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Message from the President of the United States, 22 January 1807.

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Title

Message from the President of the United States, 22 January 1807.

Description

Message from Thomas Jefferson transmitting information touching an illegal combination of private individuals against the peace and safety of the union, and a military expedition planned by them against the territories of a power in amity with the United States, with the measures pursued for suppressing the same; in pursuance of a resolution of the House on the sixteenth instant, 22 January 1807.

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The Filson Historical Society Library Collection

Date

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cbf0009

Type

Identifier

RB Closet 973.48 U58je 1807

Text

MESSAGE
FROM THE
PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES,
TRANSMITTING
INFORMATION
TOUCHING
AN ILLEGAL COMBINATION
OF
PRIVATE INDIVIDUALS
AGAINST THE
PEACE AND SAFETY OF THE UNION,
AND A
MILITARY EXPEDITION PLANNED BY THEM
AGAINST THE
TERRITORIES OF A POWER
IN
AMITY WITH THE UNITED STATES;
WITH
THE MEASURES PURSUED
FOR
SUPPRESSING THE SAME;
IN PURSUANCE OF
A RESOLUTION OF THE HOUSE
OF THE
SIXTEENTH INSTANT.

JANUARY 22, 1807.
Referred to Mr. John Randolph,
Mr. Boyle,
Mr. Jeremiah Morrow,
Mr. G.W. Campbell,
Mr. R. Nelson,
Mr. Clinton, and
Mr. Bidwell
[partial ink stamp The New York]
To the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States.

Agreeably to the request of the House of Re-
presentatives, communicated in their resolution of the
sixteenth instant, I proceed to state, under the reserve
therrein expressed, information received touching an
illegal combination of private individuals against the
peace and safety of the union, and a military expedi-
tion planned by them against the territories of a power
in amity with the United States, with the measures I
have pursued for suppressing the same.

I had, for some time, been in the constant expec-
tation of receiving such further information as would
have enabled me to lay before the legislature the ter-
mination, as well as the beginning, and progress of
this scene of depravity, so far as it has been acted on
the Ohio and its waters. From this the state of safety
of the lower country might have been estimated on
probable grounds; and the delay was indulged the
rather, because no circumstance had yet made it ne-
cessary to call in the aid of the legislative functions.
Information, now recently communicated, has brought
us nearly to the period contemplated. The mass of
what I have received, in the course of these transac-
tions is voluminous: but little has been given under
the sanction of an oath, so as to constitute formal and
legal evidence. It is chiefly in the form of letters,
often containing such a mixture of rumors, conjec-
tures and suspicions, as renders it difficult to sift out
the real facts, and unadvisable to hazard more than
general outlines, strengthened by concurrent informa-
tion, or the particular credibility of the relator. In this
state of the evidence, delivered sometimes too under
3

the restriction of private confidence, neither safety nor
justice will permit the exposing names, except that of
the principal actor, whose guilt is placed beyond
question.

Some time in the latter part of September, I received
intimations that designs were in agitation in the wes-
tern country, unlawful, and unfriendly to the peace of
the union ; and that the prime mover in these was
Aaron Burr, heretofore distinguished by the favor of
his country. The grounds of these intimations being
inconclusive, the objects uncertain, and the fidelity
of that country, known to be firm, the only measure
taken was to urge the informants to use their best en-
deavors to get further insight into the designs and
proceedings of the suspected person, and to commu-
nicate them to me.

It was not till the latter part of October, that the
objects of the conspiracy began to be perceived ; but
still so blended, and involved in mystery, that nothing
distinct could be singled out for pursuit. In this state
of uncertainty, as to the crime contemplated, the acts
done, and the legal course to be pursued, I thought
it best to send to the scene, where these things were
principally in transaction, a person in whose integri-
ty, understanding and discretion, entire confidence
could be reposed, with instructions to investigate the
plots going on, to enter into conference (for which he
had sufficient credentials) with the governors and all
other officers, civil and military, and, with their aid,
to do on the spot whatever should be necessary to
discover the designs of the conspirators, arrest their
means, bring their persons to punishment, and to call
out the force of the country to suppress any unlawful
enterprize, in which it should be found they were
engaged. By this time it was known that many boats
were under preparation, stores of provisions collect-
ing, and an unusual number of suspicious characters
in motion on the Ohio, and its waters. Besides dis-
patching the confidential agent to that quarter, orders
4

were at the same time sent to the governors of the
Orleans and Mississippi territories, and to the com-
manders of the land and naval forces there, to be on
their guard agains surprize, and in constant readi-
ness to resist any enterprize which might be attempt-
ed on the vessels, posts, or other objects under their
care : and on the eighth of November, instructions
were forwarded to the general Wilkinson, to hasten an
accomodation with the Spanish commandant on the
Sabine, and as soon as that was effected, to fall back
with his principal force to the hither bank of the Mis-
sissippi, for the defence of the interesting points on
that river. By a letter received from that officer on
the twenty-fifth of November, but dated October
twenty-first, we learnt that a confidential agent of
Aaron Burr, had been deputed to him, with commu-
nications, partly written in cypher, and partly oral,
explaining his designs, exaggerating his resources,
and making such offers of emolument and command,
to engage him and the army in his unlawful enter-
prizes as he had flattered himself would be success-
ful. The general, with the honor of a soldier, and
fidelity of a good citizen, immediately dispatched a
trusty officer to me, with information of what had
passed, proceeded to establish such an understanding
with the Spanish commandant on the Sabine, as per-
mitted him to withdraw his force across the Missis-
sippi, and to enter on measures for opposing the pro-
jected enterprize.

The general's letter, which came to hand on the
twenty-fifth of November, as has been mentioned, and
some other information received a few days earlier,
when brought together, developed Burr's general de-
signs, different parts of which only had been revealed
to different informants. It appeared that he contem-
plated two distinct objects, which might be carried on
either jointly or separately, and either the one or the
other first, as circumstances should direct. One of these
was the severance of the union of these states by the
5

Allegany mountains ; the other an attack on Mexico.
A third object was provided, merely ostensible, to wit,
the settlement of a pretended purchase of a tract of
country on the Washita, claimed by a baron Bastrop.
This was to serve as the pretext for all his preparations,
an allurement for such followers as really wished to
acquire settlements in that country, and a cover under
which to retreat in the event of a final discomfiture of
both branches of his real design.

He found at once that the attachment of the western
country to the present union, was not to be shaken ;
that its dissolution could not be effected with the con-
sent of its inhabitants, and that his resources were in-
adequate, as yet, to effect it by force. He took his
course then at once, determined to seize on New Or-
leans, plunder the bank there, possess himself of the
military and naval stores, and proceed on his expedi-
tion to Mexico; and to this object all his means and
preparations were now directed. He collected from
all the quarters where himself or his agents possessed
influence, all the ardent, restless, desperate, and dis-
affected persons who were ready for an enerprize
analagous to their characters. He seduced good and
well meaning citizens, some by assurances that he
possessed the confidence of the government, and was
acting under its secret patronage ; a pretence which
procured some credit from the state of our differences
with Spain ; and others by offers of land in Bastrop's
claim on the Washita.

This was the state of my information of his pro-
ceedings, about the last of November ; at which time,
therefore, it was first possible to take specific mea-
sures to meet them. The proclamation of November
twenty-seventh, two days after the receipt of general
Wilkinson's information, was now issued. Orders
were dispatched to every interesting point on the
Ohio and Mississippi, from Pittsburgh to New Orleans,
for the employment of such force, either of the regu-
lars or of the militia, and of such proceedings also of
6

the civil authorities, as might enable them to seize on
all boats and stores provided for the enterprize, to
arrest the persons concerned, and to suppress effec-
tually the further progress of the enterprize. A little
before the receipt of these orders in the state of Ohio,
our confidential agent, who had been diligently em-
ployed in investigating the conspiracy, had acquired
sufficient information to open himself to the governor
of that state, and to apply for the immediate exertion
of the authority and power of the state, to crush the
combination. Governor Tiffin and the legislature,
with a promptitude, an energy, and patriotic zeal,
which entitle them to a distinguished place in the
affection of their sister states, effected the seizure of
all the boats, provisions, and other preparations with-
in their reach ; and thus gave a first blow, materially
disabling the enterprize in its outset.

In Kentucky a premature attempt to bring Burr
to justice, without sufficient evidence for his convic-
tion, had produced a popular impression in his favor,
and a general disbelief of his guilt. This gave him an
unfortunate opportunity of hastening his equipments.
The arrival of the proclamation and orders, and the
application and informatin of our confidential agent,
at length awakened the authorities of that state to the
truth, and then produced the same promptitude and
energy of which the neighboring state had set the ex-
ample. Under an act of their legislature of December
twenty-third, militia was instantly ordered to different
important points, and measures taken for doing what-
ever could yet be done. Some boats (accounts vary
from five to double or treble that number) and per-
sons (differently estimated from one to three hundred)
had in the mean time passed the falls of Ohio, to ren-
dezvous at the mouth of Cumberland, with others
expected down that river.

Not apprized, till very late, that any boats were
building on Cumberland, the effect of the proclama-
tion had been trusted to for some time in the state of
7

Tennessee ; but on the nineteenth of December simi-
lar communications and instructions with those to
the neighboring states, were dispatched by express,
to the governor, and a general officer of the western
division of the state ; and on the twenty-third of De-
cember, our confidential agent left Frankfort for Nash-
ville, to put into activity, the means of that state also.
But by information received yesterday, I learn that
on the twenty-second of December, Mr. Burr de-
scended the Cumberland, with two boats merely of
accomodation, carrying from that state no quota
towards his unlawful enterprise. Whether after the
arrival of the proclamation, of the orders, or of our
agent, any exertion which could be made by that
state, or the orders of the governor of Kentucky for
calling our the militia at the mouth of Cumberland,
would be in time to arrest these boats, and those from
the falls of Ohio, is still doubtful.

On the whole, the fugitives from the Ohio, with
their associates from Cumberland, or any other place
in that quarter, cannot threaten serious danger to the
city of New Orleans.

By the same express of December nineteenth, or-
ders were sent to the governors of Orleans and Mis-
sissippi, supplementary to those which had been given
on the twenty-fifth of November, to hold the militia
of their territories in readiness to cooperate for their
defence with the regular troops and armed vessels
then under command of general Wilkinson. Great
alarm indeed was excited at New Orleans, by the
exaggerated accounts of Mr. Burr, desseminated
throug his emissaries, of the armies and navies he
was to assemble there. General Wilkinson had ar-
rived there himself on the twenty-fourth of Novem-
ber, and had immediately put into activity the re-
sources of the place, for the purpose of its defence ;
and on the tenth of December, he was joined by his
troops from the Sabine. Great zeal was shewn by the
inhabitants generally ; the merchants of the place
8

readily agreeing to the most laudable exertions and
sacrifices for manning the armed vessels with their
seamen ; and the other citizens manifesting unequi-
vocal fidelity to the union, and a spirit of determined
resistance to their expected assailants.

Surmises have been hazarded that this enterprize
is to receive aid from certain foreign powers. But
these surmises are without proof or probability. The
wisdom of the measures sanctioned by Congress at
its last session, has placed us in the paths of peace and
justice, with the only powers with whom we had any
differences : and nothing has happened since which
makes it either their interest or ours to pursue another
course. No change of measures has taken place on
our part: none ought to take place at this time.
With the one, friendly arrangement was then propo-
sed, and the law, deemed necessary on failure of that,
was suspended to give time for a fair trial of the issue.
With the same power friendly arrangement is now
proceeding, under good expectations, and the same
law, deemed necessary on failure of that, is still sus-
pended to give time for a fair trial of the issue. With
the other, negotiation was in like manner then pre-
ferred, and provisional measures only taken to meet
the event of rupture. With the same power, nego-
ciation is still preferred, and provisional measures
only are necessary to meet the even to rupture.
While therefore we do no deflect in the slightest de-
gree from the course we then assumed, and are still
pursuing, with mutual consent, to resore a good un-
derstanding, we are not to impute to them practices
as irreconcileable to interest as to good faith, and
changing necessarily the relations of peace and justice
between us to those of war. These surmises are
therefore to be imputed to the vauntings of the au-
thor of this enterprize to multiply his partisans by
magnifying the belief of his prospects and support.

By letters from gen. Wilkinson, of the fourteenth
and eighteenth of December, which came to hand
9

two days after the date of the resolution of the House
of Representatives, that is to say, on the morning of
the eighteenth instant, I received the important affida-
vit, a copy of which I now communicate, with ex-
tracts of so much of the letters as comes within the
scope of the resolution. By these it will be seen that
of three of the principal emissaries of Mr. Burr, whom
the general had caused to be apprehended, one had
been liberated by habeas corpus, and two others, being
those particularly employed in the endeavor to cor-
rupt the general and army of the United States, have
been embarked by him for ports in the atlantic states,
probably on the consideration that an impartial trial
could not be expected, during the present agitations
of New Orleans, and that that city was not as yet a
safe place of confinement. As soon as these persons
shall arrive, they will be delivered to the custody of
the law, and left to such course of trial both as to
place and process, as its functionaries may direct.
The presence of the highest judicial authorities, to
be assembled at this place with a few days, the
means of pursuing a sounder course of proceedings
here than elsewhere, and the aid of the executive
means, should the judges have occasion to use them,
render it equally desirable, for the criminal as for the
public, that, being already remobed from the place
where they were apprehended, the first regular arrest
should take place here, and the course of proceedings
receive here its proper direction

TH: JEFFERSON,

January 22, 1807.
2
Extract of a letter from gen. James Wilkinson, dated,

NEW ORLEANS, December 14, 1806.

AFTER several consultations with the governor
and judges, touching the arrest and confinement of
certain known agents and emissaries of colonel Burr,
in this city and territory, whose intrigues and machi-
nations were to be apprehended, it is with their privity
and approbation that I have caused three of then to
be arrested, viz. doctor Errick Bollman, Samuel
Swartwout and Peter V. Ogden, against whom I pos-
sess strong facts, and I have recommended to the go-
vernor to have James Alexander, esq. taken up on
the grounds of strong suspicion. These persons
and all others who, by their character and deportment,
may be considered hostile to the interests of the
United States, or dangerous to this feeble frontier un-
der the menacing aspect of things from above, will, if
my influence can prevail, be seized and sent by sea to
the United States, subject to the disposition of the
government, and accompanied by such information
as may justify their confinement, and furnish a clue
to the development of the grounds, progress and
projectors of the treasonable enterprize in which
they are engaged

This letter will accompany doctor Bollman, who is
to be this day embarked in a vessel bound for Charles-
ton, under the charge of lieutenant Wilson of the
artillery, who has orders to land with his prisoner at
for Johnston or fort Moultrie, to forward this dis-
patch by mail, and to wait the orders of the executive.
Mr. Swartwout will be sent to Baltimore by a vessel
which will sail some time in the ensuing week, in
custody of another subaltern, who will be the bearer
of strong testimony against him and also colonel
Burr, and the others will follow under due precau-
tions, by the earliest opportunities which may pre-
sent.
11

I deem it essential to keep these prisoners apart to
prevent the adjustment of correspondent answers, or
confessions to any examination which may ensue, and
I hope the measures of the executive may be so
prompt and efficient as to relieve the officers in charge
of them from their trust before the interposition of
the friends of the prisoners may effect their liberation.

By this procedure we may intimidate the confed-
erates, who are unquestionably numerous in this as
well as the adjacent territory, disconcert their arrange-
ments and possibly destroy their intrigues; and I hope
the zeal which directs the measure may be justified
and approved, for whilst the glow of patriotism actuates
my conduct, and I am willing to offer myself a mar-
tyr to the constitution of my country, I should in-
deed be most grievously disappointed did I incur its
censure.

Here, sir, we find the key to the western states,
and here we must form one grand depository and
place of arms ; combine to this disposition a river
fleet competent to its occupation, and post it thirty or
forty leagues above the Yazoo river, and we may re-
pose in security, for the discontent and sufferings of
our insurgent citizens which must immediately ensue,
will soon open their eyes to the wickedness of their
leaders, and work a radical reformation without blood-
shed. This is my plan for resisting an internal attack;
for external defence gun boats and bomb ketches, with
floating batteries at the mouths of the Mississippi, and
the passes from lake Ponchartrain, will be necessary.

Extract of a letter from gen. James Wilkinson, dated

NEW ORLEANS, December 18, 1806.

SIR,

SINCE my last of the 14th instant, writs of
habeas corpus have been issued for the bodies of Boll-
man, Swartwout, and Ogden ; the two latter by judge
12

Workman, who is strongly suspected for being con-
nected with Burr in his conspiracy, as I have proof
his man declared some time since that "the repub-
lican who possessed power, and did not employ it to
establish a despotism, was a fool."

His writ for Ogden was served on captain Shaw,
of the navy, who had him in charge at my request,
on board the Etna bomb ketch, and delivered him up;
and Mr. Wokman discharged him without giving
me a word of information, although he knew he was
confined by my order for a treasonable combination
with Burr, and Mr. Odgen now struts at large.
Swartwout I have sent off, and shall so report, holding
myself ready for consequences. Bollman was re-
quired by the superior court, but I have got rid of that
affair also, under the usual liability for damages, in
which case I shall look to our country for protection

I, James Wilkinson, brigadier general and com-
mander in chief of the army of the United States, to
warrant the arrest of Doctor Erick Bollman, on a
charge of treason, misprision of treason, or such other
offence against the government and laws of the Unit-
ed States, as the following facts may legally charge
him with, on my honor as a soldier, and on the holy
evangelists of Almighty God, do declare and swear,
that on the sixth day of November last, when in com-
mand at Natchitoches, I received by the hands of a
Frenchman, a stranger to me, a letter from Doctor
Erick Bollman, of which the following is a correct
copy.

"New-Orleans, September 27, 1806.
SIR,

"I HAVE the honor to forward to your escel-
lency the enclosed letters, which I was charged to de-
liver to you by our mutual friend. I shall remain for
some time at this place, and should be glad to learn
13

where and when I may have the pleasure of an inter-
view with you. Have the goodness to inform me of
it, and please to direct your letter to me, care of
, or inclose it under cover to them.
I have the honor to be,
With great respect, Sir,
Your Excellency's most obedient servant,
(Signed) ERICK BOLLMAN.

Gen. Wilkinson.

Covering a communication in cypher from colonel
Aaron Burr, of which the following is substantially
as fair an interpretation as I have heretofore been able
to make, the original of which I hold in my possessi-
on: " I (Aaron Burr) have obtained funds and have
actually commenced the enterprize. Detachments
from different points and under different pretences
will rendezvous on the Ohio, 1st November. Every
thing internal and external favors views; protection
of England is secured. *T.–is gone to Jamaica to ar-
range with the admiral on that station, and will meet
at the Mississippi––England––navy of United
States are ready to join, and final orders are given to
my friends and followers; it will be an 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 hus-
band will follow on October with a corps of worthies ;
send forthwith an intelligent and confidential friend,
with whom Burr may confer ; he shall return imme-
diately with further interesting details : this is essen-
tial to concert and harmony of movement; send a list
of all persons known to Wilkinson west of the moun-
tains, who could be useful, with a note delineating
their characters.

*Truxton
14

By your messenger send me four or five of the
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 month provisions to points Wilkinson
may name : This shall not be used until the last mo-
ment, and then under proper injuctions : the project
is brought to the point so long desired : Burr guaran-
tees the result with his life and honor, the lives, the
honor, and fortunes of hundred, the best blood of
our country ; Burr's plan of operations is to move
down rapidly from the falls on the fifteenth of Novem-
ber, with the first five hundred or one thousand men,
in light boats, now constructing for that purpose ;
to be at Natchez between the fifth and fifteenth of
December, then to meet Wilkinson ; then to deter-
mine whether it will be expedient in the first instance
to seize on or pass by Baton Rouge : on receipt of
this send Burr an answer ; draw on Burr for all ex-
penses, &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 reli-
gion, 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 formed letter of intro-
duction to you from Burr, a copy of which is here-
unto subjoined : 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 thorough-
ly informed of the plans and intenstions of and
will disclose to you as far as you enquire, and no fur-
ther : he has imbibed a reverence for your character,
and my be embarrassed in your presence ; put him
at ease and he will satisfy you : doctor Bollman, equal-
ly confidential, better informed on the subject, and
more intelligent, will hand this duplicate." 29th July,
15

The day after my arrival at this city, the 26th of
November last, I received another letter from the
Doctor, of which the following is a correct copy :

NEW ORLEANS, November 25, 1806.
"SIR,

"Your letter of the 16th instant, has been duly
received ; supposing that you will be much engaged
this morning, I defer waiting on you excellency till
you will be pleased to inform me of the time when it
will be convenient to you to see me."
I remain, with great respect,
Your excellency's most obedient servent,
ERICK BOLLMAN.

His excellency
GENERAL WILKINSON, Fauxbourg.

MARIGNY, the house between madame
Trevigne and M. Macarty.

On the 30th of the same month I waited in person
on doctor E. Bollman, when he informed me that he
had not heard from the colonel Burr since his arrival
here. That he (the said doctor E. Bollman) had sent
dispatches to colonel Burr by a lieutenant Spence, of
the navy, and that he had been advised of Spence's
arrival at Nashville, in the state of Tennessee, and
observed that colonel Burr had proceeded too far to
retreat ; that he (colonel Burr) had numerous and
powerful friends in the United States, who stood
pledged to support him with their fortunes, and that
he must succeed. That he (the said doctor E. Boll-
man) had written to colonel Burr on the subject of
provisions, and that he expected a supply would be
send from New York, and also form Norfolk, where
colonel Burr had strong connections. I did not see
or hear from the doctor again until the 5th instant,
when I called on him the second time. The mail
having arrived the day before, I asked him whether
he had received any intelligence from colong Burr ;
he informed me that he had seen a letter from colonel
Burr, of the 30th October, in which he (colonel Burr)
16

gave assurances that he should be at Natchez with
2000 men on the 20 December, instant, where he
should wait until he heard from this place ; that he
would be followed by 4000 men more, and that he
(colonel Burr) if had chosen, could have raised or
go 12,000 as easily as 6000, but that he did not think
that number necessary. Confiding fully in this infor-
mation, I became indifferent about further disguise.
I then told the doctor that I should most certainly op-
pose colonel Burr if he came this way. He replied
that they must come here for equipments and ship-
ping, and observed that he did not know what had
passed between colonel Burr and myself, obliqued at
a sham defence, and waved the subject.

From the documents in my possession and the se-
veral communications, verbal as well as written, from
the said doctor Erick Bollman, on this subject, I feel
no hesitation in declaring under the solemn obliga-
tion of an oath, that he has committed misprision of
treason against the government of the United States.

(Signed) JAMES WILKINSON.

Signed and sworn to this 14th day of December,
1806, before me one of the justices of the peace of this
county.

(Signed) J. CARRICK.

DEAR SIR, PHILADELPHIA, July 25, 1806.

Mr. Swartwout, the brother of colonel S. of
New York, being on his way down the Mississippi,
and presuming that he may pass you at some post on
the river, has requested of me a letter of introduction
which I give with pleasure, as he is a most amiable
young man, and highly respectable from his character
and connections. I pray you to afford him any
friendly offices which his situation my require, and
beg you to pardon the trouble which this may give
you. With entire respect,
Your friend and obedient servant,
A. BURR.

His excellency general WILKINSON

Citation

Jefferson, Thomas, “Message from the President of the United States, 22 January 1807.,” The Filson Historical Society Digital Projects, accessed July 21, 2024, https://filsonhistorical.omeka.net/items/show/5196.

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