A Paper Prepared and Read by his Great-Grandson James Wilkinson
In complying with the kind request of this Society, I desire first to discuss the charges made in Gayarre's History of Louisiana, and adopted from that history by many other historians, that Wilkinson while a Brigadier General of the United States Army sought to betray his country by procuring the secession of Kentucky, and effecting an alliance between that territory and Spain.
In the first place Wilkinson during the whole time of this alleged conspiracy with Governor Miro was a private citizen, that is from the close of the Revolutionary War until December, 1791, at which latter date Washington again appointed him a Lieutenant Colonel in the regular army. In the next place, at the time Wilkinson was charged with this attempted betrayal there was properly speaking no country or nation for him to betray; and lastly every act of his life proved that he was devoted to the true interests of the people of the United States.
The Third Article of the Confederation, adopted 1777, expressly declared it was but "firm league of friendship" that the several States were entering into, and the Second Article of the same instrument expressly declared each State retained its own sovereignty.
The Encyclopedia Vol. 23, p745 says, that under these articles of confederation:
"The States were separating from one another and from Congress. There was no executive. Congress could with difficulty bring enough members together to form a quorum. Scarcely any one outside paid any attention to what it did. Least of all was it respected by foreign governments."
The Encyclopedia Brittanica further says, Vol. 24, p260,
"King James in 1609, gave the London Company a sea front of •400 miles of frontage through from sea to sea, and under this charter Virginia had jurisdiction over her imperial colony territory and under it holds the fragment of this colony called Virginia."
Channing's History of the United States, p109, says:
Virginia's claims on these lands "had been annulled in 1624, after which she became a royal province."
p80 This claim of Virginia to the colony of Kentucky was vague and shadowy. Under the grant of King James in 1609 of the country from ocean to ocean (even if it had not been annulled), that State really had as much right to California as it had to Kentucky.
In Shaler's History of American Commonwealth, (Ky.), that author says,
"The Colonial charters of Virginia gave to that colony a claim on all the lands of the Mississippi Valley that lay to the west of the boundaries of New York and Pennsylvania, as well as Virginia herself. At that time when the grants were made and for generations afterwards, this western domain was to Virginia a very intangible property, if it deserved the name ofº a possession."
Butler in his history of Kentucky, Vol. 2, p262, says, that the confederation of States was often called "A political barrel of 13 staves without a hoop."
Collins in his History of Kentucky says,
"Repeated efforts were made by General Harry Lee to obtain a continental force of 700 or even 300 soldiers to protect the western frontier from the savages, but the frantic jealousy of the central power cherished by the sovereign states at a time when that central power grovelled in the most hopeless imbecillity, peremptorily forbade even this small force to be embodied, lest it would lead to the overthrow of State rights."
James K. Hosmer, member of the Minnesota Historical Society, in his history of the Mississippi Valley, published in 1901, says:
"The critical period in American History between the peace of 1783 and the adoption of the Constitution was not less threatening and disorderly in the Mississippi Valley than in the east. In 1784, the Wantauga settlement which had been merged in North Carolina constituted itself the State of Franklin. At the head of the faction was Sevier, ever combative, [. . .] No one can be blamed that in those days loyalty to the feeble union was languid, and a strong separatist feeling rife. The union being a jelly, what protection or credit could it afford to win adherents? In these western communities, some favored complete independence; some would have gone back with equanimity to England; some again were ready to connect themselves with Spain, which held New Orleans and the world beyond the river. The resourceful Clark and the well poised Robertson, even showing Spanish sympathies, while Daniel Boone finding the air contaminated by the swelling immigration, pushing across into a new wilderness took the oath of allegiance to Spain, and became an officer (the Alcalde)º of the District of St. Charles, a Spanish post on the Missouri."
The eastern part of Kentucky also set it itself up as the province of Transylvania, and opposed the authority of Virginia. A State convention had been held in 1784 in Kentucky looking to her independence.
In 1784, the year that Wilkinson settled there, the grievances of Kentucky were three fold —
1st. "This infant commonwealth rocked amid the war whoop and the rifle, plundered by the Indians and shut up by the Spaniards, was still subjected to a portion of the domestic debt then existing against Virginia." (Butler p181). p81 The capital of Virginia, •500 miles distant, could only be reached by two mountain trails and across unbridged rivers, all traversible by pack horses only; and the main source of the public revenues, arising from the sale of Kentucky's public lands, were taken by the parent mother with hardly any compensating sustenance for her hungry child.
2nd. The settlers of Kentucky demanded protection against Indian atrocities, from Virginia and her sister States in vain. Smith, in his History of Kentucky, p316, declares that the pioneers of that region lost over 5,000 men, women and children alone, from Indian attacks; and these victims were often made to suffer frightful tortures before death.
Whether in their fields or at their churches, the rifle was then always the inseparable companion of the pioneer.
3rd. Kentucky, with her •4,000 miles of water ways, barred by granite walls of mountains from trade on the east, desired above all else the free navigation of the Mississippi River, her only avenue to trade and commerce. This, if she was a component part of Virginia, had been guaranteed to the Colonies by the recent British treaty of peace, the British having formerly acquired that ceded right by treaty from Spain. This right was wrongfully denied to Kentuckians by the Spaniards, and every vessel sent by them as far as Natchez was seized and with its cargo, confiscated by the Spanish buccaneers of the Mississippi. All their complaints as to this had been ignored, and no redress was afforded them.
Fiske's "Critical periods of American History" p211 says:
"By the treaties that closed the Revolutionary war in 1783, the provincesº of East and West Florida were ceded by England to Spain. West Florida bordered the Mississippi River, and the Spaniards claimed that it extended up to the Yazoo River. The Americans claimed that it extended only to Natchez, but by secret treaty with England and the United States, it was agreed if England could continue to keep West Florida, the upper boundary should be the Yazoo. When the Spaniards found out about the secret treaty they were furious and closed the mouth of the river. Congress was informed that until this matter was set right no American sloop or barge should dare to show itself below Natchez without danger of confiscation. These threats produced opposite feelings in the North and South. New York and the Eastern and Northern States cared no more for the Mississippi River than for Timbuctoo. On the other hand the pioneers of the West were not willing to sit still when their pork and corn were being confiscated. The Spanish envoy, Gardaquo, arrived in Philadelphia in the summer of 1784, and John Jay, Minister of Foreign Affairs, was directed to negotiate a new treaty with him. A year of wrangling passed between the latter and the Spanish Minister. At last in despair Jay advised Congress for the sake of a Commercial treaty, to allow Spain to close the navigation of the Mississippi River below the Yazoo for 25 years. As the rumor of this went abroad among the settlements of the Ohio there was an outburst of wrath to which an incident that then occurred gave greater virulence. A North Carolina native named Amis sailed down the River with pots and pans and flour. His boat and cargo were seized at Natchez and he was forced to return home on foot alone through the wilds; Spaniards were attacked at Vincennes; Indignation meetings were held in Kentucky; the people threatened to send a force down the river to capture Natchez and New Orleans and a more dangerous threat was made that should the Northern States desert then and adopt Jay's suggestion, that they would secede and throw themselves on Great Britain for protection. Leaders in the Northern States declared that if Jay's suggestion was not adopted that it would be high time for the Northern States to secede from the Union and form a federation by themselves. The situation was dangerous in the extreme. Sooner than see their colonies go, the Southern States would have themselves seceded and brokenº away from the Northern States. But New Jersey and Pennsylvania came over with Rhode Island to the Southern side and Jay's proposal was defeated."
p82 During the early part of this excitement in 1784 the Kentucky settlements held a convention, and this convention passed a resolution requesting the admission of Kentucky into the Union as an independent and sovereign State.
The Northern States were always bitterly opposed to admitting Kentucky because it would increase to their disadvantage the political strength of the South and West.
Virginia, — who claimed jurisdiction over these settlements, was opposed to letting Kentucky go, and even then preparations were being made to establish a water connection between the head waters of the Potomac and Ohio, and the free navigation of the Mississippi and the independence of Kentucky meant a loss of much prospective trade to the Eastern States.
Fiske's "Critical Periods of American History," p214 says:
"Washington himself ardently desired the traffic of the Western States brought eastward. In 1785 he became President of a Company for extending the navigation of the Potomac and James Rivers established by legislative act of Virginia, and the scheme was to connect the head waters of the Potomac with those of the Ohio."
From a convention between Maryland and Virginia to advance this work, grew out other conventions and subsequently the great convention that formed the Constitution of the United States.
In Washington's farewell address (September 17th, 1796) he says:
"The east, in a like intercourse with the West already finds, and in the progressive improvements of interior communications by land and water, will more and more find, a valuable vent for the commodities which it brings from abroad or manufactures at home. The West derives from the East supplies requisite to its growth and comfort, and what is perhaps of still greater consequence, it must of necessity owe the secure enjoyment of indispensable outlets for its own productions to the weight, influence and the future maritime strength to the Atlantic side of the Union, directed by an indissoluble community of interests as one Nation. Any other tenure by which the West can hold this essential advantage, whether derived from its own separate strength or from an apostate and unnatural connection with any foreign power must be intrinsically precarious."
Walker's "Making of the Nation," p111, says:
"The settlers had a passionate desire to secure the free navigation of the Mississippi. To this end the hardy pioneers were almost ready to sacrifice their allegiance to the Union. [. . .]"
"On the other hand it must be admitted that the first administration, especially Washington and Judge Jay, showed a singular obtuseness with dealing with the demands of the West on that point. Washington having penetrated as a surveyor beyond the mountains [. . .] had become deeply interested in projects for opening up trader between the West and the seaboard as to be almost infatuated with the idea. Jay on his part held that the benefits which would result to the whole country from favorable commercial treaties with Spain would be so great as to justify asking the Western people to submit for twenty-five years longer to restrictions on the navigation of the Mississippi."
p83 Having shown the conditions in the section where Wilkinson was to become a leader, I will now refer to his early life.
Wilkinson was born in Calvert County, Maryland, in 1757. He was forced to begin his life's work early as his father died when he was six years old. He was a student of medicine when the revolutionary war began. In 1775 he joined the revolutionary army as a private. Inº March 1776 he was promoted to a captaincy by General George Washington. On July 17th, 1776, he was promoted to be brigade Major. On May 24th, 1777, he was made Adjutant General by Major-General Gates, and was one of the representatives of General Gates, that arranged the surrender of Burgoyne.
In the report of this surrender by General Gates which Wilkinson bore to John Hancock, President of the Continental Congress, dated October 18th, 1777, the former said:
"This letter will be presented to your excellency by my Adjutant General, Col. Wilkinson, to whom I beg leave to refer you or the particulars that brought this great business to so fortunate and happy a conclusion. I desire to be permitted to recommend this gallant officer, in the warmest manner to Congress, and entreat that he may be continued in his present office with the brevet of Brigadier General. The Honorable Congress will believe me when I assure them that from the beginning of this contest, I have not met with a more promising, military genius than Colonel Wilkinson, and whose services have been of the last importance to this army.
I have the honor to be your excellency's obedient servant, Horatio Gates."
On November 6th, 1777, Congress honored Wilkinson with the brevet of Brigadier General.
We have thus presented the remarkable showing that an orphan boy, without fortune or friends, entering the revolutionary war as a private, at 18 years of age, had already taken a leading part in that war, and in two short years had won his way by several successive promotions to the brevet rank of Brigadier General.
Subsequently Wilkinson owing to ill health and an unfortunate misunderstanding with his superior officers in regard to what was known as the Conway Cabal, which had for its object the elevation of Gates over Washington as Commander-in‑Chief, resigned his commission.
Wilkinson denied that he ever had anything to do with this Conway matter, and it is hardly probable that he, then only 20 years old, and friendly with both generals, would have taken part in any such scheme. Subsequently Wilkinson was appointed to the p84 responsible position of Clothier General of the Army and served as such to the close of the revolutionary war.
After the close of the revolutionary war, Wilkinson moved, in 1784, with his family to Kentucky, and opened a mercantile business in Lexington. His means were limited, as the continental money in which soldiers of the revolution had been paid was worth about as much as confederate money was during the late Civil War, and historians of that early time say it took about twenty dollars of it to buy a single meal.
When Wilkinson arrived, the settlement of Kentucky was in a turmoil. There had already been one convention held in 1784 to obtain Kentucky's independence and admission as a State.
Wilkinson was elected as a delegate to the 2nd Kentucky Convention held in 1785. He took a leading part in that convention and wrote its memorial for Kentucky's independence.
Smith in his History of Kentucky, p251, writes:
"In this address is recognized the florid writer and eloquent orator General James Wilkinson. This gentleman had removed with his family from Philadelphia to Lexington in the fall of the precedingº year, and was now for the first time elected a member of this convention."
Smith adds, as to the address to the people:
"This address and these resolutions are from the same pen. It will hardly escape remark that the prayer for the separation is for an acknowledgment of Sovereignty and Independence."
Butler, in his History of Kentucky, says, (p148, 149).
"This resolution and its eloquent preamble were followed by an address to the legislature of Virginia and the people of the District in a style of dignity and ornament as yet unprecedented in the public proceedings of Kentucky. They were certainly the production of General Wilkinson, at the time in question a member of the convention. This gentleman whose emigration in the District has been noticed, now began to act a leadingº figure which his impressive powers as a fine writer, his military service and distinguished abilities enabled him to exhibit in the affairs of a Nation. It will be perceived that there is in these papers an elevation of political ideas richly dressed in appropriate composition; nor should any political imputation rest on them as have been insinuated because this assembly petitioned for 'Sovereignty and Independence.' Sovereignty was much more consistently the attribute of the members of the old confederation than those of the present constitution union."
In September, 1786, a fifth Kentucky convention was held whose object was again either to secure the independenceº of Kentucky or obtain her admission into the confederation as a sovereign State. This convention, of which Wilkinson was also a member, adjourned from day to day until January, 1787.
On June 28th, 1785, Mr. John Jay, Secretary of State for foreign p85 affairs was authorized, as I have shown, to negotiate a new treaty with Don Gardaquo, Minister toº Spain, then located at Philadelphia, but Congress expressly prohibited any relinquishment thereby of the right to a free navigation of the lower Mississippi river. In spite of this prohibition, Mr. Jay, in an endeavor to procure traffic advantages with Spain for the Atlantic States, recommended to Congress a treaty containing a stipulation that the United States should recognize the Spanish right to the exclusive navigation of the Mississippi River for 25 or 30 years.
In the 6th Kentucky Convention that met at Danville, October, 1788, Wilkinson, again a member, delivered a fiery address which in part stated:
"That it was with general abhorrence that the people received the intelligence that Congress was about to cede to Spain the exclusive right of navigating the Mississippi River for 25 years; that the western people were being driven to the alternative of separating themselves from the union on that account considering this navigation indispensable to their future growth and prosperity; that Spain should be so blind to her true interest as to refuse the use of the river to the western people and thereby compel a resort to military means. Great Britain stood ready with a sufficient force of armed allies to cooperate with them in enforcing this national right."
Wilkinson also read to the convention an address he had made the Spanish authorities on his visit to New Orleans the previous year.
Smith's History of Kentucky, p287, says:
"After reading this the author received a vote of thanks from the convention without a dissenting vote."
Smith says, (p301):
"Thus, from the first meeting in 1784 to consider the necessity of forming an independent State government for their own protection and management of home affairs, until the admission into the union eight years later, the people of Kentucky were subjected to the torturing and irritating necessity of appointing or electing delegates for assemblages in ten successive conventions, were embarrassed by sectional jealousies of the North Eastern States, for a natural affiliation with the Union, and hampered and delayed by restrictive legislation with Virginia."
It will therefore be seen that Wilkinson, embittered no doubt by the massacres of so many of his people by the Indians, without any attempt to extend them protection; by the unwelcome, and uncompromising attitude of the Northern States to the admission of Kentucky as a State; by the fact that John Jay was attempting to sell even then the natural birthright of the Western country for a mess of pottage for the benefit of the Atlantic States, which States were openly threatening to secede from the confederation if Jay was not allowed to do so, was not only openly suggesting before this convention a possible agreement with Spain; but he went further p86 and was openly and boldly advocating the independence of Kentucky and a possible alliance with England, and that convention unanimously approved his address.
The late venerable Claiborne of Mississippi, nephew of the first Governor of Louisiana, in his History of the men of Wilkinson's time, agreed with Butler that Wilkinson was openly advocating an alliance with Spain to force an admission into the union of Kentucky as a State.
And Smith, Kentucky's later Historian, p292‑3, says:
"No party intended [. . .] anything more than commercial relations granting to Kentucky the right of navigation and exclusive trade. With consummate skill, the party under the lead of Wilkinson played the game of diplomatic strategy to tantalize the eager rapacity of Spain, while they menaced Congress to action by pointing to the open arms and seductive blandishments with which Spain stood ready to welcome Kentucky to her alliance."
Under the 9th article of the confederation no colony or part thereof could be admitted as a State without the consent of nine of the thirteen States. So, as the Northern States were opposed to the admission of Kentucky, her case seemed hopeless.
That some powerful lever was necessary to obtain the admission of Kentucky into the Union is evidenced by the fact, that Vermont, whose soldiers, under Ethan Allen, fought bravely for the independence of the colonies, was herself forced to apply to Congress for admission for 15 years, before becoming a State, and was then, in 1788, like Kentucky, still an applicant for admission; and while it took nine State conventions in Kentucky held from 1784 to 1790 to plead, implore and threaten her way into the Union in 1792, it took nearly double that time for Vermont to achieve admission.
Not a single new State was admitted during the existence of the Confederation from 1777 to 1789.
In this connection, although by the 3rd article of the French treaty of the cession of Louisiana from Napoleon, it was provided, that Louisiana should be promptly admitted as a State in the Union; the jealousy of the Northern States prevented this for eight years, it being contended by the Northern States, that the highly civilized French and Spanish residents were not capable of self government; and when the bill was presented for Louisiana's admission, that admission was only obtained after the most bitter protests from certain northern States, Josiah Quincy of Massachusetts declaring in Congress:
"That if Louisiana was admitted the Union of States was thereby dissolved, and that it would be then the duty of those States to prepare for a separation, amicably if they can, forcibly if they must."
p87 The chair thereupon sustained a point of order made by Mr. Poindexter,º of Mississippi, that language involving a dissolution of the Union could not be permitted on the floor of the House; but on appeal, this ruling of the chair was reversed, and thus encouraged the speaker went on with furious invective against the dangers of admitting Louisiana, or any State from her territory,º as subversive of the Union.
Again as late as 1814, the delegations from Northern States, to the Hartford Convention adopted there resolutions that meant the secession of those States, which secession was only prevented by peace being declared between England and this country.
Strange it is that it should be deemed treasonable for Wilkinson to have advocated the secession of Kentucky, an outlying territory, from a confederation of States that had refused to receive her as a sister State, and all this before a union of States had ever been formed, while it should be held no sin to preach secession by force by leaders of the principal States of the union on the floor by Congress itself, 23 years after the Union had been formed, and the former confederation had ceased to exist, and later again during a war which menaced the very existence of this country.
Apart from and beyond a diminution of political power there may have loomed up before these leaders of the North a prophetic vision of the time when New Orleans, the Queen City of the South, would be the successful rival of every Sea Board City in the Union, save New York, for foreign trade, as they no doubt realized the self-evident truth that every pound of import or export freight that ascended or descended the Mississippi River, either to, or from the west, was that much less trade for the North and East.
But taking up these charges against Wilkinson and analyzing them logically, and I may add comparatively, with later events in American History, they do not on the admitted facts justify the severe criticisms levelled against Wilkinson the private citizen, when he led the threatened secession of Kentucky between 1785 and 1790.
There is no character that is more revered and admired in modern American History than that of General Robert E. Lee. He was not a private citizen, but an officer in the army of the United States when eleven States of the Union began one by one to secede from a Union of States, whose national government had existed for seventy years.
General Lee and the men of the South affirmed the right of the p88 States to secede from the Union, and the former resigned his commission and cast his lot with his native State of Virginia.
If Lee and the entire people of the South, including some of Wilkinson's descendants, who sealed their convictions with their blood, believed their States had the right to secede, after the union had existed under a stable national government for seventy years, to secede too, the North claims, largely on the question of negro slavery; if they could justify and defend the firing on the union flag at Fort Sumter, if they could justify and participate in a war that cost blood and tear stone treasures and suffering untold, during which war they appealed to both England and France for aid and support, her most famous admiral, Semmes, just previously an officer of the United States Navy, securing a warship from England with which he almost swept the commerce of the United States from the seas, without taking the life of a single non-combatant; if they could do all this, then Wilkinson, a private citizen, one of the pioneers in 1784 in a western wild, before a union of States had ever been formed when the right of a sovereign State to secede was not denied and could not be denied; where the settlementº he lived in was not even a State, or justly a part of any State; where the territory he lived in had itself been thrice denied admission in the federation of States, surely then he could not be justly condemned because, with thousands of others, he advocated the adoption of a policy which seemed to him and those other pioneers of Kentucky, vital to the preservation of both their property and their lives.
Butler, p173, says:
"To try the conduct of Kentucky statesmen in 1788 under a confederation in ruins and in factions, by the same principles which should now direct the mind under an efficient and beneficent government, would be absurd and unjust."
Shaler's History of American Commonwealths (Kentucky), says:
"There is a remarkable likeness between the incidents of separatists struggle of 1784‑1790 and those of the secession movement of 1860‑1, [. . .] In the former, however, the proposition was for a separation from a government that hardly existed and against which many valid objections could be urged, such a separation would have violated no pledges whatever."
Parton's Life of Burr, Vol. 2, p32, says:
"The reader must be reminded that during the administration of John Adams, the Union, to backwoodsmen, had not the sacred charm it has since possessed. The noise of party contention filled the land. The Union as Wilkinson himself said, seemed to hang together by a thread, which any moment might break. Wilkinson may have thought of hastening the catastrophe, of forming a western republic, of becoming its Washington, without being in any sense of the word, a traitor."
p89 Smith in his History, p291, says:
"In making up the verdict of judgment we must consider that the chaotic and imbecile government of the Union of 1788 was a very doubtful and precarious hope of the future compared to the Union of today, and the proposed independent separation from Virginia was just what Virginia and the other States had done a few years before with Great Britain with less cogent reasons."
"The alleged cause of the American Revolution, (Taxation without representation), consisted in a levy in April, 1770, of a six cents per pound import duty on tea. The mother country then paid an inland tax of 24 cents a pound on the same article, and the preference shown the colonies in this matter was resented as an attempt to bribe them to support this form of a tax." (Channing's History of the U. S., p65.) The proceeds of this tax only amounted to about three hundred dollars a year, and England had probably spent a thousand times as much as this on the armies she had sent over a few years before to protect the colonies from the French and the Indians.
The United States later adopted in her own territories practically the same system that she had waged war about with the mother country.
Section 1862 of the U. S. Revised Statutes, still in force, limited each territory to one delegate in the House of Representatives, and gave no territorial representation in the United States Senate. The delegate in the lower body was expressly denied the right to vote on any question. Represented in the Lower House by a political eunuch, and with no representation at all in the Senate, the territories, that so long comprised three quarters of the entire area of the country, paid millions of dollars of both Internal Revenue and Import taxes to the Federal Government without representation in the levy of such taxes and had the same right to secede on this account as the colonies originally had.
Adams, History of the United States, Vol. 1, p143, says:
"Even after the adoption of the new constitution, Union was a question of expediency, not of obligation. This was the conviction of the true Virginia School and of Jefferson's opponents as well as his supporters."
We must moreover judge the conduct of Wilkinson at that time by what a great many others were then doing in the United States.
Hart's "Formation of the Union," p112‑117, says:
"The revolutionary war had left behind it an eddy of lawlessness and disregard of human life. The support of the government was a heavy load on the people. The States were physically weak and the State legislatures habitually timid. In several States there were organized attempts to set off outlying portions as independent governments. Vermont had set the p90 example by withdrawing from New York, in 1777, and throughoutº the confederation remained without representation, either in the New York legislature or in Congress. In 1782 the western countries of Pennsylvania and Virginia threatened to break off and form a new State. From 1785 to 1786, the so called State of Franklin formed out of the territory of what is now Eastern Tennessee, had a constitution, legislature and Governor and carried on a mild border warfare with the government of North Carolina, to which its people owed allegiance. The people of Kentucky and of Maine held conventions looking towards separation. The year 1786 was marked by great uneasiness in what had been supposed to be the steadiest States in the Union. In New Hampshire there was a threatened insurrection against the legislature. In Massachusetts in the fall of 1786, concerted violence threatened the courts from sitting. [. . .] As a speaker in the Massachusetts Convention in 1788, said, 'People took arms, and then if you went to speak to them you had a musket of death presented to your breast. They would rob you of your property, threaten to burn your houses; obliged you to be on your guard night and day. [. . .] How terrible, how distressing this was [. . .] had any one who was able to protect us come and set up his standard, we should have all flocked to it even should it have been a monarch. The arsenal at Springfield was attacked; the State forces were sent in the open field by armed insurgents; had they been successful the Union was not worth one of its own repudiated notes. [. . .] The year 1786, marks a crisis in the development of the Union. The inefficiency of Congress, was reflected in the neglect of the Constitutional duties of the States; Rhode Island recalled her delegates and refused to appoint new members; New Jersey felt so much injured by a New York tariff that an act was passed taxing the light house established by New York on Sandy Hook; Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Georgia had already raised troops on their own account and for their own purposes in violation of the articles of confederation. Davie, of North Carolina, a little later declared, that 'encroachments of some States on the rights of others are incontestible proofs of the weakness of the confederation.' Of the requisitions of that time for two million dollars, in specie, only about four hundred thousand dollars was paid. Some States offered their own depreciated notes, and New Jersey refused to contribute at all until the offensive New York acts were withdrawn. In May, 1796, Chas. Pinckney on the floor of Congress, declared, 'That Congress must be invested with more power or that federal government must fall.' "
Channing's recent History of the United States, p121, repeats most of this and adds:
"Another instance of the same interstate rivalry was to be seen in the relations of Massachusetts and Connecticut. To protect her shipping and manufacturing interests Massachusetts passed a severe navigation act designed to keep the English goods and traders out of that State. Connecticut thereupon repealed every trade law on her statute book, thereby inviting foreign trade to her harbors and owing to the facilities for overland smuggling, completely frustrated the policy of Massachusetts."
Rhode Island levied both an export and import duty on eggs going into and coming from New York and caught the hen fruit industry both ways.
Where the confederated States, that during their entire existence never admitted another State, were themselves engaged in a prohibitive trade war inter-sese, I ask, what hope was there for the settlements of Kentucky, that those States would, or could, ever p91 enforce against so strong a power, as Spain then was, a freedom of trade which they did not, and could not, enforce among themselves?
Channing says, (p121):
"The real cause of the downfall of the confederation and the establishment of a more perfect union, was [. . .] to be found in the conviction, which gained ground rapidly in 1786‑87, that the several States could not long continue on the existing basis without civil war."
The confederation was to quote the general consensus of opinion, an unhappy experiment of an impossible form of government.
Gauging Wilkinson's views, not by the present strong and stable union, but by a disintegrating confederacy tottering to its own fall; not by the magnificent domain of the west as it exists today, but by what public men of his own times thought of it, as a desert and forest wild, it would not seem that anyone then deemed the secession of the scattered settlements of Kentucky, barely able to hold their own against the Indians, or the non-acquisition of that western wild, would have mattered much to the majority of the States then engaged in internecine strife and carrying on a commercial war among themselves. The lands of the Atlantic States too were still sparsely settled, and neither Washington, Adams, nor even Jefferson prior to 1800, looked with favor on Western emigration.
Even at a later date in his letter to Breckenridge, August 12, 1803, President Jefferson wrote,
"Whether we remain one confederacy or form into Atlantic and Mississippi Confederations, is not important to the happiness of either part of the country."
And of this Adams, in his History of the United States, Vol. 1, p72, said,
"Even over his liberal mind history cast a spell so strong that he thought the solitary experience of a political confederacy not very important beyond the Alleghanies."
Hosmer's History of the Louisiana Purchase, p64, says:
"Madison is on record as believing that emigration west of the Mississippi River would be detrimental; that settlers should remain on the Eastern side and not 'dilute population' by spreading too widely. To occupy that unknown desert, such as it was believed to be in great part, would most unwisely 'slacken concentration' and be a certain promoter of disunion sentiments. It was a necessity that the West Bank should be under a separate government. These views of his secretary the President probably shared."
When Monroe and Livingston were sent to negotiate for the purchase of Louisiana they were only authorized to buy New Orleans, west Florida and the lands adjacent thereto, and they were instructed not to buy the west bank of the river, and were authorized to guarantee a joint use of the Mississippi River to the nation owning the west bank country above New Orleans. Livingston in his arguments p92 to Napoleon and his minister repeatedly said, that he attached no great importance to anything but the New Orleans section of Louisiana and it was Napoleon alone that insisted practically, that the tail of the ox must go with the hide, that the commissioners must take all of Louisiana, or none. The commissioners were authorized to promise $10,000,000, for the limited area they were to buy. They increased this limit by five million dollars for all of Louisiana, and the addition of this land and increase of price were not welcomed either by President Jefferson or by his secretary, James Madison.
So unwelcome in fact was it, that far from thanking the commissioners for their splendid service, Howard, on the "Louisiana Purchase," p121, says:
"Madison wrote a personal letter to James Monroe finding fault with Livingston for this action."
In the spring of 1787 while the feeling between Kentucky and the Spanish authorities was at its hottest, Wilkinson loaded a flat boat with tobacco, hams, butter and flour and started fearlessly on a •1400‑mile floating test voyage to New Orleans. Early historians say that trips of that kind were usually made by three flat boats lashed abreast, the center one being used by the crew and the other as a fortification against Indian attacks, and that frequently white captives were placed on the banks to entreat succor, as a lure, which several times resulted in the capture or massacre of an entire crew by the Indians. Wilkinson risked the Indian peril in a single flatboat. A further peril was successfully overcome by Wilkinson at the Spanish Post at Natchez, but on his arrival at New Orleans his cargo was seized.
In Daniel Clark's memoir to Hon. Timothy Pickering, Secretary of State, dated April 18th, 1798, the former, strange to say, gives a truthful account of how Wilkinson overawed the Spanish officer at Natchez into allowing him to pass, and how, when his cargo was seized at New Orleans, Wilkinson threatened the vengeance of Kentuckians for the outrage.
Clark said to Pickering:
"Governor Miro, a weak man, unacquainted with American Government, ignorant even of the position of Kentucky, with respect to his own province, but alarmed at the very idea of an irruption of Kentucky men whom he feared without knowing their strength, communicated his wishes to the intendant that the guard might be removed from Wilkinson's boat which was accordingly done [. . .] In his interview with the governor, Wilkinson, that he might not seem to derogate from the character given of him, by appearing concerned in so trifling a business as a boat load of tobacco, hams and butter, gave the governor to understand that the property belonged to many citizens of Kentucky, who availing p93 themselves of his return to the Atlantic States by way of New Orleans, wished to make a trial of the temper of this government as he, on his arrival, might inform his own government that steps had been pursued, under his eye, that adequate measures should be afterwards taken to procure satisfaction. [. . .] Convinced by this discourse that the General rather wished for an opportunity of embroiling affairs, than he sought to avoid it, the governor became more alarmed [. . .] and he resolved to hold out as a bait to Wilkinson the permission to trade at New Orleans if he would use his influence with Kentuckians to prevent an invasion of Louisiana."
The Honorable Oliver Pollock, American Agent at New Orleans, during the revolutionary war, who was a great favorite of the Spanish governors of Louisiana, testified under oath at Wilkinson's trial:
"I was deeply interested in the information that General Wilkinson had obtained permission to bring down tobacco, wishing to have the exclusive privilege myself, and I immediately went to Governor Miro, to ask the cause of tobacco coming down the river in large quantities, as I was informed, whereupon he told me that he had consented for General Wilkinson to bring down tobacco in hopes to pacify the Kentuckians and people of the western country, to prevent a rupture between Spain and America, and in order to give time for negotiations between the two powers relative to the navigation of the Mississippi."
Upon its face every one of Wilkinson's statements to Miro were true. His adherents in Kentucky were ready and anxious for the fray and his statement in the Kentucky convention later in October, 1788, was that if Spain denied Kentucky's rightsº he was prepared to lead them against the Spaniards at New Orleans and even invoke England's aid, just as President Jefferson wrote in 1803 to Livingston that if France attempted to take possession of New Orleans under her purchase from Spain, this country would become "married to the army and navy of England."
Wilkinson won out with Miro, to use a slang phrase, purely on his nerve. It is doubtful whether Miro gave Wilkinson a privilege to trade at New Orleans, but if he did, this privilege in Wilkinson's name was also used for the property of other Kentuckians. Otherwise Wilkinson could not have retained his popularity.
Wilkinson constituted Clark and Rees his selling agents, returned from New Orleans to Kentucky, via sea and the Atlantic States, and took a leading part in the proceedings of the Danville Convention in October, 1788.
Gayarre and all the historians who have sought to cast obloquy on the ashes of General Wilkinson, have sought to show that during the Miro administration, which ended in 1791, General Wilkinson was, both by a trade monopoly and a money pension, bribed as a mercenary of Spain. The alleged copies of Wilkinson's letters which Governors Gayoso, Miro or Carondelet may have forwarded to Spain to enhance and magnify the importance of what they were doing p94 for the mother country, while they contained much that was true, like a lie that is half the truth, give color to Gayarre's charges. Gayarre's secret bitterness against Wilkinson arose no doubt from a belief that the latter had tricked and deceived the Spaniards, Gayarre's grandfather having been one of the intendants of Spain.
It is true that Laussat reported to his government, that Wilkinson had tricked and deceived the Spaniards, but Wilkinson did not trick and deceive them half so much as Laussat's chief, the first Consul, did, when the latter bought Louisiana in 1800 from Spain, under a solemn promise not to sell it to any other power, and proceeded promptly to sell it to the United States. Wilkinson did not equal even his own government in duplicity, when by the treaty of 1783, England and the United States accorded East and West Florida to Spain, and then by a simultaneous secret treaty this country urged England to hold on to West Florida and deprive Spain of it.
Whatever visions of a prospective alliance with Kentucky, Wilkinson did hold out to the Spaniards, I have yet to see any alleged letter written by Wilkinson that proved that he ever actually got a dollar from the government of Spain save in commercial transactions. That he received nothing on his first visit to New Orleans Miro admits in his letter of June 15th, 1788, quoted in 3rd Gayarre, p212.
Wilkinson sent Mr. Isaac Dunn down with his tobacco boats in 1788 and did not go to New Orleans himself again till 1789.
In this letter Miro wrote:
"From the beginning, he had informed me that he was not possessed of any pecuniary means. Here an individual on the recommendation of the Intendant Navarro had loaned him $3,000.00. He now begs me not to seize his cargo, as he has pledged the products of its sale to refund that sum, and to pay his crew, and the amount due on the tobacco which he had bought on credit, and as the balance is to enable him to support himself without embarrassment, which will tend to increase and preserve his influence in his State." (3 Gayarre 212.)º
"Although his candor and the information which I have sought from many who have known him well, seem to assure us that he is working in good earnest, yet I am aware that it may be possible that his intention is to enrich himself at our expenses with promises and hopes which he knows to be vain." (3 Gayarre 212‑213.)º
We find here, according to Miro, Wilkinson asking, by his agent Isaac Dunn in 1788, that his cargo be not seized as it is all he has to pay money borrowed by him on his previous visit and his crew and to use for his personal expenses.
If there had been any trade agreement between Wilkinson and p95 Miro in 1787 why should the former beg Miro not to seize his cargo in 1788.
Compare Wilkinson's honesty with his subsequent treatment by the Spaniards.
The King of Spain had a monopoly of the tobacco trade. The records showº that Governor Miro had an interest in Wilkinson's cargoes and was always urging the King to buy tobacco in New Orleans. In 1790 Wilkinson working on a scanty capital after his coolness with Miro, shipped 135 hogsheads to his agent Philipº Nolan at New Orleans. On a pretense that they were damaged, the King's inspector, Arrieta, kept and refused payment for these hogsheads of tobacco. This tobacco was however, passed, the following year, by another inspector, Brion, and the proceeds of same, $17,874, were only partially paid for during the ensuing five succeeding years, which left Wilkinson, in 1791, without any working capital.
After this when General Harmar's forces were cut to pieces by the Indians, Wilkinson volunteered early in 1791 as second in command of the Kentucky Rangers under General Scott and was appointed December 1791, by General Washington, a colonel in the regular army. Wilkinson's Memoirs, vol. 2, declare, pp114 and 227, that he was not trained for trade and that his commercial ventures had been failures, and that after he again drew his sword, in 1791, he had taken leave of trade forever.
Honorable Oliver Pollock also testified at Wilkinson's trial, that as he was delivering his own tobacco at New Orleans in 1790, the inspector told him that Wilkinson's tobacco was condemned and lodged in the King's store.
In Robertson's recent "History of Louisiana under Spain," is reported an alleged letter from Gayoso, then Spanish Governor at Natchez, dated July 5th, 1792, in which he says:
"Wilkinson was recommended by Don Estevan Miro for a pension and other help, the resolution was delayed so long because of the distance that separated us from that court that in the meanwhile he lost his credit in Kentucky for lack of means to maintain it. However, his majesty's approval of the pension that had been proposed to him having arrived at the beginning of this year (1792) it was communicated to Wilkinson by messenger. His answer just arrived a few days ago, but I am ignorant of its contents, as I sent it under seal to Baron de Carondelet, the Governor of the province."
No copy of the alleged reply of Wilkinson to Governor Carondelet has ever been produced. If favorable to this pension why was a copy thereof not forwarded to the Spanish archives? On his trial before the courtmartial Wilkinson produced a carefully detailed statement from the Spanish Treasurer, Gilberto Leonard, of his last p96 transactions with the Spanish authorities. The payments to him on this statement were for the loss of the "Speedwell," a boat and cargo sent up the river for Miro's account, and later was for the tobacco and began on June 2d, 1790, more than two years before the date of the alleged pension approval, and up to January 4th, 1796 totaled $27,900, or over treble the amount of the alleged pension from the time of its allowance. Wilkinson supported by ample evidence the facts; that these different payments were made for condemned tobacco and for this vessel and cargo, formerly lost for Miro's account; he showed, as all historians agree, that the lower Ohio was at the time infested with white bandits and thieving Indians and that his previous agent, Owens, had been robbed and murdered while bringing him $6,000.00: he showed the safety of his money had been insured, and how a subsequent messenger, Jose Collins, has spent most of the insurance money, before he delivered the small balance to him, and this by the sworn testimony of Collins himself. Collins further testified that the money formerly sent by Owens was due to Wilkinson for tobacco, and it is clear that men do not insure the delivery of bribes. The $9,640 Wilkinson's agent Nolan, had sent by Thomas Powers from New Madrid to be delivered to Nolan at Louisvilleº in 1796, was in silver specie, which was packed at New Madrid in sugar barrels so as to save both it, and the bearer from the previous fate of Owens, and to this evidence Wilkinson added the testimony of Gilberto Leonard, the Spanish Treasurer, then residing at Baton Rouge, the only remaining Spanish official in Louisiana, that all moneys paid Wilkinson by the Spanish authorities were on account of his commercial transactions, and there was still up to the period Wilkinson re-entered the service of the United States, "a very considerable balance in favor of the General."
Much larger sums than that due Wilkinson were later defaulted on by the crown of Spain. The former Intendant Morales, gave as an excuse for remaining in New Orleans for over two years after its cession to the United States, that he was expecting four hundred thousand dollars from Spain to pay debts due parties in New Orleans. (4th Gayarre 130).
In Martin's History of Louisiana, pp306 and 307, the Spanish official receipts and expenditures of 1802 are given. The statement attested by Gilberto Leonard, Treasurer, Manuel Almirez, Secretary, shows:
"The Royal Chests owe, $255,518 to the fund of deposits, $48,372 and 31 cents to that of tobacco, (p306). On page 307, as explanatory of the foregoing, "funds of deposits," the deposits constituting a part of this fund, proceed from property in dispute to which the King has a claim, and p97 the amount is deposited until the claim is decided. The sum due to the fund for tobacco is a balance which remained of that particular fund after the King's purchases were completed."
The crown bought Wilkinson's tobacco. In 1790 there was a dispute about the soundness of this tobacco. The amount therefore would have in due course been placed in the fund of deposits, to which the crown owed by 1802 over a quarter of a million dollars.
France too, owed our citizens some twenty million francs in 1803, which debts were assumed by the United States as part of the purchase price of Louisiana. I do not know how much of this was ever paid as the United States appears to have inclined to Falstaff's favorite motto "base is the slave that pays," and is still holding on to millions of dollars of money from cotton, as wrongfully seized in New Orleans, 1863, as Wilkinson's tobacco was in 1790.
Miro, in one of his letters to Spain, laid great stress on the bogus attack that Wilkinson had caused to be made on a British emissary in Kentucky, and then how Wilkinson had hustled this emissary out of the country, ostensibly to save his life. Itº may have later dawned on Miro that Wilkinson's efforts as a humorist were not confined to England alone.
Fortier, Vol. 2, p486, says, the population of the colony of Louisiana, when Spain took possession in 1769, was about 14,000, the annual revenues were over $19,000, and the expenses $10,000 a year, or about 70 cents per capita. Under the Spanish domination, this population had increased in 1803 to 50,000, the income was $120,000 and the expenditures of the previous year (1802) $800,000, or sixteen dollars per capita, and Gayarre admits that the Spanish Governors of Louisiana cost their mother country a clear loss of Fifteen Millions of Dollars. I mention this to show that Louisiana produced nothing like enough for her own governmental alimony and whenever the pay rolls were to be swelled by claims for pensions, the money had to be sent from Spain.
It is therefore clear on the face of the papers that Wilkinson did not receive a pension or bribe from Miro, who left Louisiana for Spain in 1791. If Miro did write Spain for a pension for Wilkinson, it was not authorized by Wilkinson, and on the evidence, to be hereafter referred to, it would seem reasonably certain that the amounts paid him were for tobacco purchased but not paid for by the Miro administration and for the purpose of which, in 1790, Miro was criticised by his home government. (See 3 Gayarre, p308.)
A reasonable explanation of Miro's request for a pension for Wilkinson, if he made such application to the King of Spain, has p98 been overlooked by Gayarre and other writers, who have been eager to condemn Wilkinson at every opportunity. The word "pension" in either French or Spanish has not the same meaning that the English word pension has.
A world wide authority, B. Larousse, "Dictionnaire Universel,"º Vol. 12, letter p. — Verbo "Pension" says, this word comes from the Latin word "Pensio."
"Before 1790 the word "Pension" applied indistinctly to all the benefit distributed by the sovereign, and confounded under that name the modest recompense of the obscure officer and the richest establishment of princes."
Therefore the word cited in both French and Spanish meant, before 1790, a recompense for personal service. The sense of the word was changed after the French revolutions.
Now, all histories agree that Gardaquo in 1786 did all he could to obtain American settlers for upper Louisiana, and that New Madrid was largely composed of these settlers. Miro was trying to do the same by West Florida and Louisiana in 1787. When Wilkinson took his tobacco down to New Orleans, the latter admits he agreed to become, under certain conditions, to be approved by the court of Spain, the immigration agent for Governor Miro. There was nothing wrong about this. Spain was at peace with this country and there are today many immigration agents in the United States whose official duty it is to secure desirable immigrants from foreign countries.
Wilkinson states at some length in his Memoirs, Vol. II, p112, this conditional agreement with Miro, as to bringing these families to Louisiana, and states specifically it was to be for his personal emolument. On his visit in 1789, he says:
"I was then informed by Governor Miro that the opening of the Mississippi to the western inhabitants had been approved and the permission for the settlement had been granted, but he informed me he had received no advice for our plan of colonization and the tobacco speculation."
Historians of the life of Boone, who from 1795 to 1804 was a Spanish subject, say that the object of the Spaniards, in endorsing American immigration, was to interpose between themselves and the British on the North a people, who like themselves, had recently been at war with England.
Wilkinson, in his Memoirs, declares, that he realized that, under whatever allegiance or guise American settlers came to settle West Florida, the safest and surest way to make that country American was to make the majority of its residents American. That in p99 proposing to do this; in his endeavors to obtain the free navigation of the Mississippi river, and to put through the then apparently impossible task of securing the admission of Kentucky as one of the States of the Federation, Wilkinson used duplicity and guile both with the Spaniards and the leaders of the Northern and Eastern States of the Union, I do not deny. I do, however, deny that the language used in the retranslation of his alleged letters is correct. Miro admits, in his letters on file in the Louisiana Historical Society, that he knew little English and though Navarro was his superior in that respect, the translation of an English cipher letter into Spanish was necessarily a difficult task for either of them.
In doing this they have adopted the obsequious tone that was usually used by them in addressing their master in Spain, for instance, the American word "subject" is always translated as "vassal," the American Congress as "Americano Corte," the American Court, and such other liberal use of words.
I must however insist that not one of the alleged original letters of Wilkinson have ever been produced, and no court in any civilized country would admit these alleged retranslations of former alleged translations against Wilkinson living and they certainly should not be admitted against him now that he is dead, unless the dastardly pleas prevail that what is not admissibleº against the living can be safely used to defame the dead.
Miro certainly did not expect Wilkinson to serve as immigration agent without pay, and no doubt the pension he applied for, if he did apply for one, was a salary to be paid Wilkinson for such service.
In 1790 Miro wrote Wilkinson "you are our agent and I am ordered to give you hopes that the King will recompense you as I have already intimated."
It would therefore seem that the word pension then meant as Larousse says, a recompense for personal service.
I cannot otherwise reconcile Howard's statement, in his "Purchase of Louisiana," page 61, "That Miro spent in 1786 three hundred thousand dollars in inflaming the Indians against the Americans," with Gayarre's asserted fact, that Miro attempted the year later, to control the leader of the men he most feared, by a recommendation, that at some future date, the King of Spain would pay him a paltry two thousand dollars a year.
This does not sound reasonable. The explanation I offer seems logical, that this pay was to be for immigration services, which plan was abandoned in 1791. It is a coincidence that Wilkinson was appointed p100 as Colonel in the army in December, 1791, the same month that Miro left Louisiana never to return.
While Gayarre, raised by a grand-father, De Bore, who was so anti-American that he refused the first commission that Madison ever issued to a legislative council in Louisiana, denounced Wilkinson as a bribe taker, he claims that the alleged bribe giver, Governor Miro, was about as pure and honest as the angels around the throne. I propose hereafter to show that the Spanish rulers in Louisiana and other American colonies from the earliest times to the time they were driven from their last western possession, Cuba, exhibited a long record of financial infamy and rottenness, and that no fair man would convict anyone on their ex parte and sworn, much less, their unsworn statements.
Could the servants be expected to be better than the master?
Spain ruled by the infamous Godoy from 1792 to 1808, was during that time, reeking with rottenness. Harrison's History of Spain says, p609:
"There was only despotic power, unmitigated license, a throng of hateful lickspittles and the depraved spectacle of an obscene queen and her lover." [. . .] The vicious and despotic administration of Godoy crowned the anarchy of the Indies and Sierras, [. . .] leaving a debt of over 1,200 millions of reals. [. . .] The deficit in one year amounted to 800 millions of reals. (p614).
[. . .]
"The six years between 1802 and 1808 were years of infamy, of profound criminality on the part of the Prince of Peace (Godoy), perpetually coquetting with Napoleon and dreaming of an independent sovereignty in Portugal, and of shameless squabbles in the Royal family. The mere mention of an honest meeting of expenses created a paroxysm of disgust, terror and indignation in the palace." (p620).
[. . .]
"The immorality of the governing authorities gave an infinity of details to the general misery." (p621).
[. . .]
"Godoy is reputed to have stolen two thousand millions and Napoleon tried in 1808 to execute him and forever banish the imbecile King Carlos IV and his termagant wife to private life." (p631).
[. . .]
"In 1808 as for finances there were none. The state debt at that time amounted to more than seven millions of reals, but one-third of which was due to earlier governments. And the Castiles had lost one-third of their population by epidemics and famines." (p635).
Bancroft's History of Mexico, Vol. XII, p5, speaking of the decadence of Spain, says:
"Godoy, a young officer, the queen's favorite, impudent, incompetent, ambitious, thoroughly immoral, sycophant or conspirator according to the tide, but always villain."
[. . .]
"Spain under these baneful influences sinks lower than ever. [. . .] There is in circulation one billion nine hundred and eighty million dollars paper money in 1799, at 40 per cent discount. Religion is everywhere present as the handmaid of vice." Bancroft 6.
p101 Mr. Gayarre in his panegyric on Spanish honor, failed to remember the Spanish Knights who in order to make native Americans produce their hidden treasures, sprayed their feet with burning oil, and even at the time that Gayarre wrote of, Robinson's Memoirs of the Mexican Revolution, Vol. 1, p11, says:
"During the famous, or rather infamous administration of Godoy, sacrilegiously called the Prince of Peace, every office in America, from that of Vice-Roy down to a menial dependent in the customhouse was publicly sold; except in a few instances, in which they were bestowed on the servants of the Prince, as a premium for their intrigues, or, as it was styled, to reward their fidelity to his royal master or royal mistress. [. . .] Under men like these were the lives and property of Spanish Americans placed. Of one hundred and sixty vice-roys who have ruled in America only four were creole born and even those four were brought up from their infancy in Spain."
[. . .]
"The commerce of the colonies felt the fatal influence of Spanish despotism. The acts, exactions and injustice of those avaricious monopolists would scarcely be believed by the civilized world. Our limits will not permit us to detail them; but we may observe that extortion was the leading feature of that disgraceful commerce." pp13‑14.
I wish to call special attention to the enmity and bitterness that attended the various transfers of Louisiana. Louisiana was ceded from France to Spain by the treaty of Fontainebleau on November 3rd, 1762. Governor Ulloa from Havana was only sent to take possession of it for Spain on March 5th, 1766. When he came he remained for months at the Belize, •nearly 100 miles below New Orleans, where he raised the Spanish flag, and Judge Martin says for "nearly two years Ulloa haunted the province as a phantom of dubious authority." On October 31st, 1768, Ulloa was forced to leave.
On July 23rd, 1769, O'Reilly arrived at the Belize with 3000 Spanish troops. Concealing under the cloak of hospitality the dagger of the assassin, the latter slaughtered the leaders of the Creoles, the first Americans on the Western continent to proclaim their independence of Europe.
Judge Martin says of this tragedy, "Posterity the judge of men in power, will doom this act to public execration."
Though Louisiana was retroceded to France by the treaty of St. Ildefonso on October 1st, 1800, the Prefect Laussat, only came to New Orleans on March 26th, 1803, and lingered here afraid to even attempt to take possession for France, until November 30th, 1803. But when December 20th, 1803, twenty days later, arrived, and it came to be the turn of the United States to take possession, both Claiborne and Wilkinson acted promptly, and the actual transfer took place at the hour and minute fixed. Spain was then protesting p102 that Napoleon had no right to sell Louisiana, and the Creoles still hoped that their dream of being governed again by La Belle France would be realized, and consequently the feeling towards the representatives of the Saxon power was anything but kindly.
Gayarre, half Spaniard and half French, was born and grew to manhood under ancestors imbued with these prejudices and probably is not to blame for feeling as he did.
In his History of Louisiana he is very unjust to Wilkinson. It will be remembered that Wilkinson on his first visit to New Orleans in 1787 prepared a memorial to the Spanish crown at the request of Miro and Navarro, which memorial Miro forwarded to Spain, [. . .] But Gayarre says, (3rd Volume 202),º
"So much for Wilkinson's ostensible doings. But it leaked out at the time and passed current among those who pretendedº to be well informed, that Wilkinson had delivered to the Spanish Governor a memorial containing other representations which were kept from the public eye."
"They say" or "it is said" might do for a gossip's tale, but no historian should resort to such hearsay as "it passed current among those who pretended to know," particularly where the writer could not have known those who so pretended and he does not cite his authority for such pretence.
In Gayarre's own history (3 Volume 228) is quoted an alleged letter of Wilkinson to Miro in which he states, that at the Danville Convention, held in Kentucky in 1788, "I submitted them my original memorial and the joint answer of yourself and Navarro."
It would seem therefore that Gayarre's statement as to there being two memorials was a draft of his imagination.
This memorial of Wilkinson is set forth in Miro's Despatch #13 and as outlined there is an able paper.
It showed that Wilkinson had a greater grasp on the future destiny of the Mississippi Valley than any man of his time. I cite one passage from this memorial, written at a time when Washington was preparing to laboriously dig a canal, by hand, to connect the Potomac with the Ohio, and seventeen years before, even Jefferson, awoke to the truth of what Wilkinson then portrayed.
"When we cast our eyes on the country east of the Mississippi we find it of vast expansion, varied in its climate; of excellent lands, the best in the new world; abounding in the most useful mines, minerals and metals. On making this examination the question naturally arises; For what purpose did the Father of the Universe create this country? Surely for the good of his creatures since he has made nothing in vain. Does it not therefore, strike the most limited intellect that he who closes the only gate by which the inhabitants of this extensive region may approach their neighbors in pursuit of useful intercourse, opposes this benevolent design? Is not the Mississippi this gate? The privation of its use takes away from us Americans what nature seems to have provided for their indispensable convenience and happiness."
p103 However indiscreet, unpatriotic or censurable from a strictly American standpoint some of the expressions in Wilkinson's alleged letters may seem to be, would anything short of very strong assurances or invitations from Wilkinson have been sufficient to induce Spain to pay such active court to the people of Kentucky as would have caused the Northern States to at last come to the conclusion that it were better to take Kentucky as an unwelcomed sister than to see her elope as the bride of Spain.
It will be noted that as soon as the admission of Kentucky as a State was assured, Wilkinson and Miro grew cool to each other, and that Wilkinson's tobacco was seized or as Gayoso said in his letter of July 5th, 1792, Wilkinson "lost his credit in Kentucky for lack of means to maintain it." The extra five years'º pay that Wilkinson had received as a veteran officer of the Revolution was then all gone and Wilkinson was then a ruined man willing, nay glad, to accept the service and pay as a Colonel of Volunteers of the Indian Fighters of Kentucky.
Daniel Boone was the pioneer of Kentucky but Wilkinson was undoubtedly the pioneer of American trade on the Mississippi River.
To show how petty was the spite manifested against Wilkinson, Gayarre says Governor Gayoso died of a malignant fever on July 18, 1799. This probably was from the yellow fever which was then epidemic in New Orleans. Gayarre then proceeds to claim that Gayoso's death was due to a convivial celebration with Wilkinson.
Of course, it was a heinous offense in Gayarre's view for a Kentucky veteran to stand a celebration that killed off a Spanish Grandee, but it is first time I ever heard of a malignant fever resulting from a convivial celebration.
That Gayarre was not capable of forming correct judgments, in even trivial affairs is shown by an incident in his own life. While living in Baton Rouge he sent his carriage to a blacksmith at Baton Rouge, the capital, to be repaired. These repairs cost and were worth two dollars. Because the blacksmith required payment before delivery of the carriage, Gayarre's Spanish pride was so outraged that he sued the blacksmith for the carriage and for one thousand dollars damages. The case was carried finally to the Supreme Court of Louisiana where, of course, Gayarre lost. (See decisions Supreme Court of Louisiana.) Tunnard vs. Gayarre, 9 Annual p254.
Images with borders lead to more information.
The thicker the border, the more information. (Details here.)
Defense of Wilkinson
A page or image on this site is in the public domain ONLY if its URL has a total of one *asterisk. If the URL has two **asterisks, the item is copyright someone else, and used by permission or fair use. If the URL has none the item is © Bill Thayer.
See my copyright page for details and contact information.
Page updated: 15 Nov 13