James Madison Papers

To James Madison from William O. Allen, 4 April 1811

From William O. Allen

Saint Louis (Lous.) 4th Apl. 1811.

Dear Sir,

By the last mail, I received a letter, from H. Marshall Esqr. of Kentucky—The following is a Copy Vizt.

Frankford Feby 27th 1811.”

“Sir Having heard that in consequence of your getting into your possession the papers of the late Mr Lockasangne1 you are possessed of information important to me, as a party to a suit which Harry Innes has brought against me for alledging him to be a party in the old Spanish conspiracy I have taken the Liberty of addressing you, and most earnestly request you if you have any papers which throws light on that intrigue, and which in any way connects Innes with the parties concerned you would be so obliging as to state to2 by mail, the amount of that information, should there be any letter from Innes, please to transmit the original, or a Copy, Further if you do know any thing be so good as to state to me the substance—should it not be evidence for me in the suit it may aid me in writing the history of Kentucky which I am engaged in and which will be imperfect without a developement of that intrigue.3

Pray let me hear from you even if you have no information to give; in as much as, untill I hear I shall not know but you might be the most material witness.” Yours respectfully

“H. Marshall”

“William O Allen Esquire
Cape Jerado
Postmarked Mississippi”
“Frankfort K paid 20 
“March 2d” 12½
“Cape Gerardeau
“the 22d March 1811

forwarded”   The principal of those papers were delivered to Governor Howard, in compliance with a request contained in a letter, from the Secretary of War, to me of date, the 4th of May 1810.4

I wish Sir, to enquirer [sic], whither, I am now at liberty to state, that those documents are in the possession of Government?5 Whether, it is compatible with your Views, that I should surrender, some few, that are yet in my possession, and that are immaterial as to Genl. Wilkinson, into the hands of Mr. Marshall? And, in fact, I very much desire to know the course, that may be pointed out by your Wisdom.6

In a government so just, and so much connected with the interest of All—I hold it, as an axiom, that the public good, should always, control the actions of every individual. But, beyond that consideration, there are other, powerful inducements, that tend to keep many of Mr M.’s political views at a distance—I know, that he is a federalist—That he was the apponant of the late, as I believe, he is of the present Administration. I am a Virginian, by burth a republican, and by education & conviction a friend to those, that he has been in the constant habit of opposing.

Governor Howard requested of me secrecy—I have complied.

If Sir, you should wish to know more of me than my name, I refer you to many papers now of file in the War Department—To 2 or 3 letters delivered in person to you, in the Winter 1806/7—To others transmitted since—To my former Townsman The Hble: B. Bassett—Mr. H. Clay, late of the Senate—Capt. I. A. Coles &c. &c. With profound respect & consideration, I tender my best wishes, and am Dr. Sir your Obedient Humble Servant

Wm. O Allen7

RC (PHi: Daniel Parker Papers). Docketed by a War Department clerk as received 15 May 1811.

1Michel Lacassagne (d. 1797), a French merchant and business associate of James Wilkinson’s, was a member of the Kentucky Convention of 1787 and first federal postmaster of Louisville. He was also an agent for Governor Carondelet and traveled to New Orleans in the 1790s to collect Wilkinson’s pension from the Spanish government. During his court-martial in the fall of 1811 on charges of being a Spanish agent, Wilkinson succeeded in convincing the court that his dealings with Lacassagne were legitimate business matters (Jacobs, Tarnished Warrior, pp. 128, 134, 136, 152, 270–74).

2Allen evidently omitted to write “me” here.

3Humphrey Marshall, a Federalist and brother of Chief Justice John Marshall, had long been at odds with the Republican leadership of Kentucky over a variety of issues, both personal and political. In the first edition of The History of Kentucky (Frankfort, Ky., 1812), Marshall charged that the leaders of the movement to separate Kentucky from Virginia in the 1780s had intended to liberate the region not merely from its mother state but also from the Union at large in order to promote a connection with Spain. He depicted Wilkinson as the central figure in the “Spanish Conspiracy” but implicated other Kentucky leaders as well, including Harry Innes, who, he wrote, appeared to “discover a new moral excellence” in contemplating “treason” against the U.S. (see pp. 250, 300–304, 309, 315, 341–43, 349, 352–53). The libel suit of Innes v. Marshall dragged on for several years, and Marshall repeated his charges at greater length in the two-volume 1824 edition of his history, adding to them the corollary that the “Spanish Conspiracy” of the 1780s was the germ of Aaron Burr’s schemes of 1805–6. In neither edition of The History of Kentucky, however, did Marshall employ material gained from the papers of Lacassagne that had been in Allen’s possession.

4In a 10 Jan. 1810 letter to Andrew Jackson, Allen had informed the Tennessee general that in the course of settling the estate of his brother-in-law, Robert K. Moore, he had uncovered Lacassagne’s business papers, the contents of which proved the charges of treason and corruption made against Wilkinson by Daniel Clark. Jackson evidently informed the secretary of war, whom JM then instructed to write to Allen, requesting him to deliver the papers to territorial governor Benjamin Howard in order that copies might be made for the War Department (Allen to Jackson, 10 Jan. 1810, Sam B. Smith and Harriet C. Owsley, eds., The Papers of Andrew Jackson [3 vols. to date; Knoxville, Tenn., 1980—], 2:228–29; Eustis to Allen, 11 May 1810 [DNA: RG 107, LSMA]).

5On 10 Apr. 1811 Eustis, at the direction of JM, laid copies of the documents referred to by Allen before Wilkinson. Three days later the general made a lengthy response, which began by questioning the value of fishing up “dubious” documents “from the depths of oblivion” at so late a date. He admitted that he had been aware of the papers for the past year but insinuated that they had been circulated by Lacassagne’s “concubine” and several of his other enemies for the purpose of discrediting him. He then asserted that it was impossible for any one “to produce any authentic evidence of criminality, out of [his] long intimacy with Lacassagne.” Warming to the subject, Wilkinson next declined to offer any explanation of the documents on the grounds that they were forgeries and that it was impossible for him either to recollect or to scrutinize many of the statements they contained because his own papers for the years 1796 to 1804 had been “destroyed by the mice” in Clement Biddle’s garret in Philadelphia. He did, however, provide from memory an account of his business dealings with Lacassagne, during the course of which he questioned some of the details in the documents from the latter’s papers. He concluded his remarks by denouncing “the vindictive spirit, envy, art and contrivances of [his] enemies” (“Observations of General Wilkinson upon certain documents recently received from the War Department, by order of the President of the United States,” 13 Apr. 1811 [DNA: RG 107, LRUS, W-1809]).

6In his acknowledgment of Allen’s letter, Eustis returned the copies of “certain letters therein referred to” and declared that the “Originals are likewise at your disposal” (Eustis to Allen, 27 May 1811 [DNA: RG 107, LSMA]).

7William Oliver Allen (d. 1820) was a Virginian who practiced law in St. Louis. In April 1812 JM commissioned him as a captain in the Twenty-fourth Infantry Regiment, and he served in the U.S. Army until 1818 (Smith and Owsley, Papers of Jackson, 2:229 n.; Heitman, Historical Register description begins Francis B. Heitman, Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army, from Its Organization, September 29, 1789, to March 2, 1903 (2 vols.; Washington, 1903). description ends , 1:160).

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