Lossing's Field Book of the War of 1812, Chapter VII - Events West of the Alleghanies. - Search and Impressment.







Prosperity of American Commerce. – Germs of new States appearing in the Organization of Territories. – Louisiana retroceded to France. – The Americans disturbed by the Act. – President Jefferson’s View of the Subject. – Proposition for the Cession of Louisiana. – The secret Designs of France. – Talleyrand. – Atrocious Suggestions. – Effect of Jefferson’s Letter and Bonaparte’s Necessity. – Purchase of Louisiana. – Blow at England. – Secession proposed by New England. – Condemned by Hamilton. – Affairs in the Southwest. – Transfer of Louisiana. – Aaron Burr. – His Murder of Hamilton. – Virginians honor him for it. – Specially honored by Jefferson and his Friends. – Burr’s Schemes for his own Profit. – Blennerhassett and his Home. – Burr deceives Andrew Jackson and John Adair. – Military Preparations on the Ohio River. – Burr suspected of Treason and denounced. – His Arrest and Trial. – Exile. – The "Rule of 1756" modified. – Commercial Thrift in the United States. – The Jealousy of British Merchants aroused. – Reassertion of the "Rule of 1756." – British Perfidy defended by British Writers. – Baring’s Exposure. – Answer to "War in Disguise." – Foreign Relations unpromising. – Expected Difficulties with Great Britain. – Memorials of Merchants on the Subject of British Depredations. – Conduct of the British Cruisers. – Impressment of American Seamen into the British Service. – The Right of Search asserted. – Protest of the Americans. – Correspondence on the Subject of Impressments. – Rufus King. – His Arraignment of the British Government. – Cruel Treatment of American Seamen in the British Navy. – Secretary Marshall to Minister King. – Argument against Impressments. – The British Government refuses to listen. – Its Proposition on the Subject rejected. – Doctrine concerning Neutral Rights held by the United States and Great Britain. – The latter arraigned by Madison. – National Independence and Honor imperiled. – Memorials to Congress for decided Action. – Hesitation of Congress. – Minister Extraordinary sent to England. – The old Party Lines again established. – War and Anti-war Parties.


"Shall that arm which haughty Britain

In its gristle found too strong –
That by which her foes were smitten –
Shall that arm be palsied long?
See our sons of ocean kneeling
To a tyrant’s stripes and chains!
Partisan! hast thou no feeling
When the hardy tar complains?
See the British press-gang seize him,
Victim of relentless power!
Stout his heart is, but must fail him
In this evil, trying hour."


Encouraged by promises of continued peace in Europe, and the relaxation of the "rule of 1756" by Great Britain, 1 the commerce and general business of the United States enjoyed a season of unexampled prosperity. The social and political power of the republic rapidly augmented. The Indians on the frontiers were peaceful; and the causes for irritation on the part of the inhabitants west of the mountains toward the Spaniards, who controlled the Lower Mississippi, were in a fair way of being speedily removed. The germs of new states were appearing in the late wilderness. That vast domain northwest of the Ohio, west of a line drawn from the mouth of the Kentucky River to Fort Recovery on St. Clair’s battle-field, and thence due north to Canada, was erected into a Territory [May 7, 1802.], and named INDIANA. William Henry Harrison, Wayne’s efficient aid in 1794 (who had been out of the army since 1798), was appointed governor of the germinal state, and established his capital at Vincennes, on the Lower Wabash.

At about the same time the Mississippi Territory, organized in 1798 by Winthrop Sargent, St. Clair’s efficient secretary in the government of the Ohio country, was allowed a representative assembly [May 10.], and its political machinery was put in motion.

In the spring of 1802 the United States came into possession, by act of Georgia, of one hundred thousand square miles of territory, now constituting the State of Alabama. It was inhabited by the Creek and Cherokee Indians toward the east, and the Choctaw and Chickasaw tribes toward the west. With those philanthropic impulses which marked the character of Jefferson, he recommended measures for the well-being of those tribes, and for securing to them equal and exact justice.

Late in the same year the inhabitants within the present domain of Ohio, in representative convention held at Chilicothe, adopted a State Constitution [November 29.], and the Territory, called OHIO, became a peer among the states of the republic.

But these political organizations on soil within the domains of the United States, and over which a civilized population was rapidly spreading, were of small account when compared with the importance of a great acquisition of territory and political power which speedily followed. Louisiana, which once comprehended the vast and undefinable region of the Valley of the Mississippi and the domain watered by its tributaries, from the Gulf of Mexico to the forty-ninth parallel of latitude, and westward to the Pacific Ocean, or "South Sea," as it was then called, was a possession of France by right of discovery by secular and religious explorers, and was named in honor of the Gallic king Louis.

In 1763 France ceded to England the whole of that region east of the Mississippi except Florida, and to Spain all west of that river. By these cessions and the surrender of others, effected by compulsion at the end of a seven years’ war, France abdicated territorial dominion in North America.

While the negotiations of the Treaty of Amiens were in progress, a rumor went abroad that Spain, by secret treaty, had retroceded, or would retrocede, to France all of Louisiana in her possession, and possibly the domain along the Gulf of Mexico known as East and West Florida, thus giving to that now rising, ambitious, and aggressive power the entire control of the navigation of the Mississippi, and a position to exercise an influence over the political affairs of the United States more potent and permanent than had ever been attempted. This gave the government and people much uneasiness, and the American ministers in London, Paris, and Madrid were immediately instructed to endeavor to defeat the measure. It was too late. The act of cession was accomplished, and the fact was made known to the President early in 1802.

President Jefferson, who loved his country and republican institutions intensely, and who desired its prosperity and grandeur with a patriot’s warm devotion, wrote an earnest letter to Mr. Livingston [April 18, 1802.], the American embassador at Paris, on the subject. With wonderful sagacity he clearly comprehended the matter in all its bearings, immediate and prospective, and perceived the great evils to the republic which French occupation of the outlet of the Mississippi would inflict. "It would completely reverse," he said, "all the political relations of the United States, and would form a new epoch in our political career. Of all nations of any consideration, France is the one which hitherto has offered the fewest points on which we could have any conflict of right, and the most points of common interest. From these causes we have ever looked to her as our natural friend, as one with whom we never could have occasion of difference. Her growth, therefore, we viewed as our own, her misfortunes ours. There is on the globe one single spot the possessor of which is our natural and habitual enemy. It is New Orleans, through which the produce of three eighths of our territory must pass to market; and, from its fertility, it will ere long yield more than half of our whole produce, and contain more than half of our inhabitants. France, placing herself in that door, assumes to us the attitude of defiance. Spain might have retained it quietly for years. Her pacific dispositions, her feeble state would induce her to increase our facilities there, so that her possession of the place would be hardly felt by us, and it would not perhaps be very long before some circumstance might arise which might make the cession of it to us the price of something of more worth to her.

"Not so can it ever be in the hands of France; the impetuosity of her temper, the energy and restlessness of her character, placed in a point of eternal friction with us and our character, which, though quiet, and loving peace and the pursuit of wealth, is high-minded, despising wealth in competition with insult or injury. Enterprising and energetic as any nation on earth, these circumstances render it impossible that France and the United States can long continue friends when they meet in so irritable a position. . . . The day that France takes possession of New Orleans fixes the sentence which is to restrain her forever within her low-water mark. It seals the union of two nations who, in conjunction, can maintain exclusive possession of the ocean. From that moment we must marry ourselves to the British fleet and nation. We must turn all our attentions to a maritime force, for which our resources place us on very high ground; and, having formed and connected together a power which may render re-enforcement of her settlements here impossible to France, make the first cannon which shall be fired in Europe the signal for tearing up every settlement she may have made." 2

Mr. Jefferson suggested that if France considered the possession of Louisiana "indispensable for her views," she might be willing to cede to the United States, for a consideration, the Island of New Orleans, and the Floridas, and guarantee the free navigation of the Mississippi by both nations, thus removing, in a degree, "the causes of jarring and irritation" between the parties. 3

Although the President’s letter to Mr. Livingston was private, Mr. Jefferson chose to consider it as supplemental to the official instructions which were sent to the embassador, and he desired him to urge, on proper occasions, with the proper persons, and in a proper manner, the considerations and suggestions which the letter contained. As we have already observed, it was too late to prevent the cession. That act had been accomplished by secret treaty eighteen months before. 4

Nothing now remained for the Americans to do to prevent the threatened evils of French occupation at the mouth of the Mississippi but to negotiate for the purchase of territory there. Such negotiations were speedily entered into. Mr. Livingston took important preliminary steps in that direction, and in January, 1803 [January 10.], James Monroe was appointed to assist him in the negotiation. Their instructions only asked for the cession of New Orleans and the Floridas, and that the Mississippi should be divided by a line that should put the city of New Orleans within the territory of the United States, thus securing the free navigation of that river.

To the surprise of the American negotiators, M. Marbois, the representative of Bonaparte, 5 offered to treat for the sale of the whole of Louisiana. "Irresolution and deliberation," said the First Consul in his instructions to Marbois, "are no longer in season. I renounce Louisiana. It is not only New Orleans that I will cede, it is the whole colony, without any reservation. I know the price of what I abandon, and I have sufficiently proved the importance that I attach to this province, since my first diplomatic act with Spain had for its object the recovery of it. I renounce it with the greatest regret. To attempt to retain it would be folly. I direct you to negotiate this affair with the envoys of the United States."

The sagacious Bonaparte – the Man of Expediency – saw clearly which was the path of safety for him. Jefferson’s covert menace of an American alliance with England against him, his ill success against St. Domingo, 6 and the storm-clouds of war that were again lowering darkly over Europe, caused the gorgeous dream of colonial dominion to fade from the mind of the First Consul. He needed troops at home, and he was more in want of money than far-off possessions held by doubtful tenure. 7

Monroe arrived at Paris on the 12th of April, 1803. The negotiations immediately commenced. The intercourse between the three commissioners was very pleasant. Livingston and Marbois had known each other intimately more than twenty years before. Every thing went on smoothly; and in less than a fortnight a treaty was signed by which the United States came into the possession of a vast and, to some extent, undefined domain, containing a mixed free population of eighty-five thousand souls and forty thousand negro slaves, for the sum of $15,000,000. "We have lived long," said Mr. Livingston to Marbois, as he arose from his seat after signing the treaty, "but this is the noblest work of our whole lives. The treaty which we have just signed has not been obtained by art or force; equally advantageous to the two contracting parties, it will change vast solitudes into flourishing districts. From this day the United States take their place among the powers of the first rank; the English lose all exclusive influence in the affairs of America."

Bonaparte, who had watched the progress of the negotiations with intense interest, held similar opinions. "It is true," he said to Marbois a few hours later, "the negotiation does not leave me any thing to desire; sixty millions [francs] for an occupation that will not perhaps last for a day! I would that France should enjoy this unexpected capital, that it may be employed in works beneficial to her marine. 8 This accession of territory," he continued exultingly, "strengthens forever the power of the United States; and I have just given to England a maritime rival that will, sooner or later, humble her pride."

Notwithstanding the acknowledged national advantages to be gained by the acquisition of Louisiana, the Federal politicians, especially those of New England, perceiving that it would strengthen the South, into whose hands the government had fallen, raised a loud outcry against it as the work of the Southern Democracy. They professed to regard the measure as inimical to the interests of the North and East; and having, while in power, become familiar with the prescription of disunion of the states, always put forth by the Southern political doctors as the great remedy for apparently incurable political evils, they resolved to try its efficiency in the case in question. All through the years 1803 and 1804 desires for and fears of a dissolution of the Union were freely expressed in what are now the free-labor states east of the Alleghanies; 9 and a select Convention of Federalists, to be held at Boston in the autumn of 1804, to consider the question of disunion, was contemplated early in that year. Alexander Hamilton was invited to attend it, but his emphatic condemnation of the whole plan, only a few months before his death, seems to have disconcerted the leaders and dissipated the scheme. "To his honor be it spoken," said Dewitt Clinton in the Senate of the State of New York in 1809, "it was rejected by him with abhorrence and disdain."

The acquisition of Louisiana by the United States was distasteful to the Spaniards. It brought the restless and enterprising Americans too near the Spanish provinces in Mexico to promise quietude to the latter. Yrugo, the Spanish minister at Washington, therefore entered a solemn protest against the entire treaty. Questions concerning the true boundary of Louisiana were speedily raised, and serious complications were threatened. The Spaniards were disposed to cling to all the territory east of the Mississippi included in West Florida, and thus hold possession of New Orleans, This disposition opened afresh the animosity of the inhabitants of the West against the occupants of the Lower Mississippi, and the United States contemplated the necessity of taking possession of New Orleans by the force of arms. Troops under General James Wilkinson, consisting of a few regulars, several companies of Mississippi volunteers, and a considerable number of Tennessee militia, marched from Nashville to Natchez.

But a peaceful transfer of the territory took place. Lausat, the commissioner of France to receive Louisiana from the Spaniards under the cession treaty, performed that duty, and a few days afterward he formally delivered the island and city of New Orleans to General Wilkinson and William C. C. Claiborne, the commissioners appointed for the purpose by the United States. The Spaniards were left in possession of the country along the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean, known as The Floridas, lying south of the thirty-first degree of north latitude, and east of a line nearly corresponding with the present boundary between Mississippi and Louisiana on the Pearl River.

Upon the soil thus acquired, and which was an important step in the direction of absolute independence of Great Britain on the part of the United States, some of the most stirring events of the War of 1812 occurred, and thereon was fought the last and most decisive battle of the Second War for Independence.

The acquisition of Louisiana created in the minds of adventurers visions of personal and national aggrandizement the influence of which it was difficult to resist. Among those who formed schemes of operation in that direction was Aaron Burr, the Vice-President of the United States, who in 1804, by the failure of his political aspirations, the general distrust of his political and personal integrity, the exposure of his immoral character, his hopeless financial embarrassments, and, above all, his cruel murder of the great and honored Hamilton in a duel, had become a desperate man, and a fugitive from society and from justice, moral and legal. When the correspondence between Burr and Hamilton immediately preceding the duel was published, it was evident that the former had committed a murder by forcing the combat upon his victim. 10 The public indignation was intense – so intense that Burr fled before its fury to Georgia by sea, "merely," as he wrote to his daughter Theodosia, a planter’s wife in South Carolina, "to give a little time for passion to subside, not from any apprehensions of the final effects of proceedings in courts of law."

Burr found himself in a congenial atmosphere in the South. He was fêted and caressed; and when, finally, he made his way toward Washington City, to take his seat as President of the Senate by virtue of his office, he was treated to ovations. A public dinner was given him at Petersburg, in Virginia, to honor him as "the destroyer of the arch-foe of democracy." 11 Attended by a retinue of Democrats he visited the theatre in the evening, where the audience rose and received him with cheers. 12 At Washington City he was received with great deference. The "President (Jefferson) seems to have been more complaisant than usual;" 13 and at Burr’s request General Wilkinson was appointed Governor of Louisiana, and Dr. Brown secretary. These were the Vice-President’s warm friends.

At the close of his official career in the spring of 1805, Burr was a ruined man, socially, politically, and pecuniarily. Every legitimate avenue to a retrieval of his character and fortune seemed to be closed, and he became desperate. His ambition was as intense as ever, and he sought new fields for the exercise of his powers. He spent the ensuing summer in the West. It was for him a season of wide observation of men and things, having a bearing upon some grand enterprise which he had conceived. As he went leisurely down the Ohio he visited Harman Blennerhassett, a wealthy and cultivated Irishman, who, with a beautiful and equally cultivated wife, had formed for themselves a sort of terrestrial paradise upon an island in the Ohio River a short distance below the mouth of the Muskingum. Husband and wife were equally charmed by Burr. He fired their imaginations with glimpses of his schemes of personal grandeur for all who should cooperate with him. He filled their minds with dreams of immense wealth and power; and when he left their home the sunshine of their sweet domestic felicity had departed forever. Blennerhassett was a changed man. He had placed his wealth and reputation in the keeping of an unprincipled profligate, and lost both. 14

At that time the brave and incorruptible Andrew Jackson was in command of the Tennessee militia. In May [1806.] Burr appeared at the door of his mansion, a few miles from Nashville, and was received as an honored guest. To that stern patriot he talked of the establishment of a splendid empire in the Southwest, where the Spaniards then ruled; and, before he departed, he had won Jackson’s confidence, and his promises of co-operation. He met Wilkinson at St. Louis, and divulged some of his schemes to that weak man.

He won the friendship of other influential persons, among them General Adair, of Kentucky; and in the autumn he returned to Washington, and sought to win to his service dissatisfied military and naval officers. He talked enigmatically, and, to the ears of some, disloyally. Now he spoke of an expedition against Mexico, then of a union of the Western States and Territories into a glorious independent government. To General Eaton he talked of usurpation – of taking possession, by the instrumentality of a revolution, of the national capital and archives, and, Cromwell-like, assuming for himself the character of a protector of an energetic government. 15 The President was apprised of these things, but he regarded Burr’s language and schemes as those of a desperate politician too weak to be dangerous. 16

In the summer of 1806 Burr was again in the West, engaged in his grand scheme, into the inner secrets of which he had not allowed any man to penetrate. Blennerhassett’s home was his head-quarters, and a military organization was his work. A flotilla was formed at Marietta, on the Ohio, laden with provisions and military stores; and large numbers of leading men in the West, ignorant of the real designs of Burr, but believing the great central plan to be the construction of a magnificent Anglo-Saxon empire in Mexico, in whose glories they all might share, joined in the enterprise. Wilkinson was made the arch-conspirator’s willing tool. Having been engaged in intrigues with the Spaniards in a scheme that would have dismembered the Union, he was now a fitting instrument for Burr’s disloyal designs.

But in Kentucky there was a man not to be deceived by Aaron Burr. It was that remarkable character, Colonel Joe Daviess, who gave his life to his country on the field of Tippecanoe. He was then the United States District Attorney for Kentucky. He believed Burr to be engaged in treasonable plans, and procured his arrest. Young Henry Clay defended the prisoner, and he was acquitted; but Daviess never doubted his guilt. Jackson too had become convinced that Burr was preparing to separate the West from the rest of the Union, and he denounced him. "I hate the Dons," he wrote to Governor Claiborne [November 12, 1806.], "and would delight to see Mexico reduced; but I would die in the last ditch before I would see the Union disunited!" Wilkinson, alarmed at the aspect of affairs, turned traitor to Burr, and also denounced him.

Meanwhile the government had become alarmed. The whole West, and indeed the whole country, was agitated by Burr’s operations; and the magnitude of his preparations, the persons involved in his toils, and the known disposition of unscrupulous politicians west of the mountains to set up for independency, caused the President to take measures to arrest what seemed to be treason, in the bud. Jefferson did not choose to give it that complexion, and, in a proclamation for the arrest of Burr’s designs, whatever they might be, he warned all persons against participating in a scheme for "invading the Spanish dominions."

Boats at Marietta, on the Ohio, loaded for New Orleans with materials for the expedition, were seized, and Blennerhassett’s Island was occupied by United States troops. In February, 1807 [February 19.], Burr was arrested near Fort Stoddart, on the Tombigbee River, in the present State of Alabama, by Lieutenant (afterward Major General) E. P. Gaines. He was taken to Richmond, in Virginia, and there tried on a charge of treason. Chief Justice Marshall presided over the court. Burr was acquitted; but, from that day to this, no intelligent student of the history of events in the West during the years 1805 and 1806, doubts that he was engaged in a wicked conspiracy to dissever the Union, and establish a government over which, in some form, he should be the ruler. His escape from conviction was so narrow, and his fears of farther prosecution were so great, that, after remaining concealed for several weeks among his friends, he sailed for Europe under the name of G. H. Edwards. He remained in exile and poverty for several years.

While the people of the United States were violently agitated by these events in the West the war in Europe was progressing, and France and England had commenced their desperate game for supremacy at the expense of the commercial prosperity of the world.

For a long time the commercial thrift of the United States, fostered by a modification of the British "rule of 1756," 17 had been the envy of English merchants. That modification had been made solely for the supposed benefit of British commercial interests. Relying upon the faith of that government, tacitly pledged in the formal exposition of the terms of that modification by the law officer of the crown, the American ship-owners commenced and carried on a most extensive and profitable trade. 18 American vessels became the chief carriers of the products of the colonies of France and Holland; also of Spain after her accession to the French alliance. Sweden, Denmark, and the Hanse Towns 19 were then the only neutral maritime powers, and these, in common with the United States, were fast growing rich. 20

First the envious British merchants complained; then the privateersmen and navy officers, who declared that, as there were no more prizes to take, their occupation was greatly interfered with. The enemies of Great Britain, having full use of neutral merchant vessels, had none of their own on the ocean. Armed ships, protected by the neutral flag, performed all the duties of practical commerce, and the trade of the maritime foes of England was but little interrupted by existing War. The "rule of 1756," it was alleged, was wholly evaded.

These complaints were heeded. The Courts of Admiralty began to listen willingly to suggestions that this allegation of neutral property was in many, if not in most cases, a mere fraud, intended to give to belligerent goods a neutral character; and early in the summer of 1805 the "rule of 1756" was revived in full force. 21 Like kindred measures on previous occasions, 22 it was put into operation secretly; and the first intimation that the maritime law laid down by the king’s advocate in 1801, was abrogated, was the seizure by British cruisers and condemnation by British Admiralty Courts of American vessels and their cargoes. At the same time English public writers put forth specious defenses of the action of their government in its revival of the old practice. One of these was James Stephens, a lawyer of ability, supposed to have been employed for the purpose by the government. He wrote [October, 1805.] an able and elaborate essay, under the title of "War in Disguise, or the Frauds of the Neutral Flags," in which, taking the "rule of 1756" as the law of nations, "to which," he said, "the neutral powers have all assented, in point of principle, by submitting to its partial application," 23 he argued that the immense trade carried on with the enemies of England under the American flag was essentially war against Great Britain.

"War in Disguise" was "written in the spirit of a lawyer stimulated by that of a merchant," 24 and was full of dogmatic assertions and bold sophistries. It was ably answered in England by Alexander Baring, 25 and in America by James Madison, then the Secretary of State. In that answer, referring to menaces in Mr. Stephens’s essay, Madison uttered the following noble words, prophetic of soon-coming deeds that vindicated the power behind them: "The blessing of God on our first contest in arms made this nation sovereign, free, and independent. Our citizens feel their honorable condition, and, whatever may be their opinion on questions of national policy, will firmly support the national rights. Our government must therefore be permitted to judge for itself. No minister, however splendid his talents, no prince, however great his power, must dictate to the President of the United States." 26

The foreign relations of the United States at the opening of the year 1806 were unpromising. The conduct of the Spanish government in reference to Louisiana seemed to render war with that nation inevitable. Forbearance on the part of the Americans was exhausted, and a select committee of Congress reported [January 3, 1806.] that the aggressions of Spain afforded ample cause for war. But as the policy of the country was always a peaceful one, it was proposed, while preparing for hostilities, to endeavor to avert them, and settle all matters in dispute by the purchase of a part or the whole of the Floridas from Spain. Action to that end was taken, but the war-cloud soon passed away.

Not so with the harbingers of a storm that was evidently brewing between the United States and Great Britain. The depredations of British cruisers and privateers on American commerce, commenced under the most absurd and frivolous pretexts, 27 and fully sanctioned by the British government, produced the most intense indignation throughout the country; and when the Ninth Congress had assembled at Washington in December, 1805, the subject was speedily presented to their notice. Mr. Jefferson had been re-elected President of the United States, and the Democratic party, of which he was the founder and head, had an overwhelming majority in the National Legislature. Its power became somewhat weakened by the defection of John Randolph, of Roanoke, one of its leaders, a quarrelsome and ambitious man of varied but not solid attainments, who carried with him several of his Virginia colleagues, and filled the halls of legislation during the entire session with unprofitable bickerings.

On account of British depredations, memorials from the merchants of nearly all of the maritime towns of the United States north of the Potomac, argumentative and denunciatory in substance, and numerously signed, were presented to the President; and on the 17th of January these, with a special message on the subject, were laid before Congress by Mr. Jefferson, together with parts of the diplomatic correspondence on the same topic by Mr. Monroe, the United States minister at the British court. The President assured Congress that Mr. Monroe had been instructed "to insist on rights too evident and too important to be surrendered." 28

The memorials from the merchants were generally drawn with great ability; and it is a notable fact that these men, who, as a class, naturally deprecate war because it is destructive to commerce, and are willing to make great concessions to avoid it, called earnestly upon the government to put forth the strong powers of the army and navy, if necessary, in defense of the rights of neutrals and the protection of American interests.

There were memorials from Boston, Salem, Newburyport, New Haven, New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore, and all called loudly for redress, under the evident expectation that to insist upon it would cause war.

The Boston merchants said that they fully relied that "such measures would be promptly adopted as would tend to disembarrass commerce, assert our rights, and support the dignity of the United States."

The merchants of Salem said, "If, however, conciliation can not effect the purpose, and an appeal to arms be the last and necessary protection of honor, they feel no disposition to decline the common danger or shrink from the common contribution. Relying on the wisdom and firmness of the general government on this behalf; they feel no hesitation to pledge their lives and properties in the support of the measures which may be adopted to vindicate the public rights and redress the public wrongs."

The merchants of Newburyport relied "with confidence on the firmness and justice of the government to obtain for them compensation and protection;" and those of New Haven called upon that government "firmly to resist every encroachment upon the rights of neutral nations." They tendered "assurances of their disposition to give aid and support to every measure calculated to accomplish this important object."

The New York merchants declared their firm "reliance upon the government of their country that their rights would not be abandoned, and (referring to the assumption of the author of "War in Disguise," see page 139) that no argument in favor of a usurpation would ever be derived from their acquiescence." They concluded by saying, "We pledge our united support in favor of all the measures adopted to vindicate and secure the just rights of our country."

The merchants of Philadelphia suggested that when every peaceable means consistent with honor had been tried to recover redress, and failed, that a resort to arms might be necessary. "If such measures should prove ineffectual," they said, "whatever may be the sacrifice on their part, it would be met with submission."

These memorials were signed by merchants of every shade of politics, and by foreigners doing business in these ports. For more than ten years they had suffered greatly from the varying but always aggressive policy of Great Britain, a policy now greatly aggravated by the latitude tacitly given to the British cruisers in respect to American commerce. These were in little danger of being made answerable for any errors, and were consequently not disposed to make nice distinctions. They detained and sent in every vessel they met under the most frivolous pretenses, in which they were encouraged by the expectation of actual war. They captured American vessels with cargoes wholly of American produce; and the owners of privateers were in the daily practice of taking in valuable cargoes and offering immediately to release them for one or two hundred guineas, and sometimes a larger sum. "In these instances," says Mr. Baring, "the judge decreed the restitution of the ship and cargo, and costs against the captors, with expressions of indignation which so lawless an outrage necessarily excited. The latter had, in the face of this censure, the audacity to enter appeals, and the American was obliged either to compromise or leave to the captor the option of bringing forward his appeal within a twelve-month, with the possible advantage of an intervening war securing to him his prize. 29 The London merchant," he said, "is either obliged to acquiesce in this iniquitous robbery, or let his correspondent suffer the more expensive vexations which it is, unfortunately, in the power of these people to inflict. If these are the maritime rights," exclaims the honest and indignant Englishman, "for which, we are told, with a pompous ambiguity that always avoids coming to the point, ‘our ancestors fought and bled,’ and for which ‘we crushed the Northern Confederacy,’ 30 I am strangely mistaken." 31

Another and most serious subject of complaint against Great Britain was now considered in connection with the depredations upon American commerce. It was the impressment into the British naval service of seamen taken without leave from American vessels, and who were sailing under the protection of the American flag. To this subject we have already referred. 32 It had been a topic of complaint and negotiation from the beginning of the national government in 1789, and impressment in general was a system against which humane British publicists and statesmen had declaimed. But the British government, not always the exponent of the English mind and heart, governed by expediency rather than justice, and having the precedents of more than four hundred years to support its policy in this respect, 33 had then for half a century chosen to exercise that power in procuring seamen for its navy, and to utterly disregard other hoary precedents which would have justified it in abolishing the nefarious system. 34 It was too useful in time of war, in the replenishment of the navy, to be relinquished. Upon it had been ingrafted another more universally offensive. It was that of searching neutral vessels for British seamen, and, seizing them without other criteria of their nationality than the presumptive evidence which similarity of language afforded, impressing them into the British naval service. In the course of fifteen years thousands of native Americans had thus been made to serve a master whom they detested. There being no maritime power strong enough to resist these aggressions, it was assumed by Great Britain, as in the case of the "rule of 1756," that it was for her an established "maritime right."

From the beginning of its career the government of the United States protested against the right of search and the impressment of seamen taken from under the American flag. In his instructions to the United States minister in London, in the summer of 1792, Mr. Jefferson directed him to call the attention of the British ministry to the subject. That government not denying that American seamen had been impressed, had made the degrading proposition that, for their protection against such "accidents," such seamen should carry with them a certificate of citizenship! "This is a condition," said Mr. Jefferson, "never yet submitted to by any nation." 35 The right to enter an American vessel without leave, for any pretense, was then, and always has been, strongly denied by the government of the United States. The War of 1812 with England was a solemn protest against the assumption of that right by the British government; and such a requirement of American sailors would operate practically as a warrant to British cruisers for stripping almost every American vessel of its seamen, for the habits, calling, and vicissitudes of the sailor are such that most of them would soon lose their "certificates." The proposition had been unhesitatingly rejected as inadmissible by an independent nation.

In October of the same year Mr. Jefferson again called the attention of the embassador to the subject, "so many instances" of impressment having been complained of; 36 and in November he expressed to Mr. Pinckney the hope that he might "be able to make the British ministry sensible of the necessity of punishing the past and preventing the future." 37

In 1796 Timothy Pickering, then Secretary of State, in his instructions to Mr. King, American minister at the Court of London, 38 spoke of "the long and fruitless attempts that have been made to protect American seamen from British impress," and directed him to do all in his power to enable the American flag to "protect those of whatever nation who sail under it." 39 In another dispatch the same year he alludes to the fact that the British government had gone so far as not to "permit inquiry on board their ships for American seamen," and therefore "their doom is fixed for the war. Thus," he said, "the rights of an independent nation are to be sacrificed to British dignity. Justice requires that such inquiries and examinations be made, because, otherwise, the liberation of our seamen will be impossible. For the British government then to make professions of respect to the rights of our citizens, and willingness to release them, and yet deny the only means of ascertaining those rights, is an insulting tantalism. If the British government have any regard to our rights, any respect for our nation, and place any value on our friendship, they will even facilitate to us the means of releasing our oppressed citizens." 40

A little later he wrote, "The British naval officers often impress Swedes, Danes, and other foreigners from the vessels of the United States. They have even sometimes impressed Frenchmen! . . . They can not pretend an inability to distinguish these foreigners from their own subjects. They may with as much reason rob the American vessels of the property or merchandise of the Swedes, Danes, or Portuguese, as seize and detain in their service the subjects of those nations found on board American vessels." 41

During the following year very many complaints concerning impressed American seamen were made to the government of the United States, and cases of absolute cruelty exercised toward and hardships endured by American seamen thus impressed were reported. 42

The United States government, always inclined to peace, frequently urged upon that of Great Britain the necessity of a convention which should settle the questions of impress and neutrality, but without success, for the British government practically assumed the right to be a law unto itself. Early in 1799 Mr. King made an earnest representation on the subject to Lord Grenville, denying, as he had on former conferences, any right of the kind on the part of Great Britain, and suggesting that American ships of war, by permission of their government, might with equal right pursue the same practice toward British merchantmen. He protested against the indiscriminate seizure on board of American vessels of seamen of several nations, and pressed him for some definite assurance of a change. But Grenville, as usual, was evasive, and the conference ended without a prospect of satisfaction. Grenville assured Mr. King that all Americans so impressed should be discharged on application for that purpose; but the American minister very properly considered that offer far short of satisfaction. "Indeed," he said, "to acquiesce in it is to give up the right." 43

Late in the year 1800, John Marshall, then Secretary of State, wrote an able and eloquent letter to Mr. King in London on the subject of the impress. "The impressment of our seamen," he said, "is an injury of very serious magnitude, which deeply affects the feelings and the honor of the nation. . . . They are dragged on board British ships of war with evidences of citizenship in their hands, and forced by violence there to serve until conclusive testimonials of their birth can be obtained. . . . Although the Lords of the Admiralty uniformly direct their discharge on the production of this testimony, yet many must perish unrelieved, and all are detained a considerable time in lawless and injurious confinement. It is the duty as well as a right of a friendly nation to require that measures be taken by the British government to prevent the continued repetition of such violence by its agents. . . . The mere release of the injured, after a long course of serving and suffering, is no compensation for the past, and no security for the future. . . . The United States, therefore, require positively that their seamen who are not British subjects, whether born in America or elsewhere, shall be exempt from impressment. The case of British subjects, whether naturalized or not., is more questionable; but the right even to impress them is denied. . . . Alien seamen, not British subjects, engaged in our merchant service, ought to be equally exempt with citizens from impressments. We have a right to engage them, and have a right to and an interest in their persons to the extent of the service contracted to be performed. Britain has not a pretext of right to their persons or their service. To tear them, then, from our possession is at the same time an insult and an injury. It is an act of violence for which there exists no palliative." After alluding to the fact that the principles of the United States government would not allow retaliation by impressments from the British merchant ships, and suggesting that something in that way might be done by recruiting from that service, Mr. Marshall concludes by saying, "Is it not more advisable to desist from, and to take effectual measures to prevent an acknowledged wrong, than, by perseverance in that wrong, to excite against themselves the well-founded resentment of America, and force our government into measures which, may possibly terminate in open rupture?" 44

These suggestions were all submitted to the British ministry, but without the slightest visible effect. While the war continued, the nefarious practice was carried on vigorously; but when the general pacification of Europe took place in 1801, and the Peace of Amiens gave a respite to British ships of war – when their seamen were in excess of the demand – impressments ceased, and the American minister in London, untaught by past experience and observation, wrote, "I am in hopes that Lord St. Vincent will be inclined to attend to our reiterated remonstrances against the impressment of our seamen and the vexations of our trade." 45 Vain expectation!

Early in the year 1800 [February 4.] Mr. Liston, the British minister in the United States, submitted to President Adams a proposition for the reciprocal delivery of deserters, so worded as to sanction impressment on board of private vessels, but to except "public ships of war." It was rejected. Pickering, the Secretary of State, said, "It appears utterly inadmissible, unless it would put an end to impressments." 46 The Secretary of the Navy said, "It is better to have no article, and meet all consequences, than not to enumerate merchant vessels on the high seas among the things not to be entered in search of deserters." 47 The Secretary of the Treasury objected to it because it did not "provide against the impressment of American seamen." 48 The Secretary of War objected to it on the same ground, saying. "If this article [the seventh in Mr. Liston’s proposition] means what it is apprehended it does, it is utterly inadmissible." 49 The President and his Cabinet, thus planting themselves upon the broad principles of neutral rights and the sanctity of the national flag laid down at the beginning, would listen to nothing short of a recognition of those rights and of that sanctity. 50

When hostilities between Great Britain and France were revived in 1803, the impress was again put into active operation. The American minister in London, Mr. Monroe, following up previous efforts made by Mr. King when that gentleman perceived that war was inevitable, 51 used every lawful endeavor to make a mutually satisfactory arrangement concerning it. In a letter of instructions to that minister early in 1804 [January 5.], Mr. Madison, then Secretary of State, ably and lucidly reviewed the whole subject of the impress and the rights of neutrals. His letter opened with the following clear enunciation of the doctrines of the two nations:

"We consider a neutral flag on the high seas as a safeguard to those sailing under it. Great Britain, on the contrary, asserts a right to search for and seize her own subjects; and under that cover, as can not but happen, are often seized and taken off citizens of the United States, and citizens or subjects of other neutral countries navigating the high seas under the protection of the American flag."

After brief and cogent argument, Mr. Madison said, "Were it allowable that British subjects should be taken out of American vessels on the high seas, it might at least be required that the proof of their allegiance should lie on the British side. This obvious and just rule is, however, reversed. And any seaman on board, though going from an American port, sailing under an American flag, and sometimes even speaking an idiom proving him not to be a British subject, is presumed to be such unless proved to be an American citizen. It may be safely affirmed that this is an outrage which has no precedent, and which Great Britain would be among the last nations in the world to suffer, if offered to her own subjects and her own flag. 52

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

"Great Britain has the less to say on the subject, as it is in direct contradiction to the principles on which she proceeds in other cases. While she claims and seizes on the high seas her own subjects voluntarily serving in American vessels, she has constantly given, when she could give, as a reason for not discharging from her service American citizens, that they had voluntarily engaged in it. Nay, more; while she impresses her own subjects from the American service, although they have been settled, and married, and naturalized in the United States, she constantly refuses to release from hers American seamen pressed into it whenever she can give for a reason that they are either settled or married within her dominions. Thus, when the voluntary consent of the individual favors her pretensions, she pleads the validity of that consent. When the voluntary consent of the individual stands in the way of her pretensions, it goes for nothing. When marriage or residence can be pleaded in her favor, she avails herself of the plea. When marriage, residence, and naturalization are against her, no respect whatever is paid to either. She takes by force her own subjects voluntarily serving in our vessels. She keeps by force American citizens involuntarily serving in hers. More flagrant inconsistencies can not be imagined."

No arguments, no remonstrances, no appeals to justice or the demands of international comity, could induce the British government at that time, when waging war with all its powers, to relinquish so great an advantage.

Day after day proofs were received of the sufferings of American citizens on account of the impress; and so flagrant and frequent were these outrages toward the close of 1805, that, in the memorials presented to Congress on the subject of British depredations upon American commerce, already alluded to, the impressment of American seamen was a prominent topic. 53

Action in Congress on these subjects, so vital to the interests of the people and the dignity of the nation, was prompt. It was felt that a crisis was reached when the independence of the United States must be vindicated, or the national honor be imperiled. There was ample cause for most vigorous retaliatory measures toward Great Britain, ay, even for war. But the administration itself; and the host of its opponents, were willing to bear a little longer than take the responsibility of an open rupture with Great Britain. A resolution offered in the United States Senate, declaring that the depredations upon American commerce under the sanction of the British government were "unprovoked aggressions upon the property of the citizens of the United States, violations of their neutral rights, and encroachments upon their national independence," was adopted by unanimous vote [February 10, 1806.]; but when, four days afterward [February 14.], another resolution was offered requesting the President to "demand the restoration of the property of those citizens captured and condemned on the pretext of its being employed in a trade with the enemies of Great Britain, indemnification for past losses, and some arrangement concerning the impressment of seamen," there was hesitation. To obtain the redress sought, there were only four modes – namely, negotiation, non-intercourse, embargo, and war. The first had been tried in vain; the second and third would be menacing and offensive; and the fourth, all parties at that time deprecated. There was a division in the vote. There was unanimity in denunciation, but differences when the test of positive action was applied. There were twenty votes in the affirmative, and six in the negative.

It was resolved to try negotiations once more. William Pinkney, 54 of Maryland, who had considerable diplomatic experience, was finally appointed a minister extraordinary to England [May.], to become associated with Monroe, the resident minister, in negotiating a treaty that should settle all disputes between the two governments. It was thought expedient, at the same time, to use the second method prospectively, as an auxiliary to the American ministers, for it would appeal potentially to the commercial interest of Great Britain, then, as ever, the ruling power in the state. Accordingly, after long and earnest debates, the House of Representatives passed an act [March 28, 1806.] prohibiting the importation into the United states of a great variety of the most important manufactures of Great Britain. It passed the Senate on the 16th of April, and on the 18th became a law. 55 To give time for the negotiations, the commencement of the prohibition was postponed until the middle of the following November.

In the debate upon the Non-importation Act in Congress, and in its discussion among the people, the old party lines, which, to some extent, had appeared faint when great national questions were fairly discussed, became perfectly distinct.. The measure was regarded by the jealous opponents of Jefferson and his Cabinet as a display of that hostility to Great Britain because of love for France, which the President and his Secretary had so frequently manifested during the administrations of Washington and Adams. It was regarded as a measure calculated to lead the country into a war with Great Britain. The administration party, on the contrary, charged the Federalists, because they were unwilling to support the measure, with being friendly to their country’s oppressor. The old political war-cries were sounded, and "French party" and "British party" became familiar words again on the lips of partisans. The Federalists affected to regard Great Britain in her wars with France, and especially in the current one with Napoleon, as the champion of the liberties of the world against an audacious aspirant for universal empire; while the Democrats affected to consider the Emperor of the French as a great regenerator, who was destined to benefit the world by prostrating tottering thrones, effacing corrupt dynasties, purifying the political atmosphere of Europe, and giving new life and vigor to the people. Such were the antagonistic ideas then distinctly developed. The Non-importation Act was passed by a strictly party vote – ninety-three Democrats, against thirty-two Federalists and "Quids," as John Randolph and his six secessionists were called. The heat of that debate in the first session of the Ninth Congress developed the germ of the War and Anti-war parties, so strong and implacable just previous to and during the WAR OF 1812.



1 See note 1, page 84.

2 Letter to Robert R. Livingston, April 18, 1802.

3 France had no really peaceful and friendly feelings toward the United States at that time. Among the dreams of glory which filled the mind of Bonaparte was the re-establishment of the ancient colonial Empire of France. His first essay was in St. Domingo; his next was to be in Louisiana. What would have been his instrumentalities there in extending his sway over the country west of the Alleghanies, may be inferred from the following extract of a memorial whose inspiration was supposed to be the First Consul, and Talleyrand the writer. This document was published in pamphlet form in Philadelphia in 1803, but was suppressed because of negotiations then pending for the purchase of Louisiana from France. It vindicates the wisdom and sagacity of Jefferson exhibited in the above letter to Mr. Livingston. On the forty-fifth page of the pamphlet it is observed:

"There is still another mean, however, by which the fury of THE STATES may be held at pleasure – by an enemy placed on their Western frontiers. The only aliens and enemies within their borders are not the blacks. They, indeed, are the most inveterate in their enmity; but the INDIANS are, in many respects, more dangerous inmates. Their savage ignorance, their undisciplined passions, their restless and warlike habits, their notions of ancient rights, make them the fittest tools imaginable for disturbing THE STATES. In the territory adjacent to the Ohio, Mississippi, and Missouri there are more than thirty thousand men whose trade is hunting, and whose delight is war. These men lie at the mercy of any civilized nation who live near them. Such a neighbor can gain their friendship or provoke their enmity with equal ease. He can make them inactive, or he can rouse them to fury; he can direct their movement in any way he pleases, and make it mischievous or harmless, by supplying their fury with arms and with leaders, or by withholding that supply.

"The pliant and addressful spirit of the French has always given them an absolute control over these savages. The office which the laziness or the insolence of the British found impracticable was easily performed by us, and will be still easier hereafter, since we shall enter on the scene with more advantages than formerly.

"We shall detach within, a sufficient force to maintain possession against all the efforts of THE STATES, should they, contrary to all their interests, proceed to war with or without provocation. We shall find in the Indian tribes an army permanently cantoned in the most convenient stations, endowed with skill and temper best adapted to the nature and the scene of the war, and armed and impelled with far less trouble and expense than an equal number of our own troops. We shall find a terrible militia, infinitely more destructive while scattered through the hostile settlements than an equal force of our own. We shall find in the bowels of THE STATES a mischief that only wants the touch of a well-directed spark to involve in its explosion the utter ruin of half their nation. Such will be the power we shall derive from a military station and a growing colony on the Mississippi. These will be certain and immediate effects, whatever distance and doubt there may be in the remoter benefits to France on which I have so warmly expatiated. As a curb on a nation whose future conduct in peace and war will be of great importance to us, this province will be cheaply purchased at ten times the cost to which it will subject us."

The writer made Bonaparte say: "My designs on the Mississippi will never be officially announced till they are executed. Meanwhile the world, if it pleases, may fear and suspect, but nobody will be wise enough to go to war to prevent them. I shall trust to the folly of England and America to let me go my way in my own time."

When the war between the United States and Great Britain broke out in 1812, British writers urged the government to employ the savages, with all their known blood-thirstiness and cruelty, as allies. One writer soundly berated the government for its apparent apathy toward their "Indian friends," and cited the above atrocious suggestions of the French minister as the true programme of action for the British to pursue in the war with the Americans! – See the New Quarterly Review and British Colonial Register, No. 4: J. M. Richardson, Cornhill, London.

4 There had been for some time indications of speedy hostilities between the United States and Spain, growing out of the territorial relations of the two countries on the Gulf of Mexico. By a treaty with Spain in 1795 that government had granted to the United States the right of deposit at New Orleans for three years, after which the privilege was either to be continued, or an equivalent place assigned on another part of the banks of the Mississippi. The Spaniards considered themselves masters of the province while it was unoccupied by the French, even after the cession was consummated. The privilege of deposit at New Orleans had been continued; but suddenly, in October, 1802, the Spanish Intendant or governor declared by proclamation that the right of deposit at New Orleans no longer existed. This produced great excitement in the Western country, and the Americans, when certified of the treaty of cession, did not doubt that the Spanish Intendant acted under orders from the French government.

5 Marbois was secretary to the French embassy to the United States during a portion of the American Revolution, and was now at the head of the French Treasury Department.

6 Toussaint L’Ouverture, an able and courageous negro, seized the Spanish part of St. Domingo, and made it a colony of France, in January, 1801. He was declared President for life. This example was speedily followed by the black and colored population of Guadaloupe. They seized the governor sent out by Bonaparte, and established a provisional government in October, 1801. Meanwhile an insurrection had broken out in St. Domingo, and Bonaparte sent his brother-in-law, Le Clerc, to quell it. Toussaint regarded the army as an instrument for the enslavement of himself and his people. A new civil war ensued, while the French army was completely decimated by fever and sword. Twenty thousand soldiers perished, and sixty thousand white people of the island were massacred by the infuriated negroes. A momentary peace ensued. Toussaint, who deprecated these acts, was treacherously seized on the false charge of intention to excite another insurrection, taken to France, and died in prison there. By direct act of Bonaparte slavery was established in Guadaloupe (where his army was more successful), and the slave-trade was opened.

7 "I require a great deal of money," the First Consul said to Marbois, "to carry on this war, and I would not like to commence with new contributions. If I should regulate my terms according to the value of those vast regions to the United States, the indemnity would have no limits. I will be moderate, in consideration of the necessity in which I am placed of making a sale. But keep this to yourself."

8 The invasion of England and the prostration of her maritime superiority was then Bonaparte’s favorite project.

9 Jefferson, who was a strict constructionist of the Constitution, was a little embarrassed by this treaty. The acquisition of territory he thought unconstitutional, and he proposed an amendment of that instrument so as to sanction this important act. But nothing of the kind was done. All parties coincided in the measure, and on the 20th of October, 1803, the Senate ratified the treaty by a vote of twenty-four to seven. The purchase of Louisiana became a precedent, and its accession was one of the glories of Mr. Jefferson’s administration.

10 The political intrigues and social immoralities of Burr had become so generally known in 1804 that his future success in any political schemes was extremely doubtful. He offered himself as an independent candidate for Governor of the State of New York in the spring of 1804, and was defeated, as he believed, through the powerful influence of Alexander Hamilton, who was convinced that he was unfit for any important place of honor or profit. That failure imbittered him. This feeling was intensified by the consciousness that he was suspected and distrusted every where. Hamilton, whom he regarded as his arch-enemy, was at the same time honored and trusted. His integrity was not doubted by his most uncompromising political enemies. This contrast was like glowing embers upon the head of Burr, and he was resolved to destroy his antagonist. A pretext for action to that end was not long wanting. A zealous partisan of Burr’s competitor in the late election, in his zeal during the canvass, declared in print that Hamilton had said that the Vice-President was a "dangerous man, who ought not to be trusted with the reins of government." Again he wrote, "I could detail you a more despicable opinion which General Hamilton has expressed of Burr."

These alleged expressions were made the basis of a challenge, on the part of Burr, to mortal combat. Hamilton perceived at the beginning that Burr was determined to force him to fight, against his own convictions of the wrongfulness of dueling and the necessities of the case. He took honorable means to avoid a meeting. His malignant enemy could not be appeased. At length, compelled by the wretched custom of society then prevailing, called "the code of honor," he accepted the challenge, met Burr on the western shore of the Hudson near Weehawken early on the morning of the 11th of July, 1804, and received a mortal wound. He declared his intention not to fire at Burr, and adhered to his resolution, while the murderer took deliberate aim, and accomplished his errand to the field of blood. Hamilton was conveyed across the river to the house of a friend, where he died after suffering for twenty-four hours. The coroner returned a verdict of willful murder. A bill of indictment for that crime was found against him in New Jersey, within the jurisdiction of which the duel was fought, and the Grand Jury of New York found bills against him and his seconds for being concerned in a duel, the punishment for which, by a recent act of that state, was disfranchisement and incapacity to hold office for twenty years. Burr fled to Philadelphia, and from thence to Georgia.

11 Parton’s Life of Aaron Burr, page 372.

12 The same.

13 The same, page 373. Senator Plumer wrote in November, 1804, "Mr. Jefferson has shown him more attention, and invited him oftener to his house within the last three months, than he ever did for the same time before. Mr. Gallatin [Secretary of the Treasury] has waited upon him oftener at his lodgings, and one day was closeted with him more than two hours. Mr. Madison, formerly the intimate friend of Hamilton, has taken his murderer into his carriage, and accompanied him on a visit to the French minister. . . . The Democrats of both houses are remarkably attentive to Burr. What office they can give him is uncertain. Mr. Wright, of Maryland, said in debate, ‘The first duel I ever read of was that of David killing Goliath. Our little David of the Republicans has killed the Goliath of Federalism, and for this I am willing to reward him.’ " – See Life of William Plumer, by his son, page 328.


14 Blennerhassett’s was indeed a beautiful and happy home. It was the creation of wealth, taste, and love. The mansion was elegant. The gardens were laid out and planted with care. Conservatories were rich in exotics. Science, music, painting, farm culture, and social pleasures made up a great portion of the sum of daily life in that elegant retreat. It became the resort of the best minds west of the mountains. The lately rude island smiled with perpetual beauty. To the simple settlers upon the neighboring shore the house seemed like a palace, and the way of living there like that of a prince. Into that paradise the wily serpent crept, and polluted it with its slime.

Harman Blennerhassett was a descendant of an ancient Irish family, whose seat was Castle Conway, in Kerry. His education was thoroughly given at Trinity College, in Dublin, and he graduated at the same time with his friend and kinsman, Thomas Addis Emmett. He loved and studied science. On the death of his father in 1798 he inherited a large fortune. Having become involved in political troubles, he sold his estate, went to England, and married the beautiful and accomplished Miss Agnew, granddaughter of one of the British generals killed at the battle at Germantown, near Philadelphia. They came to America, journeyed to the West, purchased the island in the Ohio which still bears his name, made their home there, and for five years before Burr’s appearance they had enjoyed perfect happiness and repose. A fine library, pictures, scientific apparatus gave them implements for mental culture, and they improved the opportunity. When Burr’s mad schemes failed Blennerhassett’s paradise was laid waste. He became a cotton-planter in Mississippi, but finally lost his fortune. He and his wife finally returned to England, where he died at the age of sixty-one years. His widow came to America to seek from Congress some remuneration for his losses. While the matter was pending she sickened and died in poverty in New York, in August, 1842, and was buried by the Sisters of Charity.

15 "He said if he could gain over the marine corps, and secure the naval commanders Truxtun, Preble, Decatur, and others, he would turn Congress neck and heels out of doors, assassinate the President, seize on the treasury and navy, and declare himself the protector of an energetic government." – Deposition of General William Eaton. See Life of Eaton, page 396-400, inclusive.

16 The same, page 401.

17 See note 1, page 84.

18 On the accession of Alexander to the throne of Russia, after the assassination of the Emperor Paul in March, 1801, the most friendly relations were established between that country and Great Britain. On the 17th of June, 1801, a treaty was concluded between the two governments "to settle," as the preamble expressed it, "an invariable determination of the principles of the two governments upon the rights of neutrality." In that treaty not only the "rule of 1756" was not recognized, but the right of the neutral to trade with the colonies of belligerents, and from his own country in the produce of those colonies to the mother country, was expressly stipulated. As this was avowedly the "settled principle" of the government of Great Britain, American commerce had no more fears. But its sense of security was soon disturbed, but immediately quieted by the prompt action of Mr. King, the American minister at the British court. Early in 1801 he was informed that a decree of the Vice-Admiralty Court at Nassau, New Providence, had condemned the cargo of an American vessel going from the United States to a port in the Spanish colonies, the cargo consisting of articles the growth of old Spain. Mr. King immediately presented a respectful remonstrance to the British government against this infringement of the rights of neutrals. The matter was referred to the king’s advocate general (Lord Hawkesbury), who reported, on the 16th of March, 1801, in the following words, the doctrine of England at that time * concerning the rights of neutrals:

"It is now distinctly understood, and has been repeatedly so decided by the High Court of Appeals, that the produce of the colonies of the enemy may be imported by a neutral into his own country, and may be exported from thence, even to the mother country of such colony; and, in like manner, the produce and manufactures of the mother country may, in this circuitous mode, legally find their way to the colonies. The direct trade, however, between the mother country and its colonies has not, I apprehend, been recognized as legal, either by his majesty’s government or by his tribunals." He then explained what rule should govern the carrying of goods to cause them to avoid a fair definition of "direct trade" and be in conformity to the modification of the "rule of 1756," above mentioned, by saying, "that landing the goods and paying the duties in the neutral country breaks the continuity of the voyage, and is such an importation as legalizes the trade, although the goods be reshipped in the same vessel, and on account of the same neutral proprietors, and be forwarded for sale to the mother country or the colonies."

On the 30th of March the Duke of Portland (the principal Secretary of State) sent the above extracts from the report of the advocate to the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, with a letter in which he said, "I have the honor to signify to your lordships the king’s pleasure that a communication of the doctrine laid down in the said report should be immediately made by your lordships to the several judges presiding in them, setting forth what is held to be the law upon the subject by the superior tribunals for their future guidance and direction." – Letters from Messrs. Monroe and Pinckney to Lord Howick, August 20, 1806.

* Montesquieu, writing ten years before the English "rule of 1756" in regard to the rights of neutrals was promulgated, said, concerning the spirit of that people, "Supremely jealous with respect to trade, they bind themselves but little by treaties, and depend only on their own laws. Other nations have made the interests of commerce yield to those of politics; the English, on the contrary, have ever made their political interests give way to those of commerce." – See The Spirit of Laws, ii., 8.

19 Lubeck, Hamburg, and Bremen. These are all that remain of the ancient Hanseatic League, a commercial union of a number of German port-towns in support of each other against the piracies of the Swedes and Danes, formed in 1164, and formally signed in 1241. At one time the league comprised sixty-six cities, and possessed great political power. They were reduced by various causes to their present number more than two hundred years ago. The Congress at Vienna in 1815 guaranteed the freedom of these cities.

20 The following table exhibits the export trade of the United States for four years:

























This exhibit was made peculiarly annoying to the English, because the foreign articles were principally productions of the colonies of the enemies of Great Britain.

21 In May, 1805, the decision of the Lords of Appeal on the case of the cargo of the American ship Essex unchained the chafing English cruisers. It was necessary, for the sake of decency, to give to the world a fair excuse for that decision. It had already been decided that when goods had been made a common stock of America by a fair importation and the payment of duties, they might be re-exported from thence to any part of the world. To evade this decision, the Court of Appeals, in the case above alluded to, established the illegality of the neutral trade, "founded on a discovery," says Alexander Baring (see note 25, below), "now made for the first time, that the duties on the cargo imported had not actually been paid in money, but by bond of the importer." This decision contracted the whole foreign trade of America excepting that in her own produce. "It circulated rapidly among our cruisers and privateers," continues Mr. Baring, "and in the course of a fortnight the seas were cleared of every American ship they could find, which now crowded our ports for trial." – See Baring’s Inquiry into the Causes and Consequences of the Orders in Council, pages 81, 82.

22 See page 84.

23 This assumption was characteristic. England, on her own motion, promulgated the "rule of 1756" as a "law of nations;" and having the power to enforce it for half a century in the face of the most vehement protests of every respectable maritime nation – even armed protests – her statesmen and publicists agreed that those nations had "assented to it;" as if a wrong unresented on account of the weakness of the sufferers became a right! It was never assented to. The "Armed Neutrality" of 1780 and 1800 were marked protests against it, and the American principle and policy always opposed the assumption. From the first protest against it in 1793 until the close of 1861, when Secretary Seward, in a letter to Lord Lyons, the British minister at Washington, in the case of the San Jacinto and Trent, reiterated the American doctrine concerning the protecting powers of a neutral flag, the Americans have opposed the "rule of 1756." For a full account of the case of the San Jacinto and Trent, see Lossing’s Pictorial History of the Civil War.

24 Madison.

25 The eminent English merchant, Alexander Baring (afterward Lord Ashburton, and at that time a member of Parliament), put forth a pamphlet in February, 1808, entitled An Inquiry into the Causes and Consequences of the Orders in Council, etc. It was published in February, 1808, and contains a most searching exposure of the mischievous exaggerations and sophisms of this essay. It is not extravagant to say that that essay, in its injurious influence, was one of the most potent causes of the war between the United States and Great Britain in 1812, because it justified in a semi-official manner the outrages of the British government, through its navy, on the commerce of the United States, under the sanction of orders in council, and deluded the English mind with a semblance of justice. Speaking of some of the statements of the author of War in Disguise, Mr. Baring said, "He appears ignorant of every thing relative to American trade to a degree incredible."

War in Disguise was followed by other pamphlets of lesser note on the same side. Among the most noted of these was one entitled The Present Claims and Complaints of America Briefly and Fairly Considered. It was an echo of War in Disguise, and was published in London at the close of May, 1806. On the back of the title-page of the copy in my possession is the following memorandum in manuscript by Brooke Watson, who was an eminent Canadian merchant when the Revolution broke out in 1775, and was a violent partisan of the crown:


"June 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th, 1806. Read this pamphlet with all the attention in my power to give it, and under all the consideration of my capacity, accompanied with as much disinterestedness as the nature of the subject will permit to exercise. I am of opinion that, should this country give way to the solicitations of the American States, and much less to their hostile threats, they will, by so doing, that is, by allowing the Americans to be the carriers of the produce of the French colonies to the mother country, sacrifice the deepest interest of this nation to the views of France and the growing insolence of the Americans. – East Sheen, 8th June, 1806.



"Read ‘War in Disguise,’ Lord Sheffield, etc."

26 This reply to Mr. Stephens was published anonymously in February, 1806, with the title of An Answer to "War in Disguise;" or, Remarks on the New Doctrine of England concerning Neutral Trade.

After the capture of the Macedonian by Decatur in the autumn of 1812, the following epigram appeared in Cobbett’s Political Register, an English publication:


"One Stephens, a lawyer, and once a reporter,
Of war and of taxes a gallant supporter,
In some way or other to Wilberforce kin,
And a member, like him, of a borough bought in,
Who a Master in Chancery since has been made,
Wrote a pamphlet to show that Jonathan’s TRADE
Was a ‘WAR IN DISGUISE;’ which, though strange at first sight,
Events have since proved may have been but too right;
For when Carden the ship of the Yankee Decatur
Attacked, without doubting to take her or beat her,
A FRIGATE she seemed to his glass and his eyes;
But when taken himself, how great his surprise

"If Jonathan thus has the art of disguising,
That he captures our ships is by no means surprising;
And it can’t be disgraceful to strike to an elf
Who is more than a match for the devil himself. – PUSS."

27 Baring’s Inquiry, etc., page 96.

28 Statesman’s Manual, i., 278.

29 Inquiry, etc., page 94.

30 Armed Neutrality. See note 2, page 83.

31 Baring’s Inquiry, pages 95, 96, 97.

32 See page 85.

33 The statute of 2 Richard II. speaks of impressment being well known as early as 1378.

34 Impressment was declared to be illegal by the British government in 1641.

35 Mr. Jefferson to Mr. Pinckney, June 11, 1792.

36 Mr. Jefferson to Mr. Pinckney, October 12, 1792.

37 The same to the same, November 6, 1792.

38 Rufus King was born in Scarborough, Maine, in the year 1755. He was a student in Harvard College in 1775, when the breaking out of the war for independence suspended that institution. He chose the law for his profession, and became an able practitioner. He was in Sullivan’s army in Rhode Island in 1778, and was admitted to the bar in 1780. His first appearance was in opposition to his great instructor, Theophilus Parsons, of Newburyport. His oratorical talents soon became known and appreciated, and in 1784 he was elected to a seat in the Legislature of Massachusetts. In the National Convention of 1787 he was an efficient member, and nobly advocated the ratification of the Constitution there adopted. Having married the daughter of an opulent merchant of New York, Mr. King made that city his residence in 1788, and the next year was elected to a seat in the Legislature of New York. He was one of the first United States senators from New York, and in 1796 was appointed minister to Great Britain. He returned home in 1803. From 1813 to 1826 he was a member of the United States Senate. At the close of his term he was sent to England as minister plenipotentiary, but ill health compelled him to relinquish his post and return home after a residence of about a year there. He died at his home near Jamaica, Long Island, on the 29th of April, 1827, at the age of seventy-two years.

39 Mr. Pickering to Mr. King, June 8, 1796.

40 The same to the same, September 10, 1796.

41 The same to the same, October 26, 1796.

42 Investigation revealed the following facts: on the 4th of July, 1794, Captain Silas Talbot, of the United States Navy, wrote from Kingston, Jamaica, to Secretary Pickering, that Admiral Sir Hyde Parker had "issued a general order to all captains and commanders of ships and vessels of war, directing them not to obey any writ of habeas corpus, nor suffer any men to leave their ships in consequence of such writ." This order was issued because Talbot had made successful applications to the civil authorities on that island for the release of enslaved Americans on board British vessels. Talbot, however, persevered in his humane efforts, and he wrote that, while all the writs which he had obtained were served, none of them were obeyed. The naval officers on that station set the civil authority at defiance, and Talbot wrote, "The laws in this island, it seems, can not be administered for the relief of American citizens who are held in British slavery, many of whom, as they write me from on board Captain Otway’s ship, have been brought to the gangway and whipped for writing to their agent to get them discharged!"

William Cobbett, an Englishman, wrote afterward in his Political Register, saying, "Our ships of war, when they meet an American vessel at sea, board her and take out of her by force any seamen whom our officers assert to be British subjects. There is no rule by which they are bound. They act at discretion; and the consequence is that great numbers of native Americans have been impressed, and great numbers of them are now in our navy. . . . That many of these men have died on board our ships, that many have been wounded, that many have been killed in action, and that many have been worn out in the service there can be no doubt. Some obtain their release through the application of the American consul here; and of these the sufferings have in many instances been very great. There have been instances where men have thus got free after having been flogged through the fleet for desertion. * But it has been asked whether we are not to take our sailors where we find them! To which America answers, ‘Yes.’ . . . She wishes not to have in her ships any British sailors, and she is willing to give them up whenever the fact of their being British sailors can be proved; but let not men be seized in her ships upon the high seas (and sometimes at the mouths of her own rivers), where there is nobody to judge between the parties, and where the British officer going on board is at once ACCUSER, WITNESS, JUDGE, and CAPTOR!"

* There is ample testimony to prove the cruel treatment experienced by impressed American seamen on board British vessels. Richard Thompson, a native of New Paltz, Ulster County, New York, testified at Poughkeepsie on the 17th of April, 1793 (sic. – obviously inconsistent with the below dates; WDC, 06/12/2001), that, while on the sea in a merchant vessel, he was impressed on board the British vessel of war Peacock in 1810. He was not allowed to write to his friends. When he and two other impressed American seamen heard of the declaration of war in 1812, they claimed to be considered prisoners of war, and refused to do duty any longer. They were ordered to the quarter-deck, put in irons for twenty-four hours, then taken to the gangway, stripped naked, "tied and whipped, each one dozen and a half lashes, and put to duty." When the Peacock went into action with the Hornet they asked the captain to be sent below, that they might not fight against their countrymen. The captain called a midshipman and told him to "do his duty." That duty was to hold a pistol at the head of Thompson and threaten to blow his brains out if he and his companions did not do service. They were liberated on the capture of the Peacock by the Hornet. Another seaman from Ulster County, named James Tompkins, testified to greater cruelties inflicted on himself and three others, who were impressed on board the British ship Acteon in April, 1812. When they refused to do duty they were whipped "five dozen lashes each." Two days afterward they received four dozen lashes each. They still refused to do duty, and, after the lapse of another two days, they received two dozen lashes each. They still refused, and, after being whipped again, they were put in irons, where they were kept three months. On their arrival in London they heard of the capture of the Guerriere. With a shirt and handkerchiefs they made stripes and stars for American colors, hung it over a gun, and gave three cheers for the victory. For this outburst of patriotism they received two dozen lashes each.

43 Mr. King to Mr. Pickering, March 15, 1799.

44 Marshall to King, September 20, 1800.

45 Mr. King to the Secretary of State, February 23, 1801.

46 Pickering to the President, February 20, 1800.

47 Benjamin Stoddert to the President, February 26, 1800.

48 Oliver Wolcott to the President, April 26, 1800.

49 James M‘Henry to the President, April 16, 1800.

50 From June, 1797, until the beginning of 1801, no less than 2059 applications for seamen impressed, including many made previously by Mr. King and Mr. Pinckney, were made. Of these, only 102 were British subjects – less than one twentieth of the whole impressed. Eleven hundred and forty-two were discharged as not being British subjects, and 805, more than one half, were held for farther proof, while there existed strong presumption that the whole, or a greater part, at least, were aliens. – LYMAN’S Diplomacy of the United States, ii., 15, note.

51 In the spring of 1803 Mr. King made a determined effort to prevent a revival of the practice of impressment. On the 7th of May he submitted the following article to the British ministry: "No person shall be impressed or taken on the high seas out of any ship or vessel belonging to the subjects or citizens of one of the parties by the public or private armed ships or men-of-war belonging to or in the service of the other party." Lord St. Vincent, the First Lord of the Admiralty, and Lord Hawkesbury, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, at first assented to this article; but, after consultation with Sir William Scott, an exception was required in favor of the narrow seas. This proposal was rejected by Mr. King. It was regarded as a subterfuge. The government, at the opening of another war, was determined not to relinquish the practice of impressments from American vessels, and this revival of an obsolete claim of England to exclusive jurisdiction over the seas surrounding the British Isles as far south as Cape Finisterre and north to a point on the coast of Norway, which it was known the Americans would reject, was done as an excuse for terminating the negotiation on the practice of the impress.

52 Cooper, in his Naval History of the United States, ii., 84, says; "On the 12th of June [1805] No. 7 [gun-boat] fell in with the fleet of Admiral Collingwood off Cadiz, and, while Mr. Lawrence was on board one of the British ships, a boat was sent and took three men out of No. 7, under the pretense that they were Englishmen. On his return to his own vessel Mr. Lawrence hauled down his ensign, but no notice was taken of the proceeding by the British. It is a fitting commentary on this transaction that in the published letters of Lord Collingwood, when he speaks of the impressment of Americans, he says that England would not submit to such an aggression for an hour."

53 "The Impressment of our seamen, notwithstanding clear proofs of citizenship, the violation of our jurisdiction by captures at the mouths of our harbors, * and insulting treatment of our ships on the ocean, are subjects worthy the serious consideration of our national councils." – Salem Memorial.

"The constancy and valor of the seamen of the United States are justly themes of patriotic exultation. From their connection with us, we consider their cause as our cause, their rights as our rights, their interests as our interests. Our feelings are indignant at the recital of their wrongs." – New York Memorial, signed by John Jacob Astor and others.

"That our seamen should be exposed to meanest insults and most wanton cruelties, and the fruits of their industry and enterprise fall a prey to the profligate, can not but excite both feeling and indignation, and call loudly for the aid and protection of government." – Philadelphia Memorial. The New Haven and Baltimore memorials expressed similar sentiments.

* This had been done repeatedly. The American waters were almost continually plowed by British cruisers at this time. A few weeks later an event occurred which aroused the greatest indignation throughout the country. A small coasting vessel, navigated by Captain John Pearce, of New York, running for Sandy Hook, was fired into by the British cruiser Leander, Captain Whitby. Captain Pearce was killed. It was, morally, a gross act of piracy. The act itself called forth bitter denunciations at a meeting held at the Tontine Coffee-house, in New York, on the following day (April 26, 1806). A resolution proposed by a committee, of which Rufus King, late minister to England, was chairman, declared that an administration that would suffer foreign armed ships to "impress, wound, and murder citizens" was "not entitled to the confidence of a brave and free people." The public indignation was increased when it became known that Captain Whitby, who was brought to trial in England for the murder of Captain Pearce, and his guilt fairly proven by evidence dispatched thither by the United States government, was honorably acquitted!

54 William Pinkney was born at Annapolis, Maryland, on the 17th of March, 1764. His father was a Loyalist, but William, as he approached manhood, toward the close of the Revolution, espoused the cause of his country. At the age of twenty-two years he was admitted to the bar, and commenced the practice of his profession in Harford County, Maryland, where he married the sister of (afterward) Commodore Rodgers. He was a member of the Executive Council of Maryland in 1792, and in 1795 was chosen to the Legislature. The next year he was appointed one of the commissioners under the provisions of Jay’s treaty, and proceeded to England. He remained there until 1805, when he returned, and made Baltimore his residence. He was distinguished for his legal learning and eloquence, and was immediately appointed Attorney General of Maryland. He was sent to England for the object mentioned in the text, in 1806; where he remained until 1811, when he returned home. He fought bravely in the battle near Bladensburg in 1814, and was soon afterward elected to Congress. In 1816 he was appointed minister to Russia. He remained there until 1820, when he returned, and was chosen to a seat in the Senate of the United States. In that body, and in the United States Courts, he labored Intensely until 1821, when his health suddenly gave way. He died on the 25th of February, 1822, In the fifty-ninth year of his age.

55 The following is a list of articles prohibited: All articles of which leather, silk, hemp or flax, and tin and brass (tin sheets excepted) were the materials of chief value; woolen cloths whose invoice prices should exceed five shillings sterling a yard; woolen hosiery of all kinds; window-glass, and all the manufactures of glass; silver and plated ware; paper of every description; nails and spikes; mats, and clothing ready made; millinery of all kinds; playing-cards; beer, ale, and porter; and pictures and prints.



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