Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to United States House of Representatives, 20 September 1807

September 20, 1807

It is with satisfaction I inform you that the treasons & misdemeanors meditated & prepared by Aaron Burr & his accomplices were finally supprressed, & chiefly by the exertions of our faithful fellow citizens, who when apprised that enterprises were meditated against their country & it’s lawful authorities, stepped forward with promptitude in the several places where these designs were in preparation & crushed them before they had reached the point where a regular military force was provided to repel them. I have thought it my duty to collect & lay before you such evidence of these transactions as could be obtained voluntarily. the principal leader of this conspiracy with some of his most prominent accomplices were apprehended under the executive authority, and delivered to the judiciary department to which the duties of trial & punishment belong. substantial evidence was exhibited that treason & high misdemeanor were intended, and prepared, and probable grounds that overt acts had been committed & could be proved if time & process were allowed to do it. no time was taken, no process issued, the criminals were not held to trial, but were discharged by the judicial authority. in the district of Columbia, the judges of the territory, to whom two of them had been delivered, were proceeding in their duty to put them into a course for legal trial. but they were taken out of their hands by superior authority, and discharged without trial. if such be the law, the legislature will consider whether it shd not be amended: if it be not the law, they alone can take measures for ensuring a more correct administration of it in future. in the present state of things the highest order of crimes is encouraged by this example of impunity.

On the other hand complaints have been heard that some of our citizens in the civil & some in the military line, in their uninformed zeal for bringing the offenders to legal punishment, have overstepped the limits of the law, and taken unauthorised measures to obstruct the course of those who were preparing to overturn both law & government. if these complaints be founded, the law is open, and the culprits placed at liberty to prosecute those who took irregular methods to defeat their designs. honest juries considering their merits, and the motives of those against whom they complain, will do what is right between them.

DLC: Papers of Thomas Jefferson.

Index Entries