James Madison Papers

To James Madison from James Wilkinson, 26 November 1805

From James Wilkinson

St. Louis Novr. 26th 05


To promote the presidential Views relatively to the transfer, of our wide spread Setlers in the lower Districts of this Territory, to some other Quarter of our Domain,1 I have availed myself of the agency of a few Persons of observation & influence, and have the enclosed communications of a Mr. Bond,2 (whose Letters have before been transmited to you). The Object appears to be attainable, provided the necessary measures are adopted by Government, & a sound cooperation of the territorial officers should be faithfully observed.

But sir in regard to this very desirable cooperation, I must acknowledge my expectations are faint; and it mortifies me to be obliged to expose to you, the chief cause of my apprehensions, in the Memoranda under cover,3 which portray the public Conduct of Judge Lucas, who before a lisp of controversy between us, pursues me from the great Landed Interests of the Country, where he had rendered my Interference necessary, to Scenes of private amusement, in which I have neither Agency nor participation.

You have under cover the Proclamation which has excited so much resentment, & an official Letter to the Recorder on the same subject,4 the motives of my Conduct on this occasion are set forth in these Documents, and I rest their Policy & expediency on the nature of the case, the Judgment of my predecessor (Governor Harrison) and the 9th. Section of the Law, “further providing for the Government of the District of Louisiana.”5 If I have Erred the intention will I hope extenuate my Error, but the conflicting opinions of the first officers of this Government, on a point of such Magnitude, appear to render the interposition of the competent Authority necessary, to the preservation of the rights & Interests of Individuals & of the public.

I have been warned by the public denounciations of a Cabal of public officers, who have opposed themselves to me, that Effectual measures would be taken to remove me from office, but I had no Idea until a recent detection, that attempts could be made to suborn testimony for the purpose; This foul Measure is exposed in the Documents marked No. 16 & I hold in my possession the Deposition of which you have a Copy, in the Hand writing of Major Seth Hunt,7 I make this exposition with pain, but I have deemed it necessary, to guard against the Effects of similar attempts, which may be more successfully made.

You sir will I hope excuse me for trespassing such details upon you, and I hope the president will pardon my Solicitude to defend my Conduct against sinister Intrigues, since I am bound by an awful responsibility to justify his confidence, by a fair, Honourable & (as far as my capacities extend) able administration of the trust, which he has been pleased to repose in me. With perfect respect I am sir Your Obe Svt

Ja Wilkinson

RC and enclosures (DNA: RG 46, President’s Messages, 9B–A3). For surviving enclosures, see nn. 2–3 and 7.

1See Wilkinson to JM, 24 Aug. 1805, and n. 1.

2The enclosure (3 pp.; certified by Wilkinson) is a copy of Edward F. Bond to Wilkinson, 15 Nov. 1805, stating that sentiment in the Cape Girardeau region for exchanging the settlers’ land there for lands east of the Mississippi was gaining ground, partly because “many of the Inhabitants of this District [are] of such a turbulent restless Character, and have such predilection for wandering, [they] would move any where for the sake of change novelty and a new and unpeopled Country where they could indulge themselves in their favorite amusements and occupations, of hunting and raising Stock in what they term Range”; that others, who had formerly boasted of their attachment to the United States, were thinking of “going to the Spaniards, their Old Masters”; that it was rumored that the Spanish were very generous with land grants to new settlers; that some of these men were going because they had heard that Louis and William Lorimier, who were unpopular, had been nominated as militia officers, but Bond believed the complainers would join the militia in the end; that no new settlers had arrived at Cape Girardeau; and that Col. John B. Scott had suggested raising a light horse company, which could become very popular with the younger men.

3The enclosure is a copy (1 p.; certified by Wilkinson) of Robert Wescott’s 25 Nov. 1805 statement that in a conversation with him, Judge John B. C. Lucas had remarked that “the Judiciary were not in any degree subordinate to, but coequal with, the Executive in this Territory,” that the judges had a right to make laws in dependently of the governor because Congress had given the power of legislation “to a Majority of those to whom it was delegated,” that the governor’s opinion was not “essential in framing Laws,” and that he considered Rufus Easton “full as respectable as Genl. Wilkinson.”

4The enclosures have not been found, but they were probably copies of Wilkinson’s 4 Nov. 1805 proclamation regarding land surveys, and his 5 Nov. letter to Antoine Soulard. For the proclamation, see Wilkinson to JM, 6 Nov. 1805, n. 7; for the letter to Soulard, see Wilkinson to JM, 12 Nov. 1805, n. 3.

5For the act “providing for the Government of the District of Louisiana,” see Wilkinson to JM, 6 Nov. 1805, n. 3.

6These enclosures have not been identified but may have been the documents described in n. 7 below.

7The enclosure (1 p.; 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 13:292) is a copy of Sheriff Israel Dodge at St. Genevieve to Wilkinson, 20 Nov. 1805, stating that he had received the enclosed writing on 19 Nov. from William C. Carr, who stated that it had been sent to him from St. Louis; that Dodge was to swear to it and return it; that “the nature of this writing, and the evident use intended to be made of it, are so repugnant” to his sentiments that he considered it his duty to transmit it to Wilkinson; that the document was in the hand of Maj. Seth Hunt; that he knew nothing of Rufus Easton’s purported influence; that he knew nothing of the views of “the Junto” named in the document; and that he believed that any attempt to “weaken the attachment” of the people of the territory to Wilkinson was “as futile as malicious.” Dodge enclosed a model (3 pp.; printed ibid., 292–93) of an affidavit to be made by him, which stated that he had known Rufus Easton since Easton arrived at St. Genevieve about 1 May 1804; that Easton was respectable, upright, and as an attorney, “superior to that of any other counsellor in this Territory”; that his appointment was approved by the populace except for “a few individuals, (Monarchists and antidated land Claimants) at St. Louis”; that the idea of a combination against Wilkinson existing between Moses Austin, Seth Hunt, William C. Carr, Easton, and Dodge was “ridiculous and absolutely void of any foundation”; that Easton had been Wilkinson’s best friend and ardent supporter “until he found himself denounced to Mr. Austin by Gover Wilkinson as concerned in a Combination with the persons above named, to render him obnoxious to the people and prevent his confirmation as Governor.” Appended to the affidavit is a 24 Nov. 1805 paragraph, signed by Joseph Browne and Thomas H. Cushing, stating that they had compared the handwriting on the document with that of Maj. Seth Hunt, and they had “no hesitation” in declaring that it was from Hunt’s pen. A similar copy of the affidavit sent by Wilkinson to Henry Dearborn is marked: “Deposition prepared for Isreal [sic] Dodge by Majr. S. Hunt” (printed ibid., 293).

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