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possible intentions-and in these it is difficult to find the proof of any premeditated treason-one is bound to remember that the case of the Federal Government against Aaron Burr could only be founded on misdemeanors actually committed by him, not on misdemeanors which he may, in his own mind, have proposed to commit. He was to be arrested for being in process of conducting an expedition against Spain; he was to be tried for having levied war against the United States. These were to be the Federal Government's chief accusations against him; these are the crimes the execution of which one must observe.
TREASON IN THE WEST
COLONEL DE PESTRE had arrived at Philadelphia in December, 1806, to tell the Marquis Yrujo a number of interesting things. Various detachments from the East were on the point of embarking for Charleston, where Mr. Alston was to take command; a number of officers, including John Swartwout and Colonel Smith of New York, were preparing to leave for their posts; the western conspiracy was in full swing; and, since it had been necessary to make some ostensible excuse for it, the Marquis might hear that Colonel Burr was intending to attack Mexico, but he must not believe "such rumors."
There had been a time when the Marquis might have been taken in by these fairy tales, but not any longer. In November, already, he had been sending his government details of the expedition. Five hundred men, he was informed, were being gathered on the upper Ohio by Colonel Burr "under pretext of establishing them on a great land purchase he is supposed to have made." There was talk of western independence, but the real purpose was a descent to
New Orleans and an attack on the Spanish possessions. "It is indubitable," the Marquis had decided, "that Colonel Burr and his subordinates are carrying out their plan. It seems to me to be his intention to profit by the hostile appearance on the Sabine to arm his friends preliminary to the rupture with Spain." And the Marquis had warned all his people in the Floridas and in Mexico-although they must have been advised, "through the confidential channel of No. 13. . . who is one of the conspirators"-and as for Governor Folch of West Florida, the Marquis was convinced that through his "connection with General Wilkinson he must be perfectly informed of the state of things and of Burr's intentions."
The Marquis did not realize that General Wilkinson's contract as a pensioner of Spain had come to an end, but it was quite true that Governor Folch was prepared for the worst. He was going to be attacked, and so were they, he notified his colleagues in Mexico, and as he understood it the Government of the United States was behind the expedition. This point of view was prevalent among the Spanish officials. "In February or March," Governor Folch wrote, "ten thousand Kentuckians, three thousand regular troops, eight or ten thousand militia from Louisiana who will be forced to go, will march for Mexico. They will raise a corps of five thousand blacks. This will make an army of from twenty-eight to thirty thousand men. Congress will act only in the defensive, but if once these troops are united they will march toward Mexico with great proclamations."
And so, when Colonel De Pestre came to the Spanish Minister, he found, as he afterwards confessed to Mr. Blennerhassett, that the Marquis had "pierced the cobweb tissue of Burr's intrigues with him at a single glance." In fact, the Marquis Yrujo laughed at him. Moreover, the Marquis sent a spy of his own-one José Vidal, lately arrived from Cadiz -out to the Ohio to watch every gesture of the Colonel's.
And down in the Southwest, General Wilkinson had been busy with his own affairs.
As far as the conspirators could tell, during the summer of 1806, the General was all eagerness for the Mexican venture. They were on the high road to Mexico, he had written Charles Biddle; "the time long looked for by many and wished for by more has now arrived for subverting the Spanish Government in Mexico," he informed General Adair, in September. "Be ready and join me; we will want little more than light armed troops. More will be done by marching than by fighting.. We cannot fail of success. Your military talents are requisite." And to Senator Smith he sent the assurance that he would "surely push [the Spaniards] over the Sabine. You must speedily send me a force to support our pretensions . . 5000 mounted infantry may suffice to carry us forward as far as Grand River, there we shall require 5000 more to conduct us to Mount El Rey . . after which from 20 to 30,000 will be necessary to carry our conquests to California and the Isthmus of Darien. I write in
haste, freely and confidentially, being ever your friend."
Yes indeed-and the letters were presumably written to induce them to commit themselves, at least, so the General explained them afterwards.
And now everything depended on General Wilkin
For in July, the Spaniards had again crossed the Sabine, and occupied the post at Bayou Pierre; in August, Colonel Herrera had marched in with reinforcements; Acting Governor Cowles Meade, of the Mississippi Territory, had called out the militia; and Governor Claiborne of Louisiana was wondering why General Wilkinson, who was away somewhere, had countermanded the earlier War Department orders which had stated that the enemy must be kept on the further side of the Sabine. "It seems to me that there is wrong somewhere!" he observed to Mr. Meade. Still, the massing of troops went on at Natchitoches, and finally, on September 22, General Wilkinson arrived, after an incomprehensibly leisurely journey of two weeks from Natchez, wherealthough he was looking for "fame and honour," and hoping for a chance at the Spaniards-he had written to the Secretary of War that he would “drain the cup of conciliation to maintain the peace of our country." But scarcely anyone, and least of all his associates up the river, wanted him to do that. "We are happy to learn," the Orleans Gazette announced, "that the Government has at length issued positive orders to repel the aggressions of our enemies by force. . . If the enemy be forced to recross the Sabine he must be driven still farther. Gal