James Madison Papers

To James Madison from William C. C. Claiborne, 26 January 1805 (Abstract)

§ From William C. C. Claiborne

26 January 1805, New Orleans. “I enclose you the third number of the Public Accuser.1 You will see the Gall of my Enemies, and the zeal with which they embrace every occurrence to annoy my feelings. I feel as if I was trespassing upon your important duties, in Soliciting your attention for one moment to News-paper Publications. But when you perceive the malignity of my opponents, I trust you will excuse the desire I manifest to keep the Executive advised of my answers to the charges exhibited against me.

“With respect to the Militia I need only observe, that my conduct was such as my duty prescribed and my judgment approved. The formation of the Volunteer Corps was a matter of expediency; in acknowledging the Batalion of free people of colour, and presenting to them a standard,2 I acted in conformity to the instructions from the Secretary of War and the delay attending the organization of the Militia generally was the result of necessity. As to the guard stationed at the Government House, it consists only of a Corporal and three Men, who are designed to give Security to the Records of the Province (delivered to the Commissioners) which are deposited in a Room on the ground Floor. I do not know that any person would feel a disposition to disturb those Records, but as they are important, and their present situation somewhat insecure, it seemed to me (that during the continuance of the Troops in this City) there would be a propriety in having a Centinel placed at the Government House. As to the orderly guard alluded to, I was during the Provisional Government furnished every day with a Sergeant, who carried Messages and Letters from my Office, and as I find such a Character still useful, I continue to avail myself of the politeness of the Commanding Officer in this particular.

“Upon the Subject of Lieutenant Doyles marriage, my conduct has been cruelly misrepresented, and I strongly Suspect that my Enemies have carried their malignity so far, as to have obtained (by artifice) from a young Creole (who speaks but a few words of English) a statement upon oath, which does not contain a single fact. Mr. Doyles Marriage was not with me, an object of any concern; I knew the young Man only by name,3 his folly I regretted, but the Elopement being effected, I thought it best to prevent the Girl from being dishonored, to permit the Marriage.

“The representation of Mr. Orso (altho on oath) as to my agency in the Business is without the least foundation. Several Gentlemen having a knowledge of the facts attending the Marriage, have furnished me with Certificates upon the subject which are herewith enclosed marked Nos. 1. 2.4

“I do not know that I shall again trouble you with any remarks on anonymous writers. I feel as if you would deem them unworthy of such attention; But really when such a Deposition as Mr. Orso’s can be obtained, I fear that Neither Integrity, Prudence or any other virtue, can shield the Reputation of a Public Officer from malignant calumniators.”

Adds in a postscript: “The Petition published was I believe written by myself; The friend of Mr. Doyle (a Mr. Randall) brought a written application for a License but being improper, I gave a form of a Petition which form he preserved, and by way of revenge because I would not appoint him an Auctioneer, he has given to the writer of the accuser.”

RC and enclosures (DNA: RG 59, TP, Orleans, vol. 6); letterbook copy and letterbook copies of enclosures (ibid.); letterbook copy and letterbook copies of enclosures (LU: Claiborne Letterbook). RC 3 pp.; in a clerk’s hand, signed by Claiborne; docketed by Wagner, with his notation: “Mlle. Orso’s elopement.” For surviving enclosures, see n. 4.

1The enclosure (not found) clearly was article no. 3 by “Public Accuser,” which was printed in the Orleans Gazette, For the Country of 26 Jan. 1805. The article accused Claiborne of neglecting the local militia and of complicity in the elopement of an American officer and a local fifteen-year-old. Also printed in the edition are the statements of Antoine Orso, the girl’s brother, accusing Claiborne, and of Lewis Kerr, who defended the governor.

2For Claiborne’s presentation of “a stand of Colours … made of white silk, Ornamented with fifteen Stripes (alternately red and white)” to the militia battalion of free blacks, see Claiborne to Dearborn, 22 June 1804, in Rowland, Claiborne Letter Books description begins Dunbar Rowland, ed., Official Letter Books of W. C. C. Claiborne, 1801–1816 (6 vols.; Jackson, Miss., 1917). description ends , 2:217–18.

3The eloping groom was apparently 2nd Lt. Joseph Doyle of South Carolina, who died on 3 Sept. 1804 (Heitman, Historical Register, 1:382).

4Claiborne enclosed statements numbered 1–5 (8 pp.; docketed by Wagner; printed in Bradley, Interim Appointment, 161–65, where dates and names on enclosures vary slightly from those with RC) given by James W. Lanier, 26 Jan. 1805, Lt. William A. Murray, 23 Jan. 1805, George King, 23 Jan. 1805, John Ward Gurley, 25 Jan. 1805, and John Watkins, 22 Jan. 1805, describing Claiborne’s actions in the elopement. A copy of another statement, from Lt. Joseph Taylor, 25 Jan. 1805 (1 p.; printed ibid., 164), is included with both letterbook copies. According to the statements, in April 1804 Lt. Doyle and a Mlle Orso went to George King’s house; Thomas Randall followed shortly after and was dispatched to Claiborne with a request for a marriage license, which Claiborne refused to grant without permission from Mlle Orso’s parents. The girl’s father, who was too ill to leave his bed, sent his “greatly distressed” son to Claiborne’s house to convey the family’s acquiescence to the arrangement. At the son’s request, Claiborne visited the ailing father, who gave his consent to the marriage as the lesser of two evils, and “the ceremony was performed by Father Welch between ten O eleven oclock at night, in the presence of the Governor and several respectable private Gentlemen.” Watkins further stated that not only was Claiborne blameless in the whole affair, but that this was “one of the most virtuous and praiseworthy acts, ever performed by him or any other member of Society.”

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