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The difficulties with Spain began early in the year to assume a serious appearance;
in February, acts of a semi-hostile characta took place,* and in August, Spanish troops crossed the Sabine and took possession of the territory east of that river. This led first to a correspondence between Governor Claiborne and the Spaniard in command; and next to a movement by General Wilkinson and his army to the contested border.f While his troops were at Natchitoches, in immediate expectation of an engagement, Samuel Swartwout reached Wilkinson's camp, with letters from Burt and Dayton, of such a character as to bring matters in relation to the conquest of Mexico almost instantly to a crisis.
Burr, from January to August, Mr. Davis tells us, was most of the time in Washington and Philadelphia ;£ but not idle, for in a letter to Wilkinson, dated April 16th, the conspirator says, “Burr will be throughout the United States this summer;" and refers to “the association," as enlarged, and to the “project” as postponed till December. || In July, Commodore Truxton learned from Burr that he was interested largely in lands upon the Washita, which he proposed to settle if his Mexican project failed;$ and in August we find that he left for the west. On the 21st of that month he was in Pittsburg, and there suggested to Colonel George Morgan and his son the probable disunion of the States, growing out of the extreme weakness of the Federal Government;a suggestion similar to that said to have been made, though in a much more distinct and strong form, to General Eaton, in the March preceding. His plans, indeed, whatever their extent, were before this time fixed and perfected, for it was upon the 29th of July that he wrote from Philadelphia to General Wilkinson the letter confided to Swartwout, which led to the developement of the whole business; this letter we extract, together with Wilkinson's deposition of December 26th, explanatory of Burr's plans.
[Yours, post-marked 13th of May, is received.]* I, Aaron Burr, have obtained funds, and have actually commenced the enterprise. De
American State Papers, ii. 798. † American State Papers, ii. 801 to 804. See for documents Wilkinson's Memoirs, i. appendix. Ix. lxxxvii, to xciii. Also, American State Papers, xx. 561 to 563. 565.
# Memoirs, ii. 375. He had not entirely given up Eastern politics; see Adair's letter in Wilkinson, ii. appendix lxxvii.
I Wilkinson's Memoirs, ii. appendix lxxxiii. $ American State Papers, «. 497. 1 American State Papers, xx. 501 to 504. ** American State Papers, 493 to 596.537.
* The parts in brackets were omitted in the copy which Wilkinson used, in causing the arrest of Bollman and others. (See American State Papers, 11. 471, 472.) This omissioa was the ground of the accusation hereafter referred to.
Burr's Letter to Wilkinson.
tachments from different points, and under different pretences, will rendezvous on Ohio, 1st November-every thing internal and external favors views : protection of England is secured. T - is going to Jamaica, to arrange with the Admiral on that station; it will meet on the Mississippi.-England.— Navy of the United States are ready to join, and final orders are given to my friends and followers: it will be a host of choice spirits. Wilkinson shall be second to Burr only: Wilkinson shall dictate the rank and promotion of his officers. Burr will proceed westward 1st. August, never to return : with him go his daughter; the the husband will follow in October, with a corps of worthies.
Send forth an intelligent and confidential friend with whom Burr may confer; he shall return immediately with further interesting details: this is essential to concert and harmony of movement: send a list of all persons known to Wilkinson, west of the mountains, who may be useful, with a note delineating their characters. By your messenger send me four or five commissions of your officers, which you can borrow under any pretence you please; they shall be returned faithfully. Already are orders to the contractor given, to forward six months provisions to points Wilkinson may name; this shall not be used until the last moment, and then under proper injunctions: the project is brought to the point so long desired. Burr guarantees the result with his life and honor, with the lives, the honor and fortune of hundreds, the best blood of our country. Burr's plan of operations is, to move down rapidly from the Falls on the 15th November, with the first 500, or 1000 men in light boats now constructing for that purpose, to be at Natchez between the 5th and 15th of December; there to meet Wilkinson: there to determine whether it will be expedient in the first instance to seize on or pass by Baton Rouge: on receipt of this send an answer; draw on Burr for all expenses,
&c. The people of the country to which we are going, are prepared to receive us : their agents now with Burr say, that if we will protect their religion and will not subject them to a foreign power, that in three weeks all will be settled. The gods invite to glory and fortune : it remains to be seen whether we deserve the boon: the bearer of this goes express to you; he will hand a formal letter of introduction to you from Burr: he is a man of inviolable honor and perfect discretion; formed to execute rather than to project; capable of relating facts with fidelity, and incapable of relating them otherwise ; he is thoroughly informed of the plans and intentions of (Barr,) and will disclose to you as far as you inquire, and no further : he has imbibed a reverence for your character, and may be embarrassed in your presence : put him at ease and he will satisfy you.*
498 Wilkinson's affidavit.
1806 I instantly resolved-says Wilkinson in his affidavit-to avail myself of the reference made to the bearer, and, in the course of some days, drew from him (the said Swartwout) the following disclosure : " That he had been despatched by Colonel Burr from Philadelphia ; had passed through the States of Ohio and Kentucky, and proceeded from Louisville for St. Louis, where he expected to find me; but discovering a Kaskaskias that I had desended the river, he procured a skiff, hired hands, and followed me down the Mississippi to Fort Adams; and from thence set out for Natchitoches, in company with Captains Sparks and Hooke, under the pretence of a disposition to take part in the campaign against the Spaniards, then depending. That Colonel Burr, with the support of a powerful association extending from New York to New Orleans, was levying an armed body of seven thousand men from the State of New York and the western States and territories, with a view to carry an expedition against the Mexican provinces ; and that fire hundred men, under Colonel Swartwout and a Colonel or Major Tyler, were to descend the Alleghany, for whose accommodation light boats had been built and were ready." I inquired what would be their course; he said, "this territory would be revolutionized, where the people were ready to join them; and that there would be some seizing, he supposed, at New Orleans ; that they expected to be ready to embark about the 1st of February; and intended to land at Vera Cruz, and to march from thence to Mexico." I observed that there were several millions of dollars in the bank of this place; to which he replied, “ we know it full well ;" and, on my remarking that they certainly did not mean to violate private property, he said, “they meant to borrow, and would return it; that they must equip themselves in New Orleans ; that they expected naval protection from Great Britain; that the captains and the officers of our navy were so disgusted with the Goverment that they were ready to join ; that similar disgusts prevailed throughout the western country, where the people were zealous in favor of the enterprise ; and that pilot-boat built schooners were contracted for along our southern coast for their service; that he had been accompanied from the falls of Ohio to Kaskaskias, and from thence to Fort Adams by a Mr. Ogden, who had proceeded on to New Orleans with letters from Colonel Burr 10 his friends there.” Swartwout asked me whether I had heard from Dr. Bollman; and, on my answering in the negative, he expressed great surprise, and observed, that the Doctor and a Mr. Alexander had left Philadelphia before him with despatches for me; and that they were to proceed by sea to New Orleans, where he said they must have arrived.
Though determined to deceive him, if possible, I could not refrain telling Mr. Swartwout it was impossible that I could ever dishonor my commission; and I believe I duped him by my admiration of the plan
499 and by observing, that although I could not join in the expedition, the engagements which the Spaniards had prepared for me in my front might prevent my opposing it. Yet I did, the moment I had deciphered the letter, put it into the hands of Colonel Cushing, my adjutant and inspector; making the declaration that I should oppose the lawless enterprise with my utmost force. Mr. Swartwout informed me that he was under engagements to meet Colouel Burr at Nashville on the 20th of November, and requested of me to write to him, which I declined ; and on his leaving Natchitoches about the 18th of October, I immediately employed Lieutenant T. A. Smith to convey the information in substance to the President without the commitment of names; for from the extraordinary nature of the project and the more extraordinary appeal to me, I could but doubt its reality, notwithstanding the testimony before me ; and I did not attach solid belief to Mr. Swarıwout's reports respecting their intentions on this Territory and city, until I received confirmatory advice from St. Louis.
After leaving Pittsburg, Burr went probably direct to Blennerhassett's Island, where he had stopped the previous summer, while passing down the Ohio, t and which he thenceforth made his head-quarters. This he was probably led to do by the fact that Blennerhassett, in December, 1805, had written him, that he should like to take part in any western speculations, or in attacking Mexico, should a Spanish war actually occur. This offer, together with the supposed wealth of Blennerhassett, and the admirable position of his island for Burr's purposes, made that place the very one most desirable for him to select as his centre of operations. From this point the Chief made excursions into Ohio and Kentucky, obtaining money, men, boats and provisions. ||
Among those from whom he received the most aid was Davis Floyd, of Jeffersonville, a member of the Indiana Assembly;s this gentleman, Blennerhassett, Comfort Tyler and Israel Smith, were Burr's chiefs of division, and led the few followers that at last went down the river in his company. Meantime the rumor was prevalent “in every man's mouth,”I that the settlement of the Washita lands,** for which the men were nominally enlisted,
* American State Papers, xx. 472.
See as to these lands Lynch's evidence. American State Papers, ix. 599.
isik was a mere pretence, and that an attack on Mexico, if not sode thing worse, was in contemplation.* That something was looked for beyond a conquest of the Spanish provinces seemed probable from the views expressed in a series of essays called the “Que rist;” these were published in September in the Ohio Gazette, (Marietta) were written by Blennerhassett, immediately after Burr': visit to his island, and strongly intimated that wisdom called on the western people to leave the Union.f At this time Colonel Joseph Daviess was attorney for the United States in Kentucky, and he, together with others,t felt that the General Government ought to be informed of what was doing, and of what was rumored; Mr. Jefferson, accordingly, in the latter part of September received intimations of what was going forward, but as nothing definite could be charged there was no point of attack, and the Executive and his friends could do nothing farther than watch and wait.! At length, late in October, notice of the building of boats and collection of provisions having reached him, the President sent a confidential agentę into the west, and also gave orders to the Gorernors and commanders to be upon their guard. Daviess, meantime, had gathered a mass of testimony implicating Burt, which led him to take the step of bringing the subject, in November, before the United States District Court, making oath, “ that he was informed, and did verily believe, that Aaron Burr for several months past had been, and now is engaged, in preparing and setting on foot, and in providing and preparing the means for a military expedition and enterprize within this district, for the purpose of descending the Ohio and Mississippi therewith; and making war upon the subjects of the king of Spain.” After having read this affidavit, the attorney added, “I have information, on which I can rely, that all the western territories are the next object of the scheme--and finally, all the region of the Ohio, is calculated, as falling into the vortex of the newly proposed revolution.”
Upon this affidavit Daviess asked for Burr's arrest, but the motion was overruled. The accused, however, who saw at once the most politic course, came into court and demanded an investigation,
* Burnet's letters, 103. Numerous witnesses at Burr's trial, Richmond. † American State Papers, xx. 527. 523. 535. 525 and 526. See also 531, 532, &c. # See the statements and papers in Marshall, ii. 385 to 413—424 to 433. | American State Papers, xx. 468.
$ Mr. John Graham, secretary of the Orleans Territory. His evidence is in American State Papers, xx. 528, &c.