Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Fleming Bates, 6 May 1807

St. Louis May 6. 1807.


Gov. Lewis put into my hands a letter for Madame Provonchere, with an intimation that she would confide to me certain communications made to her husband by Colo. Burr. These papers I was instructed to transmit to you without delay; but on waiting on the lady for the purpose of obtaining them, I was informed by her that they had, long since, been transmitted to Mr. Provonchere, then with the Indians at Washington. It is perhaps doubtful whether they will ever reach the City; but from every information which I can collect with respect to them, they are not in themselves important. The views of Colo Burr were probably detailed, in private conference by Colo. DePeyster the bearer of the letters. Of this however I am not to decide and extremely regret that it has not been in my power to comply with your wishes in relation to them.

I beg your indulgence while I make a few observations on the system which I have thought proper to adopt during the absence of Governor Lewis. On my arrival in the country I found much less hostility and disaffection than I had expected. The vestiges of party acrimony and violence were still discernible; but every succeeding day, appeared to efface them from the remembrance of the People. Those unprincipled men, who would have associated for the subversion of the Government, had possessed neither weight of character, nor popular influence sufficient to give a tone to public sentiment, and were now deploring in silence, the failure of an enterprize which had covered them with mortification and dishonor. Had the standard of Treason been erected last fall, as I believe was contemplated, the Patriotism of the country must have triumphed. For altho’ the regular authorities were not confided in, an independent and voluntary association was formed, for the suppression of every disorganizing attempt. And the territory, I am well convinced would never, for a moment, have been lost to the U. States, unless by following the destiny of the neighbouring country east of the Mississipi.—   My course was too obvious to be mistaken. Justice and the dignity of the Government required that a few of the most conspicuous of the disaffected should be dealt with in an examplary way. Colo. John Smith (T) of whom so much has been said, on various occasions, has been removed from all his offices civil and military. He was accused of traitorous participation, and when the warrant of Judge Thredon issued for his arrest, he would not suffer it to be executed. James Richardson who also held civil and military appointments has been dismissed for vaunting his contempt of the American Government. Major Robert Westcott, accused of Burrism, and the only person against whom the Grand Jury have found a Bill, had resigned his offices before my arrival in the territory.—   Henry Dodge Sheriff of the District of St. Genevieve is one of those persons against whom Frazier has deposed. He has not been dismissed because I believe the young man to be innocent. I know that we have no terms, no compromise, to make with traitors, and if I entertained a doubt of his fidelity, I should not hesitate a moment to strip him of that confidence, and those Offices with which the late administration invested him. He is young,—unhackneed in dissimulation,—possesses good sense, spirit and frankness—and I hope, a love of country, and a reverence of its institutions. I do believe that he has been mislead by Colo. Smith, and that, when liberated from the official control which that rash and impatient man has impercebtibly gained over him, he will repay confidence, by a prompt and honorable discharge of duty.

There are a number of very unworthy men, who hold Offices under the territorial Government; But after a few removals, this herd of triflers may be disposed of by a repeal of those very imperfect and indigested laws under which they act. It will then be in the power of a prudent Governor to reestablish the prostrated respectability of Louisiana; for prostrated I must think it has been, by a number of very injudicious measures, and illiberal misunderstandings between the Officers of Government. It will be in his power to win the affections of the People, who are by no means difficult to govern, and to instruct them in those republican systems with which they are as yet so totally unacquainted.

I have the honor to be most respectfully your obedt Servant

F. Bates

DLC: Papers of Thomas Jefferson.

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