with every other charge for public or private services in the city; and if my expenditure should wear the aspect of extravagance, I pray you to attribute it to the character of the place where I reside, and not to the want of a disposition, on my part, to bring my disbursements within the limits of a prudent economy."

The dismissal of Morales and Casa Calvo from New Orleans gave new fuel to the already existing hostility of the Spaniards to the Americans, and that hostility showed itself repeatedly, in different ways, whenever the opportunity occurred. Thus, on the 15th of March, Claiborne was informed that, for the future, the mail of the United States would not be permitted by Governor Folch, of Florida, to pass either by land or by water through that part of the dominions of his Catholic Majesty; that the fortifications of Mobile were undergoing repairs, and that the Spaniards were at work among the numerous tribes of the Choctaws, with the hope, in case of need, to induce them to join in a war against the United States. This information excited the apprehensions of Claiborne, and, on the 18th of March, he10 wrote to the p134President: "The presence of a respectable force is essential to the safety of New Orleans. I suppose that, at this time, there cannot be less than two millions of dollars in this city, which, together with the merchandise in the numerous private warehouses, would furnish a rich booty for a successful enemy."

According to a proclamation of the Governor concerning an early session of the Legislature, that body met on the 24th of March. Claiborne, in his message, congratulated them on the prosperous condition of the Territory, whose interests were committed to their care. "The late Legislative Council," he said, "did much for the preservation of order in society, and for the advancement of the general weal; but much as that assembly did, still much is left for the present Legislature to accomplish. [. . .] In the infancy of our political career, we should consider laws as experiments, and they should undergo such improvements as reason and experience may suggest." He then recommended a revision of the judiciary system, certain improvements to be made in the criminal code, the establishment of a penitentiary with solitary confinement, the creation of work-houses for vagrants, houses of correction for the dissolute, houses of refuge for the destitute, and provisions for the trial of slaves by summary process. He also called the attention of the Legislature to the necessity of facilitating the means of internal commercial intercourse, and of improving navigation on those watercourses which led from the counties of Attakapas and Opelousas to the river Mississippi. The want of that proper care which should have been bestowed on roads and levees was commented upon, and legislative interference demanded. As to the important subject of education, he said, "It is with regret I have to inform you that the law passed by the Legislative Council, entitled p135'An Act to establish a University in the Territory of Orleans,' does not promise to advance the interest of literature with the rapidity which was contemplated. [. . .] The doctrine which prevailed in an ancient Republic of Greece, with respect to their youth, is one which, in my opinion, ought always to be cherished by a free people. The youth should be considered as the property of the State, their welfare should constitute a primary care of the Government, and those in power should esteem it an incumbent duty to make such provisions for the improvement of the minds and morals of the rising generation as will enable them to appreciate the blessings of self-government, and to preserve those rights which are destined for their inheritance. I am one of those who admire the plan adopted by some of the States of the American Union: that of establishing a school in every neighborhood, and supporting it by a general tax on the society. I should, indeed, be happy to see a similar policy pursued in this Territory, and a tax which would bear alike on every individual, in proportion to his wealth, levied for the purpose." He enlarged on the necessity of organizing the militia in the most effective manner, which was of importance at all times, but more particularly "at a period when the United States were experiencing from foreign powers injuries which, if not promptly redressed, must be avenged." He wound up with recommending an increase of taxes to meet the expenses of the new Government.

On the 27th of March, Claiborne wrote to Madison: "I am anxious to learn the real state of affairs between the United States and foreign nations, and particularly so as it relates to Spain. The free navigation of the Mobile by American vessels is still prohibited, and our fellow-citizens on the Tombigbee are experiencing therefrom the most serious inconveniences; their articles of exportation p136are of no value, and many of the necessities of life, which were hitherto received by the Mobile, are in great scarcity; in short, sir, if the present state of things should continue for six months longer, the settlement would be ruined, and perhaps abandoned. The American citizens on the Tombigbee have entered into an agreement not to traffic, or to have any intercourse with the Spaniards, so long as the free navigation of the Mobile is denied. But this agreement only proves the spirit and patriotism of our fellow-citizens; it will produce no injury on their oppressors." Commenting on this state of things, he drew the inference from passing events, and from those which were expected, that American interests required that there should be at least twelve hundred troops in the Territory of Orleans. "The presence of such a force," he remarked, "would not only deter the Spanish agents in our vicinity from venturing on acts which are calculated to irritate, but, what is infinitely of more consequence, it would give our new fellow-citizens a confidence in the American Government which, I am sorry to say, many of them, at this time, do not possess. I have labored to infuse among the people here a martial spirit, and to keep up a degree of military ardor, but I perceive, with regret, that the spirit which was for a while roused is declining, and that a general apathy is prevailing. The native Americans declare that the Government neglects them, and the ancient Louisianians, seeing no military preparations, are impressed with an opinion that the United States are either unable, or unwilling, to contend with the power of Spain."

Claiborne was not without reasons for desiring a reinforcement. The news from Natchitoches were of an unpleasant nature.11 Spanish troops, to the number of p137four hundred, accompanied by some Indians, had assembled on the Sabine, threatening to advance, and to resume the same position near to Natchitoches from which a small Spanish guard had lately been driven by Captain Turner, under the orders of Major Porter. This movement on the part of the Spaniards had excited much alarm on the western frontier, and should they persevere in their design, it was doubted whether it would be in the power of Major Porter to oppose them with success, inasmuch as his force did not exceed two hundred effective men. Major Porter, however, was not intimidated by this hostile demonstration, and had stationed12 a company of infantry in advance of Natchitoches, and within the limits assigned by the Spanish agents to the province of Texas.

Meanwhile, Governor Folch, of Florida, being under the impression that a war between the United States and Spain was a probable event, and that France would not view, without concern, a contest in which the interest of her ally was involved, wrote to Mr. Desforgues, the French Consul at New Orleans, and advised the immediate transportation to Mobile of a park of artillery belonging to France, and still remaining in the Territory. Mr. Desforgues refused to conform to the wishes of Governor Folch, and replied that he would not deliver the artillery, either to the agents of Spain, or of the United States, without the orders of his Government. He confidentially communicated this correspondence to Governor Claiborne, to convince him of his disposition to act a just and candid part toward the United States, and he expressed the hope that it would also be received as an evidence of his confidence in the Governor, and of his personal esteem for him.13

p138 To the mortification of Claiborne, the Territorial Legislature, which he had convened in an extraordinary session, made14 but little progress in the dispatch of business. "The ancient Louisianians," said he in a communication to Jefferson, "are greatly jealous of the native Americans who are in the House of Representatives, nor are there wanting some designing malcontents out of office and confidence, who have recourse to every expedient to disseminate the seeds of distrust and discontent. I am at present on excellent terms with the two Houses of Assembly, but I fear this good understanding will not continue throughout the session; many laws will be offered for my approbation, and my duty will compel me to reject several. Then commences a jealousy of the Executive, and the base intriguers will spare no pains to widen the breach."

On the 16th of April, Claiborne was much gratified at being informed that the Spanish force had been withdrawn from the Sabine, and that the orders to cross that river and establish a post near Natchitoches were countermanded by the Governor-General of Texas. But, at the same time, he was much annoyed by an attack made against him in Congress by John Randolph, who, with his usual acerbity of temper, accused his administration of being marked with weakness and imbecility. Commenting on this attack in a letter to Madison, dated 29th of April,15 he said: "The correspondent of Mr. Randolph has made him to speak in language the reverse of truth. This Government is not an imbecile one! it is sufficiently strong for all good purposes! I ask Mr. Randolph and his friend to produce proof of its imbecility. I ask if the laws are not enforced? if personal rights are not secured and good p139order preserved? I do not know, nor do I believe, that the Government is odious. If there are persons who would have preferred another system, it does not follow that the present one deserves their odium. [. . .] With regard to the discontents of the people, I by no means consider them as general or as serious as is represented. That the Louisianians have a great partiality for France as their mother country; that former habits had attached many of them to the Spanish system of government, and that the intrigues of a few artful, designing men had promoted discontent and occasioned me much trouble, are facts of which I have long appraised you; but so far from admitting that the Louisianians are prepared to receive with open arms an invader, I am impressed with an opinion that, in the event of war, many of the creoles of the country would be found faithful to the United States. Perhaps a disposition to remain neutral might become prevalent, as the surest means of preserving their property."

Some difficulties having arisen as to the evidences of citizenship and the enjoyment of the rights which it conferred, Claiborne issued, on the 30th of April, a circular to the notaries public and the clerks of the Superior Court, who then were empowered to receive testimony on the subject, in which he informed them that the Governor, for the future, would give a certificate of citizenship to no person who should not prove his right to the same by his own oath and that of two citizens of the Territory — which citizens should either be the owners of real property within the same, or engaged in some particular business which promised a continuance of their residence in the Territory. They were instructed to notify this regulation to persons claiming citizenship, and to call their special attention to the fact that care would be taken to detect such person p140as might depose falsely touching the claim of citizenship for himself or others, and to bring him to that punishment which the law prescribes for the crime of perjury.16

Those disagreements which Claiborne had foreseen as destined to arise between the Legislature and himself, were not slow in making their appearance. An act had been passed "to establish certain conditions necessary to be a member of either house of the Legislature of the Territory of Orleans." Claiborne vetoed the bill, on the ground that its operation would be revolutionary, and that it would deprive of their seats several members of the present Legislature.

"It seems to me," said he, "that a member possessed of the qualifications required by the ordinance for our Government has a right to continue his functions during the period of which he was elected; and that a law which shall impose other qualifications than those pointed out in the ordinance cannot be constitutional, unless its operation shall be prospective, and not permitted to affect the sitting members." This was on the 2d of May. On the 8th, he inclosed to Madison a copy of the bill, with a copy of the message in which he had expressed his disapprobation of it, and remarked: "The ancient Louisianians in the Legislature are impatient of control, and will illy receive a check from the Executive authority, but I must do my duty, and shall, on every occasion, act the part which my judgment approves. By pursuing this course, I may present my enemies fresh materials to work upon, and render myself unpopular, but my conscience will be tranquil, and I shall sleep the better at night." On the 14th he added:17 "The Territorial Legislature will, I fear, do little good during p141the present session. They are divided, and one party — the strongest — seems to be greatly influenced by a few men in this city, whose politics and views are, in my opinion, in opposition to the interests of the United States." He resumed the subject in a communication of the 16th of May, in these words: "The difference in language and the jealousy which exists between the ancient and modern Louisianians are great barriers to the introduction of that harmony and mutual confidence which I so much desire.

[. . .]

"There are, no doubt, several minor causes of discontent in this quarter; but the most fruitful sources are the introduction of the English language in our courts of justice — the judicial system generally — and particularly the trial by jury — and the admission of attorneys. The pride as well as the convenience of the Louisianians are opposed to any innovation on their language; the trial by jury is by many considered as odious, and the lawyers are serious nuisances.

[. . .]

"When our disputes with Spain are adjusted, and the citizens induced to think that their political destiny is fixed; when the English language is generally spoken, and a knowledge of the principles of the American Government diffused, then I shall be disappointed, if the Louisianians should not be among the most zealous and virtuous members of our Republic. But, at the present crisis, and with the present population, disturbed by the intrigues of adventurers — unprincipled adventurers from every country — it is not in the power of any man to put down distrust and dissatisfaction."

A few days after, on the 26th of May, he vetoed another bill, entitled "An Act declaring the laws which continue to be in force in the Territory of Orleans, and the authors which may be recurred to as authorities p142within the same." He had previously notified the Department of State at Washington of the course which he had intended to pursue, saying, "This measure was probably supported by some of the French lawyers, and has become a favorite one with the majority of the two Houses. Its rejection will, therefore, excite perhaps some discontent;" and he denounced Daniel Clarke and Evan Jones as being among the intriguers who were the most active in opposing him. "The first, from disappointment," he said, "is greatly soured with the General Administration; and the latter, from principle, is inimical to the General Government. They both cordially unite in doing the Governor here all the injury in their power."18 These two gentlemen were wealthy and influential members of the old population of Louisiana, among which they had long resided; therefore they easily proved to be no despicable thorns in Claiborne's political ribs. Claiborne's veto of this last bill produced almost a commotion. Destréhan, Sauvé and Bellechasse, members of the Council, resigned in disgust; but, influenced by the entreaties of Claiborne, Bellechasse withdrew his resignation. The Council itself had passed a Resolution proposing a dissolution of the General Assembly, and assigning as one of their reasons for advocating such a measure, "that the Governor had rejected, and continues to reject, their best laws."

In a communication to Madison sent on the same day he vetoed the bill, Claiborne used the following language: "I consider the bill in question as improper, and it was my duty, therefore, to reject it. If, by the ordinance and laws of Congress, the civil law is recognized, the bill was useless. The Judges of the Superior Court can determine the authorities on which to rely. Their selection p143would likely be more judicious than any which the Legislature could make. I profess myself uninformed of the merits of the bill, and to know not the consequences which might flow from it. In any event, I thought it but right to disapprove the measure." But was it not a very improper stretch of authority on the part of Claiborne to reject a bill, when "he professed himself uninformed of its merits," and thus to defeat a measure which he stated to be "a great favorite" with the representatives of the people? It is not astonishing, therefore, that he found himself the object of harsh censure, and that he produced a great deal of irritation.

Whilst the two Houses were in a state of violent excitement, and discussing the propriety of pronouncing their own dissolution as a political body, a storm arose from another quarter. The French Consul and the French citizens were infuriated by an attack made in one of the newspapers of the city on their beloved Emperor, Napoleon I; and the Consul, Mr. Desforgues, addressed a formal complaint to Claiborne on the subject. The Governor very properly replied, that the Government had no power over the press; that its licentiousness was seen and regretted, but that a remedy had not yet been devised; that it was not in his power to take any measure on the occasion; that the Judiciary of the county could alone interfere; and that the French Consul should apply to the District Attorney, Mr. Brown, for advice. "Mr. Desforgues," wrote19 Claiborne to Madison, "was greatly irritated, and, among many observations, stated that the French citizens would have risen in mass, and massacred the printer, had it not been for his interference. I thanked him for his good intentions, but assured him that there was no necessity for his interference, p144since the Government was adequate to the preservation of order, and to the protection of its citizens from violence. I fear Mr. Desforgues is a violent man, and that he is intriguing with the Louisianians. His movements, however, shall not escape my observation."

Claiborne hastened to lay before the President of the United States the resignations of Destréhan and Sauvé, accompanied with this observation: "The services of an ancient Louisianian in the Legislature cannot with certainty be calculated on. Few are disposed to make any sacrifice of private interest for the public good." These harsh words, into which Claiborne was betrayed, notwithstanding his gentle and kind nature, show that he had permitted himself to be goaded into some degree of resentment. What had contributed to increase his vexations was the election to Congress, as a Delegate, of Daniel Clarke, his personal enemy, which took place about that time. But, on the 28th of May, Claiborne had the satisfaction to inform Madison that the House of Representatives had rejected the resolution of the Council to cease all legislation, and that both Houses "were conducting business with dispatch and concord."20

This dispatch and concord did not prevent the issuing of an address to the people of the Territory, which was signed by certain members of the Legislative Council and of the House of Representatives, and which reflected on the course pursued by Claiborne toward the Legislature. The Governor sent a copy of it to Madison, saying: "That21 this publication will raise the popular sentiment in favor of the signers is, perhaps, probable; but I am persuaded its effects will soon pass away. For myself, I only regret the proceeding on account p145of the precedent. An appeal to the people in this way tends to bring the constituted authorities into disrepute, and may lead to anarchy." On the 7th of June, the Legislature adjourned. "The last seven days of the session," said Claiborne to Madison, "the Legislature transacted much business, and separated in harmony. The most perfect good order prevails, and the people seem to take but little interest in the proceedings of their representatives." Several discontented members of the House of Representatives had also resigned after the example of Sauvé and Destréhan, such as Joseph Landry, for the County of Acadia; S. Croizet, for the County of Pointe Coupée; Louis Fonteneau, for the County of Opelousas; and Claiborne had to issue his proclamation for new elections.

In relation to the County of Opelousas, Claiborne was informed that a considerable emigration was about to take place from that county to the Spanish settlement on the River Trinity,22 where great encouragement was given to settlers. He gave notice of the fact to Madison in a letter of the 15th of June. "I am informed," said he, "that the ancient inhabitants of Louisiana are much dissatisfied with our judicial system; that the trial by jury is not approved; and that the lawyers are execrated. It is not in my power to remove this cause of dissatisfaction. I never admired the system of county courts. The old plan of commandants was, in my opinion, best suited to the present state of the Territory; but the Legislative Council preferred the immediate introduction of a judiciary on American principles — and I reluctantly acquiesced in the measure. [. . .] The conduct of the lawyers in the interior counties is a source of great discontent. They are said to be extravagant in their charges; to encourage litigation; and to p146speculate on the distresses of their clients. I fear there is too much truth in this statement. [. . .] Among the emigrants to this Territory there is a description of people which I consider the greatest pests that can afflict any honest society. They are those avaricious speculators who go about with a little ready cash to seek whom they may devour. Some of these hungry parasites have, I am told, fastened on the labors of those ancient Louisianians who have emigrated, and are about to emigrate to Trinity. It is probable that many persons will also emigrate to the Trinity from the counties of Natchitoches and Rapides. They are dissatisfied with our court system, fear taxation, and are made to believe by Spanish partisans that their fortune will be benefited by a removal."

Another cause of dissatisfaction was, that, at the sales of property taken under execution, the sheriffs themselves were frequently the purchasers. To put an end to this evil, Claiborne had to issue a monitory circular to these officers.23

Under the preceding Governments of France and Spain, the Governor of the province of Louisiana, being the representative of the King, was looked upon as the fountain of honor, the seat of justice, the shield of protection on every occasion, and the general and supreme redresser of all wrongs. This impression could not be easily effaced from the mind of the population; hence Claiborne was annoyed by constant appeals to the power which he was supposed to possess. It has been already related that, in the preceding year, a comedy had been acted on the New Orleans stage, which had wounded the feelings of the Ursuline Nuns. They had complained to Claiborne, and the offence having been repeated p147this year, they again had turned to the Governor to screen them against the derision and ridicule which was aimed at their religious order. Claiborne's answer is given here as completing an episode, which is illustrative of the feelings, manners, and tone of the epoch. Such details, apparently trifling, have been too much neglected by historians, as unworthy of the dignity of their subject. Would not a letter from a Roman Consul to the High Priestess of the Vestals be interesting, if it made us better acquainted with the social life of that age? Battles and great political convulsions are generally the main features to be found in the historical portrait of a nation, but there are small lineaments which should not be omitted to complete its physiognomy. Claiborne's answer to the Lady Abbess must, therefore, be received as one of those light touches of the painter's brush which he deems necessary to the finishing of his work. That answer ran thus:

"Holy Sister, the representations at the theatre of which you complain are to me sources of regret; and I beg you to be assured that all my influence will a second time be used with the Mayor of this city (to whom more properly belongs the duty of checking the abuses of the stage) to prevent a repetition of those exceptionable pieces. I am sorry that these representations should have given affliction to the community over which you preside. They may have amused the thoughtless, but cannot, I am sure, be approved by the reflecting part of society. The sacred objects of your Order, the amiable characters which compose it, and the usefulness of their temporal cares, cannot fail to command the esteem and confidence of the good and virtuous. I pray you, holy sister, to receive the assurances of my great respect and sincere friendship."

At this time an event took place which is worthy of p148notice, in consequence of a question which arose in the trial, and of the decision thereon by the Supreme Court. An inhabitant of the Territory, a Spaniard by birth, was arraigned on the charge of murder.24 The counsel for the prisoner demanded, in conformity with the principles of common law, a jury composed in part of his countrymen. It was conceded that the prisoner was an inhabitant of Louisiana at the period of the cession to the United States, and was still an inhabitant thereof; but, inasmuch as he had not taken the oath of allegiance to the United States, it was contended that he was, in fact, an alien, and a subject of the king of Spain. "I am happy, however," wrote Claiborne to Madison, "to inform you that the demand was not acceded to by the court; and although the judges did not give in detail their reasons for rejecting the claim of the prisoner, yet it was understood to be the opinion of the court, that all persons who resided here at the period of the cession, and did not withdraw from the province with the Spanish or French authorities, could not otherwise be considered than as citizens of the United States. I rejoice at the decision, since it has removed from my mind a cause of some inquietude. Certain American lawyers who are settled here have doubted whether the people could be considered as American citizens, until they had taken the oath of allegiance to the United States, or could be convicted of treason, should they enter the armies of a power at war with the United States. I always thought this opinion erroneous. It seemed to me that the allegiance of the inhabitants of the ceded Territory to Spain and France having ceased, it must, of necessity, attach to the power that protected them. I never considered the administration of the oath as a necessary measure. But, p149since lawyers of some eminence professed to entertain a contrary doctrine, I am happy to find my opinion supported by a decision of the Supreme Court." It is worthy of remark, that this decision supports the course pursued by General O'Reilly, in 1769, toward those who rebelled against the Spanish authorities after the cession of Louisiana by France, and who, when put on their trial, excepted to the jurisdiction of the court, on the ground that they were French subjects — which exception was overruled by O'Reilly.25

On the 5th of July, Claiborne informed the Secretary of War that, on the celebration of the 4th, the citizens of New Orleans had exhibited a degree of patriotism which had afforded him much pleasure. "All the stores of the city," said he, "were closed by order of the City Council, and the inhabitants generally suspended their usual avocations. High Mass was performed in the forenoon at the churches, and a Te Deum sung at night; a new tragedy, called 'Washington, or the Liberty of the New World,' was performed, and much applauded by a numerous audience, consisting, for the most part, of ancient Louisianians. The tragedy being finished, the company repaired to the public ball-room, and the evening was closed with dancing. As was usual, federal salutes were fired from the forts, and the Battalion of Orleans Volunteers paraded on the occasion. From these particulars you will observe that the American feeling is not in exile from this Territory. There are, indeed, some ancient prejudices which it is difficult to remove, and there are some local parties encouraged by a few designing men, whose native language is English — which, in some measure, stifles the germ of patriotism; but I persuade myself that the time is not far distant when the Louisianians p150generally will be zealous members of our Republic."

In the beginning of July, Claiborne departed from New Orleans, partly to avoid a residence in the city during the sickly season, and partly to attend in person to the better organization and disciplining of the militia in the several counties of the Territory. Whilst in the County of Attakapas, on the 29th of July, he learned that the Spaniards were again making threatening demonstrations on the Sabine. This intelligence induced him to journey, through the County of Opelousas, to Natchez, where he might be better able to provide for any emergency of danger which might arise. There he was informed, on the 17th of August, that a considerable Spanish force had actually crossed the Sabine,26 and had advanced within a few miles of Natchitoches, to Bayou Pierre, where they contemplated establishing a garrison. In consequence of this information, Claiborne, after having had an interview with Cowles Meade, Governor of the Mississippi Territory, and obtained from him a promise of assistance in case of need, departed immediately for the County of Rapides, on his way to Natchitoches, where, on the 26th of August, he addressed to Herrera, the commander of the Spanish force, a long letter, in which he complained of several acts of hostility committed by the Spaniards, and, among others, of this recent violation of a Territory which he hoped to have seen respected as neutral ground, at least pending the negotiations between their respective Governments for an amicable adjustment of the limits of Louisiana. Herrera, as a matter of course, demurred to this accusation, and defended, to the best of his argumentative powers, the course which he, or the other Spanish authorities, p151had pursued. In the mean time,27 Claiborne wrote to the Secretary of War: "I have found the Americans who are settled in the frontier counties devoted to the country, and solicitous to be called into service. . . . I am sorry, however, to add, that the same degree of patriotism does not exist among the French part of our society; many of the ancient Louisianians are still attached to the Spanish Government, and others are so fully impressed with an opinion that the United States of America are unable to resist the mighty power of Spain, that, in the event of war, they would probably be disposed to take a neutral stand, as the safest course."

Whilst Herrera and Claiborne were thus occupying an almost hostile position to each other, the Spanish General was attacked with a dangerous illness. Claiborne, having been apprised that he was destitute of medical attendance, sent him Doctor Hayward, on the 2d of September, with a kind note, expressing his wishes for the speedy recovery of his health, and tendering such other friendly civilities as might be in the power of the American Governor.28 This act of high-toned courtesy on the part of Claiborne produced the most favorable impression on the proud-spirited and sensitive Spaniards. Herrera's sickness, however, suspended for awhile all negotiations, and matters stood still. In the mean time, Claiborne was strengthening himself, by calling the militia to the assistance of the troops which, under Colonel Cushing, were in front of the Spaniards. The Governor had required one hundred men of the County of Rapides; two hundred and fifteen offered their services, and among them a number of the ancient Louisianians — "a circumstance," said Claiborne, "which affords me singular satisfaction." Claiborne wished to take the offensive against p152the Spaniards, but Colonel Cushing objected, on the ground that this would be contrary to the instructions which had been left with him by General Wilkinson, who was then absent. Claiborne was somewhat nettled at this inactivity of the regular troops, and thus wrote to Cowles Meade, the Secretary and acting Governor of the Mississippi Territory: "Perhaps the inactivity of our troops in this quarter may not have been improper — perhaps our dispute with Spain may at this time be amicably and honorably adjusted, and if so, we shall all rejoice that blood was not shed; but my present impression is, that 'all is not right.' I know not whom to censure, but it seems to me that there is wrong somewhere."29 Seeing that there was not any probability of active operations, and thinking that his presence was unnecessary, as the Spaniards, instead of advancing, had fallen back to a place where they seemed disposed to remain quiet, Claiborne departed for the County of Rapides, to urge in person the organization of those reinforcements and the sending of those supplies which Colonel Cushing might ultimately want. There, having heard of the arrival of General Wilkinson at Natchez, he determined to remain, in the expectation of seeing him on his way to Natchitoches. Whilst sojourning at the spot where he was awaiting Wilkinson, he corrected the false impression which he had given the Secretary of War in relation to the French part of the population of Natchitoches.30 "On my arrival at Natchitoches," he said, "I was led to believe that the French inhabitants were very generally disaffected; but my present impression is very different. I do now believe that, if an opportunity offers, many of them will evince their fidelity to the Government."

p153 Wilkinson arrived on the 19th of September, at the place where Claiborne was expecting him, and immediately addressed the Governor in writing, to ascertain the number of militia who could be relied on from the Territory, in case of a conflict with the Spaniards. Claiborne replied that he could not promise the support of more than four hundred men, officers included.31 "You will recollect," said he, "the extent of this frontier, and, indeed, the vulnerable position of the whole Territory. I am unwilling, therefore, to draw to any one point a large portion of my militia, lest, by doing so, I should invite attack in some other quarter." On the 22d, Claiborne departed for the County of Opelousas, in order to organize and stimulate its militia. There he found an unwillingness on the part of the ancient population to furnish volunteers as he desired. This feeling greatly exasperated those Americans who had settled in that region, and the excitement became so intense that Claiborne thought proper to address Judge Collins on this subject in a written communication, in which he said: "The reluctance of the ancient Louisianians to rally at the call of their country is seen and regretted, but I pray that this conduct may not occasion reproach from the native Americans, but, on the contrary, that they may continue to extend toward them every act of civility and kindness. I am disposed to make great allowances for the unwillingness of the Louisianians to enter, at this crisis, into the service of the United States. They have been educated in a belief that the Spanish monarchy was the most powerful on earth; and many of them are impressed with an opinion that the United States will fall an easy prey to the Spanish arms. Hence arises their neutral stand, as the surest means of safety to their persons p154and property. There are other excuses which may be made for the recent conduct of some of the Louisianians, but it is unnecessary to recite them. I am persuaded of your disposition to cultivate harmony, and I am sure that by your example and precept you will discourage any proceedings which might lead to disunion, or what I should consider the greatest calamity that could befall the Territory."32

Claiborne returned to New Orleans on the evening of the 6th of October, and on the 8th he informed the Secretary of War that the number of militia from the frontier counties, who had marched for Natchitoches, exceeded five hundred men, and that a detachment of one hundred regulars, having in charge such military stores as could be obtained, and might be required by the General Wilkinson, would set out in a few days. "But," added he, "there is in this city a degree of apathy, at the present moment, which mortifies and astonishes me; and some of the native Americans act and discourse as if perfect security everywhere prevailed. [. . .] I fear the ancient Louisianians of New Orleans are not disposed to support with firmness the American cause; I do not believe they would fight against us; but my present impression is, that they are not inclined to rally under the American standard. We have a Spanish priest here who is a very dangerous man; he rebelled against the Superiors of his own church, and would even rebel, I am persuaded, against this Government, whenever a fit occasion may serve. This man was once sent away by the Spanish authorities for seditious practices, and I am inclined to think that I should be justifiable, should I do likewise. This seditious priest is a Father Antoine; he is a great favorite of the Louisiana ladies; p155has married many of them, and christened all their children; he is by some citizens esteemed an accomplished hypocrite, has great influence with the people of color, and, report says, embraces every opportunity to render them discontented under the American Government."33

Claiborne, in consequence of these apprehensions, requested the Catholic priest to attend at the Government House, and in the presence of the Mayor of the city, and of Colonel Bellechasse, of the Legislative Council, mentioned to him the reports which were afloat concerning his conduct. The priest listened to them with much humility and solemnly affirmed his innocence, avowing his determination to support the Government and to promote good order. "I, nevertheless, thought it proper" wrote Claiborne, "to administer to him the oath of allegiance, and shall cause his conduct to be carefully observed." He then added, with his usual good-nature, as if it were to mitigate the effect of his harsh suspicions: "The priest declared the reports to have originated in the malice of his enemies. The division in the Catholic Church has excited many malignant passions, and it is not improbable that some injustice has been done to this individual."34

Whilst the Spaniards were so troublesome on the frontiers of Texas, they were remarkably quiet at Baton Rouge, Mobile and Pensacola. Was it a preconcerted plan, and was it their intention to draw all the American forces far to the West? Even at Mobile favorable concessions to American trade had been made. The intractable Governor Folch was no longer in the way. In consequence of a triumph which his rival Morales had obtained over him in an appeal to the Captain-General of Cuba, he had given up, for the present, the Government of p156Pensacola, and it had devolved upon Colonel Howard, an Irish gentleman of talents, who had long been in the service of Spain, and who showed himself much more conciliating than Folch, in relation to the navigation of the Mobile River by the Americans.

Claiborne's correspondence with the General Government shows how changeful were his impressions, and consequently how wavering he was in the expression of his opinions. This was due to his proneness to listen to rumors and accusations. He seemed constantly to forget that there was a very strong and natural jealousy between the ancient Louisianians and the new-comers, who were anxious to get the ascendancy in a territory which they considered their exclusive property by purchase, and where they were impatient to implant their laws and habits, with all their ideas and views in ethics, religion and politics. That class of men looked with extreme displeasure in many cases, and, in others, with considerable resentment, at the resistance offered by the old population, who, on their side, considered the native Americans as unprincipled intruders, coming to deprive them of their language, their religion, their lands, their time-honored legislation, their manners and customs — in fact, everything they held dear and sacred. Hence accusations and recriminations on both sides, particularly from many active, restless, and not overscrupulous Americans, who flocked to this new field of enterprise which had opened to them, and where they hoped to secure wealth and political power. Claiborne was constantly permitting himself to share in suspicions that drew from him assertions, or opinions, which he was afterwards obliged to retract. Thus, in relation to the organization of the Attakapas militia, which soon held itself in readiness to march, at a moment's warning, to the seat of the expected conflict, he wrote to the Secretary of War on the p15712th of October: "I had feared that some difficulty would be experienced in executing my orders, but I am agreeably disappointed. The citizens discovered a great share of patriotism, and avowed their determination to defend with their lives their country. Whatever may be the local discontent of the Louisianians, I begin now to think that they will generally rally at the call of Government. When I first went to Natchitoches, I did distrust the fidelity of the Louisianians in that quarter; and, indeed, every American residing there, with whom I conversed, agreed in opinion that the French part of the society was generally disaffected, but I trust we shall all be disappointed." Again, on another occasion, he had complained of the apathy and want of patriotism in New Orleans, and, on the 17th of October,35 he said to the Secretary of War: "I hasten to announce to you the patriotism of the citizens of New Orleans and its vicinity. At a muster, this morning, of the 1st, 2d and 4th Regiments of militia, every officer, non-commissioned officer and private present, made a voluntary tender of their services for the defence of the Territory generally, and more particularly for the defence of the city. This display of patriotism affords me much satisfaction, and has rendered this among the happiest of my life." He also called, with much commendation, the attention of the Secretary of War to the patriotic address made to the militia on that occasion by Colonels Bellechasse and Macarty.

But, on the 7th of November, Claiborne's faith in the Louisianians had again been shaken. A relapse had occurred, and the chronic old fever of suspicion had fastened upon his mind with renovated vigor. The militia had not turned out as he had expected. He was even in bad humor with the native Americans. As appeared p158by information received from General Wilkinson, the Concordia Militia had failed to repair to their post. "I know not," says Claiborne, "how to account for the delinquency. Concordia is settled exclusively by Americans."36 As to those constant objects of distrust and jealous — the Louisianians — he adds: "You will observe that the General places but little confidence in the French who are settled at Natchitoches; perhaps I may be too sanguine in my expectations; but I continue to think that those of the Louisianians who are not for us, will not be against us. I do believe they will be inclined to take a neutral stand."

As to the city militia, he remarked that their late conduct in tendering their military services had perhaps made on his mind a more favorable impression than it deserved. "I find," said he, "that their enthusiasm has in a great measure passed away, and the society here is now generally engaged in what seems to be a primary object — the acquisition of wealth. Indeed, the love of money seems to be the predominant passion; and that virtue called patriotism finds but few votaries. I nevertheless continue of the opinion that a great majority of the Louisianians, I mean the natives of the country, would resist any invader. But I have not equal confidence in all the foreigners who are settled in this Territory. On the contrary, from a part of these we have everything to fear. A few days since, we had news of peace in Europe, and immediately some of the Frenchmen among us began to speak of the probability of Bonaparte's again taking possession of Louisiana, and of the facility with which it might be accomplished. . . . At present, the Louisianians do not appear to be unfriendly to the Government; but I have, on other occasions, p159witnessed the facility with which designing men could lead them astray."

On the 15th of November, Claiborne was still in a state of despondency. "Everything is tranquil," he wrote to Wilkinson from New Orleans; "the body of the citizens lately discovered some share of patriotism; but the accustomed apathy of the country again prevails, and I begin to despair of making the militia an efficient force." On the 25th, he said to the Secretary of War: "You are apprised37 of the difficulty of organizing and disciplining the militia of any country; but the peculiar situation of this Territory has rendered it here an Herculean task [. . .] How far the militia generally are attached to the United States, and would, in the hour of peril, rally around our standard, must be left to time and events to prove. But my opinion as to the native Louisianians has always been the same; a majority are well disposed, and were it not for the calumnies of some Frenchmen who are among us, and the intrigues of a few ambitious, unprincipled men, whose native language is English, I do believe that the Louisianians would be very soon the most zealous and faithful members of our Republic. But until a knowledge of the American Government, laws, and character, is more generally diffused among the people, you cannot with certainty count upon their fidelity. Ambitious, unprincipled men have acquired confidence in this quarter, and will, I fear, for some time, maintain their influence."

On the 25th of November, General Wilkinson arrived in New Orleans, after having made with the Spaniards on the Sabine arrangements which secured the United States against hostilities in that quarter. p160But before this event occurred, and whilst he was confronting the Spaniards, apparently with many chances of a speedy collision, Samuel Swartwout, an emissary of Burr, had arrived at the General's camp on the 8th of October, and had delivered to him a confidential letter — such a letter as conspirators only send to accomplices.38 Wilkinson received Swartwout with great favor, and detained him until the 18th, when that emissary departed for New Orleans. On the 21st of October, Wilkinson determined to denounce Burr. Forthwith he dispatched a messenger, who arrived in Washington on the 25th of November, and delivered to the President the dispatches with which he had been intrusted. On the 27th, Jefferson issued his famous proclamation, which made known to the country the traitorous enterprise afoot, and nipped it in the bud.39 What were Wilkinson's reflections, or what were his secret acts and dealings between the 8th and the 21st of October, which was the time he ostensibly took to deliberate on the course he had to pursue, it is impossible to ascertain. But it is well known that, after the sending of his denunciatory dispatch to the President on the 21st, he, on the 29th, sent a written message to the Spanish Commander-in‑Chief, in which he proposed that, without yielding any pretension, ceding a right, or interfering with discussions which belonged to their superiors, the state of things existing at the delivery of the province to the United States should be restored, by the withdrawal of the troops of both Governments from the advanced posts they occupied to those of Nacogdoches and Natchitoches respectively.40 The Spaniards, who had been thus far so intractable, suddenly became p161very accommodating, and accepted the propositions. Having patched up this kind of truce, Wilkinson had hurried down to New Orleans.

The time had come for Claiborne to be seriously alarmed, and with better cause than had ever been given him by the Spaniards. He was advised from several respectable quarters that the Union of the States was seriously menaced, that the storm would probably break out in New Orleans, and that in this plot, headed by the notorious Vice-President, Aaron Burr, thousands were engaged.41 In expressing his alarm to the Secretary of State on this subject, Claiborne said: "If this be the object of the conspirators, the delegate to Congress from this Territory, Daniel Clarke, is one of the leaders. He has often said that the Union could not last, and that, had he children, he would impress early on their minds the expediency of a separation between the Atlantic and Western States. Dr. John Watkins and Mr. J. W. Gurley have heard these sentiments expressed by that gentleman." But, a few days after, he took back this charge against Clarke in these words: "Upon further inquiry, I find nothing to justify an opinion that he is a party in the existing conspiracy. . . . In a late conversation with Dr. Watkins, he informs me that since the election of Mr. Clarke to Congress, he has heard him deliver some patriotic sentiments, and his former sentiments the Doctor now seems to attribute more to the impulse of some momentary passion than to deliberate reflection. It is due to justice to acquaint you of these particulars; and justice I will render to every man — even my greatest enemy."42 After having had a conference with Wilkinson to devise the means which it might become necessary to adopt "to support the p162honor and welfare of the country," he informed Madison "that he had no doubt that a conspiracy was formed highly injurious to the interest of the United States, and that characters of high standing were concerned in it, although he was not yet advised of the particulars." Meanwhile, the City of New Orleans had been suddenly thrown into the wildest state of excitement and perturbation. The cry was, that Burr was coming down with a large force to take possession of it, with a variety of designs attributed to him, which were multiplied or magnified by fear, and which became of a more alarming character, as they were conveyed from lip to lip, after having passed through heated imaginations which added more vivid colors to the original tale of invasion. Claiborne requested Captain Shaw, of the United States Navy, to have all the force under his command ready for immediate service43 to meet the threatening danger. That force consisted of two bomb-ketches and four gunboats. Wilkinson went to work in great haste to repair the old fortifications, and even "contemplated picketing in the city."44 On the 5th of December, Claiborne wrote to Madison: "If General Wilkinson is not greatly deceived, the safety of the Territory is seriously menaced. [. . .] From the firmness and the bravery of the army and navy on this station much may be expected; but as regards the support which the militia may render, I cannot hazard an opinion. [. . .] I have had so many proofs of the influence of unprincipled men, and the prevalence of wicked political principles, that I know now in what portion of the militia to confide. General Wilkinson tells me that he had heretofore received hints of a Mexican expedition, and from the characters who, it seems, are the leaders of the present p163plot, but had attached no consequence to their conversations, under an impression that, unless sanctioned by the Government, no men of reputation and talents could seriously contemplate an object of the kind." Claiborne's embarrassments were increased by the absence of instructions, or even of information of any kind from the General Government, for he had received no official communication from Washington since July. On the 5th of December he sent a messenger to the General Government with dispatches, which he declared to be of "very great importance," and he recommended to the messenger that "he should mention to no one the objects of his journey, or the place of his destination, as this reserve might be essential to his safety."45 On the 6th, Claiborne was startled by Wilkinson's demand that he, the Governor, should proclaim martial law. The reasons which Wilkinson assigned for it were expressed in his usually florid, and characteristic style. "The dangers," said he, "which impend over this city and menace the laws and Government of the United States from an unauthorized and formidable association must be successfully opposed at this point, or the fair fabric of our independence, purchased by the best blood of our country, will be prostrated, and the Goddess of Liberty will take her flight from this globe forever."

"Under circumstances so imperious, extraordinary measures must be resorted to, and the ordinary forms of our civil institutions must, for a short period, yield to the strong arm of military law.

"Having exposed to you, without reserve, the authentic grounds on which I found my apprehensions, you can readily comprehend the high, solemn and important considerations by which I am moved, when I most earnestly p164entreat you to proclaim martial law over this city, its ports and precincts. For unless I am authorized to repress the seditious and arrest the disaffected, and to call the resources of the place into active operation, the defects of my force may expose me to be overwhelmed by numbers; and the cause and the place will be lost. The idea you offered me this morning of calling forth the militia and taking a position for the protection of your territory above is utterly inadmissible, because you could not for a moment withstand the desperation and superiority of numbers opposed to you, and the brigands, provoked by the opposition, might resort to the dreadful expedient of exciting a revolt of the negroes. If we divide our force, we shall be beaten in detail. We must therefore condense it here, and, in concert with our watercraft, rest our main defence at this point."

Whilst waiting for Claiborne's answer, Wilkinson, among his other military preparations, made arrangements with the French Consul to receive possession of the French artillery remaining in the Territory, as soon as its value should be estimated, and informed Claiborne that he had received such intelligence as induced him to believe that Burr would be at Natchez on the 20th of December, with two thousand men. On the 7th, Wilkinson renewed his application to Claiborne for the proclaiming of martial law, saying: "I believe I have been betrayed, and therefore shall abandon the idea of temporizing or concealment, the moment after I have secured two persons now in this city. Our measures must be taken with promptitude and decision, regardless of other consequences or considerations than the public safety, for I apprehend Burr, with his rebellious bands, may soon be at hand."46

p165 Although "having entire confidence in the firmness and patriotism of General Wilkinson, and although disposed most cordially to co‑operate with him," Claiborne refused acceding to his request to proclaim martial law, on the ground that, preparatory to the adoption of such a measure, the suspension of the Writ of Habeas Corpus would be necessary, and that this high prerogative could alone be exercised by the Territorial Legislature, which was not then in session. But, at the same time, he declared that, if the danger should augment, and if the privilege of the Habeas Corpus should, by impeding the arrest of the suspected, be found to favor the escape of the guilty, it was probable that he should, by proclamation, "direct its suspension, and plead in justification the necessity of the case." On the 9th, the members of the New Orleans Chamber of Commerce met, on request, at the Government House, Paul Lanusse being in the chair as President, and Richard Relf as Secretary. They were apprised by Wilkinson and Claiborne of the just causes existing for the apprehension of danger, and they were asked to furnish sailors to man the small American fleet which was on the station. Whereupon it was unanimously agreed that a general and immediate embargo of the shipping in port be recommended to the Governor, as the best means of obtaining the desired effect. Claiborne acted without delay in conformity with this recommendation, and orders were issued that no vessel, without the permission of Claiborne, or Wilkinson, should depart from New Orleans. At the same time, several thousand dollars were subscribed by the merchants to supply with clothes and other necessaries the sailors who should enter the service of the United States.47 When the merchants were thus showing so much patriotism at p166the cost of so great a sacrifice of private interest, they learned with extreme surprise that Wilkinson insisted on enlisting their sailors for six months, which would have completely paralyzed all commercial operations for that length of time. Why an enlistment for six months? Why an embargo for six months? What necessity could there be for it? The danger, if it existed, could only be momentary; a coup de main was all that could be apprehended; and therefore no reasons could be discovered by the merchants in justification of Wilkinson's extraordinary pretensions, which would have subjected them to immense losses, if not to utter ruin. Claiborne was of their opinion, and expostulated with Wilkinson. "I learn," he wrote to the General, "that the term of service is the greatest obstacle. It is proposed to enlist the sailors for six months; this length of time is objected to. Do you not think that two months, unless sooner discharged, would answer our objects? I am sorry you should think me wanting in decision," continued he, "to assist Captain Shaw in obtaining men. I have authorized an embargo — an act of authority which can alone be exercised legally by the General Government, and this act of mine, I fear, the Collector will not long submit to, lest, by withholding clearances, he may subject himself to personal actions."48

But Wilkinson was not a man to care much for Claiborne's scruples. Sailors having refused to enlist for six months, he called in person on Claiborne to request "an impressment" — from which high-handed measure Claiborne shrunk. "I submit it to your cool reflection," he said to Wilkinson, "whether at this time I could be justifiable in compelling men by force to enter the service. Many good-disposed citizens do not appear to p167think the danger considerable, and there are others who (perhaps from wicked intentions) endeavor to turn our preparations into ridicule." On the 15th of December, Wilkinson sent to Claiborne a communication, in which he attempted to meet his objections and answer his questions, particularly as to the length of time for which the seamen should be engaged.

"It is my opinion," he said, "that the men should be engaged for the shortest period consistent with the public safety; but, as I believe Mr. Burr's conspiracy is more profound and widely spread than his numerous agents, friends and well-wishers here will admit, I think the contract should be so qualified as to insure the service of the seamen until his machinations are destroyed in the Western States, or his attempt has been defeated in this quarter; and, for this purpose, I would propose that they should be shipped without any specification of service — to resist the attack of Aaron Burr and his lawless banditti from the Ohio River against the Territory, the laws and government of the United States [. . .]

"It is my cool and deliberate judgment, from my knowledge of Burr's character and desperation, and from the tenor of the information you have received, and the apparent toleration and support which he receives in Kentucky and Tennessee, that we have reached an extremity in our public affairs, which will not only justify, but which imperiously demands, the partial and momentary dispensation of the ordinary course of our civil institutions, to preserve the sanctuary of public liberty from total dilapidation. I believe it to be wise and just to inflict temporary privations for permanent security, and that justice being previously done to the seamen, they should be compelled to serve the country which gave them birth and gives them protection, on the very liberal terms which are proffered them. Give p168me leave, and in three hours our vessels shall be manned.

"Having put my life and character in opposition to the flagitious enterprise of one of the ablest men of our country, supported by a crowd of coequals, ceremony would be unseasonable and punctilio unprofitable. I therefore speak from my heart when I declare, that I verily believe you are sincerely desirous to co‑operate with me in all my measures, but pardon the honest candor which circumstances require and my situation demands, when I observe that, with the most upright and honest intention, you suffer yourself to be unduly biased by the solicitations of the timid, the capricious, or the wicked, who approach you and harass you with their criticisms on subjects which they do not understand, and with their opposition to measures which they do not comprehend, or which, understanding, they are desirous to prevent, or to defeat. What will our alertness import, without force and energy to support it? And can we be prepared without means? Shall our reverence for our civil institutions produce their annihilation, or shall we lose the house because we will not break the windows?"

But, notwithstanding Wilkinson's pressing solicitations, Claiborne still continued to refuse to order the impressment of the sailors, the suspension of the writ of Habeas Corpus, the declaration of martial law, and the arrest of suspected persons. He said that he knew of no precedent for it in any State of the Union, or in any of its Territories, and added, "the Judiciary of the Territory, having exclusive cognizance of offences, is the only tribunal to which I can refer you, nor can any acts of mine arrest, or suspend their powers."

Whilst Claiborne and Wilkinson were thus on terms of friendly disagreement as to these measures, the former received from the Acting Governor, Cowles Meade, of p169Mississippi, a letter in which he said, "We want arms and ammunition; we have men, and those men are patriots. But, sir, we are badly provided. I can only promise to make the stand and fight the battle of Leonidas. Burr may come — and he is no doubt desperate — but treason is seldom associated with generous courage, or real bravery. Should he pass us, your fate will depend on the General, not on the Colonel. If I stop Burr, this may hold the General in his allegiance to the United States. But if Burr passes this Territory with two thousand men, I have no doubt but the General will be your worst enemy. Be on your guard against the wily General. He is not much better than Catiline. Consider him a traitor, and act as if certain thereof. You may save yourself by it."49

Wilkinson, having acquired the conviction that he could not drive Claiborne into joining him in those arbitrary measures which he meditated, determined to act without him, and assumed responsibilities which were justified, in his opinion, by the imminence of the danger which he imagined to exist. On the 7th of December, he had dispatched Lieutenant Swann, of the army, to Jamaica, with a letter to the officer commanding the British naval force on that station, informing him of Burr's plans, and of the circulation of a report that the aid of a British naval armament had been either promised, or applied for, and warning him and all British officers that their interference, or any co‑operation on their part, would be considered as highly injurious to the United States, and as affecting the present amicable relations between the two nations. The communication concluded with the expression of a hope that the British Government would refrain from any interference or co‑operation, and prevent p170any individual from affording aid to the conspirators. This communication seemed to take the British officers by surprise. Admiral Drake stiffly observed in reply that, from the style and manner in which the communication had been made, he hardly knew how to answer it, but declared that he availed himself of this opportunity to assure Wilkinson that British ships of war would never be employed in any improper service.50

On Sunday, the 14th of December, Dr. Erick Bollman, a German, who had acquired some celebrity for his attempt to liberate Lafayette from his prison of Olmutz, had been arrested by order of Wilkinson and confined in some unknown place. On the evening of the following day, a writ of Habeas Corpus was sued for on his behalf before Sprigg, one of the Judges of the Superior Court. Sprigg declined acting until he could consult with his colleague, Mathews. But Mathews was nowhere to be found. On the 16th, however, the writ was obtained; but Bollman had, in the mean time, been put on board of a vessel and sent down the river. On the same day, application was made to Workman, the Judge of the County of Orleans, for a writ of Habeas Corpus in favor of two men, Ogden and Swartwout, who had been arrested, a few days before, by order of Wilkinson, at Fort Adams, and who had arrived at New Orleans on board of a bomb-ketch of the United States, where they were detained. Workman granted the writ without hesitation, and called on Claiborne for support. But the Governor refused to interfere.51

The alarm, and even the terror which prevailed in the city, where everybody feared for his own personal safety, was such, that no boat could be procured to take the officer of the Court on board of the ketch, which was p171lying in the middle of the river. It was only on the next day that, for the tempting consideration of a large sum of money, for the payment of which the Judge pledged the responsibility of the county, a boat was obtained. The writ being at last served, Captain Shaw stated, in his return to it, that Swartwout was no longer in his hands, but produced Ogden, who was liberated. As to Wilkinson, on whom a writ of Habeas Corpus had also been served in relation to Bollman, he replied, on the 18th, that he took on himself all responsibility for the arrest of Bollman, charged with misprision of treason against the Government of the United States, and that "he would act with the same energy, without regard to standing or station, against all individuals who might be discovered as participants in Burr's lawless combination." This return was afterwards amended by an averment that, at the time of the service of the writ, Bollman was not in the power or possession of Wilkinson.52

Hardly had Ogden been liberated when he was again arrested, together with another individual named Alexander. On the application of Livingston, Judge Workman issued writs of Habeas Corpus for both prisoners. Instead of a return in due form, Wilkinson sent a written message to Workman, begging him to accept his return, such as it was, to the Superior Court, as applicable "to the two traitors who were the subjects of the writs." Whereupon, Livingston obtained a rule on Wilkinson to make a further and more explicit return to the writs, or show cause why an attachment should not issue against him.53 Judge Workman, before acting, made a second application to Claiborne, to ascertain whether he would assist the Court in the execution of its decree against Wilkinson. But that appeal was ineffectual, although backed p172by Judge Hall and Judge Mathews. On the 26th, Wilkinson having refused to modify his former return, Livingston moved for an attachment against him. Before granting it, Judge Workman applied for the third time to Claiborne, addressing him in writing, and officially — in which communication he observed that a common case would not require the step he was taking in his judicial capacity, but that, on this extraordinary occasion, he deemed it his duty, before any order from his tribunal was attempted to be enforced against a man who had all the regular forces of the United States at his command, and, in pursuance of the promulgated will of the Governor, a great part of the armed force of the Territory, to ask whether the Executive had the ability to enforce the decree of the Court, and, if he had, whether he would demonstrate it expedient to do so. "Not only the conduct and power of Wilkinson," said the Judge, "but various other circumstances, peculiar to our present situation, the alarm excited in the public mind, the description and character of a large part of the population of the country, might render it dangerous, in the highest degree, to adopt the method, usual in ordinary cases, of calling to the aid of the Sheriff the posse comitatus, unless it were done with the assurance of being supported by the Governor in an efficient manner." Thus pressed, the Governor wrote a note to Wilkinson, advising him to yield to the civil authorities. But the General peremptorily refused; and Claiborne declining to employ force against him, Workman resigned,54 on the ground that the Court and its officers should no longer remain exposed to the contempt or insults of a man whom they were unable to punish or resist. This was acknowledging the fact that Wilkinson was supreme p173dictator, and that henceforth his will was to be the law. In consequence, the general alarm was daily becoming more intense in the city, when, on the 31st of December, Claiborne recalled, greatly to the satisfaction of the merchants, the order which he had granted on the 9th, at the request of Wilkinson, to prevent the departure of vessels from New Orleans.

In the mean time, on the 2d of this month (December) the President had sent his annual message to Congress, in which, speaking of the inhabitants of the Territories of Mississippi and Orleans, he said, "I inform you with great pleasure of the promptitude with which the inhabitants of those Territories have tendered their services in defence of their country. It has done honor to themselves, entitled them to the confidence of their fellow-citizens in every part of the Union, and must strengthen the general determination to protect them efficaciously under all circumstances which may occur."


The Author's Notes:

1 Executive Journal, page 20, vol. 2.

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2 Executive Journal, p27, vol. 2.

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3 Executive Journal, p30, vol. 2.

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4 Executive Journal, p40, vol. 2.

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5 Executive Journal, p42, vol. 2.

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6 Executive Journal, p42.

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7 Executive Journal, p46.

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8 Executive Journal, p49, vol. 2.

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9 Executive Journal, p53, vol. 2.

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10 Executive Journal, p87, vol. 2.

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11 Executive Journal, p104, vol. 2.

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12 Executive Journal, p110, vol. 2.

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13 Executive Journal, p110, vol. 2. Claiborne to Madison, 8th of April, 1806.

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14 Executive Journal, p113, vol. 2.

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15 Executive Journal, p119, vol. 2.

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16 Executive Journal, p121, vol. 2.

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17 Executive Journal, p125, vol. 2.

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18 Executive Journal, p133, vol. 2.

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19 Executive Journal, p138, vol. 2.

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20 Executive Journal, p153, vol. 2.

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21 Executive Journal, p168, vol. 2, 3d June, 1806.

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22 Executive Journal, p182, vol. 2.

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23 Executive Journal, p185, vol. 2, 18th June, 1806.

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24 Executive Journal, p194, vol. 2.

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25 Gayarre's History of Louisiana. French Domination, p333, vol. 2.º

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26 Executive Journal, p228, vol. 2.

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27 Executive Journal, p240. Dispatch of the 28th of August, 1806.

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28 Executive Journal, p253, vol. 2.

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29 Executive Journal, p269, vol. 2. Dispatch of the 9th of September.

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30 Executive Journal, p278, vol. 2. Dispatch of the 15th of September.

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31 Executive Journal, p283, vol. 2.

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32 Executive Journal, dispatch of the 9th of September, p296, vol. 2.

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33 Executive Journal, p305, vol. 2. Claiborne to Secretary of War, Oct. 8.

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34 Executive Journal, p310, vol. 2.

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35 Executive Journal, p314, vol. 2.

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36 Executive Journal, p329, vol. 2.

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37 Executive Journal, p340, vol. 2.

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38 Parton'sº Life of Aaron Burr, p426, vol. 2.

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39 Parton's Life of Aaron Burr, p432.

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40 Martin's History of Louisiana, p271, vol. 2.

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41 Executive Journal, p347, vol. 2.

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42 Executive Journal, p352, vol. 2, 5th Dec., 1806.

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43 Executive Journal, p349, vol. 2.

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44 Executive Journal, Dispatch 4th Dec., 1806, p350, vol. 2.

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45 Executive Journal, p357, vol. 2.

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46 Executive Journal, p363, vol. 2.

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47 Executive Journal, pp370, 371, vol. 2.

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48 Executive Journal, p373.

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49 Executive Journal, p386, vol. 2. Cowles Meade to Claiborne, 24th December, 1806.

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50 Martin's History of Louisiana, pp235 and 277, vol. 2.

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51 Martin's History of Louisiana, p280, vol. 2.

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52 Martin's History of Louisiana, p280, vol. 2.

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53 Martin's History of Louisiana, p281, vol. 2.

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54 Martin's History of Louisiana, p284, vol. 2.


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