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New Book Reveals Explorer William Clark’s Dubious Past

September 17, 2016 in American History, general history, History, Louisiana History

clarkbook
Spying, smuggling, and possibly abetting treasonous conspirators against the United States are not actions most historians would associate with explorer William Clark of Lewis and Clark 1803-1806 Expedition fame, but a little-known 1798 journal he left behind tells a fascinating tale of an almost completely different side of the man.

“The Unknown Travels and Dubious Pursuits of William Clark” by Jo Ann Trogdon (University of Missouri Press, Columbia, 2015) expertly reveals the story behind Clark’s journal of a trip he made on the Ohio and Mississippi rivers from Louisville, Ky. to New Orleans in 1798 by meticulously filling in the concise nature of his entries through research of the people with whom he associated.

This is a tale of high adventure and smuggling duplicity on a journey Clark charted in a personal logbook which mostly stayed overlooked for some 70 years in the Missouri State Historical Society Archives  at Columbia before Trogdon discovered it and began to do meticulous research in such archives as the Archivo General de Indies for the back stories of each entry in that journal. Her book is a richly told, vivid account of the political machinations and economic factors behind what was then Spanish Louisiana, and the players in the Spanish Conspiracy, the plot by traitorous General James Wilkinson and cohorts to get Kentucky and western territories to secede from the US and join Spain.

Famous for his later arduous journeys with Meriwether Lewis across the Louisiana Purchase territory and back in 1803-1806, Clark’s exploits on the lower Mississippi River show he was daring and adventurous by himself in his younger days.

This book is unique in its method of using a courtroom style procedure of point-by-point inquiry and evaluation of evidence presented through letters, documents, and journals to question what Clark’s intentions may have been during his adventure, considering foremost Clark’s almost dogged admiration for General Wilkinson, the American general who was unparalleled at planning covert missions down the Mississippi and into Spanish territory.

Trogdon’s wonderful book is a rich tapestry of life on the lower Mississippi and at New Orleans during the rule of Spanish Louisiana, and the Spanish Conspiracy which the devious General Wilkinson earnestly worked to make a reality while hiding his true colors from US authorities. Trogdon gives all the evidence and players behind the master plot. During his 1798 voyage, Clark played a role in this conspiracy by illegally smuggling Spanish silver coinage upriver to some unknown party. The extent to which Clark knew what was involved with the money, which was a payment from the Spanish to Wilkinson, is the question which is a focus of this book. Was Clark a traitor too? Perhaps. Was he a spy? Maybe. The reader is left to judge and decide.

Although all accounts are true and reported minutely, this book is not a dry-as-dust work of academia but reads more like an historical thriller, particularly in the account of how an incident at the Balisa at the mouth of the Mississippi River with Clark caught in the middle on an American ship almost made an international conflict erupt between Spain and the US.

“The Unknown Travels and Dubious Pursuits of William Clark” is that rare book that entertains and informs both the casual reader and the serious student of history, plus has everything that a professional historian could desire from such a work, particularly with the complete transcript of Clark’s logbook for comparison in the back, footnotes, a bibliography and index. An extra plus is the entertaining tracework history in the addenda about how the Clark journal wound up in the Columbia archives.

Trogdon helpfully gives back stories for all the main players in the book, to aid with fully understanding what went on in 1798. For example, in 1795, Manuel Lisa accompanied Clark from New Madrid on behalf of Wilkinson. Lisa was a courier for the governors of Spanish Louisiana territory at the time, and was trusted to carry Spain’s top-secret correspondence to Wilkinson.

Many major players involved with New Orleans business were associated with Clark, such as Daniel W. Coxe, a Philadelphia merchant, and his protégé, Virginian Beverly Chew, who would soon become a major player in the Crescent City. On the return trip to the East Coast in 1798, Clark sailed with Coxe and Chew and then traveled homeward with Chew, once they had docked. The subtle but pervasive nuances of all these interactions are multilayered. For anyone who loves historical detection, this is truly a stellar read and a worthy addition to the bookshelf for continued reference.

One Vote Made Thomas Jefferson President

May 18, 2016 in American History, general history, History, Legal History, Louisiana History

Claiborne and President Thomas Jefferson with a map of the Louisiana Purchase

Claiborne and President Thomas Jefferson with a map of the Louisiana Purchase

 

Astonishingly, only one vote from a very young Tennessee state representative handed Thomas Jefferson the presidency of the United States in the 1800 Election.

The 25-year-old who cast that ballot was William C. C. Claiborne, who as a direct result of his vote that spring of 1801 was appointed governor of the Territory of Mississippi a few months later by a grateful Jefferson. The Federalist governor in place, Winthrop Sargent, had faced heavy criticism for his authoritarian rule of the territory, and the residents there did not mourn his removal from office although Sargent bitterly complained in the press.

In the Presidential Election of 1800, the US Constitution had not required that electors should designate on their ballots the person they voted for as president, and the one voted for as vice president, but that the one having the highest number of votes should be president, and the one having the next highest should be vice president. This made the end vote of the Electoral College confusing, although the popular vote had given the Jefferson-Burr ticket a majority.

Incumbent President John Adams had lost the popular vote dramatically to candidates Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr, which threw the final decision into the Electoral College. But the Electoral College gave Jefferson and Burr an equal number of votes, so the House of Representatives had to decide which of them should be president, the choice to be made by ballot, and each state would have but one vote.

According to a historian writing in 1830, “the contest was extremely animated, for on this occasion the great federal and republican parties came into violent conflict…when they were returned with an equal number of votes to the house of representatives, it was supposed of course that the public voice would be obeyed, and Jefferson made president. The federal party, however, determined to support Colonel Burr; they knew very well the political sentiments of every member of the house of representatives, and they early ascertained that the election depended on the vote of Mr. Claiborne, the sole representative from the state of Tennessee.”

Claiborne was thought to be especially vulnerable to being influenced as he was young with grand ambitions, plus the most important factor was he was poor. Members of the Federalist Party sent several delegations to the holder of the key vote to try to bribe him with various offers. Claiborne refused all of them, saying he thought it proper and honorable to obey the public voice on the matter.

The ballots began to be cast in eary 1801, and the states were equally divided on the first ballot; several other ballots took place, and the result was the same, when the House adjourned.

News of the tied vote spread like wildfire. The importance of Claiborne’s vote was so critical to the contest that when Congress began voting again, he went armed to the House, as no one could predict what violence might erupt. The public was barred from the proceedings as a safety precaution.

For several days and sometimes long into the nights, the votes were the same. All in all, a total of 36 ballots had been cast, with the same number of votes for Jefferson and Burr. On every vote, Claiborne had voted for Jefferson, and declared that he felt satisfied that Jefferson was the choice of the people, and that he intended to stick with that vote, no matter what the consequences.

On the last vote, the Vermont representative turned in a blank ballot, voting for no one, and Claiborne had the tie-breaking vote for Jefferson.

A native of Virginia born in 1775, Claiborne did not have the advantages of inherited wealth like some of his fellow Virginians in the late 1700s, but he made up for that by careful studies and through associations with benefactors who helped him attain important political positions while he was still a very young man.

He had attended Richmond Academy, and the College of William and Mary, then worked as a clerical assistant studying law in Congress at New York City, and then at Philadelphia. Among the prominent people at Philadelphia who noted Claiborne’s industriousness was Thomas Jefferson, who offered to lend him some books for his studies.

Claiborne returned to Richmond where he passed the bar, then at the request of his friend and later Tennessee governor General John Sevier, Claiborne moved to Sullivan County, Tennessee, where he soon was named one of the five members of the Tennessee delegation to form the newly-minted state’s constitution. Gov. Sevier made one of his first acts the appointment of Claiborne as a judge of the supreme court of law and equity of the state, citing his universally acknowledged merits despite the fact Claiborne had not quite turned 22 years old.

Even at that young age, Claiborne set his sights high, aiming to become district judge of Tennessee. He asked his influential friends in Virginia  William Fleming and Edmund Randolph to recommend him to President George Washington for appointment in 1797. Fleming said in his letter to Washington that Claiborne’s “superior talents, great sobriety, and intense application to business distinguish him from the generality of young gentlemen of his age and should he be so fortunate as to succeed in his application, I am persuaded you will never have cause to regret the appointment.”

Claiborne did not get the district judge position as Tennessee Congressman Andrew Jackson told President Washington in his letter regarding the matter that “Mr. Claibourn (sic) is an amiable young Man, but perhaps not possessed of sufficient Experience to fill such an important office (district judge).”

Somewhat ironically, when Jackson vacated his representative seat to run for senator later in 1797, Claiborne successfully ran in the special election for Jackson’s former post in the House of Representatives, winning by a large majority over more seasoned and wealthier opponents. Only 22 years old, he was the youngest man who had ever appeared on the floor of Congress. He was re-elected to a full term in the House in 1798.

Jackson and Claiborne’s lives would intertwine more than a few times in subsequent years, and they never were on friendly terms. Jackson had been an enemy of Sevier, who was one of Claiborne’s mentors.

In 1803 at the transfer of Louisiana territory from France to the United States, President Jefferson furthered Claiborne’s prominence by naming him and General James Wilkinson to accept the transfer on the part of the US. From the outset, it was understood that Claiborne was tacit governor of the Territory of Orleans, and he moved from Natchez, Miss., to New Orleans.

In 1804, Jefferson officially appointed Claiborne governor of the Territory of Orleans, although he noted in his letter that Claiborne had not been his first choice for that honor. Jefferson had wanted his old friend, the Marquis de Lafayette, for the post, but Lafayette had turned him down. An earnest applicant for the governorship had been Andrew Jackson, who must have fumed that the young man he had considered inexperienced had won the job over him, in a large part due to that presidential vote.

When Louisiana became a state, in 1812, Claiborne had gained enough respect and admiration from the French and American citizens there that he easily became the first governor.

According to a biographical entry in “The National Portrait Gallergy of Distinguised Americans” when Louisiana was invaded by the British, Gov. Claiborne “voluntarily surrendered to General Jackson, when he arrived, the command of the militia of his state, and consented himself to receive his orders, a measure which he thought a just tribute to the military experience of General Jackson, and which he adopted, also, to avoid to his state all the expenses of the equipment and movements of her militia, which would have fallen upon her alone had he kept the command.”

Jackson made sure Claiborne and his select group of militia were nowhere near Chalmette, the main scene of the action which would culminate in the Battle of New Orleans on Jan. 8, 1815. On Dec. 23, 1814, Claiborne and his corps had received orders from Jackson to go to Gentilly to occupy the important pass of Chef Menteur as it was feared the British might try a diversion there. Claiborne and his group stayed there and fortified it, remaining at the spot through the whole contest and missing any action against the British.

Upon the expiration of his term as governor in 1817, Claiborne was elected to represent Louisiana in the Senate of the United States but before he could do so, he fell victim to liver disease on Nov 23, 1817, at the age of 42. He had lived a relatively brief life, but had left many legacies of his skill as both a statesman and patriot.

As a youth, Claiborne had written to President Washington that the “primary object of my life is to be useful to my Country,” and that “I shall labour to acquire the esteem of the present, and of after Ages for good and virtuous Actions.”

If Claiborne had been appointed district judge by Washington, he would not have been seated as a representative during the dramatic House vote of 1801. Burr, not Jefferson, may have won by a tie-breaking vote. The Louisiana Purchase may not have occurred. The Lewis and Clark Expedition would not have happened. Everything which evolved from Jefferson’s presidency would not have occurred, or would have happened differently. The value of one vote, and one man’s decision, in Claiborne’s case, was enormous.

 

 

Andrew Jackson’s Fine and the Place of Martial Law in American Politics

November 21, 2014 in American History, general history, History, Legal History, Louisiana History

 

Andrew Jackson by Thomas Sully From Wikimedia Commons

Andrew Jackson resented mightily the fine imposed on him by Judge Dominick Hall in New Orleans in 1815 for contempt of court. At the very end of his life, with death approaching, Jackson campaigned for the return of the thousand dollar fine through an act of Congress, and his efforts were rewarded. “He viewed the return of his fine as a larger statement about the legitimacy of violating the constitution and civil liberties in times of national emergency.” (Warshauer, p.6) That is the crux of the problem presented in Matthew Warshauer’s Andrew Jackson and the Politics of Martial Law: Is it ever all right to violate the constitution? Did Andrew Jackson set a precedent that it was, a precedent later followed by Abraham Lincoln and every wartime president since?

The fine was levied by the Federal District Court in 1815. It was refunded to Jackson by Congress in 1844. But did this refund really serve as a justification of martial law? Or was it just a sign of appreciation for a dying former president and national war hero?

The term “martial law” was at one time a synonym to “military law” and used to describe the legal tradition of absolute law – one characterized by a lack of civil liberties – that applied to those who served in the military while they were in active service. Only later, after the Congressional debates concerning the refunding of the Jackson fine, did “martial law” come to mean giving the military absolute authority over civilians in times of emergency. (Warshauer, p. 17).

Nationalism, according to Warshauser, was the force that allowed the constitutional limits on military authority to be breached, not just in the case of Andrew Jackson, but for every member of the executive branch since who has invoked emergency powers:

To many, Jackson represented the pinnacle of American nationalism. The Battle of New Orleans had invested him with the highest claims of patriotism and devotion to country… Jackson’s understanding of his nationalist appeal is one of the items that made him a formidable politician and president. Subsequent presidents have embraced the same political use of nationalism. Lincoln focused on the sanctity of the Union during the Civil War and … embraced martial law. Consider also the nationalism fomented by Franklin Roosevelt in the midst of the Great Depression. He utilized the overwhelming nationalist support of the 1936 election to challenge the Supreme Court’s threats to his New Deal legislation. … [E]ngagement in World War II was impossible without nationalist sentiment … in the form of … Pearl Harbor…Similarly, George W. Bush could not possibly have engaged in a war against Iraq … or curtailed civil liberties with the Patriot Act without the nationalism spawned by [9/11]. (Warshauer p. 18)

Did Andrew Jackson really invent American nationalism? Did it not exist before that moment in 1814 when he arrived in New Orleans? When exactly did American nationalism come into being? And what does the term mean in this context? Is it just a another word for patriotism? Or does it mean loyalty to one’s nation of origin?

It was not that sense of nationalism that led to the American Revolution. Abigail Adams, writing to her husband John, on November 12, 1775 referred to the common origin of the Americans and the British: “Let us separate, they are unworthy to be our Brethren. Let us renounce them and instead of supplications as formerly for their prosperity and happiness, Let us beseech the almighty to blast their counsels and bring to Nought all their devices.” Notice that there is no question that the British were the brethren of the American colonists. It was just that they weren’t worthy! If on national grounds alone, the Americans and the British were one people. But the American colonists’ insistence on the civil liberties secured to all Englishmen applying also to themselves was the reason for the separation. If anything, this was anti-nationalism. Civil liberties trumped national unity.

Andrew Jackson, while still a minor, served in the Revolutionary War. He defied the British, his brethren, at the risk of his life. When exactly did he become a nationalist? Could it be when he entered the City of New Orleans and realized that he would need to get Edward Livingston to translate everything he said to French before he could address the people of the city and hope to be understood?

To an ill-educated boy from the rural south, New Orleans was cosmopolitan and foreign. It was filled with people who had just recently been French and only a little earlier had belonged to Spain, and it was more foreign by far than the invading British forces! “Concerns over spies and dissent within the largely foreign city prompted Jackson to proclaim martial law.” (Warshauer p. 19). Jackson did not trust the people of New Orleans precisely because they were not his brethren!

While Jackson’s feelings of being outnumbered by foreigners in a city whose defense was chiefly his responsibility might be quite understandable, both retrospectively in 1842 when the congressional refund debates began and maybe even prospectively in 1814, the situation he was placed in came about through the extra-constitutional machinations of Thomas Jefferson in 1803.

There was no provision in the constitution for new territories –and the human population that lived within them– to be bought and sold at taxpayer expense . The provision for new states to be brought into the Union presupposed that the majority of those living there would petition to join of their own free will. And it was probably presumed, at the time of the writing, that these new people would be brethren who had colonised large wilderness areas and had come to outnumber the natives who were there first.

But Anglo-Americans in New Orleans were outnumbered by French Creoles and Cajuns, free blacks, Spanish merchants, Catholic clergymen and nuns, both French and Spanish, whose oath of loyalty was to the Pope before any State or monarch, and any number of other “foreigners” or at the very least, people who sounded and looked foreign, even though they were now legally American citizens, Louisiana having just joined the Union as a state in 1811.

Would Andrew Jackson ever have considered imposing martial law if he had been stationed in a state such as South Carolina during the beginning of the War of 1812? There, it was the local free white males who had failed to obey the orders of their governor, Joseph Alston, thereby leaving the state without a defense force during the beginning of the war. A writ of habeas corpus had been issued to free deserters from the militia, because the possibility of dying of malaria was felt to be much more real than any just-declared war against Britain. 

 The unusual state of affairs in New Orleans due to the Louisiana Purchase is one of the factors that led to Jackson’s decision to invoke martial law. He did not trust the citizens of New Orleans, because they seemed foreign. It is not, however, something that comes into the legal argument that was derived from this precedent, which was later applied against his own brethren by President Lincoln in the context of a civil war.

Andrew Jackson was not, in fact, the first American general to attempt to impose martial law on New Orleans, although he was the first to make it stick as a legal precedent. The first to impose martial law in American held New Orleans was General James Wilkinson, who was also, at the time, the Governor of Louisiana Territory, and his purpose in so doing was not to repel a foreign invasion, but to apprehend and disenfranchise Aaron Burr and his friends Erich Bollman and Samuel Swartwout, whom he accused of plotting to take over the Western territories and separate them from the United States.

At the time, Edward Livingston, also a friend of Burr’s, had just barely escaped being summarily arrested as well. Writs of habeas corpus were ignored and the attorneys presenting them threatened with arrest. Deprived of the right to counsel, the prisoners were transported by the military branch of the government and kept without right to trial. As it happens, James Wilkinson had been a Spanish spy, and it was in his capacity of an agent of Spain that he acted to repel Aaron Burr’s attempt to filibuster his way through Texas and Mexico. Which is a reminder that a person does not necessarily need to be a foreigner to serve as both a spy and a traitor.

Andrew Jackson was aware of these past events, for he, too, just like Bollman and Swartwout and Edward Livingston, was a good friend of Aaron Burr and a supporter of his would-be venture against Spanish held Mexico. He stood by Burr during the treason trial in Richmond, and he was aware of the Supreme Court decision in Ex Parte Swartwout and Ex Parte Bollman that stated that the right to habeas corpus may not be infringed by the executive branch unless Congress passed a law suspending the writ of habeas corpus. Thomas Jefferson had wanted to pass such a measure through Congress in his eagerness to foil Burr, but Congress did not grant his wishes.

So here was Andrew Jackson, like James Wilkinson before him, suddenly declaring an emergency and suspending the writ of habeas corpus. What would be the right course of action for anyone disagreeing with Andrew Jackson’s imposition of martial law? To file a motion for a writ of habeas corpus? It was exactly the right so to do that had been suspended. To openly rebel against the armed forces of the United States? Even if successful, that would open anyone so doing to a charge of treason.

The right to a writ of habeas corpus and to be free of martial law is one of those things that get hammered out in a court of law after the fact. They cannot under normal circumstances be resolved in the heat of the moment. Even in Ex Parte Bollman first the right to habeas corpus was suspended, and only later was this ruled to be unconstitutional.

One difference between the two cases was that the United States was not in fact at war when James Wilkinson tried to suspend the writ, so that the Supreme Court was still sitting, and it was possible to appeal directly to the highest court on a question of jurisdiction, even if lower court judges were imprisoned for speaking up in New Orleans. But America was under siege in 1814, and in August of that year the capital had been burned by the British. Government buildings were still in shambles at the time of the Battle of New Orleans.

Before the Battle of New Orleans the pragmatics of the situation and the extreme gravity of the British threat allowed Jackson to do whatever he chose without real resistance. Any checks and balances to his actions of a constitutional nature could only come too late and after the fact. This meant that restitution and/or a fine could be levied against Jackson later, but nobody could get an injunction to prevent him from doing whatever he chose to do right then.

Jackson was fully aware of this state of affairs. He asked the counsel of two legal advisors before he took this step:

 Jackson’s advisors, Edward Livingston and Abner Duncan, ultimately concluded that martial law suspended all civil functions and placed every citizen under military control. The lawyers disagreed, however, on the legality of the proclamation. Livingston believed that it was “unknown to the Constitution or laws of the U.S.”… (Warshauer p.23)

On December 16, 1814 Andrew Jackson issued his proclamation imposing martial law on the City of New Orleans. “All who entered or exited the city were to report to the Adjutant General’s office. Failure to do so resulted in arrest and interrogation. All vessels, boats and other crafts desiring to leave the city required a passport, either from the General or Commodore Daniel T. Patterson. All street lamps were ordered extinguished at 9:00 p.m., and anyone found after that hour without a pass was arrested as a spy. New Orleans was officially an armed camp and General Jackson the only authority.” (Warshauer p.24)

It was ironic that Daniel T. Patterson was given almost equal authority with Andrew Jackson, since if there was ever a British sympathizer in the city of New Orleans, he, rather than the French speaking populace, must surely have been guilty. It was after all Patterson who attacked the Baratarian privateers, destroying their base, and capturing their ships, when Jean Laffite informed him that the British were anchored off Mobile Point and about to attack Fort Bowyer and offered to help him fight the British. But Daniel T. Patterson was an American naval officer, and Jackson trusted him implicitly. There was nothing foreign about him.

Among other powers that Jackson summarily granted himself with this proclamation of martial law was the power to draft into the militia or impress into naval service any person and to confiscate property, which included fencing, the wood in the walls of “negro houses”, muskets and flints, and even bales of cotton. Nothing taken was paid for, though receipts acknowledging the confiscations were provided.

 Every slave, horse, ox, and cart was requisitioned for military use, and the general authorized the enlistment of all Indians within the district to serve on the same footing as the militia. Mayor Nicholas Girod received orders to “search every house and Store in the City for muskets, Bayonets, Cartridge boxes, Spades, shovels, pick axes and hoes”…

From the point of view of second amendment rights, it seems interesting that arms were being confiscated from their owners, rather than the owners simply being enlisted in the militia and asked to bring along their own weapons in the service of their country. This does not seem like the well-regulated militia contemplated by the second amendment. Instead, arms were taken from the people who owned them and being redistributed to other people who were considered more trustworthy.

While all this conscription and confiscation was going on under the guise of martial law, the thing that truly saved the city came in the form of a donation freely given. Jean Laffite and his Baratarian artillery unit were eager to serve and happy to donate flints and powder and artillery – if only the General would allow them to enter the city! As there were not enough flints available in the city, this donation was indispensable. It was in grudging cooperation with the Baratarians that Jackson was able to win the Battle of New Orleans and with that the undying gratitude of the nation. The glorious battle culminating in an American victory on January 8, 1815 led to much rejoicing, including public displays in the the Place d’Armes in which Baratarians alongside other American volunteers marched proudly, and at a banquet for high ranking officials, Jean Laffite stood side by side with Andrew Jackson as an honored hero. And then… everything should have gone back to normal, only it didn’t.

The citizenry of New Orleans may have grumbled, but they were by and large accepting of Jackson’s actions imposing martial law prior to the Battle of New Orleans. Despite his suspicion of them, most did not want to submit to the British and did everything they could to support the defense of the city. It was only after the American victory and when rumors that a peace treaty had been signed began to circulate that people started to openly rebel and inquire as to why it was that in peacetime martial law had not yet been lifted. “Desertions and mutiny among American troops prompted even more arrests. No longer perceiving a threat to their city after the January 8 victory, the citizens of New Orleans demanded a return to their former lifestyles.” (Warshauer p.31)

Businesses had been neglected. All commerce had ceased. Families lost their breadwinner. All this was acceptable during the thick of war, but the sooner things went back to normal once the war was over, the less suffering to the citizenry. Jackson, however, held onto wartime measures without any compunction for the suffering he was inflicting, long after the danger from the enemy was past. He ordered deserters imprisoned, then shot. One man, Pvt. James Harding, who deserted to help his wife who had been evicted from their home, was granted a reprieve from execution only at the last moment. These deserters were not career military, but ordinary citizens who had been glad to serve their country when the help was needed, but who had obligations in civilian life that were now pressing. Many residents of New Orleans of French and Spanish origin who had been happy to serve in the thick of battle were now starting to ask the French and Spanish consuls to provide them with exemptions on the grounds that they were really French or Spanish citizens. Everything that had united the residents in defense against the enemy was now conspiring to separate them in light of the continued iron rule of Andrew Jackson’s martial law. (Warshauer pp. 32-33.)

In mid-February, more than a month after the British had retreated for good, boarded their ships and disappeared, Jackson attempted to scare the citizenry into obedience by saying that “the enemy is hovering around us and perhaps meditating an attack.” (Warshauer p.32). Rather like an incompetent parent conjuring up the bogeyman to get children to obey, Jackson needed an invisible enemy to keep the people of New Orleans in line.

On February 24 Governor Claiborne wrote to exiled Attorney General Stephen Marerceau: “I can no longer remain a Silent Spectator of the prostration of the Laws. – I therefore request you, Sir, without loss of time to repair to this city… and resume your official duties…. And on receiving any information of any attempt of the Military to seize the person of any Private Citizen, not actually in Military Service of the United States, you are specially instructed to take for his protection, and for avenging the Injured Laws of this State such measures as your knowledge of the laws will point out.” (Warshauer p.34)

On March 3, an article appeared in the Louisiana Courier signed anonymously by “A Citizen of Louisiana of French Origin”:

 [I]t is high time the laws should resume their empire; that the citizens of this state should return to the full enjoyment of their rights; that in acknowledging that we are indebted to General Jackson for the preservation of our city and the defeat of the British, we do not feel much inclined, through gratitude, to sacrifice any of our privileges, and less than any other, that of expressing our opinion of the acts of his administration….

The article was penned by state senator Louis Louaillier, and one of the chief acts of the administration that he complained of was bringing citizens before military tribunals “a kind of institution held in abhorrence even in absolute governments.” Two days after the article appeared, Jackson had Louaillier arrested and warned that any person serving a writ of habeas corpus to free Louiaillier would also be imprisoned.

If Jackson wanted to prove himself a tyrant, then there could have been no better way to do it. A request for a writ of habeas corpus had in fact already been made before Federal Disrict Court Judge Dominick Hall. Hall, who had been appointed by none other than Thomas Jefferson in 1804. Hall equivocated momentarily on the issue of jurisdiction – was this a Federal or a State matter? – then granted the request. No sooner had Judge Hall granted the motion for a writ of habeas corpus, then Andrew Jackson had him arrested for “aiding and abetting and exciting mutiny within my camp.” In Jackson’s mind, the entire city of New Orleans was his camp and every citizen, from Federal Judges to state senators to the lowliest householder – was a soldier at his beck and call. (Warshauer pp.35-36)

And this might never have ended, if not for the arrival of an official notification on March 13 to Andrew Jackson of the ratification of the Treaty of Ghent.

Signing of the Treaty of Ghent
Wikimedia

But as soon as the treaty, which had already been signed on December 24, 1814, while the Battle of New Orleans was ongoing, by Ambassador John Quincy Adams for the Americans and by Admiral of the Fleet James Gambier, and that was ratified by the Prince Regent ( aka George IV) on January 30, 1815, was also ratified by the U.S. Senate on February 18, 1815, it was in fact the law of the land. There was only one problem: Jackson had not been told about it through proper channels. Yes, he’d heard about it. But not through official channels. And Andrew Jackson always went by the book.

As soon as Jackson received notification of the peace of Ghent being ratified by all parties, he revoked martial law and all the many prisoners were released, those exiled were allowed to come back to the city, and the case against Jackson was brought to court. United States v. Major General Andrew Jackson was what it was called, Judge Hall presided, and when all the legal arguments were settled Andrew Jackson was found in contempt of court and fined one thousand dollars, which, without admitting any wrongdoing, he paid.

Jackson was not forced to spend a single day in prison, despite the many he imprisoned. He was not forced to undergo any corporal punishment such as a flogging that many an impressed sailor had to undergo, he was not court martialed, nor executed summarily like the men had shot, he was not stripped of rank and dignity, he was not forced to go into exile like Aaron Burr after his acquittal for treason, and he did not lose his military pension. For violating the most important provisions of the constitution, including the first and second amendments, while in the pay of the United States, it was a mere slap on the hand.

But to Jackson it rankled, and so he hoped that one day he would be vindicated. In fact, he has been, not merely by the Congressional award in 1844 of his fine with interest, but by the political reality and even by the narrative that is told today by historians.

The argument on either side has always been a question of constitutionality versus necessity, as first formulated by Edward Livingston. Those who felt Jackson’s imposition of martial law was not constitutional to this very day seem to argue that it was nevertheless necessary. Matthew Warshauer is certainly one example: “Can one violate civil liberties if doing so saves the government that provides those civil liberties? …However much one might like to disdain Jackson for military rule, he did in fact save the city in a victory that was unprecedented and perhaps impossible without martial law.” (Warshauer pp. 44-45.)

Do governments provide civil liberties? Or do the best of them merely stand aside and not infringe on civil liberties that the people are already endowed with? The declaration of independence seems to argue for the latter and to deny the former. Is the rise of American  nationalism referred to earlier in the text by Warshauer in fact just a rise of statism, having nothing to do with nationality or patriotism, but with the state’s supremacy over individual citizens?  And did Jackson win the Battle of New Orleans because he imposed martial law or despite his unpopular and unconstitutional wielding of absolute power? This depends on whether one acknowledges the contributions of Jean Laffite and the Baratarians.

 

James Wilkinson — What a real spy looks like

Warshauer distinguishes between unfortunate excesses to be deplored — the jailing of a Federal judge and a state senator in time of peace for expressing opinions or issuing writs — and the need for thwarting spies and saboteurs. But the belief that martial law is a good deterrent against spies or saboteurs (today known as terrorists) is misguided. In a war against the British, the enemy looked and acted just like us. It would not have been possible to tell who was a British sympathizer based on their place of origin or the accent they used when they spoke, the clothes they wore, their twirling mustaches or their overall manner. The man issuing passes was just as likely to be a British sympathizer as the lowliest citizen with a foreign accent. Foreign-sounding names like Louaillier and Laffite did not necessarily imply lack of loyalty, when real spies during that era had names like Arnold or Wilkinson, and British sympathizers were often called something like Patterson. The color of a person’s skin meant nothing when real spies — whether for England or Spain — had the rosy complexions and the clean shaven faces of Englishmen. You simply could not look at someone and tell that he was a spy, and while there were in fact spies (it was not all paranoia), no spy was ever caught thanks to the unconstitutional measures imposed by martial law.

It is true that when Andrew Jackson entered the city in December of 1814, there was a spirit of disaffection between the people of New Orleans and their American-imposed government, but it was not because they were sympathetic to the British. On the contrary, they hated the British fiercely, and it was only to the extent that the Americans behaved like the British that this disaffection carried over. Tax collectors and revenuers, men of the Revenue Cutter Service, were thwarting the commerce of the United States, first under the color of the Embargo Act, and later the Non-Intercourse Act,  laws which were in fact unconstitutional and contrary to the spirit of the American revolution. Governor Claiborne’s real difficulty was in getting rid of smugglers and privateers who fought the British and then sold their goods to the citizens of New Orleans at a fraction of the cost. This was galling both to the tax collector and to the American merchants who had bought British goods at full price despite the embargo, but it was in fact a service to nation in its fight against the British. The crux of the disagreement between the people of New Orleans and their state Governor and with Commodore Patterson of the Federal government was who should pay for waging war.  But to suggest that the citizens of New Orleans would not have fought to defend their city from the British unless they were conscripted under Jackson’s martial law is deeply misleading and offensive. 

Who fights better, conscripts or volunteers? You can lead a man to battle, but can you force him to fight? How helpful were the bales of cotton, the fencing and the muskets and cartridges that were confiscated, when not placed in the willing hands of their owners to do battle for New Orleans? How many men who wanted to serve were alienated by being forced to serve?  How many “foreigners” were sacrificed so that native born double dealers like Daniel Patterson could make money off stolen goods from Barataria? Wasn’t the Battle of New Orleans won largely through the generosity of Jean Laffite who donated flints and powder, artillery and trained men, who had learned professional shooting as privateers and could make important contributions to both tactics and strategic planning? Didn’t Andrew Jackson himself commend the dedication of Dominique You and Renato Beluche?

We don’t have to question the good intentions of  Andrew Jackson to note that what he did was wrong. The excesses under martial law that we deplore are the natural and inevitable consequence of absolute power, and even the most well-intentioned man will fall into them as a result of wielding that power. When President Madison asked that Congress approve a declaration of war against Britain, it was impressment of sailors by the British that served as a pretext. Can impressment of sailors by Andrew Jackson be justified as a response to that? Or was the willing contribution of privateers to the success of the Battle of New Orleans the real reason the war was won?

References

Davis, William C. 2005. The Pirates Laffite: The Treacherous World of the Corsairs of the Gulf. Harcourt.

Hunt, Charles Havens. 1864. Life of Edward Livingston. D. Appleton and Co.: New York.

Kennedy, Roger. 1999. Burr, Hamilton and Jefferson: A Study in Character. Oxford University Press.

Warshauer, Matthew. 2006. Andrew Jackson and the Politics of Martial Law. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press.

http://www.revolutionary-war-and-beyond.com/abigail-adams-reveals-anger-toward-great-britain.html

http://www.historiaobscura.com/commemoration-of-a-hero-jean-laffite-and-the-battle-of-new-orleans/

Governor Joseph Alston’s Record in the War of 1812

July 13, 2014 in American History, general history

 

Joseph Alston was born in 1779 to a wealthy family in South Carolina. He attended the College of New Jersey, which was later renamed Princeton, but he never graduated. He studied law and was admitted to the bar, but he never practiced. He was a planter by trade and one of the wealthiest men in South Carolina.

Joseph Alston also had political ambitions. In furtherance of same, he married Theodosia Burr, the daughter of Aaron Burr in 1801. He was a member of the Democratic-Republican party, the same one that Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr belonged to. The marriage to Theodosia Burr took place on the eve of the resolution of the complicated election that would catapult Jefferson to the presidency and made Aaron Burr vice president. It was during a period of time when Burr’s fortune was on the rise, and prior to the duel with Hamilton and the the falling out with Jefferson that eventually snuffed out Burr’s career prematurely

The marriage to Theodosia, together with his status as a wealthy landowner and businessman, enabled Alston to win elective office. He served in the South Carolina House of Representatives from November 20, 1805 to December 10, 1812. He was a speaker of the house from 1809 to 1812, and he was chosen to be Governor of South Carolina beginning December 1 of 1812.

Joseph Alston’s wealth came primarily from rice plantations, and the labor on which his business depended was by and large slave labor. Because of the warm weather and  the humidity, and because  the rice paddies harbored many mosquitoes, malaria was a disease to contend with. At the time, the causes of malaria were not known, but successful planters knew that the best laborers — and the ones most likely to survive the swamps —  were those imported from the Senegambia region in West Africa where they were already likely to have survived a childhood bout of malaria. For males between the ages of fourteen and eighteen they paid,  in today’s money , between $11,000 and $23,000. With such an investment on the line, they wanted slaves who were likely to survive the difficult conditions.

While on average two in three West African children fell victim to malaria and died, those who survived to the age of fourteen were immune to the disease. On the other hand, the white population of South Carolina did not undergo the serious trials of their black counterparts and largely avoided exposure to malaria by going up into the mountains or leaving on some other vacation during the summer months. When Aaron Burr first gave his consent to the marriage of his daughter to Joseph Alston, the plan was that she would spend her summers up North with her father. But Burr fell on hard times, went into exile, and had only just returned to New York a ruined man in 1812.

In June of 1812, the Alstons were not able to go elsewhere to avoid exposure to malaria. War had just been declared against Great Britain. Joseph Alston had duties in the state militia. He had to stay where he was, and so did his wife, and  their ten year old son, Aaron Burr Alston,  was exposed to and died of malaria.  Alston’s grieving wife, Theodosia, boarded the Patriot on December 31, 1812 for a trip to New York to see her father and disappeared into the mists of time. But Alston’s troubles were only just beginning.

When he tried to muster the militia to prepare for war, he encountered unexpected resistance. The problem was not that the men refused to serve against the British. The enemy they most feared was malaria. Many  openly disobeyed orders, refused to serve, and when the Governor attempted to have the ringleaders tried for desertion, the court found in favor of the accused. A contemporary account of the court’s reasoning can be found in John Belton O’Neal’s Biographcal Sketches of Bench and Bar:

I knew Mr. Stark well, and had much to do with him as Solicitor; and I have no hesitation in saying, that the objection, which was urged against him, that he was ” too severe” was altogether untrue. He was a firm, just man, in the discharge of his duty; but there was no one who sooner yielded to the just claims of mercy than he did. In 1814, Mr. Stark and myself defended Colonel Starling Tucker, before the Court Martial ordered to try him, on charges preferred against him by the Commander-in-chief, Governor Allston, in relation to the service of the first class of the militia, ordered into service from the brigade, then ranked as the second, now the tenth. (Biographical Sketched of Bench and Bar, p. 68)

.The chief reason that was given in mitigation of harsh sentence was that the men required to serve were  “unaccustomed to the climate.”

 Immediately after the regiment encamped, a council of all the officers of the line assembled, to consult as to what should be done, as to the detailed order to throw up the tête du pont, and they unanimously advised that it should be disobeyed; and everyone from the highest to the lowest so pledged themselves. This was not only disobedience, but mutiny, and might have been visited by serious consequences; but there was a great palliation in the excited state of the men’s minds, and their belief that the duty to be done under a stern disciplinarian, and would probably be at the sacrifice of many lives, who were unaccustomed to the climate.  (James Holdridge, John Belton O’Neal, sources.)

That South Carolina freemen were unaccustomed to the climate of South Carolina, though many had been born and bred there, whereas the imported slaves on the plantations in the area were accustomed to the climate, is one of the many ironies of the situation.

Alston was so incensed at having his orders countermanded and the courts siding with the deserters, that he decided to disband the militia altogether and sent everyone home. However, when a British force landed on St. Helena Island,  and the coast of South Carolina was all undefended, he was forced to reverse himself. He returned to the state legislature and asked for and  was granted greater war powers for mustering the state militia. But the British could not have been more immune to malaria than the Americans, so they do not appear to have stayed on St. Helena Island for long. There appears to be no record of an engagement with the enemy there.

Although the cause of malaria and effective treatments for it were not known at the time, the South Carolina planters and other free whites in peacetime found ways to protect themselves and reduce  their children’s exposure to the disease, while  the slaves on their plantations could not. This resulted in higher infant mortality among the slaves, but  those who survived to adulthood had  genetic immunity that they could even pass on to their children, while a whole generation of military age free men did not. Yet the slaves could not serve in the military unless they were first freed, and the freemen could not serve effectively without exposing themselves to the deadly disease.

As for Joseph Alston, his service as governor ended on December 1, 1814. He was not well for the remainder of his life, possibly suffering himself from symptoms of malaria.  He died on September 19, 1816. Today he is remembered chiefly for the fact that he had once been married to Theodosia Burr.

  References

The African Slave Trade and South Carolina

African-American Heritage and Ethnography

Biographical Sketches of Bench and Bar — online

James Holdridge

John Belton O’Neal, Biographical Sketches of the Bar and Bench of South Carolina, II:69-73

Malaria

Members of the 19th General Assembly — South Carolina

South Carolina Governor Joseph Alston

Starling Tucker

The Meaning of Treason: United States v. Aaron Burr

February 1, 2014 in American History, general history, History, Legal History

Under the English common law, treason was an inexact and nebulous charge, one that could be leveled at almost anyone by association. Speaking against the government might be treason. Having friends who were traitors might be treason. A person might never have raised a hand in anger against his King or the state and yet still be hanged as a traitor. But under the United States constitution, treason is a well-defined and very limited offense.

Article Three of the United States Constitution

Article Three of the United States Constitution

Article 3, Section 3 of the United States Constitution defines and limits treason as follows:

Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.

The Congress shall have Power to declare the Punishment of Treason, but no Attainder of Treason shall work Corruption of Blood, or Forfeiture except during the Life of the Person attainted.

Notice that the word “only” is part of the definition of treason. That means that the drafters of this section of the constitution wanted a very strict construction of their words to apply. They realized that case law often adds to or changes a statutory definition, but they did not want this to happen in the case of treason. Treason was to be what they said and no less than that should ever be allowed to pass for treason in an American court, nor could the definition of treason be changed by statute or case law. Only an amendment to the constitution could ever overturn the expressed desires of those who drafted this clause.

Why did the drafters of the Constitution feel so strongly about this? Because each and every one of them, by British law,  had been a traitor against Britain, long before ever they levied war against their mother country, and each of them remembered how it felt. They wanted people to be free to rise up against an oppressive government,  to speak against it, censure unjust rulers and seek redress for wrongs, before it became necessary to rise up in arms.

The people who wrote this section of the constitution were still alive at a time when one of their own decided to use a different definition of treason. That man was Thomas Jefferson, and he was at the time the President of the United States. He wanted Aaron Burr found guilty of treason, declared him in public to be a traitor in advance of trial by his peers, ignored the right to habeas corpus and used the military to arrest persons who were material witnesses in the trial and to hold them without access to an attorney until they had confessed.

Thomas_Jefferson_by_Rembrandt_Peale_1805_cropped

Thomas Jefferson by Rembrandt Peale 1805
From the Wikimedia Commons

Here is a brief factual description leading up to the case. In 1800 Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr had been tied for the presidency. They had both run on the same ticket. Eventually Jefferson had become the president, and Aaron Burr was his vice president. However, when Jefferson ran for a second term, he did not choose Aaron Burr as his running mate. Burr then devised a scheme whereby he intended to attack Mexico and acquire land in Texas. His ally in this plan was American General James Wilkinson, but Wilkinson, unbeknownst to Burr,  was being paid by Spain to protect its territorial interests. In pursuance of the best interests of Spain, James Wilkinson informed Thomas Jefferson that Aaron Burr was planning to use his army against the Western territories held by the United States. Thomas Jefferson declared Aaron Burr a traitor, and he used the United States army, under the command of General Wilkinson, to arrest various people whom he believed to be aiding and abetting Aaron Burr to commit treason. Among these people were Erich Bollman and Samuel Swartwout. Although they were arrested in Louisiana Territory, they were transported to Washington City, where the president took it upon himself to personally interrogate them.

John_Marshall_by_Henry_Inman,_1832

Chief Justice John Marshall painted by Henry Inman in 1832

A writ of habeas corpus was eventually ruled upon by John Marshall in the case of Ex Parte Bollman and Ex Parte Swartwout. Although Bollman and Swartwout were set free  for want of evidence against them and also because the Federal Court in the District of Columbia was not the Court before which they should have been brought, some of the obiter dicta in his published opinion later came to haunt John Marshall when he was presiding over the treason trial of Aaron Burr.

Namely, it was this part of the opinion that could be argued to expand the constitutional definition of treason beyond what the founders intended and to bring the American law on treason into a closer agreement with English common law:

 When war is levied, all those who perform any part, however minute or however remote from the scene of action, and who are actually leagued in the general conspiracy, are traitors.

Aaron Burr had at no time levied war against the United States. Neither had any of the persons who supported his scheme to conquer Mexico and acquire land in Texas. However, at one point, on Blennerhassett’s Island, when a United States officer had come to arrest some of the men who were planning to help Burr with his conquest of Mexico, the men refused to be arrested and pointed their muskets at the poor man, who then backed down. This was the “act of levying war” on the United States that the prosecution and the Jefferson administration were basing their case on. However, when this happened, Aaron Burr had been nowhere near Blennerhassett’s Island and was not a direct participant in this “act of war”, which in fact might more accurately be described as resisting arrest.

The great legal question that had to be resolved by John Marshall in the trial of Aaron Burr was this: which definition of treason holds, the one spelled out clearly in the constitution or the one he himself had set forth in Ex Parte Bollman and Ex Parte Swartwout.

A very nice dramatization of the decision before John Marshall can be found in the video below:


 

John Marshall’s  decision at the time was unpopular. He decided to abide by the constitution, even if it seemed that he was reversing his earlier ruling. Aaron Burr had not levied war against the United States government and no evidence that he had had been presented in court. Marshall instructed the jury on the definition of treason as set forth in the constitution, and the jury found Aaron Burr not guilty.

The Constitution of the United States is still the law of the land. Anyone charged with treason over actions not defined as treason in that document is not a traitor. This is as true today as it was in 1807.

 

RELATED ARTICLES

TheoFinalWindlass

 http://www.pubwages.com/14/the-character-of-aaron-burr-a-review

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CVnsnLI2I5o

 http://historum.com/blogs/aya+katz/1751-gideon-granger-precursor-nsa.html

Gideon Granger, a Postmaster General with an Intelligence Gathering Mission

July 24, 2013 in American History, general history

Gideon Granger (wikipedia)

Gideon Granger received his appointment as Postmaster General from the newly elected president,Thomas Jefferson, in 1801. Because Granger had been instrumental in helping Jefferson obtain the office of President in a highly contested and extremely confusing election — his running mate Aaron Burr very nearly beat him to the presidency — Jefferson was very much beholden to Granger. It was understood between the two of them that some very high office would be awarded to Granger as a reward for his services, but which office exactly it was not immediately clear.

Here is a copy of the letter that Thomas Jefferson wrote Granger offering the job with the United States Postal Service, reproduced here from the Raab Collection.

A facsimile of the original letter from Jefferson offering Granger the job

A facsimile of the original letter from Jefferson offering Granger the job (from the Rabb Collection)

The letter is dated October 12, 1801. Jefferson writes: “Since my letter of this day sevennight [sic], the question as to the public office has taken a turn different from what was then expressed.  Neither of the two then named is to be vacant, but instead thereof the Postmaster general’s place, this being of equal grade, emolument and importance. I propose it to your acceptance with the same satisfaction as either of the others. Perhaps you will consider it as more eligible than the treasury, as that would have obliged you to call on your friends to become your sureties for of 150,000 D, that being the sum fixed by law. Judging the feelings of others by my own, this would not have been pleasant. Let me hear from you immediately while the same reserve as to others is kept up.” Jefferson closes with “affectionate respect.”

 Gideon Granger served as Postmaster General from November 28, 1801 to March 17, 1814. He was still the Postmaster General during most of James Madison’s presidency. Here is a letter from Gideon Granger to President James Madison from 1811.

GideonGrangertoMadison

A letter from Gideon Granger to James Madison (from eBay)

Granger writes: “in consequence of receiving the enclosed note I have diverted the mails to be kept open this night, except the express mail — “.

What were the duties of the Postmaster General during the tenure of Gideon Granger?  When was it all right to divert the mail, express or otherwise? What sorts of  direct communication between the President and the Postmaster General concerning the mail, its delivery and its content would have been appropriate? Was intelligence gathering part of the mission of the Postmaster General’s Office?

The historian Henry Adams had this to say about Gideon Granger: “…the most active politician was Gideon Granger, the Postmaster-General, whose ‘intimacy with some of those in the secret,’ as Jefferson afterward testified, gave him ‘opportunities of searching into their proceedings.’ Every day during this period Granger made a confidential report to the President ”

Granger had Jefferson’s ear, and when he wanted to be appointed to the Supreme Court in 1809, Jefferson wrote to the then current  president, James Madison, in support of Granger’s bid for that high judicial office. Madison did not accede to this suggestion, and instead he appointed Joseph Story, even though Story had not supported the Embargo Act sponsored by Jefferson.

Historian Roger Kennedy writes: “Granger remained Postmaster General but went into skulking opposition to Madison. There is strong evidence that he conspired with Clinton to replace the president in 1812, but  until 1814 Madison still deferred to Jefferson’s expressed confidence in Granger. In that year .. the Postmaster went into outright revolt, appointing Madison’s political enemies to lucrative postmasterships. Madison had had enough and threatened to fire him. Granger turned … to blackmail. First he attempted to terrify Madison himself with disclosures about his wife. While Dolley Madison was a widow under reduced circumstances, Burr may have been only a friend, but , Granger let it be known, others had been more than friends, and he had letters to prove it.” (Kennedy 276).

Eventually Madison dismissed Granger, and the  Postmaster ended his days as a country squire. However, for twelve years the United States Postal Service was presided over by a blackmailer, a letter opener and a government spy. What effect did this have on the correspondence between and among citizens?

One thing that people did was to write in cipher. These ciphers were often simple substitutions and not as sophisticated as today’s encryption. But such attempts to deal with government surveillance of private communication were sometimes met with countermeasures from the US government and by other governments. Sometimes when a letter was opened and found to be in cipher, it was simply not delivered.

WritinginCipher

An Excerpt from the Google Books version of Charles Felton Pidgin’s “Theodosia: The First Gentlewoman of her time”

Corruption begets corruption. A system of rewards of  public office  for political allies can have a lasting effect on the communication and morale of an entire nation, and this can lead to disastrous results both in times of peace and during war.

 REFERENCES

http://www.raabcollection.com/thomas-jefferson-autograph/thomas-jefferson-signed-sold-thomas-jefferson-names-gideon-granger-his

 Adams, Henry.

Kennedy, Roger G.

Pidgin, Chares Felton.

Suggested Reading

If you are interested in reading a fictional account of how Gideon Granger’s postmastership inhibited communication during the war of 1812, try this book:

Theodosia Burr Alston’s Letters on Behalf of Burr in Exile

June 24, 2013 in American History, general history

ds 866 CAAversion1984.02Aaron Burr went into exile in Europe in 1808 following his acquittal in the trial for treason.  At first he had high hopes of procuring funding for his interrupted Mexican expedition, but those were soon crushed when Spain and England became allies. Burr was forced to leave England, and with this began a lonely journey through Europe with ever diminishing funds. Throughout it all, Burr kept up a correspondence with his daughter Theodosia Burr Alston, whom he did not wish to alarm by his dire circumstances, but who nevertheless served as his closest confidante.

One urgent problem that delayed Burr’s return to the United States was that having given up all hope of successful funding in Europe, he did not have a passport to allow him to reenter his native land. On the 10th of November, 1810 Burr wrote from Paris:

Alas, my dear Theodosia, I have no hope of seeing you this winter. 
It is more than five months since I have been constantly soliciting 
from this government a passport for America. Fair promises and 
civil words have been received, but nothing more. It would be folly 
to hope, yet daily some new occurrence or new promise inspires new 
hope. . . . The only consolation which I can offer you for this dis- 
appointment is that my health continues unimpaired, and I have 
the present means of support. A little addition to those means would 
not be inconvenient. Continue to write to that gentleman on whose 
unpaid notes I relied, and of which not a cent has been received. . . . 
Not a line from you since August, 1809, fifteen months ago. It is 
only by mere accident that I know you were living last July. ... I 
live with a very amiable Genevoise family, of which I am a member. 
Every morning I devote half an hour, sometimes an hour, to you.

 

. Theodosia, for her part, made every effort that she could to secure help for her father, most notably in her letters to Secretary of the Treasury Gallatin and to the first Lady, Dolley Madison.

Below is a letter to Secretary Gallatin dated March 9, 1811 that Theodosia sent from The Oaks:

Though convinced of your firmness, still with the utmost diffidence 
I venture to address you on a subject which it is almost dangerous to 
mention, and which, in itself, affords me no claim on your attention. 
Yet, trusting that you will not withhold an opinion deeply interesting 
to me, and which your present station enables you to form with 
peculiar correctness, I venture to inquire whether you suppose that 
my father's return to this country would be productive of ill conse- 
quences to him, or draw on him farther prosecution from any branch 
of the government. 

You will the more readily forgive me for taking the liberty to make 
such a request, when you reflect that, retired as I am from the world, 
it is impossible for me to gather the general opinion from my own 
observation. I am, indeed, perfectly aware how unexpected will be 
this demand; that it places you in a situation of some delicacy; and 
that to return a satisfactory answer will be to exert liberality and 
candour; I am aware of all this, and yet do not desist. 

Recollect what are my incitements. Recollect that I have seen my 
father dashed from the high rank he held in the minds of his country- 
men, imprisoned, and forced into exile. Must he ever remain thus 
excommunicated from the participation of domestic enjoyments and 
the privileges of a citizen; aloof from his accustomed sphere, and 
singled, out as a mark for the shafts of calumny ? Why should he be 
thus proscribed and held up in execration ? What benefit to the coun- 
try can possibly accrue from the continuation of this system ? Surely 
it must be evident to the worst enemies of my father, that no man, 
situated as he will be, could obtain any undue influence, even sup- 
posing him desirous of it. 

But pardon me if my feeling has led me astray from my object, 
which was not to enter upon a discussion with you. I seek only to 
solicit an enlightened opinion relative to facts which involve my best 
hopes of happiness. 

Present, if you please, my respects to Mrs. Gallatin, and accept 
the assurances of my high consideration.

To Dolley Madison, Theodosia wrote:


Madam 
You may perhaps be surprised at receiving a letter from one with 
whom you have had so little intercourse for the last few years. But 
your surprise will cease when you recollect that my father, once your 
friend, is now in exile; and that the President can only restore him to 
me and his country. 

Ever since the choice of the people was first declared in favor of 
Mr. Madison, my heart, amid the universal joy, has beat with the hope 
that I, too, should soon have reason to rejoice. Convinced that Mr. 
Madison would neither feel nor judge from the feelings or judgment 
of others, I had no doubt of his hastening to relieve a man whose 
character he had been enabled to appreciate during a confidential 
intercourse of long continuance, and whom (he) must know incapable 
of the designs attributed to him. My anxiety on this subject has, 
however, become too painful to be alleviated by anticipations which 
no events have yet tended to justify; and in this state of intolerable 
suspense I have determined to address myself to you, and request 
that you will, in my name, apply to the President for a removal of the 
prosecution now existing against Aaron Burr. 

Statesmen, I am aware, deem it necessary that sentiments of lib- 
erality, and even justice, should yield to consideration of policy; but 
what policy can require the absence of my father at present ? Even 
had he contemplated the project for which he stands arraigned, evi- 
dently to pursue it any further would now be impossible. There is 
not left one pretext of alarm even to calumny; for bereft of fortune, of 
popular favor, and almost of friends, what could he accomplish? 
And whatever may be the apprehensions or the clamors of the igno- 
rant and the interested, surely the timid, illiberal system which would 
sacrifice a man to a remote and unreasonable possibility that he might 
infringe some law founded on an unjust, unwarrantable suspicion that 
he would desire it, cannot be approved by Mr. Madison, and must 
be unnecessary to a President so loved, so honored. Why, then, is 
my father banished from a country for which he has encountered 
wounds and dangers and fatigue for years ? Why is he driven from 
his friends, from an only child, to pass an unlimited time in exile, and 
that, too, at an age when others are reaping the harvest of past toils, 
or ought, at least, to be providing seriously for the comfort of ensuing 
years ? I do not seek to soften you by this recapitulation. I only 
wish to remind you of all the injuries which are inflicted on one of the 
first characters the United States ever produced. 

Perhaps it may be well to assure you there is no truth in a report, 
lately circulated, that my father intends returning immediately. He 
never will return to conceal himself in a country on which he has 
conferred distinction. 

To whatever fate Mr. Madison may doom this application, I trust 
it will be treated with delicacy. Of this I am the more desirous as 
Mr. Alston is ignorant of the step I have taken in writing to you, 
which, perhaps, nothing could excuse but the warmth of filial affection. 
If it be an error, attribute it to the indiscreet zeal of a daughter whose 
soul sinks at the gloomy prospect of a long and indefinite separation 
from a father almost adored, and who can leave unattempted nothing 
which offers the slightest hope of procuring him redress. What, in- 
deed, would I not risk once more to see him, to hang upon him, to place 
my child on his knee, and again spend my days in the happy occupa- 
tion of endeavoring to anticipate all his wishes ? 

Let me entreat, my dear Madam, that you will have the considera- 
tion and goodness to answer me as speedily as possible; my heart is 
sore with doubt and patient waiting for something definitive. No 
apologies are made for giving you this trouble, which I am sure you 
will not deem irksome to take for a daughter, an affectionate daughter, 
thus situated. Inclose your letter for me to A. J. Frederic Prevost, 
Esq., near New Rochelle, New York. 
That every happiness may attend you, 

Is the sincere wish of 

THEO. BURR ALSTON.

 

Following the unfavorable response from Mrs. Madison, Theodosia wrote to her half brother, Frederic Prevost::  

Your letter enclosing that from Washington reached me just before 
I left Springville. The long expected answer from Mrs. Madison 
was such as reason and experience unmixed with hope might have 
led us to suppose it. She expresses great affection for me, calling me 
her "precious friend," pays me compliments badly turned, and regrets 
that Mr. M. finds it impossible to gratify my wishes, &c. You will 
be more pleased to hear that I have received a letter from A. B., dated 
Gottenburg, where he arrived safely but with the loss of all his luggage, 
an accident he laughs at, although he is destitute of the means of 
procuring another supply. To my inexpressible relief he says that 
he has in view some means of support which will rescue him at present 
from this state of dependence. Yet I fear that he may say so merely 
to alleviate my anxiety, for what can he do at Stockholm ?

When Burr did safely arrive in the United States in 1812, after many delays and bureacratic debacles over the coveted passport,  Theodosia was not able to meet with him. First, her son died of malaria, and then she was lost on board The Patriot on her way to a long postponed reunion with her father. But what cannot be denied is that both father and daughter remained loyal and devoted to one another as long as they lived, no matter how far separated in time and space by circumstances outside their control. Theodosia’s letters on Burr’s behalf are a testament to this.

 

REFERENCES

Pidgen, Charles Felton.  (190&)Theodosia, the First gentlewoma of her Time; the Story of her Life, and a History of Persons and Events Connected Therewith.

http://archive.org/stream/theodosiafirstge00pidg/theodosiafirstge00pidg_djvu.txt

 

Aaron Burr as a Father

June 15, 2013 in general history

AaronBurrFatherPeople do not usually remember Aaron Burr as a father. They remember perhaps that he was the third vice president of the United States. They remember, if anything, that he killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel. They remember that he was later tried for treason, though most have forgotten that he was acquitted.. But he was also a father, and in that day and age, an exemplary parent of an unusually well educated daughter.

On July 2, 1782 Aaron Burr married Theodosia Bartow Prevost, a widow and the mother of five children by her previous husband, Major Jacques Prevost. Burr took on a paternal role toward all of his wife’s children, and their only surviving joint child, Theodosia, was born on June 21, 1873.

In letters to his wife, among various and sundry other communications, an interest in and an affection toward each of the children was manifest. For instance, in May of 1785, at the end of his letter home, he wrote:

Tell one of the boys to send me some supreme court seals; about six. I forgot them. Write me what calls are made at the office for me. Distribute my love. Let each of the children write me what they do. You may certainly find some opportunity. Adieu.

Though he was often away from home, he took an active interest in the education of his daughter. In a letter dated October 30th, 1791, he writes to his wife:

Theodosia must not attempt music in the way she was taught last spring. For the present, let it be wholly omitted. Neither would I have her renew her dancing till the family are arranged. She can proceed in her French, and get some teacher to attend her in the house for writing and arithmetic. She has made no progress in the latter, and is even ignorant of the rudiments. She was hurried through different rules without having been able to do a single sum with accuracy. I would wish her to be also taught geography if a proper master can be found; but suspend this till the arrival of the major.

Burr was a classics scholar as well as an attorney, a soldier and a statesman. He had very particular ideas about how his daughter was to be taught, and while he was not often there to do it himself, he left detailed instructions. The following quote is from a letter dated February 8th, 1793.

You may recollect that I left a memorandum of what Theo. was to learn. I hope it has been strictly attended to. Desire Gurney not to attempt to teach her any thing about the concords. I will show him how I choose that should be done when I return, which, I thank God, is but three weeks distant.

While he admitted that he had not met that many women of genius, apart from his own wife, Burr believed that the reason for this was the way girls were educated, and he wanted to make sure that his own daughter was given the best possible opportunity to excel and make the most of her native intelligence. This letter from Feb.15th, 1793 gives us such a perfect example of how Burr managed to mix his work and home life that it bears reproducing here in full:

I received with joy and astonishment, on entering the Senate this minute, your two elegant and affectionate letters. The mail closes in a few minutes, and will scarce allow me to acknowledge your goodness. The roads and ferries have been for some days almost impassable, so that till now no post has arrived since Monday.

It was a knowledge of your mind which first inspired me with a respect for that of your sex, and with some regret, I confess, that the ideas which you have often heard me express in favour of female intellectual powers are founded on what I have imagined, more than what I have seen, except in you. I have endeavoured to trace the causes of this rare display of genius in women, and find them in the errors of education, of prejudice, and of habit. I admit that men are equally, nay more, much more to blame than women. Boys and girls are generally educated much in the same way till they are eight or nine years of age, and it is admitted that girls make at least equal progress with the boys; generally, indeed, they make better. Why, then, has it never been thought worth the attempt to discover, by fair experiment, the particular age at which the male superiority becomes so evident? But this is not in answer to your letter; neither is it possible now to answer it. Some parts of it I shall never answer. Your allusions to departed angels I think in bad taste.

I do not like Theo.’s indolence, or the apologies which are made for it. Have my directions been pursued with regard to her Latin and geography?

Your plan and embellishment of my mode of life are fanciful, are flattering, and inviting. We will endeavour to realize some of it. Pray continue to write, if you can do it with impunity. I bless Sir J., who, with the assistance of Heaven, has thus far restored you.

In the course of this scrawl I have been several times called to vote, which must apologize to you for its incoherence. Adieu.

The evening after he wrote this letter, Burr read Mary Wollstonecroft’s Vindication of the Rights of Woman. He liked it so much that he read it all that night and the next day, here is what he wrote to his wife:

You have heard me speak of a Miss Woolstonecraft, who has written something on the French revolution; she has also written a book entitled Vindication of the rights of Woman. I had heard it spoken of with a coldness little calculated to excite attention; but as I read with avidity and prepossession every thing written by a lady, I made haste to procure it, and spent the last night, almost the whole of it, in reading it. Be assured that your sex has in her an able advocate. It is, in my opinion, a work of genius. She has successfully adopted the style of Rousseau’s Emilius; and her comment on that work, especially what relates to female education, contains more good sense than all the other criticisms upon him which I have seen put together. I promise myself much pleasure in reading it to you.

Is it owing to ignorance or prejudice that I have not yet met a single person who had discovered or would allow the merit of this work?

Burr was a loving father, but his fondness for his daughter did not blind him to her faults, and he used a combination of severity and praise to motivate Theodosia the younger in her studies. In this letter to his daughter from January 4th, 1794, Burr is intermittently critical and yet full of praise. He does not allow Theodosia off the hook for mistakes, but he takes every opportunity to let her know how proud he is of her accomplishments.

At the moment of closing the mail yesterday, I received your letter enclosing the pills. I cannot refer to it by date, as it has none. Tell me truly, did you write it without assistance? Is the language and spelling your own? If so, it does you much honour. The subject of it obliged me to show it to Dr. Rush, which I did with great pride. He inquired your age half a dozen times, and paid some handsome compliments to the handwriting, the style, and the correctness of your letter.

The account of your mamma’s health distresses me extremely. If she does not get better soon, I will quit Congress altogether and go home. Doctor Rush says that the pills contain two grains each of pure and fresh extract of hemlock; that the dose is not too large if the stomach and head can bear it; that he has known twenty grains given at a dose with good effect. To determine, however, whether this medicine has any agency in causing the sick stomach, he thinks it would be well to take an occasion of omitting it for a day or two, if Doctor Bard should approve of such an experiment, and entertains any doubts about the effects of the pills on the stomach. Some further conversation which I have had with Doctor Rush will be contained in a letter which I shall write by this post to Doctor Bard.

My last letter to you was almost an angry one, at which you cannot be much surprised when you recollect the length of time of your silence, and that you are my only correspondent respecting the concerns of the family. I expect, on Monday or Tuesday next, to receive the continuation of your journal for the fortnight past.

Mr. Leshlie will tell you that I have given directions for your commencing Greek. One half hour faithfully applied by yourself at study, and another at recitation with Mr. Leshlie, will suffice to advance you rapidly.

While Aaron Burr started out as a married father, sharing his parental responsibilities with his wife, when their daughter was eleven, the mother died (May 18, 1794) , and Aaron Burr became a single father. He never remarried during his daughter’s lifetime, and he took full responsibility for her care and education. As a single father, Burr took an interest in his daughter’s diet, manners and education and he required her to keep a journal detailing events day by day, so that he could know about the minutiae of her life, even when he could not be there. This excerpt is from a letter  addressed to “My dear Theo” from August 4th, 1794.

On my arrival here I was delighted to receive your letter of the 30th, with the journal of that and the preceding days. Your history of those three days is very full and satisfactory, and has induced me, by way of return, to enlarge on the particulars of my journey. I am quite gratified that you have secured Mrs. Penn’s (observe how it is spelled) good opinion, and content with your reasons for not saying the civil things you intended. In case you should dine in company with her, I will apprize you of one circumstance, by a trifling attention to which you may elevate yourself in her esteem. She is a great advocate for a very plain, rather abstemious diet in children, as you may see by her conduct with Miss Elizabeth. Be careful, therefore, to eat of but one dish; that a plain roast or boiled: little or no gravy or butter, and very sparingly of dessert or fruit: not more than half a glass of wine; and if more of any thing to eat or drink is offered, decline it. If they ask a reason–Papa thinks it not good for me, is the best that can be given.

It was with great pain and reluctance that I made this journey without you. But your manners are not yet quite sufficiently formed to enable you to do justice to your own character,  and the expectations which are formed of you, or to my wishes. Improve, therefore, to the utmost the present opportunity; inquire of every point of behaviour about which you are embarrassed; imitate as much as you can the manners of Madame De S., and observe also every thing which Mrs. Penn says and does.

You should direct your own breakfast. Send Cesar every morning for a pint of milk for you; and, to save trouble to Madame De S., let her know that you eat at breakfast only bread and butter.

I wish you would read over your letters after you have written them; for so many words are omitted, that in some places I cannot make out the sense, if any they contain. Make your figures or ciphers in your letters, but write out the numbers at length, except dates. Adieu,

While Aaron Burr was not by any stretch of the imagination a “stay-at-home dad”, as he was always involved in practicing law and in politics, his duties as a father were always on his mind, and he corrected Theodosia’s compositions and wrote her long letters of instruction while serving in congress, putting her own letters on an equal footing with those of people who wielded political power.

When Theodosia grew up and married, Aaron Burr still took his parental duties seriously, and he was an active participant in her life as well as that of her son. As a grown woman, Theodosia served Aaron Burr as a friend and confidante, and he shared with her his joys and his sorrows, not withholding embarrassing details. She was the person to whom he wrote the greatest number of letters, and when she disappeared on board The Patriot on December 31, 1812, she was on her way to see her father, following the death of her son. Burr never got over the loss. Long after all hope had flown, he still went to the docks every day, to see if her ship would come in.

Aaron Burr was many thing: a hero of the Revolutionary War, a supporter of women’s rights before that was fashionable, a believer in the equality of the races and the sexes, a devoted husband, and a dedicated father. This Father’s Day, when you think of exemplary fathers from the past, think of Aaron Burr.

 References

http://www.familytales.org/results.php?tla=aab

 

The Courtship of Theodosia Bartow Prevost and Aaron Burr

June 8, 2013 in American History, general history

The Hermitage Credit:thehermitage.org

She was the posthumous only child of Theodosius Bartow and Anne Stillwell Bartow. Named after her father, she bequeathed her given name, which she got from a father she never met,  to a daughter that she left an orphan at the age of eleven. Known for her intelligence, wit and good character, Theodosia Bartow Burr was not said to be particularly beautiful. But she was deeply loved and chosen by Aaron Burr as his bride, despite being ten years his senior and already afflicted with cancer.

The facts prior to Theodosia Bartow Prevost’s association with Aaron Burr are known only in their starkness. Following the death of her father, Theodosius Bartow, in a carriage accident, her mother Anne Stillwell married Philip De Visme and had several children by him, half-siblings of Theodosia. Theodosia grew up in an educated, intellectually stimulating household and she spoke and read French as well as English. She married Jacques Marcus Prevost and bore him five children. He was in the British army, but of French Swiss descent. The couple established themselves in Bergen County, New Jersey, in an estate called The Hermitage. Eventually, after leading several campaigns against the American revolutionaries, Jacques Prevost was serving as  governor of Georgia in 1778 under the British and then was later stationed in Jamaica in 1780, but his wife Theodosia remained behind in New Jersey at the Hermitage.

It is at about this time that Aaron Burr, serving the Continental Army, came on the scene.They met in August of 1778 on a trip down the Hudson. It happened like this: General Alexander sent Burr on a spy mission after his heat stoke following the Battle of Monmouth. He was to check on British positions in preparation for a combined attack by the continental army and French regiments. At the time, the French had a fleet off Sandy Hook. Burr was ordered to West Point in July of 1778. General Washington then ordered him to escort three highly placed Loyalists under a white flag down the Hudson River to the enemy side. Theodosia Prevost, wanting to rejoin family in New York City, got permission from General Alexander to board the same ship, along with her half-sister, Caty De Visme and a servant. Burr was the one who added their names to the passenger list. The trip took five days, and that was enough time to change everything.

After that, Burr visited Theodosia Prevost and her family in the Hermitage quite frequently and even wrote to his sister Sally about her, saying she had “an honest and affectionate heart.”

After his resignation from the Army in 1779, Burr was a frequent visitor at the Hermitage. Everybody who knew them knew that they were in love.  Burr’s cousin Thaddeus wrote to him: ““I won’t joke you any more about a certain lady.” In 1780, Major Prevost, Theodosia’s husband, who was serving under the British in Jamaica, was gravely injured. He sent home reports that the medical conditions there were poor, and anticipating his own death, he sent his teenaged sons who were with him back to their mother in America.

Theodosia Bartow Prevost Burr’s letters to other members of her family do not seem to have been preserved. But her letters to Aaron Burr show a remarkable ability to discuss philosophical issues as well as matters of the heart. She believed in the methods of education and the morality set forth by Rousseau in La Nouvelle Heloise, and was very much opposed to the advice of Lord Chesterfield to his son, even though Aaron Burr thought it good.

Your opinion of Voltaire pleases me, as it proves your judgment above being biased by the prejudices of others. The English, from national jealousy and enmity to the French, detract him. Divines, with more justice, as he exposes himself to their censure. It is even their duty to contemn his tenets; but, without being his disciple, we may do justice to his merit, and admire him as a judicious, ingenious author.

I will not say the same of your system of education. Rousseau has completed his work. The indulgence you applaud in Chesterfield is the only part of his writings I think reprehensible. Such lessons from so able a pen are dangerous to a young mind, and ought never to be read till the judgment and heart are established in virtue. If Rousseau’s ghost can reach this quarter of the globe, he will certainly haunt you for this scheme–’tis striking at the root of his design, and destroying the main purport of his admirable production. Les foiblesses de l’humanite, is an easy apology; or rather, a license to practise intemperance; and is particularly agreeable and flattering to such practitioners, as it brings the most virtuous on a level with the vicious. But I am fully of opinion that it is a much greater chimera than the world are willing to acknowledge. Virtue, like religion, degenerates to nothing, because it is convenient to neglect her precepts. You have, undoubtedly, a mind superior to the contagion.

When all the world turn envoys, Chesterfield will be their proper guide. Morality and virtue are not necessary qualifications–those only are to be attended to that tend to the public weal. But when parents have no ambitious views, or rather, when they are of the more exalted kind, when they wish to form a happy, respectable member of society–a firm, pleasing support to their declining life, Emilius shall be the model. A man so formed must be approved by his Creator, and more useful to mankind than ten thousand modern beaux.

Later biographers used this particular letter to explore the contrasting attitudes held by Aaron Burr and Theodosia Bartow Prevost Burr toward the subject of educating their daughter, but it is important to remember that at the time this letter was written ( February 12, 1781), they had no children in common. Theodosia was a married woman, and Aaron Burr was her suitor. And the topic of this letter was whether committing adultery is all right. Theodosia, using literary allusions to Jean-JacquesRousseau and Lord Chesterfield, was letting Aaron Burr know that she thought it was not all right. Although her husband had already died, Theodosia did not know this, and she was adamant in her insistence that self-restraint was a better course of action than giving in to passions

There was already much gossip about the couple, even though they had not in fact acted on their love and carried on their courtship mainly through correspondence. In May of 1781 Theodosia wrote to Aaron:

Our being the subject of much inquiry, conjecture, and calumny, is no more than we ought to expect. My attention to you was ever pointed enough to attract the observation of those who visited the house. Your esteem more than compensated for the worst they could say. When I am sensible I can make you and myself happy, I will readily join you to suppress their malice. But, till I am confident of this, I cannot think of our union. Till then I shall take shelter under the roof of my dear mother, where, by joining stock, we shall have sufficient to stem the torrent of adversity.

It was not until December 30, 1781 that Caty De Visme wrote to Burr from The Hermitage: “If you have not seen the York Gazette, the following account will be news to you; We hear from Jamaica that Lieutenant Col. Prevost, Major of the 60th foot, died at that place in October last.’”

They were now free to marry. But the mores of society required a suitable period of mourning. For a widow to marry after less than a year of learning of her husband’s death was scandalous. And yet they had waited so long already.

On July 2, 1782 at the wedding of Cathy De Visme to Joseph Browne, Aaron Burr, Esq., of the State of New York, was married to Theodosia Prevost, widow, of the State of New Jersey. The marriage certificate, however, is dated July 6, 1782. In any event, their daughter Theodosia was not born until June 21, 1783, proving that they had waited patiently. They married when they did not because they had to,  but because they wanted to wait no more. The marriage was to last twelve years, until Theodosia Bartow Prevost Burr’s death on May 18, 1794. Aaron Burr never got over her.

References

The Letters of Theodosia Prevost Burr from FamilTales.org

http://www.thehermitage.org/history/history_people_prevost_theodosia.html

http://www.authorama.com/famous-affinities-of-history-ii-3.html

http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=63069344

 

 

 

The Death of General Richard Montgomery

May 24, 2013 in American History, general history, History

Richard Montgomery is famous for leading the American invasion of Canada in 1775. Born in Swords, Dublin in the Kingdom of Ireland in 1738, he served in the British Army, but then joined the American patriots and became a Major General in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. Taking over the invasion of Canada when Phillip Schulyer fell ill, General Montgomery  captured Fort St. Johns and  Montreal in November of 1775 and then advanced toward Quebec City. On December 31, 1775, General Montgomery led an attack against Quebec City but was killed in battle.

Death_of_Montgomery

The Death of  Montgomery by John Trumbull from Wikimedia Commons

The man into whose arms General Montgomery has fallen in the painting by John Trumbull is none other than Aaron Burr. “We shall be in the fort in two minutes,” General Montgomery said to Burr just before he was hit by a volley of grapeshot and fell into Burr’s arms. According to Samuel Spring, Burr tried to rally the men behind him and push on, but his orders were countermanded by the General’s successor. As other Americans retreated from the advancing Canadians, Aaron Burr stayed behind,valiantly  trying to carry the body of General Montgomery to safety. Burr was a short, slighter man, and he sank deep in the snow as he carried General Montgomery’s larger, taller body for several yards, before it became clear his efforts would be futile and he fled to escape capture.

Richard Montgomery’s body was given a proper burial by the British, but  his story does not end there. He has been celebrated in words and paintings as a fallen American hero.

 

References

http://msa.maryland.gov/ecp/10/214/html/0022.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Montgomery

Milton Lomask, Aaron Burr: The Years from Princeton to Vice President, 1756-1805, p. 41

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