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DEAR SIR: I have received and read the President's Message with deep mortification and concern; but the letter annexed to it, stated to be a communication in cyphers from Col. Burr to Gen. Wilkinson, excites my unfeigned astonishment. I solemnly avow that, when that letter was written, I had never heard, directly or indirectly, from Col. Burr, or any other person, of the meditated attack on New Orleans ; nor had I any more reason to suspect an attack on that place, or any other part of the United States, than I have* at this moment to suspect that our militia will be forthwith ordered on an expedition against Gibraltar. On the other hand, I had long had strong grounds for believing that Col. Burr was engaged by other objects, of a very different nature from those attributed to him, and which I confess the best sentiments of my heart approved. I need not add that those objects involved not the interests of my country. Without adverting to that integrity of principle, which even my enemies, I trust, have allowed me, can it be supposed that a man situated as I am descended from a family which has never known dishonor, happy in the affection and esteem of a large number of relations and friends, possessed of ample fortune, and standing high in the confidence of his fellow-citizens could harbor, for an instant, a thought injurious to the country which was the scene of those blessings? The supposition would be monstrous. No, sir ; it was but a short period before the impression became general, that apprehended the possibility of Col. Burr's intentions being hostile to the Union ; and the moment which gave birth to that apprehension, gave birth to the resolution which became a citizen. I confess, however, there are times even now, when, in spite of the strong facts which have been exhibited, I am almost inclined to believe my suspicions injurious. What ever may be thought of the heart of Mr. Burr, his talents are great beyond question, and to reconcile with such talents, the chimerical project of dismembering the Union, or wresting from it any part of its Territory, is difficult indeed. I traveled through a part of the western country, during the last summer, and have no hesitation in saying, that either of those projects would have been as much reprobated there as in the Atlantic States. "With respect, however, to the communication annexed to the President's Message, which occasions you the trouble of this letter : after my solemn assurances to you that I had never given Col. Burr, or any other person, the smallest reason to imagine that I could be induced to engage in any project against my country, it would be infinitely satisfactory to me, could I explain to you, with the same certainty, the motive which led him to introduce my name as he did. But here, unfortunately, all is conjecture. Two motives only suggest themselves. He imagined, perhaps which, by the way, he has no right to do that his influence would be sufficiently great to induce my assent, and thought, therefore, he might as well consider it already obtained ; or, which is more probable, he might have imagined, that by the apparent concert of a number of persons from different States, a stronger impression would be made on his correspondent. Considerable effect, too, was, no doubt, anticipated by Col. Burr's discernment from the perfect self-confidence which would have been manifested by his taking with him his daughter, receiving my co operation, and thus embarking in the scheme the fortunes of his infant grandson, the only relative, except his daughter, that he has. But whatever the motive which drew from Col. Burr the expressions contained in this letter to Gen. "Wilkinson, facts, incontrovertible facts, prove that he had no authority for making them. His daughter did not go with him; the navy of the United States is still faithful to its duty ; Commodore Truxton, I am told, at the very moment he was said to have gone to the West Indies, was in Philadelphia, which I know not whether he has ever left ; and I, instead of following with a corps of worthies, am now at my usual residence, where I have been ever since the adjournment of the Legislature, peaceably directing the plowing of my rice-fields, and preparing my lands for the ensuing crop. This is conclusive. A conspirator against the happiness and liberties of his country would have been, at this moment, very differently employed. Conspirator! the blood now burns my cheek, as I write the word. But I meant to confine myself simply to the disavowal I have made you, of a single action or word hostile to my country. To feel even that disavowal necessary is sufficiently painful : I have yielded, however, to circumstances, and made it. My unequivocal manner of making it, I trust, will not leave a doubt upon one candid or honest mind. Still I am aware that the common interchange of good offices with a man with whom I have been kmg nearly connected, may have given rise to circumstances which, however innocent in themselves, malignity will delight in distorting, and the illiberal among my political adversaries exult in disseminating. I am aware that there will be men base enough ; for you and I have, not long since, seen proofs of it, to whisper even the circumstance of my connection, by marriage, with Col. Burr, as a circumstance warranting suspicion. About the opinions of such men I am indifferent. To the more ingenious and better part of my fellow-citizens, of whatever sect or party, I can only solemnly repeat, as I have done to you, sooner would I have perished than harbored a thought subversive of the liberties, the happiness, or the integrality of my country. Let me always be judged by my own acts, and I shall be satisfied. If Mr. Jefferson or Gen. Wilkinson ever find any thing to urge against me, let it be adduced. My residence is well known, and I shall never shrink from investigation. Nay more, presumption, where I can not repel it by positive proof, shall be received as good evidence, and the slightest suspicion which I can not satisfactorily explain, shall be admitted as guilt.
I remain, my dear sir, with much respect and regard.
Yours always, JOSEPH ALSTON.
- Joseph Alston
- The Blennerhassett Papers, Embodying the Private Journal of Barman Blennerhassitt, and the Hitherto Unpublished Correspondence..., 1864