A Paper Prepared and Read by his Great-Grandson James Wilkinson
The claim that Wilkinson, while sojourning in Louisiana, took an oath of allegiance to Spain, if true, is of no significance. Under p104instructions from the King of Spain, Miro after 1785, enforced the laws against strangers rigidly, and no one was allowed to trade in, or remain in the Louisiana colony without taking such an oath. Nor was it improper that one living under the protection of a government, should swear allegiance to that government while in its territory. During the late Civil war, oaths of allegiance were freely taken within Northern and Southern lines, though even the children of the affiants were fighting on the opposite side. If one can take an oath of allegiance to those at war with one's country, through stress of residence, surely Wilkinson had the right, for the protection of his person and property, to take an oath of allegiance while in Louisiana to a country that had aided the colonies in their war for independence and with which his country was then at peace. Daniel Boone, the patron Saint of Kentuckians, while Wilkinson was fighting the savages in defense of Kentuckians was safely away with his two sons in a Spanish province, commandant of the Femme Osage District of Spain. No Spanish land was ever given to Wilkinson, but Boone was given •10,000 arpents of choice Spanish land, and in this grant he was dispensed, from what Spain always required to perfect a grant, its settlement and cultivation. After the cession of Louisiana the American Commissioners refused to confirm this grant because it had not been ratified by Governor Carondelet, or settled and cultivated, and on appeal to Congress that body on February 10th, 1814, expressly granted to Boone, a Spanish subject from 1795 until 1804, •"1,000 arpents of land."
One of the strongest proofs of the integrity of Wilkinson, is to be found in the fact that the eight volumes of the American State papers which contain all the Spanish land grants, and include hundreds of such grants to American settlers, do not show one grant in Wilkinson's favor. One of his historical calumniators says, Wilkinson wished in 1796 to get a tract of land that Gayoso had, for the balance due him on his pension. To show how vile and baseless such a charge is, the Spanish Governors had a right up to 1798 to make gratuitous land grants, and if Wilkinson was such a prime favorite with both Miro and Gayoso and was a subject of Spain he could have gotten an empire of land for the asking. Daniel Clark got over •100,000 arpents of Spanish land, much of it now in the Parish and City of New Orleans, which was worth, years ago, millions of dollars, not including tracts which the American Land Commissioners refused to confirm title to, declaring he had, through parties interposed, tried to enter same fraudulently.
p105 Wilkinson never got enough land from the Spaniards to serve him for his grave.
One entry in those volumes of American State Papers, Vol. 5, pp498‑9, shows that General James Wilkinson bought on May 12th, 1806, from Moreau, the original grantee of Governor Galvez, Dauphin Island at the mouth of the Mobile Bay. The American Commissioners, on the application of Wilkinson's heirs, refused to confirm Wilkinson's title stating, "Wilkinson was not allowed to hold lands under Spain, not being a Spanish subject."
That one entry is eloquent of how much of a Spanish subject Wilkinson really was.
How wonderful moreover that a man charged, from Washington's time, with conspiracies with Spain, should have been selected by the fathers of our republic to lead every hostile movement of American troops against Spain down to 1812, and should have succeeded in every such trust.
Collins' History of Kentucky, p273, states, that in a campaign against the Indians north of the Ohio, a regular army under General Harmar was defeated in 1790 with dreadful slaughter, over half of the troops being killed. General St. Clair of the regular United States army was thereupon appointed to command and volunteers were called for. The Kentuckians had no confidence in the regular army and its officers as they did not consider they knew how to fight the Indians.
Arthur and Carpenter's History of Kentucky, states that while these troops were being organized an expedition was gotten up by a local war board in Kentucky composed of Scott, Shelby, Logan and Brown, 800 mounted men were called for and responded in June, 1791.
"Wilkinson though holding no commission from the State enlisted for the expedition. He was chosen second in command under General Scott, assuming the title of Colonel, and soon rendered himself conspicuous by his activity, attention and address."
This campaign succeeded, and the same authority says, "After these acts of retaliation on the Indians the Volunteers returned home pleased with their new commander and highly delighted with the conduct of Wilkinson."
Indian depredations continuing in the Southern and Northern parts of Kentucky, Wilkinson published a call in July, 1791, for 500 mounted volunteers to proceed against the Indians. With Wilkinson, as their commanding officer, this little army marched in to the Indian country in August, 1791, and destroyed the village of L'Anguille, killed some warriors and returned without losing a man.
General St. Clair having raised and equipped his army in 1791 began a campaign against the savages, his army was shortly afterwards cut to pieces and Scott and Wilkinson raised a volunteer force, and were about to go to his rescue, when he reappeared.
In December, 1791, Wilkinson was appointed a colonel in the regular army by President Washington, and took command of Fort Washington.
At that time Kentucky had not as yet been admitted as a State. Washington acted advisedly as Butler says, pp182, 183.
"On the election of Washington, in 1789, Col. Thomas Marshall, senior, wrote General Washington an account of matters in Kentucky as to intrigue and defection, specially complaining of Wilkinson. Evidently Marshall withdrew his statement later as General Washington wrote him on September 11th, 1790,"º in a manner that showed that such was the case, and in 1791 appointed Wilkinson."
The following extracts of official letters of President Washington to Wilkinson through his secretary of War, Mr. Knox, shows he placed great confidence in Wilkinson.
War Department, April 3, 1792.
"The expedition to the field of action, is an honorable evidence of your military zeal, and I am happy you returned safely. [. . .] I cannot close this letter sir, without expressing to you, the entire satisfaction of the President of the United States, of the vigilance and discretion, you appear to have exercised since your command; and I flatter myself your judgment and talents will meet with all the approbation to which they will be entitled."
On April 21st, 1792, the same official wrote:
"It is with pleasure, I transmit to you the notification of an appointment of Brigadier General, and I sincerely hope the other gentlemen appointed to act with you, as well as the commanding General will be perfectly agreeable to you."
Again on April 27th, the same officer writes:
"I confess I shall feel anxious about your return from the establishment of Fort St. Clair, which will be an operation somewhat critical. However, the confidence I have in your intelligence and activity assures me you will avoid all unnecessary hazard."
Again on May 13th, the same officer wrote:
"I have the honor to enclose your commission as Brigadier General. I have not heard of your return from establishing Fort St. Clair, and therefore some anxiety is entertained on that subject. But the confidence in your discretion is no small relief on the occasion."
"Major-General Wayne is still here but will shortly set out, as well asº Mr. O'Hara, the quartermaster-general." General Wayne joined General Wilkinson soon after this.
p107 It would make this paper too long to review Wilkinson's career through the successful campaign prosecuted up to and including 1794, by General Wayne against the Indians. But a number of historians agree that he showed ability and bravery there. McElvoy's History of Kentucky (pp180, 181) says:
"In signalling out the heroes of the battle of Fallen Timbers, as History has called it, Wayne in his official report, gives the first place to Brigadier General Wilkinson, whose brave example inspired the troops."
Wilkinson served under Wayne until the latter's death, December 15th, 1796. In 1795 Wayne, hearing that one Jos. Collins had brought certain money from New Orleansº to Wilkinson, which money was, as Collins subsequently testified, due Wilkinson for tobacco sold Governor Miro, he without making any charges, directly against Wilkinson, instituted certain researches which offended Wilkinson so much that the latter wrote President Washington on February 6th, 1796, and had his letter delivered in person by Major Cushing. I have the original copy of this letter made and signed by Wilkinson. An enclosure in this letter also by Wilkinson stated among other things,
"That my conduct during the campaign of 1794, was too conspicuous to be equivocal, too ardent to be insincere, and that nothing could be more grateful to my feelings than the most rigorous investigation of it."
Washington paid no attention to these charges, Wilkinson, however repeatedly requested an investigation. This is shown by an excerpt from Wilkinson's letter to President Adams, December 26th, 1797, as follows:
"The death of General Wayne silenced an investigation which I had much at heart, because it would have unfolded scenes and circumstances illustrative of my utility, my integrity, and my wrongs, which now can never reach the public eye. So soon as his death was announced in Philadelphia I waited on the Secretary of War and held a conversation with him precisely to the following effect. Prosecution is in the grave with General Wayne, but the door is still open to investigate, and I most sincerely wish an inquiry into my conduct military and political; indeed the vindication of my aspersed reputation has directed the obstinate perseverance with which I have pursued this subject. I know, sir, that a sinister connection with Spain is slanderously imputed to me, [. . .] but conscious of my innocence I court inquiry to obtain an opportunity of vindication, which I have amply in my power. To this Secretary McHenry said he did not know that such things were being said or insinuated, but if they were I must be conscious from the President's conduct to me, that they made no impression on his breast, and added: 'I advise you as a friend to give yourself no more trouble about it.' I followed the advice given me in the hope that the prejudice and animosities of my enemies might subside, but I find I have been deceived, that calumnies are still circulated to wound my fame and impair the public confidence."
p108 To this letter President Adams replied:
Philadelphia, February 4th, 1798.
"I have received your favors. It is very true that I have tortured for a great part of the year past with written, anonymous insinuations against several persons in conspicuous, public stations that they have formed improper connection with Spain; and among others against yourself. It has been frequently asserted that you held a commission and received pay as a colonel in the Spanish service. This opinion appears to have taken root among the people on the Mississippi that scarcely any man arrives from that neighborhood, who does not bring the report along with him. They seem to be in such a temper in that neighborhood that nobody escapes accusation. [. . .] For yourself, sir, I esteem your talents, I respect your services, and feel an attachment for your person,º as I do to every man whose name and character I have so long known in the service of our country, whose behavior has been consistent. We may be nearer than we suspect to another trial of spirits. I doubt not yours will be faithful. What measures you may think fit to take to silence the villainous rumors of your connection with Spain or France I know not; but no violent one or military ones will do any good. I shall give no countenance to any imputations unless accusations should come, and then you will have room to justify yourself. But I assure you I do not expect that any charge will be seriously made. I am sir, your most obedient servant.
On Wilkinson's subsequent trial, President Adams, testified to the above facts, and there, produced a personal letter to him from Alexander Hamilton, recommending Wilkinson's promotion as Major-General, and as Wilkinson is pilloried as a former friend of Burr, let us see what Burr's political enemy, the statesman that Burr killed, thought of him.
New York, 7th,º 1799.
"Sir: General Wilkinson, who has been some weeks in this city, in consequence of having for object the readjustment of our military affairs, is about to make a journey to pay his respects to you. On such an occasion, I hope it will not be thought improper that I should address you on the subject of this officer, since what I shall say will accord with what I know to be the views of General Washington, and with what I have reasons to believe has been suggested to you with his support by the Secretary of War. You are appraised, sir, that General Wilkinson served with distinction in our revolutionary war and acquired in it the rank of Brigadier General; that for many years since that war he has been in the military service of the government, with the same rank, in which rank he, for some time, had the chief command of the army. That he has served with distinction in the latter period as General Wayne, who was not his friend, has in one instance very amply testified. The decided impression on my mind, as a result of all I have heard, or known of this officer, is, that he is eminently qualified as to talents, is brave, enterprising, active and diligent, warmly animated by the spirit of his profession and devoted to it [. . .] I, as well as others, have heard things said of the General, but I have never seen the shadow of proof; and I have been myself too much the victim of obloquy, to listen to detraction unsupported by facts."
Mediocrity, intemperance, constant plotting and intrigue, have all been laid at Wilkinson's door. Washington declared during his second term that he was himself then worse denounced, than if he had been a Nero. Jefferson was repeatedly charged with political p109treachery and even with attempting the judicial assassination of Burr. It was an age of suspicion, invective and abuse. Such charges against Wilkinson were untrue unless Washington, Adams and Jefferson, to whom the former owed his elevation, were alike incompetent to judge of Wilkinson's ability, habits and integrity.
True it is that Marshall, of Kentucky, Wilkinson's former political opponent, said, that Washington promoted Wilkinson to so high a military command to keep him out of mischief. Yet, I cannot imagine of how any one could suppose that that great, proud and austere first President would so debase his high office, as to entrust almost Supreme military power in the West to a man whom he deemed not only an incapable officer, but capable of treachery to his country.
Wilkinson in 1795, was stationed at Cincinnati and the cities of the Ohio.
The most serious charge affecting the reputation of Wilkinson is, that of having received a bribe, or bribes from Governor Carondelet of Louisiana, in 1797, subsequent to the former's appointment as commander-in‑chief of the army.
The evidence, as to this, on which Gayarre and subsequent historians rely, is the testimony of an English Spaniard, Thomas Powers, who testified before the Court Martial that tried Wilkinson in 1811, that he had brought $9,640 to Wilkinson from New Madrid to Cincinnati, (in the summer of 1796),º sent as pension money by Governor Carondelet from New Orleans. Gayarre states the amount brought by Powers, to have been the round sum of ten thousand dollars, but I suppose we should be duly grateful that the exaggeration was so small. Gayarre further states this amount was sent to Wilkinson because he was then a Major-General of the United States and as such Commander-in‑Chief, had the power to aid the Spaniards (III Gayarre p364).
General Wayne, Wilkinson's superior officer, died on December 15th, 1796, at Presque Isle, and the latter was not in Supreme Command until the early part of 1797. Wilkinson showed by the account exhibited and evidence adduced by him at his trial in 1811, that $6,000 on account of the money due him on the former seizure of his tobacco had been forwarded to him in 1794 from New Orleans, but that his messenger, Owens, bringing that amount had been robbed and murdered; that in 1796, $9,640 was sent on similar account to him at New Madrid, where it was received by his agent, Philip Nolan, which still left $2,095 due him on his tobacco; that Nolan employed Powers then at New Madrid to bring this money by water to Louisville while Nolan proceeded overland to that place with a p110drove of horses he was then selling; that the specie was packed in sugar barrels to protect it from the Indians and other bandits that infected the lower Ohio as well as to save it from the rapacity of the crew of the boat. Wilkinson admitted that Powers brought this money to Louisvilleº and was paid for his services in 1796. To the critics of such crude methods of protecting or caring for money, I answer, that we had then no iron safes, time locks, or postal guards, that are so common now-a‑days.
Gayarre, 3rd Volume 384,º states that Powers and Sebastian sailed from New Orleans to see Don Gardaquo at Philadelphia in the spring of 1796. Powers testified that he and Sebastian arrived at Philadelphia after 19 days passage. From Philadelphia they went across by stage to Cincinnati, reaching Cincinnati, on May 18th, 1796.
(See appendix 46 Wilkinson Memoirs, 2nd Volume).
The evidence of all the witnesses is, that Powers went down afterwards from Cincinnati to New Madrid and brought the $6,640º from New Madrid back to Louisville,º and the evidence adduced by Wilkinson showed the money was delivered to Powers by his agent Philip Nolan at New Madrid and was deliveredº by Powers again to Philip Nolan at Louisville in September, 1796. After Elisha Evans saw the money at New Madrid in 1796, he went up the Ohio and stated he met Powers coming down the Ohio; Powers testified, "that after delivering the money to Nolan at Louisville in pursuance of my directions, Nolan conveyed the barrels of sugar and coffee, in which the dollars were packed, to Frankfurtº where he, the deponent, Powers saw them opened in the store of Mr. Montgomery Brown." (See report of Butler Committee of Congress p39.)
There was no attempt at secrecy in either the receipt of or in the forwarding of this money. If the Spaniards were forwarding by a secret emissary ten thousand dollars as a bribe to a leading American; the slightest publicity given to the matter would have defeated the very object sought and would have brought disgrace to the givers as well as the receiver of the bribe.
In the evidence taken before Congress, in 1810, Elisha Winters testified against Wilkinson, that the Spanish commandant at New Madrid told him freely of the amount going to Wilkinson in 1796, and showed him the chest of Spanish dollars. That he, Winters, wrote out the full particulars of this and gave same to General Wayne and afterwards saw his letter in the hands of Mr. McHenry, the Secretary of War, under President Washington. (2d Memoirs appendix 35.)
On February 6th, 1796, six months before this incident, Wilkinson p111was pleading in writing with President Washington, and with this very secretary for a searching inquiry of this conduct with Spain. His explanations must have been entirely satisfactory since Alexander Hamilton wrote that Washington before his death wished to see Wilkinson promoted to the Chief command.
To show how sadly Gayarre got his facts jumbled up, he says (3 Vol. 364)º that after Powers had gone to Philadelphiaº in the Spring of 1796, he soon returned to Kentucky with a memorial from the Baron de Carondelet, and with tempting offers.
"To back these tempting offers and to smootheº difficulties, money had been sent upº the Mississippi and the Ohio, and Power, who had several interviews with Wilkinson delivered to him $10,000, which he carried up concealed in barrels of sugar and coffee. Wilkinson had just been appointed Major General of the United States army in the place of Wayne, who had died recently, and Power was directed to avail himself of his intercourse with Wilkinson to ascertain the force, discipline, and temper of the army under that General, and to report thereon to Carondelet." (3 Gayarre 364).º
To all of which memorial Wilkinson is alleged to have returned an emphatic refusal to aid Spain.
Now it is hard to get more errors in a small compass than this. Powers came to the Ohio from Gardoquo at Philadelphia in 1796, and not from Carondelet at New Orleans. The incident as to the money took place in 1796, as all the evidence shows, yet in order to justify his bribe theory Gayarre kills off General Wayne months before he died, promotes Wilkinson to the Supreme Command of the army in 1796 instead of the actual time 1797, and either post-dates the alleged bribe or antedates Carondelet's memorial one year so as to combine the bribe and the Memorial.a
On April 12th, 1802, Wilkinson, Hawkins and Anderson were appointed by President Jefferson to negotiate a treaty and lay off the boundary between the Creek Nations and the United States in the State of Georgia. (See Message of President Jefferson, December 13th, 1804.)
Wilkinson Memoirs (2nd Vol., p248), says:
"Having completed the demarcation of the Indian boundary under extreme ill health during an inclement season, I arrived at Fort Adams the 27th of January, 1803, and took shelter under a roof the first time in six months."
Prior to this on October 16th, 1802, the Intendant Morales had suspended the right of deposit at New Orleans guaranteed to the American settlements on the river above by the treaty of 1795. The p112answer of the west to this violation of their rights was, "No power on earth will deprive us of this right. [. . .] If Congress refuses us effectual protection, if it forsakes us, we will adopt measures that our safety requires, even if they endanger the peace of the Union and our connection with other States, — No Protection — No Allegiance." (3rd Gayarre, p457).
Wilkinson was at that time in the wilds of Georgia or he, no doubt, would have been held responsible for these bold utterances by men who 13 years later helped to save the day for American arms at Chalmette.
Wilkinson had heard of the annulment by Morales of the right of deposit at New Orleans, guaranteed by the treaty of 1795, and had sent Captain Schaumburgh to protest against this occlusion. Foreseeing the certain war that this act of the Spaniards would bring on, Wilkinson sent a secret letter to Vice-Consul Huling which asked, from the latter, a full report of the fortifications on New Orleans. His letter to Huling and Huling's reply are cited in his Memoirs (Vol. II, appendix). This followed the appointment of Livingston, and subsequently Monroe, as commissioners to France and their successful treaty for Louisiana. At the cession proceedings Jefferson chose Claiborne, Governor of Mississippi, representing the Civil Power, and Wilkinson, the highest military officer in the South, to represent the army, to receive Louisiana at the hands of the French, thus answering Clark and other slanderers who had been defaming Wilkinson to him.
One historian has said:
"To the last Wilkinson was protected and honored by Jefferson; was thanked by the Legislature for betraying Burr; was acquitted by a packed court of inquiry, and has left behind him, in justification of his life and deeds, three ponderous volumes of Memoirs as false as any written by man." (McMaster's History U. S., Vol. 3rd, p88).
Wilkinson attached to his Memoirs over 300 pages of authenticº evidence in appendix.
How lost to public decency a writer must be, who without the slightest proof to sustain it, charges Jefferson with packing a court to acquit any man and that a body of honorable officers of the revolution constituting such court corruptly violated their oaths.
Roosevelt in his "Winning of the West," indulges in many strictures against Wilkinson. This writer, though noted as a seceder from every person or party that has not agreed with him, has no patience with Wilkinson's leanings towards secession.
Mr. Roosevelt has not the poise to meet the requirements of an p113historian, as that which does not esteem "bully" to him or with which he is not "delighted" is apt to meet his too severe condemnation.
As I do not wish to be elected a member of Mr. Roosevelt's Ananias Club,b I pass on to a discussion of the views of later writers as to Wilkinson's record.
Prof. Shield in his article on Wilkinson in the 9th Volume American Historical Review, p503, says:
"Gayarre is misleading when he states (Vol. III, p195) that on the occasion of Wilkinson's first visit, Miro gave Wilkinson permission to introduce into Louisiana, free of duty, many western articles of trade which were adapted to this market.' [. . .] "There are several reasons to believe the contrary."
"Among them may be mentioned first, aside from the proverbial caution of the Spanish officials, the fact isº that the laws of the Indies prohibited the grant of commercial privileges to foreigners without the specific approval of the home government."
"In the second place, the Spanish Colonial officials were accustomed to render the most minute reports of their administration, particularly if the business belonged to the reserved or secret class."
Prof. Shield also lays stress on Wilkinson's alleged oath of allegiance to Spain in 1789, and the latter's memorial of 1797, all of which have been fully discussed by me.
The latest article I have noted on Wilkinson is from the scholarly pen of Prof. I. J. Cox, another Northern historian.
This article is printed in Vol. 19 American Historical Review, p794, and charges Wilkinson in the Spring of 1804, to use a common and expressive term, with having "maced" Governors Folch and the Marquis de Casa Calvo out of $12,000.00, for certain "reflections" that Wilkinson wrote, and Folch translated and signed and sent in his own name to his home government. This is alleged to have been occurred shortly after the time of the transfer of Louisiana, and is probably the weakest of the many weak attacks made on Wilkinson. It is on this face extremely improbable. No people on earth were ever more proud of their military knowledge and training than the Spanish Military Officials, and no class of men, from the cruel Cortes down, were more noted for their capacity to get and unwillingness to give.
Prof. Cox would have us believe that Casa Calvo, a Spanish Grandee and general, gave Wilkinson $12,000.00 for his "reflections" and this without the authorization from his home government.
Miro deemed such an authorization necessary for even a proposed pension of $2,000.00.
Martin's History of Louisiana, p323, says, after the cession of Louisiana,
p114 "Considerable distress was felt from the great scarcity of a circulating medium, silver was no longer brought from Vera Cruz by the government and the Spaniards were not very anxious to redeem a large quantity of liberanzas, or certificates, which they had left afloat in the province and which were greatly depreciated."
If Casa Calvo had the $100,000.00 of government money then on hand, as Prof. Cox states, it was no doubt to pay a part of the enormous sum of $400,000.00 that Spain then owed in Louisiana, and the receipt of which the Intendant Morales waited for in vain when he was expelled with Casa Calvo by Claiborne in 1806. Therefore, it would have been necessary for Casa Calvo to have embezzled or diverted some $12,000.00 of this money from its proper destination, and to have given same to an officer whose recent conduct had shown his zeal against Spain and his devotion to his own country. I do not mean to say that Casa Calvo was too good to do such a thing, but the Spaniards had not suffered as the Egyptians had, when their departing hosts, led by Moses, "Spoiled the Egyptians," and I do not think the Spaniards could have been such easy marks. The sole authority for these statements of Prof. Cox are reports made by Governor Folch to his home government.
When the first court of inquiry was held in 1808 at Washington to examine into Wilkinson's conduct, the latter produced a letter from Governor Folch and later the latter's sworn testimony, obtained by Governor Claiborne, that Wilkinson was entirely innocent of all these charges. This sworn testimony of Folch was fortified by the testimony of Gilberto Leonard, the former Spanish treasurer, who Claiborne in his letter to Madison of January 31st, 1804, declared was a man of integrity. But says Prof. Cox, this testimony of Gov. Folch was obtained by allowing him, in violation of Jefferson's embargo, to get through New Orleans a shipment of 1500 barrels of flour to the starving people of Pensacola. It is an elementary rule of law that both the previous verbal and written statements of a witness may be adduced to impeach his sworn evidence. Here it is averred that the witness was bribed to make and did make false sworn declarations and yet Professor Cox asks us to give full faith and credit, not to the sworn, but to the later unsworn and exparte declarations of the same witness. Again Wilkinson was in Washington during this time and Governor Claiborne was in full charge of the Port of New Orleans. Any such attempts to bribe Gov. Folch must have been made with and could not have been carried out without Claiborne's knowledge, assent and connivance. Claiborne certainly did not bribe or suborn Folch to give false testimony.
Daniel Clark before his open rupture with Wilkinson in his p115letter to the latter, dated February 7th, 1807, (Wilkinson's Memoirs Vol. 2d, Appendix 57) speaks of this rumor, "As to your having received $10,000.00 when you went to take possession, I have pointed out the utter impossibility of such a thing."
But one thing was not impossible, Casa Calvo and Folch could have spent this money and then charged it to a source which their own government would have been tempted to keep quiet about.
Of Casa Calvo, only a few months before, Laussat had written to his home government, "The same Marquis de Casa Calvo, was, in January, 1793, and during the following months in command of Fort Dauphin at St. Domingo, when the blacks led by Jean François massacred seventy-seven defenseless Frenchmen, who were relying on the faith of treaties. The Colonists of St. Domingo still speak of this fact with feelings of horror."
In Lewis and Clark's Journal, Vol. 7, Appendix p379,
Capt. Meriwether Lewis, who went to St. Louis in 1804, before its transfer from Spain, says:
"From the commencement of the Spanish Provincial government of Louisiana, whether by permission of the crown, or originating in the pecuniary rapacity of the Governorsº General, this officer assumed to himself the right of trading with all the Indians in Louisiana; and therefore proceeded to dispose of this privilege to individuals for specific sums; his example was followed by the governors of upper Louisiana, who made a further exaction."
"The evil resulting from high prices for necessities of life to the Indians caused so much trouble by the latter, that expeditions had to be set on foot to quell them. These parties rarely accomplished anything, but Lewis adds, the soldiers on their return were made to sign receipts for about four times as much as they received, "and the balance was of course taken by the governor."
About the same time Governor Claiborne wrote to Madison, January 2nd, 1804, "It is a shameful fact that under the administration of Governor Salcedo many of the positions of honor and profit within his gift were sold, and that even when exercising the sacred character of a judge he often vended his decisions."
"After such an account you will not be surprised that the same depravities pervaded the system in every direction."
"The arrears in the department of justice are very great, many of the causes are of considerable importance and some of them have been pending upwards of twenty years. Corruption has put her seal on them." (Robertson's Louisiana, Vol. 2, p23.)
Probably Casa Calvo was no better than Salcedo. The record shows the Spanish rulers of Louisiana had just prior to that time tried to defraud the United States out of large tracts of lands by ante-dated grants. Spain still owed Wilkinson $2,095.00 a long overdue p116balance on his tobacco, and Casa Calvo and Folch may have followed the example of the unfaithful steward in scripture by casting up false accounts to their ultimate advantage.
The Marquis of Casa Calvo's mission in Louisiana was to act as boundary commissioner; which was to see that Spain got as much and the United States as little as possible of the ceded territory. To this end, the Marquis appointed on March 31st, 1804, the crafty Don Thomas Powerº as one of the surveyors.
(Robertson's Louisiana Vol. 2, 174).
The same authority quotes a letter of March 31st, 1804, from Casa Calvo to Laussat in which the former protested to Laussat about the American claims. Robertson also quotes several letters from Casa Calvo to the Spanish Minister, from the archives of Madrid denouncing the American claims, which claims were of course championed by both Wilkinson and Claiborne to the President.
Finally on January 10th, 1806, Governor Claiborne wrote Casa Calvo stating his authority to act as boundary commissioner, had never been accepted by the United States and as there was no possibility of their agreement on the subject his presence here was no longer desirable.
Not only, as I will hereafter show, was the Spanish government then robbing with rapacious greed the people and even the churches of Mexico, to send money to the infamous Godoy and his mercenaries in Spain, but Louisiana had slipped from the failing hand of that bankrupted government, the latter owed the people of her former colony nearly half a million dollars, and the Spanish paper currency called Liberanzas was then circulating at a ruinous discount in New Orleans and nothing was being done to redeem it. (Martin p323).
It is more than improbable that Casa Calvo had any large amount of money at all in New Orleans in 1804. In his letters to his home government, quoted in Robertson's Louisiana, he mentions the employment of two surveyors, one of whom was the notorious Thomas Power, as I have said, and this survey work did not require much money, and none of it was ever actually done. The claim is made that he brought this $100,000.00 from Vera Cruz in silver and that the $12,000, it is alleged he paid Wilkinson, was in bags of the same silver, the large part of which was invested by Wilkinson in "a cargo of sugar" that he took with him to Philadelphia.
Now one hundred thousand dollars of silver would have weighed over 7,000 pounds, and $12,000.00 of silver, •1,000 pounds, or three mule loads of silver.c Gayarre states that when Casa Calvo left Louisiana overland in 1806 it was "suspected" he took considerable p117money with him. It would have taken a caravan of at least 20 mules to have carried away $100,000.00 of silver and suspicion would hardly have been necessary concerning what would then have been a patent fact.
I submit further that the affidavit of John McDonaugh, Junior, in Clark's Proofs, p51, is also questionable. This affidavit states that in March, 1804, affiant bought for Wilkinson 107 hogshead of sugar for $8,045.35; that he, affiant, chartered the ship Louisiana, for Wilkinson, to take this sugar to Philadelphia on which ship the General also took passage; that Wilkinson paid for this sugar in Mexican dollars.
In the Louisiana Gazette of that time sugar is quoted at 10 to 15 cents a pound. Allowing 1,000 pounds to each of the above hogsheads, the entire weight would have been only 53½ tons, a very small quantity of freight to warrant the charter of an entire ship for a 1,200‑mile ocean voyage. It would therefore seem that this witness was either lying or exaggerating. Wilkinson's pay as a General in the army with allowances was between $3,000 and $4,000 a year while on active service. He had been working for years on the frontier and among the Indians in Georgia where all his expenses had been paid, and had there no chance to spend money. Besides he stated that the government had allowed him extra for his survey work which was paid to him by Mr. Taylor, the disbursing agent. This purchase of sugar, if made at all by Wilkinson, was open and not by a party interposed and the payment, as alleged, if made, was entirely open. The quantity may have been exaggerated, since McDonaugh, Junior, errs even in his date, March, 1804, for on March 24th, 1804, Governor Claiborne wrote Madison, "Wilkinson is still here, and I believe will not part until the Spanish troops are withdrawn and the public buildings delivered."
Clark claims that Taylor was then dead, but such payments of disbursing officers are all of record in Washington. Clark was a member of Congress there two years later, and his chief mission on earth at that time was to hunt up evidence against Wilkinson.
He made this special charge against Wilkinson in his "Proofs," but it was entirely ignored and dropped in the charges made against Wilkinson in 1810, which latter were all based on Randolph and Clark's attacks. Merchandise of that period was usually paid for in New Orleans in Mexican silver. There was no other money then in circulation in New Orleans. There were no mints in this country south of Philadelphia. Mexican money largely circulated all over the South and even in the East and West Indies up to the Civil War. p118There was always more pure silver in the Mexican sunburst than in our own dollar.
Northern historians are singularly silent on those statesmen of the North, who, during all this time, were willing to rend the Union whenever their interest prompted it, and yet they twist every circumstance to fit their attacks on Wilkinson.
This article of Prof. Cox contains a statement as to the testimony of Isaac Briggs from "Wilkinson's Memoirs, 2nd Volume, Appendix 59," which is grossly incorrect. Briggs there stated that he held a conversation with Wilkinson in October, 1806, in which Wilkinson jestingly referred to himself as "a Spanish officer on his way to fight the Spaniards," and of how he had received $10,000.000 from them in 1804. Professor Cox states that Briggs testified he visited Wilkinson again in the middle of November, 1806, when the latter's wife was at the point of death at Major Minor's house at Natchez, and that Wilkinson assured him then, that the money he received in 1804 at New Orleans from the Spaniards was due him for tobacco.
In the Briggs deposition, every line of which I have examined most carefully, no reference whatever is made to this subject on this visit of Briggs to Wilkinson in November, and in his deposition, as to the former interview in October, Briggs on his cross examination expressly declared Wilkinson "spoke jocularly and precipitately." (Appendix 59).
I submit it is not fair to turn what a witness expressly says was stated to him in jest by the speaker, as an admission of the latter's guilt.
Wilkinson remained in New Orleans for some months after Governor Claiborne assumed control. In 1805 Wilkinson was made military governor of upper Louisiana, with headquarters at St. Louis. Under orders of the War Department, dated March 13th, 1806, he was ordered to send most of his forces down the river to Fort Adams.
On March 18th, 1806, he was notified that the Spaniards were making a reinforcement of the post of Natchitochesº necessary, and to that end to send Col. Cushing with several companies and artillery there. Shortly after receiving this order Col. Cushing was sent down with discretionary powers over his force.
On May 6th, 1806, Wilkinson received orders from the War Department to repair himself to the Territory of Orleans, and take command, to resist encroachments by Spaniards thereon, and to repel invasion and oppose force by force, but his specific orders were: p119"It is highly probable that within a very short time, we shall receive accounts of a satisfactory adjustment of all disputes between us and Spain; hostilities ought, therefore, to be avoided by all reasonable means within our power, but an actual invasion of our territory cannot be submitted to."
Wilkinson, finding the Spaniards had encroached on Louisiana soil, acting in obedience to his orders, arranged a conference with the Spanish Commander, and induced him to keep his forces to the west side of the Sabine, to await the result of later negotiations, which were successful, thereby achieving a bloodless victory, for which he was much complimented by President Jefferson. While engaged in this campaign, an emissary of Burr, Samuel Swartwout,º delivered a letter from him in cipher to Wilkinson at Natchitoches, October 8th, 1806.
Some historical hyenas evoke suspicion against Wilkinson from the use of this cipher. Wilkinson, however, proved on his trial that he corresponded in the same cipher with Burr when he was Vice-President, and with other army officers whom he named, and produced such letters. Burr loved the mysterious so much that he corresponded in cipher with his own daughter.
In Jefferson's writing will be found a number of his letters declaring that he refrained from writing often because the mails were not safe and his letters were subject to espionage. That the chief officer in the United States army should be suspected, because he had corresponded in cipher with the man who, up to the year previous, was Vice-President, would be to suspect every prominent official of the present day of crime.
Even the writers who accuse Wilkinson of venality admit he was keen and brilliant. He was then at the summit of military power. The warrior Joab was not closer to David than he was to the President. That he should throw all this away; throw away a long record of military bravery and loyalty in which he fought from the lowest rank to supreme command, to become second in command to a man that Wilkinson pitied and tried to help, in vain, in 1805, second in command too, if Burr's claims were true, on an uncertain filibustering expedition, like those later of Walker in Nicaragua and Fry in Cuba, would certainly not show venality, but sheer insanity. The ill informed writers who say Wilkinson first intended to attack the Spaniards and then concluded not to attack them, and to betray Burr, lose sight of the fact that Wilkinson in his actions towards the Spaniards complied exactly with the orders of the President of the United States given him beforehand; that if he had disobeyed p120these orders and, without first having held a conference had attacked the Spaniards and caused great loss of life, he could have been court-martialed and shot. These attacks are on a par with an attack of another historical scavenger, who claims that jealousy prompted Wilkinson to send Trueman and Hardin, two of his officers, under a flag of truce in 1792, to the Indians, both of these officers being murdered on that mission. The records show that Wilkinson was ordered by Washington, through the War Department, dated April 3rd, 1792, to make no attack on the Indians until he had extended the olive branch. This order further read:
"In pursuance of the design of peace Captain Trueman is by his own request and desire employed on a mission to the hostile Indians. He will disclose to you his instructions and the message to the said Indians of which he is the bearer. You will advise him the most direct measures to accomplish his object and afford him every possible aid to that end."
And by letter from General Knox, Secretary of War, dated July 17th, 1792, the appointment of Colonel Hardin, selected to go with Trueman, was noticed and, "the terms you stipulated to Col. Hardin shall be performed on the part of the public."
The first military service that was performed by George Washington was on such a mission.
Even so fair and kindly an historian as the late President of this society, Mr. Fortier, has impliedly charged Wilkinson with the great mortality of his troops in 1809 by camping at a morass or swamp in Terre aux Boeufs, below the city, when as District Attorney of that District for twelve years, I know the site where Wilkinson encamped his troops at Terre aux Boeufs is the highest land between New Orleans and the mouth of the river, over •100 miles distant, and has much better natural drainage than the city of New Orleans, being a high ridge of land that extends from the river for •15 miles back in the interior.
The defamers of Wilkinson also failed to note the fact that all the previous charges made against Wilkinson were that he was strongly pro-Spanish, while, whatever doubt there was of the true object of Burr's expedition, there was no doubt on the point that it was to be against Mexico or some other dependency of Spain. Burr, knowing Wilkinson loved adventure and that he had once been active for the secession of the settlements of Kentucky, believed he could be readily induced to act with him. Conspirators do not arrest each other when they have been writing in cipher to each other on the subject of conspiracies, unless, like Samson, they desire to pull down a temple on themselves. Wilkinson, then living under a different p121form of a stable government, in a territory justly belonging to the United States, refused to act with Burr. The arrest of Burr, Burr's second arrest after he attempted to escape, the action of the same Judge, that fined General Jackson and Judge Workman's similar action against Wilkinson, the forwarding of Burr for trial to Virginia and his subsequent acquittal, are all well known. While Burr, after his acquittal, and every witness that knew anything, were living to testify against Wilkinson on his trial in 1811, the latter was then acquitted by a jury of his peers of all complicity in the Burr conspiracy.
Even John Randolph, Wilkinson's bitter enemy and the person who acted as the foreman of the Grand Jury that indicted Burr, could not scrape up enough evidence to indict Wilkinson of complicity with Burr, much less to prove him guilty.
The defamers of Wilkinson all fail to note that fact, as found by Wilkinson's court-martial later, that the latter could have attacked the Spaniards at the Sabine river, thereby engaging his troops with the enemy and thus have left the field clear for Burr's forces against New Orleans, and this without incurring the least responsibility to himself, if Burr had failed in his undertaking.
The charge, that Wilkinson gave Burr suspicious letters of introduction to General Adair and to Daniel Clark are fully explained in his Memoirs. Burr at that time desired to be elected as a delegate to Congress from one of the territories and had made successive suggestions in that direction as to Tennessee, Indiana and Louisiana. These letters, seeking support for Burr, a non-resident, left the latter to explain to the recipients of these letters his own candidacy. Wilkinson's expression in his letter to Adair, most seized upon, was,
"Colonel Burr understands your merits and reckons on you. Prepare to visit me and I will tell you all.
"We must have a peep at the unknown world beyond me. I shall want a pair of strong carriage horses at about $120.00 each, young and sound, substantial but not flashy." [. . .]
St. Louis was at that time our most western city, Wilkinson's son James was then preparing to leave with the Pike survey party towards the Rocky Mountains, and that no warlike expedition was then contemplated is shown by the fact that the proposed trip was to be by carriage. Eight months later, United States Senator Adair wrote to Wilkinson from Washington, on January 27th, 1806, saying,
"Burr's business in the west is to avoid a prosecution in New York [. . .] Both the ruling parties in New York p122have made proposals to Colonel Burr offering to pass a law pardoning all his past and promising to elect him Governor if he will return. He left the state a few days ago for the South and will return before the session closes. Whether he will accept their proposals I cannot say."
Burr wrote the same month from Philadelphia to Wilkinson on January 6th, 1806.
"We are to have no Spanish war except in ink and words. It is undoubtedly best, for we are in a poor condition to go to war, even with Spain."
It is therefore only fair to suppose that Wilkinson's letter introducing Burr to Adair did not refer to a warlike expedition, since nothing appears to have been contemplated of that character between the date of the letter of introduction, May 28th, 1805, and the letters of January, 1806, quoted above and both published at greater length in Wilkinson's Memoirs, Vol. II, Appendix. That Adair himself, attached no suspicion to this letter of Wilkinson is shown by a quotation from "Memoirs of Aaron Burr" by Davis, (Volume 2nd, page 379.)
"General Adair possessed the confidence of Colonel Burr in relation to his western movements in a greater degree than any other individual." Burr was introduced to Adair by General Wilkinson. In a letter dated March, 1807, General Adair says:
"So far as I know or believe of the intentions of Colonel Burr, and my enemies will agree that I am not ignorant on this subject, they were to prepare and lead an expedition into Mexico, predicated on a war between the two governments."
General Adair said further that Wilkinson agreed to act with Burr in this and that the former had,
"Made a venal and shameful bargain with the Spaniards at Sabine River."
Burr seems to have had such wonderful powers of fascination or personal magnetism as to have hypnotized some of his followers.
How inconsistent it is for historians to condemn Wilkinson for having given a letter of introduction to Burr, when Adair, the recipient of that letter, later declares that Burr intended no wrong. One of the most singular of the angles of the attacks on Wilkinson was that while the friends of Burr were most bitter in assailing Wilkinson as a factor in the Burr conspiracy, they at the same time claimed that the leader of the conspiracy was himself perfectly innocent.
p123 To show what sophistry Adair resorted to, he could see nothing wrong in an attack on Mexico, a country with which we were then at peace.
His attacks on Wilkinson were unethical and absurd on their face. As a soldier he knew that a soldier's first duty was loyal obedience to his commander, the President.
One would have supposed that a good citizen would have rejoiced that Wilkinson had obeyed the orders of the President and achieved an honorable and bloodless peace at the Sabine instead of denouncing Wilkinson because that peace left the little army under Wilkinson free to crush Burr's plans. I am willing to concede that up to the time that Wilkinson received Burr's cipher letter from Swartwout near Natchitoches on October 8th, 1806, neither he, nor any one in Louisiana, believed that Burr had any serious designs against any United States territory.
While Adair was much with Burr, Wilkinson had only seen the latter, after leaving Washington, twice in 1805 and not once in 1806, and had not heard from him but three times in 1806. I have shown that Burr wrote Wilkinson a letter on January 6th, 1806, declaring there was no chance for a war with Spain, and he then being near the seat of government ought to have been better posted than Wilkinson, in far off St. Louis. But later that spring the Spaniards increased their forces at Mobile on the east, and a large force invaded Louisiana at Sabine river on the west, Wilkinson received orders to send a force to the latter territory, in March, 1806, and later, in May, to go there himself. Wilkinson admits when he first heard the news of the encroachments of the Spaniards he said to many people he believed it meant war.
He had held no communications with Burr since the previous October and was busily engaged with his military preparations at St. Louis, when on May 12th, 1806, he received the following letter from Burr which is published in the appendix to the second volume of his Memoirs.
April 16th, 1806.
"The execution of our project is postponed until December; want of water in the Ohio rendered movement impracticable; other reasons rendered delay expedient. The association is enlarged and comprises all that Wilkinson could wish. Confidence limited to a few. Though this delay is irksome it will enable us to move with certainty and dignity. Burr will be throughout the United States this summer. Administration is damned which Randolph aids. Burr wrote you a long letter last December replying to a short one deemed very silly. Nothing has been heard of Brigadier since October. Is Cusion at Portes right. Address, Burr, Washington."
This letter is published in Wilkinson's Memoirs, 2nd Volume, p124Appendix 83. Wilkinson declared that he never got the letter Burr said he had written in December, but he produced the one written later to him by Burr in January, 1806.
In those January letters not a hint was given, either by Burr, or by his self-avowed confidant Adair, of any proposed expedition. If Wilkinson was to have been the moving spirit of any such expedition and was to have constituted itsº military arm, why had the "Brigadier" not been heard from for over six months and why had he not been considered important enough to consult, as to when, and where, the movement was to be launched. At first blush it would seem that Burr's troubles had then unsettled his mind.
No doubt the rapid change in the Spanish situation had inspired him with the idea of launching some military movement in which he strongly counted on Wilkinson's aid against the Spanish authorities, but Wilkinson's critics have always charged that he had a leaning to Spain and in this instance he should be given at least the credit of not going to war on his own account against her without cause.
Wilkinson wrote the following day, May 13th, 1806, asking Burr, to explain what he meant by this letter. I will show later how Burr, after a hypocritical pretence that he could not possibly show what had been written to him in confidence, on being requested by Wilkinson, in open court, to produce this and all other letters that he had written to him, refused to do so claiming he had given this particular letter to a third party. Who that party was Burr did not state, as he, if known, could have been summoned to produce this letter. I call particular attention to the fact that the most bitter charges were made against Wilkinson both before and after the Burr trial, the daughter of Burr having written a book against him, yet this letter, demanded by Wilkinson face to face with Burr, has never as yet been produced.
I attach little importance to the charge that Wilkinson furnished Burr a boat to go down the Mississippi River in 1805, as Andrew Jackson had furnished Burr a boat on the Ohio, to do the same on that river, had entertained him elaborately, and Davis in his Memoir so Burr, (Volume 2, page 382) says, "Jackson promised to aid Burr in his invasion of Mexico with a whole division of troops." Jackson also went to Burr's defense at Richmond and made a speech on the streets there in his defense.
But the truth is, that Wilkinson did not furnish Burr with either a boat or crew to go down the Mississippi in 1805. Capt. Daniel Hughes testified before the Bacon Committee in 1811:
p125 "Q. Did General Wilkinson send a boat for Colonel Burr, to the mouth of the Cumberland?
"A. No, I do not believe he did. Col. Burr came down the river in his own flat, passed a boat in which I lodged, and was hailed by a sentinel before he landed.
"Q. Did General Wilkinson furnish Col. Burr a crew or a barge to descend the river, and what was his mode of transport?
"A. No, Colonel Burr embarked in a barge, the private property of Capt. Bissell, manned by a crew taken from a detachment, which had been ordered to reinforce the lower posts on the Mississippi."
A very careful examination of certain of the salientº facts connected with the Burr conspiracy has not been made in any of the many publications that I have read on this subject.
The very causes of Burr's unpopularity in Puritanical and righteous New England made Burr a hero in the West and South with such men as Jackson who believed in the duelling code.
In Creole New Orleans, particularly, duelling was so fixed an institution that Mr. Lewis, the brother-in‑law of the governor, was killed in 1806 and in 1807 itsº governor was wounded in a duel by the member of Congress from that territory and nothing was thought of it.
When Burr went down to New Orleans in 1805 he received an ovation. His stepson, Prevost, was one of the Superior Judges of Louisiana. Burr immediately allied himself with the party opposed to Governor Claiborne, in fact Burr's friends claimed that Claiborne's appointment, as the territorial governor of Mississippi, was but a reward for his vote for Jefferson, for President, in Congress, two years before his appointment as Governor. If this be true it may be said that for such service Claiborne deserved much more from his country.
On Burr's Spain down the Ohio in November, 1806, he was again the recipient of the greatest attention. Even after his arrest and trials at Frankfurt he was given a banquet. Burr was conceded to be a man of courage. Now Adair and other friends of Burr declared he only contemplated an invasion of Mexico. Wilkinson became convinced, as well as did Governor Claiborne, that Burr had hostile intentions against New Orleans after Burr's cipher letter to him, written in July and received by Wilkinson October 8th, 1806.
The North American Review (Vol. 49) says:
"That there was really a double plot seems hardly deniable. [. . .] This double plot was characteristic of Burr. He found in the west he had to deal with a decided attachment to the Union and the administration p126of Jefferson. In order to get over this he gave out among those to be affected by it that his project was only against Mexico and thatº in this he was promised both the cooperation of the British and American governments while to his more intimate associates he breathed a spirit nothing short of utter contempt and enmity to the institutions of the United States themselves."
Wilkinson's opinion, formed from Burr's and Dayton's letters and from Swartwout's statements, was strengthened by other news of Burr's intended descent with his forces to New Orleans, which all agree was Burr's prospective destination. Now none of the words I have read noted that the route then to Mexico coming down via the Mississippi River from the Ohio was to turn westward when Red River was reached and ascend that river to Natchitoches and then to proceed westward over land to Texas.
New Orleans was then, and is now, flanked on both the east and west by impenetrable marshes too soft for foot soldiers to march in, for at least •fifty miles. There is no pretence that Burr had then any fleet at New Orleans to transport his troops by sea to Mexico. To have come down to New Orleans, •208 miles below the mouth of Red River, and then to have ascended against the current back to Red River would have added to his trip •at least five hundred miles. Besides this, if Burr expected aid from Wilkinson, he then knew that Wilkinson and his forces were already near the banks of the Sabine at the Texas border.
Jefferson declared that Burr's real intention, was to capture New Orleans and to loot the banks there, to furnish the funds to fit out his expedition. It is also claimed that Daniel Clark, was an accessory, and was himself to advance fifty thousand dollars to Burr, but as shown hereafter, Clark while devoted to Burr, had little cash money about that time.
Now if Adair was right and Wilkinson wrong in their respective surmises as to Burr's intentions, when Burr was arrested at Bayou Pierre coming down the Mississippi River, and released under bond at Washington, Miss., why did he then seek refuge in flight? The Good Book says, "The wicked flee when no man pursueth." No man was pursuing Burr at that time. He had a powerful coterie of friends both in the west and at New Orleans, including the powerful Edward Livingston, subsequently one of his lawyers. Yet Burr not only fled, but he fled in disguise and under an assumed name. A reward of $2,000 was offered for his arrest, and he was arrested on February the 9th, 1807, while working his way eastward to Spanish Florida through the woods near Wakefield, Alabama. He was later taken to Richmond for trial.
p127 He attempted again to escape on his way to Richmond, and appealed to bystanders for help.
In McCaleb's book on Aaron Burr, which is largely a defense of the latter, the excuse is given for this flight, that Burr might have feared violence at the hands of Wilkinson. Burr had then been released by the Judges on $5,000.00 bail, was not under confinement, and was being then made the object of much hospitality and attention. The great Henry Clay, his former attorney, Andrew Jackson, and a host of others, were his friends and no one would have dared to do him violence. None of the calumniators of Wilkinson have ever charged that he was an assassin.d The real truth was that Burr feared his person would be demanded in other jurisdictions where better proof could be had against him than in Mississippi, and therefore, he forfeited his bail and fled.
In the report of the proceedings published in the Louisiana Gazette of Friday February 27th, 1807, (now in the City Hall, New Orleans) the Attorney-General Poindexter stated to the court, that under the depositions on file against Burr, the Court had no jurisdiction. "He further observed, that in order to procure the public safety, the Territorial Judges ought immediately to convey the accused to a tribunal competent to try and punish him (if guilty of the charges against him) which they might legally do."
To thisº Burr objected. In consequence of this view of the Attorney General, no indictments were presented for the Grand Jury to act on, and the Grand Jury was later discharged after stating that they had no presentments to make against Burr, etc. The question then was whether the court should cancel the bond and discharge Burr when they discharged the Grand Jury, or hold him on his bond subject to prosecution in another jurisdiction.
Burr's former discharge in Kentucky had not prevented the later expedition down the Mississippi River and the court, though at first divided, refused to cancel Burr's bond; hence his flight.
It is remarkable that every attack on Wilkinson harks back to Daniel Clark, the friend of Burr, or to the attorneys for Burr. As was truthfully said by Jefferson in his letter to Wilkinson, on June 21st, 1807, "But it was soon apparent that the clamorous were only the criminal endeavoring to turn the public attention from themselves, and their leader upon any other object."
Burr and his friends, with lawyers hired in almost every large city, to act as his "claquers," were doing their utmost to prove that this prosecution was instigated by Wilkinson.
One query repeated in the Louisiana Gazette of April 31st,º 1807, p128as published in the "Aurora" shortly previous, seems pertinent. If, as contended by Clark and a host of Burr's friends and attorneys, Wilkinson was suspected or known as a venal mercenary of the Spanish crown since 1794, why do they claim he was to hold so prominent a position in their own anti-Spanish movement, and why was no open attack made on him until forces under his command had crushed Burr. "No thief ere felt the halter draw, with good opinion of the law."
As to Burr's pretensions, Jefferson declared that Burr had forged a letter from Dearborn,º Secretary of War, endorsing his scheme, to get western men to join his expedition.
In the Louisiana Gazette, March 8th, 1807, is published a three‑column deposition containing the full details of Burr's plot as explained by Burr himself to the deponent, General William Eaton, which deposition Eaton declares was forwarded in substance to the President by him in September or October, 1806, which was about two months before Wilkinson's letter to the latter was received. Mr. Eaton testified that when Burr told him Wilkinson was to be his Lieutenant, "I replied, Wilkinson will be a Lieutenant to no man in existence." Mr. Eaton testified that he believed his reference to Wilkinson was "an artful argument of deduction."
Burr was utterly unworthy of belief.
In a criticism of Davis' Memoirs of Burr, the North American Review, Vol. 49 (1839), p155 said:
"Washington was so distrustful of Burr that he rejected the recommendation of his friends to make him minister to Paris declaring he had no confidence in his integrity."
This dislike Burr cordially returned since, "From the day of Burr's resignation from the revolutionary army to the day of his death he never failed to speak of Washington save in terms of disparagement," (same article) (p168).
Henry Clay, formerly deceived by Burr's former protestations of innocence, refused to shake hands with the latter, when he met him in the Federal court house in New York, after his return from Europe (Parton's Life of Burr).
On October 6th, 1806, two days before Wilkinson in far off Louisiana had received Burr's letter, the citizens of Wood county, Virginia, held mass meeting and denounced Burr's intended expedition and called for troops to suppress it. Resolutions were there adopted and sent to the President and published in many newspapers.
p129 The Monongahela Gazette published these resolutions on October 16th, 1806, and that publication was republished in the Louisiana Gazette of December 26th, 1806.
Wilkinson's letter in November was merely a confirmation of Jefferson's previous advices.
Jefferson in his message to Congress on January 22nd, 1807, said that he knew over two months before he received Wilkinson's letter, on November 25th, 1806, of Burr's preparations, and he had in the latter part of October, sent a confidential agent to the Ohio to keep him thoroughly posted. Jefferson stated that from the information there gathered and Wilkinson's letter he became convinced that Burr's object "was to seize New Orleans, plunder the bank there, possess himself of the military and naval stores and to proceed on his expedition to Mexico." [. . .] After stating the steps taken and the orders given to counteract Burr's designs, Jefferson said to Congress, "A little before the receipt of these orders in the State of Ohio, our confidential agent, who had been diligently employed in investigating the conspiracy, had acquired sufficient information to open himself to the Governor of that State, and to apply for the immediate exertion of the authority and power of the State to crush the combination."
"Governor Tiffin, and the legislature, with a promptitude, energy, and patriotic zeal, which entitle them to a distinguished place in the affection of their sister States, effected a seizure of all the boats, provisions and other preparations within their reach; and thus gave a first blow, materially disabling the enterprise at its outset."
The President stated to Congress how Kentucky and Tennessee had also aided him in putting down the Burr expedition, and when McCaleb, and other Burr historians, declare, that the 135 patriots who came down with Burr were too petty a force to warrant Wilkinson's alarming dispatches,º they fail to note that but for the promptness with which Jefferson and the officials of Ohio and Kentucky acted thousands might have joined Burr's standard.
Among the many false and exparte statements gotten up to do service in assailing Wilkinson was that he sent Colonel W. Burling down to the Vice-Roy of Mexico with a letter stating all the details of the Burr expedition and demanding over $100,000 for his services in preventing the invasion of Mexico.
Daniel Clark had less than a year before returned from a visit to the Vice-Roy of Mexico and the Spanish officers generally disliked Wilkinson so much that they would have been willing, at the p130former Spaniard, Clark's instigation, to make any statement to the former's discredit.
Such a statement was no doubt instigated by Clark who could not use it because Burling still lived to refute it. Therefore, it was not brought up either in the Court of Inquiry in 1808 or in the Court Martial in 1811. It is however, cited in both Davis' Memoirs of Burr and in McCaleb's work and in Clark's "Proofs."
Any visit of Burling to Vera Cruz late in 1806 must have been made at Jefferson's suggestion since later on January 3rd, 1807, the President wrote Wilkinson that he was anxious as to the safety of Vera Cruz which a French or English fleet could capture.
"You may expect further information as we receive it."
I prefer on this matter to take the sworn evidence of Colonel W. Burling, dated November 9th, 1807, and offered before the Court of Inquiry in 1808, within less than a year after the latter's return from Vera Cruz, rather than a suspicious improbable and unsworn statement from one of the most corrupt Spanish rulers that ever disgraced Mexico, concerning an alleged letter from Wilkinson, and two other unsworn statements, deposited many years later, with one of Burr's former attorneys.
Colonel Burling after testifying to the prominent part he had taken in the agreement between the American and Spanish forces in the fall of 1806, concludes, "The following morning (November 3rd, 1806), the Inspector Viana came to our camp, when the agreement was made which removed our difficulties for that time; and shortly after the General, leaving the troops under the command of Colonel Cushing, set off for Natchitoches whither I accompanied him. After a short stay at this place we proceeded to Natchez, where I took leave of him as a public man, nor have I since that period had any communication with him of a public nature."
"I take this occasion to declare in the most solemn manner, that in all General Wilkinson's transactions, until I left him to follow my private pursuits, he appeared to have no other object in view than the faithful performance of his duty [. . .]" Wilkinson's Memoirs, Vol. 2, App. XCVII.
To show to what lengths in vituperation, the chroniclers of that time, have gone, Davis, in his memoirs of Burr, Vol. 2, p400, says:
"Accordingly after the trial of Burr at Richmond General Wilkinson despatched Capt. Walter Burling his aid to demand of the Vice-Roy of Mexico the repayment of his expenditures and compensations for his services to Spain in defeating Burr's expedition against Mexico. The modesty of this demand being about two hundred thousand dollars is worthy of notice."
p131 Following this statement is what purports to be a copy of an act of deposit by Richardº Raynal Keene, an ex‑Spanish officer, then attorney in New Orleans, before William Y. Lewis, former attorney of Burr, and then Notary, dated December 24th, 1836.
The documents so deposited were two unsworn statements, one dated 1816, purporting to be from the former wife of Vice-Roy Iturrigary, and the other, in 1821, from an Irish-Spanish priest at Salamanca, and both containing an account of how Wilkinson demanded through Walter Burling, his aid, over $200,000 from Iturrigary for his expenses and as a reward for frustrating the Burr invasion of Mexico.
I have searched the Notarial archives of New Orleans for these documents, but find the records of Notary Lewis, up to 1840 were burnt during his life, and that these documents were never deposited there.
The animus of the author of this deposit is easily explained. This Richard Raynal Keene, was much embittered against both Wilkinson and Claiborne; against the former for charging in 1807 that he was a confederate of Burr and against the latter for making affidavit that he had gone to Jamaica to obtain a British Naval force to aid Burr. Though the charge by Wilkinson was withdrawn in the Louisiana Gazette of September 1st, 1807, Keene never forgave him. These Keene statements are not only unsworn to, but no evidence of their authenticity is attached to them and for aught to the contrary, they were manufactured in New Orleans.
It is more than improbable that the particulars of a letter received and destroyed on its receipt by Iturrigary, as he states, in 1807, should have been remembered for so many years by third parties whom it did not concern and who were passing through such fearful trials and reverses as the former vice-roy and his house-hold suffered after 1808.
Not only this, but the uncontradicted facts show, as stated by McCaleb in his work on Burr, (pp165 to 169), that Burling left Natchez on this mission for Mexico on November 17th, 1806, that he went westward overland to Vera Cruz reaching there January 20th, 1807, and returned by sea in February. From the time Burling left Wilkinson on November 14th, 1806, until the latter reached Vera Cruz, and saw Iturrigary, January 20th, 1807, Wilkinson had no opportunity to communicate with Burling. Now the Burr trials did not begin until June, 1807.
The Burr expedition did not come down the river and Burr was not arrested until January 15th, 1807. The projected invasion of p132Mexico by Burr was neither frustrated or defeated for nearly two months after the mission of Burling to Mexico began, therefore, on its face, any such demand by Wilkinson for defeating, what had then never existed, would have been ridiculous and preposterous.
I am inclined to believe that as Wilkinson was making all the preparation and getting all the assistance possible; as the United States forces, their forts, their cannon and ammunition were weak and in a wretched condition, he may have warned Iturrigary of the projected invasion and asked Mexico's financial aid, just as the United States once tendered her financial aid to help Carranza wipe out Villa. But from a careful examination, I am inclined to believe that there was a thorough understanding between Iturrigary and Burr's friends and that the news brought by Burling was a disappointment to the most disreputable and treacherous ruler that Mexico has ever known, and consequently he did all he could to discredit Wilkinson.
Davis in his memoirs of Burr 2nd Volume, p382, says, "On the suggest of Wilkinson, Mexico was twice visited by Daniel Clark." (The letters from Clark and Wilkinson, both before and after Clark's trip, show Wilkinson did not know what the object of Clark's visit was, and they had not seen each other at all during the year 1806).
Parton says, Vol. 2, p45: "My own impression, after reading all the procurable documents, is, that neither Clark or Wilkinson were really embarked in Burr's Mexican scheme: though both up to a certain point may have favored it."
Davis continues, "He (Clark) held conferences and effected arrangements with many of the principal militia officers who engaged to favor the revolution. The Catholic Bishop, resident at New Orleans, was also consulted, and prepared to promote the enterprise. He designated three priests as suitable agents, and they were accordingly employed. The Bishop was an intelligent and social man. He had been in Mexico and spoke with great freedom of the dissatisfaction of the Clergy in South America. Madame Xavier Tyurcon, Superior of the convent of Ursuline Nuns, was in the secret. Some of the sisterhood were also employed in Mexico. So far as any decision had been formed, the landing was to have been effected at Tampico."
Clark in his "Proofs of the Corruption of General Wilkinson," page 94, says:
"On the 11th of September 1805 I purchased a ship called the Caroline and prepared her for the voyage. I embarked in her with a cargo amounting p133to $105 000 and sailed for Vera Cruz. I remained there about two months and then returned to New Orleans leaving behind me about $56 000. In February I made a second voyage to La Vera Cruz with the double view of bringing back the funds before left there and of disposing of the cargo of the ship Patty which was to follow me in a few days with a cargo amounting to $55 000. I effected both these objects leaving at Vera Cruz about $40 000 which I did not receive till the next year."
The story of Clark's second Mexican trip in February, 1806, is true. In his letter of September 7th, 1805, to Wilkinson (Memoirs Appendix 23), Clark says, "I am on the point of setting off to Vera Cruz. [. . .] My return will be in three or four months." In this letter Clark desired Wilkinson to look after certain of his land titles in his absence. He left on his second trip February 9th, 1806. As soon as he returned, in a letter dated New Orleans April 14th, 1806, (Memoirs Appendix 73), Clark wrote Wilkinson, "I wrote you in the month of August last year, enclosing plots and titles of sundry tracts of land, [. . .] Be pleased to dissipate my fears by giving me some information on the subject. [. . .] I have been since I last wrote to you, in the land of promise, but what is more I have gotten safe from it, after having been represented to the Vice-Roy, as a person dangerous to the Spanish government."
This shows that Clark when he left New Orleans Vera Cruz in September, 1805, intended to stay about four months. He did stay on both trips five months.
In the deposition of Daniel W. Coxe, partner of Daniel Clark, against Wilkinson, dated June 13th, 1808, the former swore that late in 1806, the Marquis de Casa Yrujo, (the Spanish minister)
"jestingly observed to me, that he understood Mr. Clark was going to Vera Cruz and was intimate with Burr when at New Orleans, I immediately wrote Mr. Clark (which was about the end of the year 1805), and advised him to have nothing to do with Burr.
The following is an extract of Clark's letter to me:
'New Orleans February 6th 1806.
My dear Friend
I received this day your favor of the 20th of December by post and I thank you for the information contained in the private enclosure. Be pleased to assure the respectable person who informed you I was closely connected with Colonel Burr that he has been much imposed on in this particular. That I never was acquainted with him until he came last summer of the New Orleans and that I neither was orº could be mad enough to attach myself to a man of desperate fortunes whose stay among us did not exceed a fortnight. [. . .] What in God's name have I to expect or could I hope from Col. Burr. And is it probable I should commit my fortune and perhaps reputation at my period of life to commit follies for him? [. . .]'
This short extract of Clark's longer letter shows it was written for the Spanish Minister's consumption. Such a declaration was p134certainly necessary for one then under suspicion setting sail again for Vera Cruz three days later, in the William Wright."
Reading between the lines of this letter, written months before knowledge of Burr's plans came to public light from any one, it showed Clark then knew how "mad and desperate" Burr's plans really were, and that they were enough to cause any one to risk his "fortune and reputation." On May 19th, 1806, some three months later, Clark was elected to Congress from Orleans Territory.º The man who was such a patriot, that he had in 1802, tried to ruin Wilkinson's reputation with forged documents with the President, while the country he lived in was under Spanish rule, when a prominent federal officer, never once gave the government warning about Burr, and every political friend and associates he had, when the arrest of Burr and his friends occurred, rallied to the support of that "bad" "desperate" adventurer, for whom it would have been so foolish "to risk one's fortune or reputation."
Now these appear to have been the first and last ventures of Clark at Vera Cruz.
In his "Proofs," Clark says:
"By the letter of the Spanish commercial laws all trade was prohibited to her colonies except it be carried on by natives or naturalized residents. This ruler was first relaxed under the administration of the Baron de Carondelet."
Iturrigary was later condemned by the Residencia to restore nearly half a million dollars, part of which, was for goods illegally shipped into Vera Cruz. Therefore, Clark, if he shipped goods to Mexico, of which he adduces no proof whatever, had to stand in with the Vice-Roy. He went there on his two visits shortly after Burr left Orleans and stayed there five months. He also admits he saw the Vice-Roy.
Historians have all failed to notice the curious coincidences between the careers of Burr and Iturrigary of Mexico. The former was a Vice-President, the latter a Vice-Roy. The former was arrested in 1807, and the latter in 1808, for high treason and other crimes. Both urged technical defenses. Both gave bond to appear, Burr for five thousand dollars, the latter a $40,000 cash deposit bond. Both fled, Iturrigary to Africa. Both returned to die in their native land, Iturrigary, after pardon.
Bancroft in his History of Mexico says, p22:e
"Iturrigary's appointment as the 56th vice-roy of Mexico was due to Godoy." "Iturrigary's first act on taking possession was to defraud the crown by illegally importing a cargo of merchandise into p135Vera Cruz which netted him 119,125 Pesos. This fraud was the first of many serious charges proven against him in his Residencia, of which an account will be given later."
"Moreover he at once began a system of a sale of employments on his own account and established for his benefit an impost on quicksilver, by which he unjustly secured to himself large benefits. Other frauds were perpetrated in contracts for papers used in the government cigar factories, the contractors charging fictitious prices and paying a bonus to Doña Ines (wife of the vice-roy)" (pp23 and 24). On pages 25, 26, 27, the historianº states that by other corrupt methods the vice-roy gained enormous wealth.
"The Spanish government involved, under Godoy's rule, in political difficulties corruption and extravagance and harassed by the exorbitant demands of Napoleon [. . .] decreed by royal order of December 26th, 1804, to sequester all real estate belonging to benevolent institutions. [. . .] In order to stimulate the zeal of the functionaries and to make these sequestrations more productive they were allowed a percentage of the sale. Such an incentive with men like Iturrigary, left little hope for the people; and great was the clamor among all classes, especially the clergy. [. . .] Subsequently all corporate property was taken, deposits of all kinds even money designed to ransom prisoners; never had royal license to fleece the colonists been more barefaced; never had the robbery of a people by its rulers been more merciless and infamous. [. . .]"
"The merciless rigor with which the vice-roy executed every oppressive decree and the fact that he and a host of officials profited by the ruin of others, gained him the odium of the sufferers" (p31).
"More and more urgent (in 1805) were the appeals to the Vice-Roy for Mexican silver and gold. Iturrigary seems in every respect equal to the emergency. The colonists are made to bleed."
"From corporations, from the clergy and from private individuals, thirteen millions of dollars are secured at this juncture, and shipped in four frigates, some five millions more being retained for later transportation. To make up this amount he (Iturrigary) has not only seized any deposits, however sacred, he could lay his hands on, and forced money from the poor, but he has resorted to a swindling system of lotteries," (p32).
"In 1801, Philip Nolan (Wilkinson's friend) makes an incursion into Mexican territory as far as Nuevo Santander and under the pretext of purchasing horses erects some forts. He is however, attacked and slain." (p33).
p136 "When the news was received of the victory of Lord Nelson at Trafalgar over the French and Spaniards in 1805, Iturrigary believed Vera Cruz would be attacked." (Bancroft 35).f
In 1808, Iturrigary was suspected of treasonable designs. "But Iturrigary is a coward and hypocrite — a man not the best either for a traitor or patriot. He has no thought of self sacrifice, on the contrary should he make Mexico free, he must be well paid for it. [. . .]" (p41).
On the 19th of July, 1808, an address was presented to Iturrigary asking him to become the ruler of Mexico. To this he assented.
On September 14th, 1808, Iturrigary was arrested and deposed and on the 6th of December, 1808, was taken on the ship San Justo to Cadiz. "There impeached for treason and accused of extortion and mal-administration, he awaited trial." His trial began in August, 1809, but was later suspended, and he was required to give a deposit of 40,000 pesos for bond. In October, 1810, the new regency ordered that he be re-arrested and his trial be proceeded with. He then fled to Africa. On the 26th of November, 1811, he was allowed the benefit of the general pardon. In the residencia in Mexico the late vice-roy was condemned to pay $435,413. On appeal this decree was affirmed by the council of the Indies in February, 1819, and later by the supreme tribunal of justice.
In 1821 Dona Ines, Iturrigary's widow went to Mexico after its declaration of independence, and claimed "the vice-roy had been the first promoter of independence and had fallen a victim to the cause," and she succeeded so well in proving this, that she recovered $400,000 of the money, the former vice-roy had been condemned to pay. (Bancroft p62).g
It would therefore seem, that if Iturrigary was one of the first promoters of independence in Mexico, prior to 1808, he must have been a party to the Burr conspiracy of which that independence was one of the main objects. General Eaton testified that Burr in his declaration to him said he had influential agents in Mexico.
But the record shows that both Iturrigary and his wife were first class frauds; that they were the devoted slaves of royalty, while in Spain, yet leading patriots of independence in Mexico, when money was to be gotten by it.
What sweet scented specimens they were, to convict an American on their unsworn statements.
On his visits to the West in 1805 and 1806, Burr spent thrice as much time with Andrew Jackson as he did with any other man. Jackson could abide no equal or superior and either envied or hated p137Wilkinson. Jackson necessarily knew more than Wilkinson did of Burr's plans.
On November 12th, 1806, Jackson wrote to Governor Claiborne, [. . .]
"Put your town in a state of defense organize your militia and defend your c7 as well against internal as against external enemies. My knowledge does not extend so far as to go into detail but I fear you will meet with an attack from quarters you do not expect. Be upon the alert; keep a watchful eye on your general and beware of an attack on your own country as from Spain. I fear there is something rotten in the state of Denmark. You have enemies within your own city that may try to subvert your government and separate it from the Union. You know I never hazard ideas without good grounds: You will keep these hints to yourself. But I say again be on the alert; your government I fear is in danger. I fear there are plans on foot inimical to the Union, whether they will be attempted to be carried into effect or not I cannot say but rest assured they are in operation or I calculate boldly. Beware of the month of December. I love my country and government; I hate the Dons; I would delight to see Mexico reduced; but I will die in the last ditch before I would yield a foot to the Dons or see the Union disunited; this I write for your own eye and for your own safety. Profit by it and the Ides of March remember. With sincere respect I am as usual, your sincere friend Andrew Jackson.
A very cursory reading of this letter shows that Jackson knew Burr's intentions as to Mexico, and feared he would also attack New Orleans and dismember the Union. He knew even the month that Burr intended to descend, and did descend, the Mississippi with his expedition, yet he disclosed nothing beyond an insinuation to beware of Wilkinson's treachery, the man he hated. He declares and repeats the "government is in danger" — "the union is in danger," yet says nothing about it to the President, the head of the nation, and bids Governor Claiborne "Keep these hints to yourself."
Contrast his conduct with that of the man he suspected, who informed the President, informed Governor Claiborne, and took the most active step to arrest the conspirators as soon as he knew of the conspiracy. The foes of Wilkinson declare he acted the despot at New Orleans. Judge Workman was in league with Burr's friends, and was releasing them as fast as he could, yet Wilkinson' conduct on that occasion was not one-tenth part as arbitrary, as Jackson's was, later in New Orleans, if Judge Martin is to be believed.
In fact after peace was declared, and after Judge Hall, imprisoned by Jackson, had been released on the President's proclamation, and after Jackson had been fined by Judge Hall, which fine was taken out of the United States coffers and returned by Congress, thus endorsing Jackson's course, Jackson again denounced Judge Hall. Martin (p410) says, Hall replied, "Judge Hall knows full well how easy it is for one with the influence and patronage of General Jackson to procure certificates and affidavits. He knows that men p138usurping authority have their delators and spies, and that in the sunshine of dictatorial power swarms of miserable creatures are rapidly changed into the shape of buzzing reformers; Judge Hall declares he has at no time made the statements he is charged with making by General Jackson and challenges him to his proof." This proof Jackson never attempted.
McCaleb says, (p86):
"Though Burr failed, history emphatically shows his plans were opportune, and that their wreck was due to influences he had properly failed to estimate and chiefly to the conduct of Wilkinson."
McCaleb in his later work on Burr, declares that Blannerhasett stated he had sued Andrew Jackson for a due bill or note the latter had given Burr for over one thousand dollars borrowed money. Patton says Jackson followed Burr to Richmond and there, "harangued a crowd from the steps of a corner grocery for Burr and damning Jefferson as his prosecutor." (Parton on Burr 2 Vol., p105.)
He further states that it was Burr in 1815 who first suggested Jackson for the Presidency. (2nd Vol. 256).
When Jackson became president in 1829, he gave Samuel Swartwout, Burr's man Friday, the New York collectorship, one of the best offices in his gift. (Parton 2 Vol. 280).
Burr, however, presuming on Jackson's strong friendship, tried to get the administration of the latter to allow him one hundred thousand dollars for his expenses and services in the revolutionary war, and in order to get this through, agreed to give a young lawyer, then courting the daughter of Jackson's secretary, and holding office in that department ten thousand dollars to have this claim allowed, Jackson declared it a piece of rascality and this claim was rejected. Parton 2nd, pp281‑2.
To show how nasty and vituperative the partisans of Burr's supporters were I quote an excerpt of Judge Workman's public criticism of Claiborne's address to the legislature, published in the Louisiana Gazette of April 10th, 1807. Thus,
"There is not extant such a monument of impudence, vanity and falsehood as the speech from which those extracts are taken."
[. . .]
"The poor dog may continue to wear and display the feathers which I charitablyº gave him to clothe his unfledged miserable tail, but he shall not steal any of the plumes which I have appropriated for my own use and ornament."
Such nice, dignified language from a judge to the Governor was typical of the time.
p139 The letters produced by me from Governor Claiborne show, that before the Burr trial came on, and even before his indictment, the friends of Burr and enemies of Wilkinson were doing all they could to aid the former and injure the latter.
Burr was represented at Richmond by five able lawyers, Edmund Randolph, John Wickham, Benjamin Botts, John Baker and Luther Martin, the last named being the celebrated lawyer who had just successfully defended Judge Chase. Burr had lawyers all over the country. He was represented in New Orleans by the leading firm of Livingston and Alexander and at Natchez by Hardin, of that bar. Daniel W. Coxe testified before the court of inquiry in 1808 that William Lewis was Burr's attorney in Philadelphia. Burr also had powerful friends who were most active in his behalf. Evidently money for him was not lacking. In the four Claiborne letters, that I now produce, it will be seen that General Adair came all the way from Kentucky, before Burr was indicted, and spent weeks in New Orleans hunting up evidence against Wilkinson, and as he left any to go to Richmond, we can take for granted that such evidence was to be used to impeach Wilkinson and help Burr.
As Wilkinson was the most important witness against Burr, lawyers of the latter directed their fire against him, even before Burr was indicted. Wilkinson had hardly landed from the vessel that brought him when Burr's counsel prayed for an attachment against him for contempt on the ground that he had kidnapped Lindsay and Knox,º two of the witnesses of the government against Burr, and had brought them to Richmond on his ship. They further charged that Wilkinson had tried to bribe Knox to testify against Burr. There are numerous cases where men have been accused with trying to keep witnesses away from Court, but this is the first case ever heard of where an attack was made on a man for bringing state witnesses to Court.
This trial for an attachment for contempt of court took four days and is reported in full in Robertson's Trial of Burr (1st Volume, pp258 to 390). The result was Wilkinson's complete vindication and acquittal. The friends of Burr have attacked Jefferson as the prosecutor of Burr, the friends of Jefferson and Jefferson himself have attacked Judge Marshall as leaning to Burr, but both Jefferson and Marshall held that Wilkinson had done his full duty in the Burr affair by his country.
The statements of a witness that traveled from Kentucky to New Orleans to hunt up testimony against Wilkinson, and thence to Richmond, •about twenty five hundred miles, and was, as Claiborne p140says, abusing Wilkinson while hunting for such testimony, does not show that General Adair was an impartial chronicler.
One thing is certain that the attorneys for the defense of Burr were engaged in ransacking the country to procure evidence of some kind against Wilkinson and seem to have found nothing to his discredit. The defense of Burr was a technical one and his case went off on the plea that he had not actually waged war against the United States. The friends of Burr seem to have missed the point, that, but for the arrest of Burr by the forces of Wilkinson, this defense might not have availed Burr, and the stopping of his expedition in time by Wilkinson, may have saved Burr, and at the same time other persons, their lives.
But not only were the attorneys of Burr ready to seize on every pretext to attack Wilkinson, but his bitter enemy, John Randolph was the foreman of the Grand Jury that indicted Burr and a number of his supporters, and was also anxious to indict Wilkinson. The indictments against Burr and his friends were returned into Court on June 24th, 1807, while the rule against Wilkinson was being tried. On the same day I cite what then occurred from "Robertson's trial of Burr," (Volume 1, pages 356 to 359.)
"While Mr. Hay was speaking the Grand Jury entered and their foreman Mr. Randolph addressed the court to the following effect; 'May it please the Court the Grand Jury have been informed that there is in the possession of Aaron Burr a certain letter with the post mark May the 13th, from James Wilkinson in ciphers which they may deem to be material to certain inquiries now pending before them. The Grand Jury are perfectly aware that they have no right to demand any evidence from the prisoner under prosecution which may tend to criminate himself. But the Grand Jury have thought it proper to appear in Court to ask its assistance if it thinks proper to grant it to obtain the letter with his consent.'
"Mr. Burr declared that it would be impossible for him under certain circumstances to expose any letter which had been communicated to him confidentially; how far the extremity of circumstances might impel him to such a conduct he was not prepared to decide; but it was impossible for him even to deliberate on the proposition to deliver up something which had been confided to his honor; unless it was extorted from him by law."
Thus the court was given to understand that Burr then had this letter, and that his refusal to produce it was dictated by the most punctilious sense of honor that would not permit him toº do anything that would injure the writer of the letter.
At the same time Burr's refusal was an undercut at Wilkinson, who, believing that no such privilege applied as a protection for illegal acts, had produced before the Grand Jury Burr's letters to him. Fortunately for Wilkinson he learned of Burr's declaration, and District Attorney McRae at his request made the following statement in open court, "The Grand Jury has asked for a certain letter in ciphers p141which was supposed to have been addressed by General Wilkinson to the accused. The court had understood the ground on which the accused had refused to put it in their possession to be an apprehension lest his honor should be wounded by thus betraying matters of confidence. I have seen General Wilkinson since this declaration was made, and the General had expressed his wishes to me, and requested me to express these wishes, that the whole of the correspondence between Aaron Burr and himself be exhibited to this court. The accused has now therefore, a fair opportunity of producing this letter; he is absolved from all possible imputation; his honor is perfectly safe."
(Mr. Burr): "The court will probably expect from me some reply. The communication which I made to the court, has led, it seems to the present invitation, I have only to say sir, this letter will not be produced. The letter is not at this time in my possession and General Wilkinson knows it."
Burr stated afterwards to the court that he had given this letter to a third party. Who that party was, or whether it was one of his counsel, he did not say, but though challenged by Wilkinson to produce his letter he dared not do so.
But more than this, after Burr's acquittal for treason and all serious danger to him was over; when he was put on trial for misdemeanor only, Wilkinson gave his evidence which is quoted verbatim in the issues of the Louisiana Gazette from November 13th, to December 11th, 1807. In this testimony Burr's counsel cross examined Wilkinson as to this letter dated May 13th, and postmarked May 18th, the contents of which Wilkinson stated he could not remember. Counsel for the government thereupon declared that as this letter was in the possession of Burr or his counsel, and the same was the best evidence it should be produced or at least, the same should be shown to refresh the memory of the witness. This was not done. Finally on Saturday, October 9th, 1807 (as published in Gazette of December 11th):
"General Wilkinson having been informed there were no more questions to be propounded to him, addressed the Judge as follows: "Upon a former occasion you will recollect sir, that reference was made to a certain letter, of which so much has been said. That letter is designated by the words said to be used in it, "Yours postmarked the 18th of May has been received." Yet that letter has been withheld under the pretext of delicacy; while we have seen it employed in the most artful and insidious manner to injure my reputation and tarnish my fame. Sir, I demand the production of that letter. I hope the reputation acquired by nearly 30 years of service is not to p142filched from me by the subtlety, artifice or fraud of Colonel Burr and his counsel [. . .] The letter postmarked the 18th of May, has often been mentioned and has been used to injure my character and envelop it in doubt and suspicion. This letter if written at all, must have been written in answer to one received from Colonel Burr. Why has it not been produced? I challenge its production. [. . .] I have no hesitation in saying that the declarations of that gentleman (pointing to Col. Burr) that he had put the letter beyond his power, and with my knowledge, is totally destitute of the truth."
All this Burr's historians have suppressed.
The rule is well settled, that where one man seeks to introduce evidence and another suppresses it, the strongest presumptions are in favor of the former and against the latter.
The change made in a copy of the cipher letter of Burr of October 8th, was made by Mr. A. L. Duncan, an attorney on whom Wilkinson had called for advice before he left New Orleans, and this was testified to by Duncan at Wilkinson's trial four years later. (Wilkinson's memoirs, Volume 2nd, pp332 to 335). The change, did not affect Burr to the slightest extent, but was of course seized on by Burr's attorneys to denounce Wilkinson.
I submit where every motive of hostility and interest was taken advantage of to the utmost in the Burr case against Wilkinson and where all the witnesses were then living to testify against him he came forth unscathed. Now when he and they are no longer here to speak for themselves suspicion ought not to be indulged in to wrong Wilkinson's memory.
a As to the main point, the LHQ author is right and Gayarre made a fairly serious mistake: General Wayne did not die until December 15, 1796; but though the processes of appointment and bureaucracy may have taken some time and thus Wilkinson may well have assumed the post in 1797, the U. S. Army today considers (p64 of Commanding Generals and Chiefs of Staff 1775‑2005, by W. G. Bell) Wilkinson to have entered upon the command immediately upon Wayne's death and thus in 1796, if just barely. This slight difference in the calculation of Wilkinson's term does not affect our author's argument, however: he remains right as to the essentials.
c This isn't the first time mules carrying silver have appeared on my site. Wilkinson is being generous to his opponents' argument here and 5 mules is more like it: see my note to Plutarch's Life of Lucullus.
d Or at least not until 2009, when James E. Starrs and Kira Gale's book The Death of Meriwether Lewis: A Historic Crime Scene Investigation was published, in which the authors argue, not very convincingly, that Wilkinson had Lewis murdered.
e Very loose quotation, and the reference is not complete. Bancroft's History of Mexico is in four volumes; the first passage is in Vol. IV, p22, and reads "[Iturrigaray's] elevation to the viceregal office was due to the favor of Godoy, the Prince of Peace, who still maintained influence over the weak and incompetent king"; the second passage telescopes several sentences of text and a footnote on p23.
f Again the reference is not complete, and this is hardly a quotation, rather an interpretation: Vol. IV, pp34‑35.
g And once again, the reference is not complete, and Wilkinson interprets: Vol. IV, pp61‑62.
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