Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to James Wilkinson, 3 February 1807

Washington Feb. 3. 07.


A returning express gives me an opportunity of acknoleging the receipt of your letters of Nov. 12. Dec. 9. 9. 14. 18. 25. 26. and Jan. 2. I wrote to you Jan. 3. and through mr Briggs Jan. 10. the former being written while the Secretary at war was unable to attend to business, gave you the state of the information we then possessed as to Burr’s conspiracy. I now inclose you a message containing a compleat history of it from the commencement down to the eve of his departure from Nashville, & two subsequent messages shewed that he began his descent of the Missipi Jan. 1. with 10. boats, from 80 to 100. men of his party, navigated by oarsmen not at all of his party. this I think is fully the force with which he will be able to meet your gunboats, and as I think he was uninformed of your proceedings, & could not get the information till he would reach Natchez, I am in hopes that before this date he is in your possession. altho’ we at no time believed he could carry any formidable force out of the Ohio, yet we thought it safest that you should be prepared to recieve him with all the force which could be assembled, and with that view our orders were given: and we were pleased to see that without waiting for them, you adopted nearly the same plan yourself, and acted on it with promptitude; the difference between your’s & ours proceeding from your expecting an attack by sea, which we knew impossible either by England, or by a fleet under Truxton who was at home, or by our own navy which was under our own eye. your belief that Burr would really descend with 6. or 7000. men was no doubt founded on what you knew of the numbers which could be raised in the Western country for an expedition to Mexico, under the authority of the government, but you probably did not calculate that the want of that authority would take from him every honest man, & leave him only the desperados of his party, which in no part of the US. can ever be a numerous body. in approving therefore, as we do approve of the defensive operations for N. Orleans, we are obliged to estimate them, not according to our own view of the danger, but to place ourselves in your situation & only with your information. Your sending here Swartwout & Bollman, and adding to them Burr, Blannerhasset & Tyler should they fall into your hands will be supported by the public opinion. as to Alexander who is arrived and Ogden expected, the evidence yet recieved will not be sufficient to commit them. I hope, however, you will not extend this deportation to persons against whom there is only suspicion, or shades of offence not strongly marked. in that case I fear the public sentiment would desert you; because seeing, no danger here, violations of law are felt with strength. I have thought it just to give you these views of the sentiments & sensations here as they may enlighten your path. I am thoroughly sensible of the painful difficulties of your situation, expecting an attack from an overwhelming force, unversed in law, surrounded by suspected persons, & in a nation tender as to every thing infringing liberty, & especially from the military. You have doubtless seen a good deal of malicious insinuation in the papers against you. this of course begot suspicion & distrust in those unacquainted with the line of your conduct. we, who knew it, have not failed to strengthen the public confidence in you, and I can assure you that your conduct as now known has placed you on ground extremely favorable with the public. Burr & his emissaries found it convenient to sow a distrust in your mind of our dispositions towards you: but be assured that you will be cordially supported in the line of your duties. I pray you to send me D’s original letter, communicated through Briggs, by the first entirely safe conveyance. Accept my friendly salutations & assurances of esteem & respect.

Th: Jefferson

DLC: Papers of Thomas Jefferson.

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