History of the United States 1801-09/The Second Administration of Thomas Jefferson/I:12
|←Chapter 11||History of the United States 1801-09
The Second Administration of Thomas Jefferson, Part I, Chapter 12
Chapter 12: Escape past Fort Massac 
Had Burr succeeded in carrying out his original plan of passing the Falls of the Ohio as early as November 15, he might have reached New Orleans with all his force; but he made too many delays, and tried too far the patience of Ohio. October 1 he returned from Nashville to Lexington, where he was joined by Blennerhassett and Allston. From that moment he was beset by difficulties and growing opposition.
As yet the Government at Washington had not moved, and Burr freely said that his military preparations were made with its knowledge and for the probable event of war with Spain; but he had not foreseen that these tactics might rouse against him the class of men from whom he had least reason to expect opposition. In Kentucky a respectable body of old Federalists still existed, with Humphrey Marshall at their head. The United States District Attorney, Joseph H. Daveiss, was also a Federalist, left in office by Jefferson. Burr's admirers were Republicans, so numerous that the President shrank from alienating them by denouncing Burr, while they in their turn would not desert Burr until the President denounced him. The Federalists saw here a chance to injure their opponents, and used it.
As early as the year 1787 Governor Mirò, the Spanish ruler of Louisiana, tried to organize a party in Kentucky for establishing an independent empire west of the Alleghanies under the protection of Spain. His chief agent for that purpose was James Wilkinson.(1) The movement received no popular support, and failed; but during the next ten years the Spanish governors who succeeded Mirò maintained relations with Wilkinson and his friends, always hoping that some change in American politics would bring their project into favor. Godoy's policy of conciliation with America crossed these intrigues. His treaty of 1795 did much to neutralize them, but his delivery of Natchez in 1798 did more. The settlement of boundary came at a moment when Kentucky, under the lead of Jefferson and Breckenridge, seemed about to defy the United States government, and when the celebrated Kentucky Resolutions promised to draw the Western people into the arms of Spain, Talleyrand's indignation at Godoy's conduct (2) was not more acute than the disgust felt by the Spanish officials at New Orleans.
The Spanish intrigues among the Republicans of Kentucky were not wholly unknown to the Federalists in that State; and as time went on, Humphrey Marshall and Daveiss obtained evidence warranting an assault on the Republicans most deeply implicated.(3) The attempt was a matter of life and death to the Spanish pensioners; and in a society so clannish as that of Kentucky, violence was not only to be feared, but to be counted upon. Daveiss took the risks of personal revenge, and laid his plans accordingly.
Burr's appearance on the Ohio and at St. Louis in Wilkinson's company during the summer of 1805 called attention to the old Spanish conspiracy, and gave Daveiss the opportunity he wanted. As early as Jan. 10, 1806, while Burr was still struggling at Washington to save his plot from collapse for want of foreign aid, and while John Randolph was beginning his invectives in Congress, the district-attorney wrote to the President a private letter denouncing the old Spanish plot, and declaring that it was still alive.(4) "A separation of the Union in favor of Spain is the object finally. I know not what are the means." Assuming that Jefferson was ignorant of the facts, because he had "appointed General Wilkinson as Governor of St. Louis, who, I am convinced, has been for years, and now is, a pensioner of Spain," Daveiss asserted his own knowledge, and contented himself with a general warning;—
- "This plot is laid wider than you imagine. Mention the subject to no man from the Western country, however high in office he may be. Some of them are deeply tainted with this treason. I hate duplicity of expression; but on this subject I am not authorized to be explicit, nor is it necessary. You will despatch some fit person into the Orleans country to inquire."
February 10 Daveiss wrote again calling attention to Burr's movements during the previous summer, and charging both him and Wilkinson with conspiracy.(5) At about the time when these letters arrived, the President received another warning from Eaton. The air was full of denunciations, waiting only for the President's leave to annihilate the conspirators under popular contempt. A word quietly written by Jefferson to one or two persons in the Western country would have stopped Burr short in his path, and would have brought Wilkinson abjectly on his knees. A slight change in the military and naval arrangements at New Orleans would have terrified the Creoles into good behavior, and would have made Daniel Clark denounce the conspiracy.
The President showed Daveiss's letter to Gallatin, Madison, and Dearborn; but he did not take its advice, and did not, in his Cabinet memoranda of October 22, (6) mention it among his many sources of information. February 15 he wrote to Daveiss (7) a request to communicate all he knew on the subject. No other acts followed, nor was either Wilkinson or Burr put under surveillance.
Perhaps this was what Daveiss wished; for if Jefferson pursued his course much further, he was certain to compromise himself in appearing to protect Burr and Wilkinson. Daveiss not only continued to write letter after letter denouncing Wilkinson to the President, without receiving answer or acknowledgment; he not only made a journey to St. Louis in order to collect evidence, and on his return to Kentucky wrote in July to the President that Burr's object was "to cause a revolt of the Spanish provinces, and a severance of all the Western States and Territories from the Union, to coalesce and form one government,"—but he also took a new step, of which he did not think himself obliged to inform the President in advance. He established at Frankfort a weekly newspaper, edited by a man so poor in character and means that for some slight gain in notoriety he could afford to risk a worthless life. John Wood was a newspaper hack, not quite so successful as Cheetham and Duane, or so vile as Callender. Having in 1801 written a "History of the last Administration," after getting from Colonel Burr, by working upon his vanity, an offer to buy and suppress the book, it was probably Wood who furnished Cheetham with the details of the transaction, and connived at Cheetham's "Narrative of the Suppression," in order to give notoriety to himself. Cheetham's "Narrative" called for a reply, and Wood in 1802 printed a "Correct Statement." Both pamphlets were contemptible; but Cheetham was supported by the Clintons, while Wood could find no one to pay for his literary wares. He drifted to Richmond, and thence across the mountains; until, in the winter of 1805-1806, he dropped quietly, unnoticed, into the village of Frankfort, in Kentucky. Humphrey Marshall and District Attorney Daveiss needed such a man.
July 4, 1806, appeared at Frankfort the first number of the "Western World,"—a weekly newspaper edited by John Wood. The society of Kentucky was alarmed and irritated to find that the "Western World" seemed to have no other object for its existence than to drag the old Spanish conspiracy to light. Passions were soon deeply stirred by the persistency and vehemence with which this pretended Republican newspaper clung to the subject and cried for an investigation. Wood had no fancy for being made the object of assassination, but he was given a fighting colleague named Street; and while Wood hid himself. Street defended the office. In spite of several attempts to drive Street away or to kill him, the "Western World" persevered in its work, until October 15 it published an appeal to the people, founded on Blennerhassett's "Querist" and on the existence of a Spanish Association. Meanwhile two men in high position dreaded exposure,—Judge Sebastian, of the Court of Appeals of Kentucky, and Judge Innis, of the United States District Court.
Daveiss was right in thinking the Spanish conspiracy of 1787-1798 closely allied with Burr's conspiracy of 1805. In striking at Sebastian and Innis, he threw consternation into the ranks of Burr's friends, all of whom were more or less familiar with the Spanish intrigue. Senator Adair, bolder than the rest, stood by Wilkinson and defied exposure; but the greater number of Wilkinson's accomplices were paralyzed. Daveiss gave them no respite. In October Burr's appearance in Kentucky offered a chance to press his advantage. Jefferson's persistent silence and inaction left the energetic district-attorney free to do what he liked; and nothing short of compromising the Administration satisfied his ambition.
Burr passed the month of October in Kentucky; but his preparations were far from complete. The delay was probably due to the time consumed in getting Blennerhassett's money. At last Burr paid to Lynch the purchase-money of four or five thousand dollars for Bastrop's grant. He had already ordered the construction of boats and enlistment of men at various points on the Ohio, and especially at Marietta, near Blennerhassett's island; but he waited too long before beginning operations on the Cumberland, for not till November 3 did Andrew Jackson at Nashville receive a letter from Burr, inclosing three thousand dollars in Kentucky bank-notes, with orders for the building of five large boats, the purchase of supplies, and the enlistment of recruits,—all of which was promptly undertaken by Jackson, but required more time than could be spared by Burr.
Meanwhile Burr's affairs were going ill in the State of Ohio. Blennerhassett's foolish "Querist," and the more foolish conversation of both Blennerhassett and Burr, combined with the assaults of the "Western World," drew so much attention to the armaments at the island that Mrs. Blennerhassett, left alone while her husband was with Allston and Burr in Kentucky, became alarmed, and thought it necessary to send them a warning. October 20 she wrote to Burr that he could not return with safety. Thinking the note too important to be trusted to the post, and ignorant of Burr's address, she sent her gardener, Peter Taylor, on horseback, through Chillicothe, to Cincinnati, with orders to ask Senator Smith for the address. Taylor reached Cincinnati October 23, after three days of travel, and went, according to his mistress's orders, directly to Senator Smith's house, which was in the same building with his store,—for Smith was a storekeeper and army contractor. The senator was already too deeply compromised with Burr, and his courage had begun to fail. At first he denied knowledge of Burr or Blennerhassett. In Taylor's words, "He allowed he knew nothing of either of them; that I must be mistaken; this was not the place. I said, 'No; this was the right place,—Mr. John Smith, storekeeper, Cincinnati.'" In the end, Smith took him upstairs, and gave him, with every injunction of secrecy, a letter to be delivered to Burr at Lexington. Taylor reached Lexington October 25, found Burr, delivered his letters, and candidly added: "If you come up our way the people will shoot you." The following Monday, October 27, the gardener started on his return, taking Blennerhassett with him, and leaving Burr at Lexington to face the storms that threatened from many quarters at once.
The impossibility of returning to the island was but one warning; another came from Senator Smith, who dreaded exposure. The letter he sent by Peter Taylor, dated October 23, affected ignorance of Burr's schemes, and demanded an explanation of them. October 26 Burr sent the required disavowal:—
- "I was greatly surprised and really hurt," said Burr(8), "by the unusual tenor of your letter of the 23d, and I hasten to reply to it, as well for your satisfaction as my own. If there exists any design to separate the Western from the Eastern States, I am totally ignorant of it. I never harbored or expressed any such intention to any one, nor did any person ever intimate such design to me."
From that moment to the last day of his life Burr persisted in this assertion, coupling it always in his own mind with a peculiar reservation. What he so solemnly denied was the intention to separate the Western States "by force" from the Eastern; what he never denied was the plan of establishing a Western empire by consent.
Of disunion Burr never again dared to speak. On that subject he was conscious of having already said so much as to make his stay in Kentucky a matter of some risk. The leading Republicans would have rejoiced at his departure; but to desert him was more than their tempers would allow. Daveiss saw another opportunity to compromise his enemies, and used it. A week after Blennerhassett and Peter Taylor left Lexington, carrying with them Burr's letter in reply to Senator Smith, on the same day when Andrew Jackson at Nashville received Burr's order, with Kentucky bank-notes for the sum of three thousand dollars, the United States District Court opened its session at Frankfort. Within eight and forty hours, November 5, District-Attorney Daveiss rose in court and made complaint against Burr for violating the laws of the United States by setting on foot a military expedition against Mexico. Besides an affidavit to this effect, the district-attorney asserted in court that Burr's scheme extended to a revolution of all the Western States and Territories.
In the nervous condition of Kentucky society, this attack on Burr roused great attention and hot criticism. The judge who presided over the court was the same Harry Innis who had been privy to the Spanish conspiracy, and was harassed by the charges of the "Western World." Daveiss could count with certainty upon the course which a man so placed would follow. The judge took three days to reflect, and then denied the motion; but Burr could not afford to rest silent. November 8, when Judge Innis overruled the motion and denied the process, Burr appeared in court and challenged inquiry. The following Wednesday, November 12, was fixed for the investigation. A grand-jury was summoned. Burr appeared, surrounded by friends, with Henry Clay for counsel, and with strong popular sympathy in his favor. Daveiss too appeared, with a list of witnesses summoned; but the chief witness was absent in Indiana, and Daveiss asked a postponement. The jury was discharged; and after a dignified and grave harangue from the accused, Burr left the court in triumph.(9) On the strength of this acquittal he ventured again to appear in Cincinnati, November 23, in confidential relations with Senator Smith; but the term of his long impunity was soon to end.
October 22, while Burr was at Lexington, President Jefferson held a Cabinet council at Washington. The Spaniards were then threatening an attack upon Louisiana, while Wilkinson's force in the Mississippi and Orleans Territories amounted only to ten hundred and eighty-one men, with two gunboats. Memoranda, written at the time by Jefferson, detailed the situation as it was understood by the Government: (10)—
- "During the last session of Congress, Colonel Burr who was here, finding no hope of being employed in any department of the government, opened himself confidentially to some persons on whom he thought he could rely, on a scheme of separating the Western from the Atlantic States, and erecting the former into an independent confederacy. He had before made a tour of those States, which had excited suspicions, as every motion does of such a Catilinarian character. Of his having made this proposition here we have information from General Eaton through Mr. Ely and Mr. Granger. He went off this spring to the Western country. Of his movements on his way, information has come to the Secretary of State and myself from John Nicholson and Mr. Williams of the State of New York, respecting a Mr. Tyler; Colonel Morgan, Nevill, and Roberts, near Pittsburg; and to other citizens through other channels and the newspapers. We are of opinion unanimously that confidential letters be written to the Governors of Ohio, Indiana, Mississippi, and New Orleans; to the district-attorney of Kentucky, of Tennessee, of Louisiana, to have him strictly watched, and on his committing any overt act, to have him arrested and tried for treason, misdemeanor, or whatever other offence the act may amount to; and in like manner to arrest and try any of his followers committing acts against the laws. We think it proper also to order some of the gunboats up to Fort Adams to stop by force any passage of suspicious persons going down in force. General Wilkinson being expressly declared by Burr to Eaton to be engaged with him in this design as his lieutenant, or first in command, and suspicions of infidelity in Wilkinson being now become very general, a question is proposed what is proper to be done as to him on this account, as well as for his disobedience of orders received by him June 11 at St. Louis to descend with all practical despatch to New Orleans to mark out the site of certain defensive works there, and then repair to take command at Natchitoches, on which business he did not leave St. Louis till September. Consideration adjourned.
- "October 24. It is agreed unanimously to call for Captain Preble and Decatur to repair to New Orleans, by land or by sea as they please, there to take command of the force on the water, and that the 'Argus' and two gunboats from New York, three from Norfolk, and two from Charleston shall be ordered there, if on a consultation between Mr. Gallatin and Mr. Smith the appropriations shall be found to enable us; that Preble shall, on consultation with Governor Claiborne, have great discretionary powers; that Graham shall be sent through Kentucky on Burr's trail, with discretionary powers to consult confidentially with the Governors to arrest Burr if he has made himself liable. He is to have a commission of Governor of [Upper] Louisiana, and Dr. Browne is to be removed. Letters are to be written by post to Governor Claiborne, the Governor of Mississippi, and Colonel Freeman to be on their guard against any surprise of our posts or vessels by him. The question as to General Wilkinson postponed till Preble's departure, for future information."
Although these measures provided no protection against the chance of Wilkinson's misconduct, they could not fail to put an instant stop to Burr's activity. All that remained was to carry them out. Unfortunately Gallatin found that his hands and those of Robert Smith were tied by Acts of Congress. The next day the Cabinet met again.
- "October 25. A mail arrived yesterday from the westward, and not one word is heard from that quarter of any movements by Colonel Burr. This total silence of the officers of the government, of the members of Congress, of the newspapers, proves he is committing no overt act against law. We therefore rescind the determination to send Preble, Decatur, the 'Argus,' or the gunboats, and instead of them to send off the marines which are here to reinforce, or take place of, the garrison at New Orleans, with a view to Spanish operations; and instead of writing to the Governors, etc., we send Graham on that route, with confidential authority to inquire into Burr's movements, put the Governors, etc., on their guard, to provide for his arrest if necessary, and to take on himself the government of [Upper] Louisiana. Letters are still to be written to Claiborne, Freeman, and the Governor of Mississippi to be on their guard."
The result of this Cabinet discussion, extending from October 22 to October 25, was merely an order to John Graham, Secretary of the Orleans Territory, to stop in Ohio and Kentucky on his way westward and inquire into Burr's movements.
Graham, following orders received from Madison, reached Marietta about the middle of November, when Burr should have already begun his movement, according to the original plan. Blennerhassett, who had been told by Burr that Graham was concerned in the plot, welcomed him with great cordiality, and talked much more freely than wisely. The information which crowded on Graham at Marietta led him to go at the end of November to Chillicothe, where the Legislature was in session, and where he caused a law to be passed, December 2, empowering the governor to use the militia against the conspirators. Had this measure, or one equally energetic, been taken by the President three months earlier, it would have put an end to Burr's projects before they were under way, would have saved many deluded men from ruin, and would have prevented much trouble at New Orleans; but Graham's progress was not quite so rapid, even though late, as it should have been.
Burr had ample warning. November 25 District-Attorney Daveiss renewed his motion in court at Frankfort, and the court appointed December 2 as the day for hearing evidence. Henry Clay became uneasy, and exacted from Burr a written denial of the projects imputed to him. Fortified with this evidence to his own credulity, Clay again went into court with Burr, "for whose honor and innocence," he said, "he could pledge his own," and assailed the district- attorney. A second time the scene of outraged virtue was acted. Once more the witnesses vanished. Senator Smith saddled his horse and fled; Adair would not appear; and the judge lent his weight to the criminal. To crown all, December 5 the grand-jury of twenty-two persons signed a paper declaring that they could discover nothing improper or injurious to the interests of the United States government in the conduct of Burr and Adair. Burr was discharged, with enthusiastic applause, without a stain on his character; and to prove its devotion, the society of Frankfort gave a ball in his honor.(11)
Nov. 25, 1806, was a date to be remembered in the story of Burr's adventures. On that day Daveiss made his second motion in court at Frankfort, while at Washington the Government at length woke to action. An officer, bringing despatches from General Wilkinson at Natchitoches, presented himself at the White House with news so startling that Jefferson immediately called his Cabinet together. Another memorandum in the President's handwriting recorded the action taken:—
- "November 25. Present at first the four heads of department; but after a while General Dearborn withdrew, unwell. Despatches from General Wilkinson to myself of October 21, by a confidential officer (Lieutenant Smith), show that overtures have been made to him which decide that the present object of the combination is an expedition by sea against Vera Cruz; and by comparing the contents of a letter from Cowles Meade to the Secretary of State, with the information from Lieutenant Smith that a Mr. Swartwout from New York, brother of the late marshal, had been at General Wilkinson's camp, we are satisfied that Swartwout has been the agent through whom overtures have been made to Wilkinson. We came to the following determinations,—that a proclamation be issued (see it), and that orders go as follows: To Pittsburg, if we have a military officer there; . . . Marietta, Mr. Gallatin is to write to the collector; . . . General Dearborn to write to Governor Tiffin, . . . and to write to General Jackson, supposed to be the general of the brigade on the Virginia side of the river; . . . Louisville, General Dearborn to write to the Governor of Kentucky; . . . Massac, General Dearborn to give orders to Captain Bissell of the same tenor, and particularly to stop armed vessels suspected on good grounds to be proceeding on this enterprise, and for this purpose to have in readiness any boats he can procure fitted for enabling him to arrest their passage; Chickasaw Bluffs, give same orders as to Bissell; New Orleans, General Wilkinson to direct the station of the armed vessels; and if the arrangements with the Spaniards will permit him to withdraw, let him dispose of his force as he thinks best to prevent any such expedition or any attempt on New Orleans, or any of the posts or military stores of the United States. (He is also to arrest persons coming to his camp and proposing a concurrence in any such enterprise, and suspected of being in camp with a view to propagate such propositions. This addition is made by General Dearborn with my approbation.)"
The orders to Wilkinson were instantly sent. "You will use every exertion in your power," Dearborn said,(12) "to frustrate and effectually prevent any enterprise which has for its object, directly or indirectly, any hostile act on any part of the territories of the United States, or on any of the territories of the King of Spain." Persons found in or about the military camps or posts, with evident intention of sounding officers or soldiers, were to be arrested, and if not amenable to martial law, were to be delivered over to the civil authorities.
The orders were remarkable chiefly for the power they trusted in the hands of Wilkinson, and the confidence they showed in his good faith. Yet nothing could on its face be more suspicious than his report. The idea that Burr's expedition could be directed against Vera Cruz was unreasonable, and contrary to the tenor of the President's information from all other sources.(13) A moment's thought should have satisfied the President that Wilkinson was deceiving him, and that the city of New Orleans must be the real point of danger. In truth, Wilkinson's letters suppressed more than they told, and were more alarming than the warnings of Eaton or of Daveiss; for they proved that Wilkinson was playing a double part. No measure that promised safety could be taken which would not require an instant removal of Wilkinson and a vigorous support of Claiborne at New Orleans.
Nov. 27, 1806, the same day with Dearborn's letter, the proclamation was issued.(14) Without mentioning Burr's name, it announced that sundry persons were conspiring against Spain, contrary to the laws; it warned all persons whatsoever to withdraw from such conspiracy; and it directed all officers, civil and military, of the United States to seize and detain all persons and property concerned in the enterprise.
The last chance of stopping the conspirators before they could enter the Mississippi was at Fort Massac. Beyond that point they could not easily be molested until they should reach a country more friendly than Ohio or Kentucky to their purposes; but the President had reason to suppose that his proclamation came in ample time to stop the conspirators while they were still on the Ohio River.
The Governor of Ohio, without waiting for the proclamation, acted promptly. On Graham's request, the necessary law was passed, and measures were taken to seize Burr's boats at Marietta. The boats and supplies were brought by Burr's men to Blennerhassett's island; but finding that militia were about to take possession of the island itself, the conspirators, with Blennerhassett in their company, at midnight of December 10-11, fled down the river,—a half-dozen ill-fitted boats, with thirty or forty men,—and passed the Falls of the Ohio at about the time when Burr and Adair entered Nashville.
Graham, leaving Ohio, reached Kentucky December 22, and induced the Governor and Legislature, December 24, to follow the example of Ohio; but he lost much time between Chillicothe and Frankfort, so that even after driving Burr from Ohio to Kentucky, and from Kentucky to Tennessee, the quickest pursuit could not prevent the conspirators from taking their path down the Cumberland. Graham in Ohio heard nothing of Burr's doings in Tennessee, although since November 3 Jackson's close friend Patton Anderson was scouring the country round Nashville for recruits, and had raised a company of seventy-five men. As Burr went farther South, the secrecy of his intimates became more closely guarded, and their movements more obscure.
Burr and Adair reached Nashville December 14, and went directly to the river, where their boats were building. By that time Burr was well trained in the comedy he had within the last month so often played. Senator Smith of Ohio began it October 23, by writing the request that Burr's design should be "candidly disclosed," because Smith had fears that it might interrupt the tranquillity of the country. A month later Henry Clay made the same request. No sooner did Burr reach Clover Bottom, where his boats were building under Andrew Jackson's charge, than he found himself required to repeat the familiar formula. Jackson, in company with General Overton as his witness, soon appeared at Clover Bottom, and intimated as plainly as had been done by John Smith and Henry Clay that his own credit required a disavowal of designs against the Union. Burr, with his usual dignified courtesy, instantly complied; and his denials were accepted as satisfactory by Jackson.
On Jackson's part this conduct was peculiarly surprising, because more than a month before he had written to Governor Claiborne (15) at New Orleans a secret denunciation of Burr and Wilkinson, couched in language which showed such intimate knowledge of Burr's plans as could have come only from Burr himself or Adair. In accepting Burr's disavowals, December 14, Jackson did not mention to Burr his denunciatory letter written to Claiborne, November 12, in which he had said, "I fear treachery has become the order of the day." Like Senator Smith, he was satisfied to secure his own safety; and upon Burr's denial of treasonable schemes, Jackson, although he did not write to Claiborne to withdraw the secret charges, went on building boats, providing supplies, and enlisting men for Colonel Burr's expedition. His motives for this conduct remained his own secret. Many of the best-informed persons in Tennessee and Kentucky, including Burr's avowed partisans, held but a low opinion of Jackson's character or veracity. Eight years afterward Jackson and John Adair once more appeared on the stage of New Orleans history, and quarrelled, with charges and countercharges of falsehood and insinuations of treason.
- "Whatever were the intentions of Colonel Burr," wrote Adair in a published letter,(16) "I neither organized troops at that time, nor did I superintend the building of boats for him; nor did I write confidential letters recommending him to my friends; nor did I think it necessary, after his failure was universally known, to save myself by turning informer or State witness."
By that time the people of Nashville had heard what was doing in Ohio and Kentucky. The public impeachment of the conspirators checked enlistments and retarded purchases; but Burr seemed to fear no such personal danger as had prevented his return to Blennerhassett's island. The Governor and Legislature of Ohio had taken public measures to seize boats and supplies as early as December 2; Burr had been driven from Kentucky, and Blennerhassett had fled from his island, by December 11; but ten days later Burr was still fitting out his boats at Nashville, undisturbed by the people of Tennessee. December 19 the President's proclamation reached Nashville,(17) but still nothing was done.
At last some unmentioned friend brought to Burr a secret warning that the State authorities must soon take notice of his armaments. The authorities at Nashville could no longer delay interference, and Burr was made to understand that his boats would be seized, and that he was himself in danger unless he should immediately escape; but between December 19 and 22 he was undisturbed. The announcement that Graham was expected to arrive December 23 probably decided his movements; for on the 22d he hastily abandoned all except two of his boats, receiving back from Jackson seventeen hundred and twenty-five dollars and taking the two boats and other articles for his voyage.(18) Jackson afterward declared that he suffered in the end a loss of five hundred dollars by a note which Burr had induced him to indorse, and which was returned from New York protested. Without further hindrance Burr then floated down the Cumberland River, taking with him a nephew of Mrs. Jackson, furnished by his uncle with a letter of introduction to Governor Claiborne,—a confidence the more singular because Governor Claiborne could hardly fail, under the warnings of General Jackson's previous secret letter, to seize and imprison Burr and every one who should be found in his company.
Thus, by connivance, Burr escaped from Nashville three days after news of the President's proclamation had arrived. The Government had two more chances to stop him before reaching Natchez. He must join Blennerhassett and Comfort Tyler at the mouth of the Cumberland, and then move down the Ohio River past Fort Massac, garrisoned by a company of the First Infantry, commanded by a Captain Bissell. Having passed Massac, he must still run the gauntlet at Chickasaw Bluff, afterward called Memphis, where another military post was stationed. The War Department sent orders, November 27, to the officers commanding at Massac and Chickasaw Bluff to be on their guard.
December 22 Burr left Nashville, while Adair at about the same time started for New Orleans on horseback through the Indian country. At the mouth of the Cumberland, Burr joined Blennerhassett, who had with him the boats which had succeeded in escaping the Ohio militia. The combined flotilla contained thirteen boats, which carried some sixty men and as many stand of arms, the arms being stowed in cases as cargo. December 25 Burr sent a note to Captain Bissell announcing that he should soon reach Fort Massac on his way South, and should stop to pay his respects. Bissell had received neither the President's proclamation nor the orders from the Secretary of War. As an old friend of Burr, he sent a cordial welcome to the party. In the night of December 29 the boats passed the fort, and landed about a mile below. The next morning Captain Bissell went in his own boat to pay his respects to Colonel Burr, who declined invitations to breakfast and dinner, but asked a furlough of twenty days for a Sergeant Dunbaugh, who had been persuaded to join the expedition. Bissell gave the furlough December 31, and Burr's party at once started for the Mississippi. Five days afterward, January 5, Bissell received a letter, dated January 2, from Andrew Jackson, as Major-General of Tennessee militia, warning him to stop any body of men who might attempt to pass, if they should appear to have illegal enterprises in view. The President's proclamation had not yet reached Fort Massac, nor had Captain Bissell received any instructions from Washington.(19)
The proclamation, dated November 27, and sent immediately to the West, reached Pittsburg December 2,(20) and should, with ordinary haste, have reached Fort Massac—the most important point between Pittsburg and Natchez—before December 15. The orders which accompanied it ought to have prevented any failure of understanding on the part of Captain Bissell. Bissell's reply to Jackson, dated January 5, reached Nashville January 8, and was forwarded by Jackson to Jefferson, who sent it to Congress with a message dated January 28. Twenty-three days were sufficient for the unimportant reply; forty days or more had been taken for the orders to reach Massac, although they had only to float down the river. That some gross negligence or connivance could alone explain this shortcoming was evident; but the subject was never thought to need investigation by President or Congress. The responsibility for Burr's escape was so equally distributed between the President himself, the War Department, and the many accomplices or dupes of Burr in Kentucky and Tennessee, that any investigation must have led to unpleasant results.
Burr for the moment escaped, and everything depended on the action of Wilkinson. Dayton and the other conspirators who remained in the Eastern States thought it a matter of small consequence whether Burr carried with him a party of sixty men or of six hundred. Doubtless the unexpected energy shown by the people and the legislatures of Ohio and Kentucky proved the futility of attempting to revolutionize those States; but if Wilkinson were true to Burr, and if the city of New Orleans should welcome him, it remained to be seen whether the Government at Washington could crush the rebellion. A blockade of the Mississippi was no easy affair, and slow in its results; England, France, and Spain might have much to say.
Meanwhile Humphrey Marshall and his friend Daveiss enjoyed the triumph they had won. In spite of silent opposition from the Republican leaders, Marshall drove the Kentucky Legislature into an inquiry as to the truth of the charge that Judge Sebastian was a Spanish pensioner. Sebastian instantly resigned. The committee took no notice of this admission of guilt, but summoned Judge Innis to testify. Very reluctantly Innis appeared before the committee and began his evidence, but broke down in the attempt, and admitted the truth of what had been alleged.(21) Before the close of the year Daveiss and Marshall drove Burr and Adair out of the State, forced Sebastian from the bench, humiliated Innis, and threw ridicule upon young Henry Clay and the other aggressive partisans of Jefferson, besides placing Jefferson himself and his Secretary of State in an attitude neither dignified nor creditable. Of all the persons connected with the story of Burr's expedition, Daveiss and Marshall alone showed the capacity to conceive a plan of action and the courage to execute the plan they conceived; but Jefferson could not be expected to feel satisfaction with services of such a nature. A few months later he appointed another person to succeed Daveiss in the office of district-attorney.
(1) Gayarré's Louisiana; Spanish Domination, pp. 192-199.
(2) See History of First Administration, p. 240.
(3) Marshall's History of Kentucky, ii. 376-384.
(4) Daveiss to Jefferson, Jan. 10, 1806; View of the President's Conduct, by J. H. Daveiss, 1807. Clark's Proofs, pp. 177-179.
(5) Daveiss to Jefferson, Feb. 10, 1806; View, etc. Cf. Marshall's History of Kentucky, ii. 401.
(6) See p. 278.
(7) Jefferson to Daveiss, Feb. 15, 1806; View, etc. Clark's Proofs, p. 179.
(8) Burr to John Smith, Oct. 26, 1806; Senate Report, p. 33.
(9) Marshall's History of Kentucky, ii. 396.
(10) Cabinet Memoranda; Writings (Ford), i. 318.
(11) National Intelligencer, Jan. 12, 1807.
(12) Dearborn to Wilkinson, Nov. 27, 1806; Report of Committee, Feb. 26, 1811; 3 Sess. 11 Cong. p. 408.
(13) See Cabinet Memoranda of October 22, p. 278.
(14) Proclamation of Nov. 27, 1806; Wilkinson's Memoirs, ii. Appendix, xcvii.
(15) Jackson to Claiborne, Nov. 12, 1806; Burr's Trial. Annals of Congress, 1807-1808, p. 571.
(16) Letters of General Adair and General Jackson, 1817.
(17) Parton's Burr, ii. 87.
(18) Parton's Jackson, i. 322.
(19) Bissell to Andrew Jackson, Jan. 5, 1807; Annals of Congress, 1806-1807, p. 1017.
(20) Jefferson to Wilkinson, Jan. 3, 1807; Burr's Trial. Annals of Congress, 1807-1808, p. 580.
(21) Report of the Select Committee to the Kentucky Legislature, Dec. 2, 1806; National Intelligencer, Jan. 7, 1807.