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My military escort having arrived at Fredericksburgh on our way to Washington, there met a special messenger, with orders to convey me to this place. Hither we came forthwith, and arrived last evening. It seems that here the business is to be tried and concluded. I am to be surrendered to the civil authority to-morrow, when the question of bail will be determined. In the mean time I remain at the Eagle tavern."
April 26, 1807.
Your letters of the 10th and those preceding seemed to indicate a sort of stupor; but now you rise into phrensy. Another ten days will, it is hoped, have brought you back to reason. It ought not, however, to be forgotten that the letter of the 15th was written under a paroxysm of the toothache.
You have read to very little purpose if you have not remarked that such things happen in all democratic governments. Was there in Greece or Rome a man of virtue and independence, and supposed to possess great talents, who was not the object of vindictive and unrelenting persecution? Now, madame, I pray you to amuse yourself by collecting and collating all the instances to be found in ancient history, which you may connect together, if you please, in an essay, with reflections, comments, and applications. This I may hope to receive about the 22d of May. I promise myself great pleasure in the perusal, and I promise you great satisfaction and consolation in the composition."
May 15, 1807.
Respecting the approaching investigation, I can communicate nothing new. The grand jury is composed of twenty democrats and four federalists. Among the former is W. C. Nicholas, my vindictive and avowed personal enemy--the most so that could be found in this state (Virginia).
The most indefatigable industry is used by the agents of government, and they have money at command without stint. If I were possessed of the same means, I could not only foil the prosecutors, but render them ridiculous and infamous. The democratic papers teem with abuse against me and my counsel, and even against the chief justice. Nothing is left undone or unsaid which can tend to prejudice the public mind, and produce a conviction without evidence. The machinations of this description which were used against Moreau in France were treated in this country with indignation. They are practised against me in a still more impudent degree, not only with impunity, but with applause; and the authors and abettors suppose, with reason, that they are acquiring favour with the administration."
June 3, 1807.
Still waiting for Wilkinson, and no certain accounts of his approach. The grand jury, the witnesses, and the country grow impatient. It is an ungracious thing, and so deemed, after having for six months been branded as a traitor; after directing that Burr and his followers should be attacked, put to death, and their property seized; after all the violations of law and constitution which have been practised, that government should now say it has not proof!
Busy, busy, busy from morning till night--from night till morning, yet there are daily amusing incidents; things at which you will laugh, also things at which you will pout and scold."
June 18, 1807.
On Saturday morning General Wilkinson, with ten or eleven witnesses from New Orleans, arrived in Richmond. Four bills were immediately delivered to the grand jury against Blennerhassett and Burr; one for treason and one for misdemeanour against each. The examination of the witnesses was immediately commenced. They had gone through thirty-two last evening. There are about forty-six. General Eaton has been already examined. He came out of the jury-room in such rage and agitation that he shed tears, and complained bitterly that he had been questioned as if he were a villain. How else could he have been questioned with any propriety?
Poor Bollman is placed in a most awkward predicament. Some days ago Mr. Hay, the district attorney, in open court tendered him a pardon under the great seal and with the sign manual of 'Thomas Jefferson'. Bollman refused to receive it. Hay urged it upon him. Bollman said that no man could force on him such a badge of infamy. Hay insisted that he was a pardoned man, whether he would or not; and this question will, probably, also come before the court in argument to-day or to-morrow."
June 22, 1807.
On Friday Mr. Hay complained that Burr had so constantly occupied the court for the four weeks past with his extraordinary motions, that he (Mr. Hay) could not get an opportunity of making one on his part; he therefore gave notice that he should, at the first interval, move for leave to send to the grand jury interrogatories for their instruction, to be put to the witnesses, in order that the 'whole truth' might come out.
Burr said it was a thing without example, and which the court could not permit without his assent; but he thought there was reason in the proposal of Mr. Hay, and that he should cheerfully assent, with the condition only that he (Burr) should also send interrogatories, to be put to the same witnesses, the better to extract the ''whole truth.'_
The court said that it certainly could not be permitted to Mr. Hay to send interrogatories, being against usage and reason; but as Mr. Burr had assented, there seemed to be no objection that both parties should send in interrogatories; and such permission was granted, whereupon Mr. Hay withdrew his motion."
June 24, 1807.
While we were engaged to-day in the argument of the question for an attachment against Wilkinson, the grand jury came into court with bills against Blennerhassett and myself for treason and misdemeanour. Two bills against each of us. These indictments for treason are founded on the following allegations: that Colonel Tyler, with twenty or thirty men, stopped at Blennerhassett's Island on their way down the Ohio; that though these men were not armed, and had no military array or organization, and though they did neither use force nor threaten it, yet, having set out with a view of taking temporary possession of New-Orleans on their way to Mexico, that such intent was treasonable, and therefore a war was levied on Blennerhassett's Island by 'construction'; and that, though Colonel Burr was then at Frankfort on his way to Tennessee, yet, having advised the measure, he was, 'by construction of law', present at the island, and levied war there. In fact, the indictment charges that Aaron Burr was on that day present at the island, though not a man of the jury supposed this to be true.
This idea of 'constructive war' is, by this jury, carried far beyond the dictum advanced by Judge Chace in the case of Fries; for Chace laid down that the actual exertion of force, in a hostile or traitorous manner, was indispensable to establish treason. Yet the opinions of Chace in this case were complained of by the whole republican party, and condemned by all the lawyers of all parties in Philadelphia, as tending to introduce the odious and unconstitutional doctrine of 'constructive treason'.
Out of fifty witnesses who have been examined before the grand jury, it may be safely alleged that thirty at least have been perjured.
I beg and expect it of you that you will conduct yourself as becomes my daughter, and that you manifest no signs of weakness or alarm."
June 30, 1807.
Of myself you could expect to hear nothing new; yet something new and unexpected was moved yesterday. The counsel for the prosecution proposed to the court that Aaron Burr should be sent to the penitentiary for safe keeping, and stated that the governor and council had offered to provide me with an apartment in the third story of that building. This is extremely kind and obliging in the governor and his council. The distance, however, would render it so inconvenient to my counsel to visit me, that I should prefer to remain where I am; yet the rooms proposed are said to be airy and healthy."
July 3, 1807.
I have three rooms in the third story of the penitentiary, making an extent of one hundred feet. My jailer is quite a polite and civil man--altogether unlike the idea one would form of a jailer. You would have laughed to have heard our compliments the first evening.
'Jailer'. I hope, sir, it would not be disagreeable to you if I should lock this door after dark.
'Burr'. By no means, sir; I should prefer it, to keep out intruders.
'Jailer'. It is our custom, sir, to extinguish all lights at nine o'clock; I hope, sir, you will have no objection to conform to that.
'Burr'. That, Sir, I am sorry to say, is impossible; for I never go to bed till twelve, and always burn two candles.
'Jailer'. Very well, sir, just as you please. I should have been glad if it had been otherwise; but, as you please, sir.
While I have been writing different servants have arrived with messages, notes, and inquiries, bringing oranges, lemons, pineapples, raspberries, apricots, cream, butter, ice, and some ordinary articles."
July 6, 1807.
My friends and acquaintance of both sexes are permitted to visit me without interruption, without inquiring their business, and without the 'presence of a spy'. It is well that I have an antechamber, or I should often be gĂȘnĂȘ with visitors.
If you come I can give you a bedroom and parlour on this floor. The bedroom has three large closets, and it is a much more commodious one than you ever had in your life. Remember, no agitations, no complaints, no fears or anxieties on the road, or I renounce thee."
July 24, 1807.
I want an independent and discerning witness to my conduct and to that of the government. The scenes which have passed and those about to be transacted will exceed all reasonable credibility, and will hereafter be deemed fables, unless attested by very high authority.
I repeat what has heretofore been written, that I should never invite any one, much less those so dear to me, to witness my disgrace. I may be immured in dungeons, chained, murdered in legal form, but I cannot be humiliated or disgraced. If absent, you will suffer great solicitude. In my presence you will feel none, whatever may be the _malice' or the 'power' of my enemies, and in both they abound."
July 30, 1807.
I am informed that some good-natured people here have provided you a house, and furnished it, a few steps from my 'townhouse'. I had also made a temporary provision for you in my townhouse, whither I shall remove on Sunday; but I will not, if I can possibly avoid it, move before your arrival, having a great desire to 'receive you all in this mansion'. Pray, therefore, drive directly out here. You may get admission at any time from four in the morning till ten at night. Write me by the mail from Petersburgh, that I may know of your approach."
It is impossible to predict when this business may terminate, as the chief justice has gradually relaxed from former rules of evidence, and will now hear any thing, without regard to distance of time or place. Wilkinson has been examined, and had partly gone through the cross-examination when we closed on Saturday. 'He acknowledged, very modestly, that he had made certain alterations in the letter received from me, by erasures, &c., and then swore it to be a true copy.' He has not yet acknowledged the substitution of names."
October 9, 1807.
Major Bruff, who was produced as a witness on my behalf, deposed that, in a conversation with Dearborn and Rodney, the attorney-general, in March last, he accused Wilkinson of several crimes, and gave the names of witnesses who would establish the charges. Those gentlemen replied that General Wilkinson 'had' stood very low in the estimation of the President, but that his energetic conduct at New-Orleans had raised him in estimation; that he now stood very high, and that the president would support him; that if the government should now prosecute Wilkinson, or do any thing to impair his credit, Burr would escape, and that was just what the federalists and the enemies to the administration wished."
October 23, 1807.
After all, this is a sort of drawn battle. The chief justice gave his opinion on Tuesday. After declaring that there were no grounds of suspicion as to the treason, he directed that Burr and Blennerhassett should give bail in three thousand dollars for further trial in Ohio. This opinion was matter of regret and surprise to the friends of the chief justice, and of ridicule to his enemies--all believing that it was a sacrifice of principle to conciliate 'Jack Cade'. Mr. Hay immediately said that he should advise the government to 'desist from further prosecution'. That he has actually so advised there is no doubt.
- Project Gutenberg's Memoirs of Aaron Burr, Volume 2., by Matthew L. Davis, 1836