James Madison Papers

To James Madison from James Wilkinson, 28 July 1805

From James Wilkinson

Louis July 28th: 1805.

Sir St:

I reached this place the 1st: Inst: And On the morning of the 4th: the Secretary of the Territory arrived just in season to attest the Enclosed Proclamation.1

My Predecessor having provided for the prevention of crimes, the maintenance of Order, the Organization of the Militia and the distribution of Justice, and having filled every appointment, it has been deemed adviseable to examine attentively, his systems and arrangements and to ascertain their effects, before we Should commence Legislation.

Deliberate enquiry into the State of Society and the merits of Individuals also, is rendered indispensable by the bitter animosities, and vindictive personal Factions which rend Several districts of this Territory, excited I have cause to beleive, by a few impatient, ambitious and perhaps Sordid Spirits, with whom I fear Several officers of the Government have been too deeply engaged; yet I flatter myself the force of admonition Supported by example, may soon produce a proper sense of Duty, correct the errors which have prevailed, and restore that general concord, to which the mass of the people, and particularly the Creoles, are certainly well disposed.

The transient intercourse which I had with the inhabitants pending my ascent of the River, discovered to me the divisions which agitated the community, and determined me to embrace the first occasion, to express my disapprobation thereof: I accordingly on the 3d: Inst: made the reply you will find under cover, to an address which I could not resist, without exciting false apprehensions and heavy disgust, and I hope my conduct in this instance may prove satisfactory.2

Attempts have been made to introduce here, the political distinctions of the union and to excite national prejudices, but without effect: the French are not able to distinguish between republicanism and federalism, and Our fugitive countrymen, who sought asylum here during the Spanish Government, wear their political Morality as loosely as they do their cloaths.

The interdiction of the British Commerce west of the Mississippi, becomes hourly more interesting, because it not only affects our Revenues, but discourages our own enterprize and industry, and supports the influence of a Foreign Power, within our own limits, which may hereafter be employed for distructive purposes.

Engageés are now daily arriving here, from Montreal “via” Michilimackanack and the Ouisconsin with merchandise not only for the Indians of the Missouri, but the Inhabitants of this Territory, and the Supplies for the former will I understand, be principally derived from that Source this Season; I beleive I should be justified were I to prohibit the introduction of this merchandise, into the rivers west of the Mississippi, but as such a measure would cut off the regular Supplies of the natives, it is at present forbidden by every consideration of Sound policy.

The President commanded me to carry my attention to this subject, and therefore I beg leave breifly to Submit to you my ideas, of the measures necessary to accomplish the desired prohibition, without giving just cause of complaint to any one.

The British Minister should be warned of the intentions of Government, to interdict this intercourse after a given period, and this warning Should be made Public, as well for the government of the British Merchants, as the encouragement of our own.

To guard the avenues from Canada, a Military post should be established near the mouth of the Ouisconsin, and an officer of the customs placed there, whose certificate shall be rendered necessary by Law, to the exemption from Seizure of all the goods and merchandise, which may pass that Post to the west Bank of the Mississippi, and a Similar arrangement should be made for Chicago—it must follow that none but goods of our own importation Shall receive this certificate, and all others carried across the river will of course be liable to Seizure: And to break up the contraband from the North west by the Ossiniboine River, a Garrison should be established at the mandan Towns or perhaps at the Falls of the Missouri, with an officer of the customs to seize whatever may be introduced by that Channel. But in aid of these measures, confidential agents should be established with the Scieoux, Saque and Renard indians on the waters of the Mississippi, and with the Scieoux and Mandanes of the Missouri. These arrangements being once accomplished, in a very few Years the trade of the Mississippi and Missouri, would take its ancient and natural course by New Orleans, to extend our foreign commerce, to augment our Revenues, to familiarize and facilitate the navigation of the Mississippi, and to cooperate with the Settlements of the Ohio, in rearing numerous bands of Hardy Boatmen, ever at hand for the protection and defence, of our weakest and most vulnerable points.

Colonel Meggs3 one of the Judges of the Territory, is on a visit to his Family at Marietta, with intention to return before the Next Term of the Superior Court, he is a most valuable Officer, And is well calculated to conciliate and attach this mixt Community.

Colonel Hammand4 arrived a few days Since, whose gentle manners, conciliatory deportment, correct Judgment and firm conduct, will contribute much to the preservation of Order and the restoration of Harmony. Doctor Browne the Secretary will also I flatter myself justify the Presidential Trust, he appears to be a man of Suavity, of intellectual force, polished education, and liberal views.

Judge Lucas has not arrived but I expect him with the Recorder5 in Ten or Twelve days, after which we shall attempt a System of Jurisprudence, calculated to discourage litigation and discountenance pettifoggers who begin to swarm here like locusts, & may be considered the main Source of the discords which have obtained in this Territory. With much consideration & respect I am sir Your Mo. Obed Servt

Ja: Wilkinson

RC and enclosures (DNA: RG 59, TP, Louisiana, vol. 1). In a clerk’s hand, with Wilkinson’s emendation, complimentary close, and signature. Docketed by Wagner as received 31 Aug., with his note: “British trade to the Territory.” For enclosures, see nn. 1–2.

1The enclosure (4 pp. on one folio sheet; in English and French; in a clerk’s hand, signed by Wilkinson; countersigned by territorial secretary Joseph Browne; docketed by Wagner; printed in Carter, Territorial Papers, Louisiana-Missouri, description begins Clarence Carter et al., eds., The Territorial Papers of the United States (28 vols.; Washington, 1934–75). description ends 13:155–56) is a copy of Wilkinson’s 4 July 1805 proclamation announcing that, in accordance with the law establishing a territorial government for Louisiana, he recognized and confirmed the appointments previously made in the district and authorized the appointed officers to continue their functions.

2Wilkinson enclosed copies of the 3 July 1805 address to him of Charles Gratiot, Auguste Chouteau, Antoine Soulard, Robert Wescott, and Isaac Darneille (2 pp.; certified by territorial secretary Joseph Browne; printed ibid., 149–50), expressing on behalf of the citizens of St. Louis their delight at the arrival of “a Governor of known principles and worth” at the head of the new government, and Wilkinson’s 3 July 1805 reply (4 pp.; in a clerk’s hand, emended and signed by Wilkinson, and incorrectly dated 1804; docketed by Wagner; printed ibid., 150–51) promising to maintain an impartial, just, and firm course of action and calling “personal factions the bane of social harmony, and political Strife hostile to human felicity.”

3Return Jonathan Meigs Jr.

4Samuel Hammond (1757–1842) was a Virginia native and Revolutionary War veteran who became a merchant in international trade in Savannah, Georgia, where he was surveyor general and a member of the state legislature. He was elected to Congress in 1802 and served until Jefferson named him civil and military commander of Louisiana Territory in 1805, in which post he served until 1806. In 1811 he was named judge of the court of common pleas. After the establishment of the Missouri Territory, he was a member of the territorial council and of the 1820 constitutional convention. In 1824 he moved to South Carolina, where he served as surveyor general in 1827 and secretary of state in 1831.

5Baltimore lawyer James Lowry Donaldson (d. 1814), who was born James Lowry but changed his name legally to inherit an estate, was named recorder of land titles in Louisiana Territory in the spring of 1805. He was criticized for his per for mance in office by both John B. Lucas and Jefferson, who replaced him with Frederick Bates in 1807. In 1805 he was named district attorney by James Wilkinson, but the appointment was nullified by the court (Benson J. Lossing, The Pictorial Field-Book of the Revolution; or, Illustrations by Pen and Pencil… of the War for Independence [2 vols.; New York, 1860], 2:183 n.; Carter, Territorial Papers, Louisiana-Missouri, description begins Clarence Carter et al., eds., The Territorial Papers of the United States (28 vols.; Washington, 1934–75). description ends 13:113, 115–16, 261–63, 545, 14:52–54, 58, 98).

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