James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Henry Dearborn, 26 January 1815

From Henry Dearborn

Troy Janury. 26th. 1815


I should not take the liberty of addressing the following observations to yourself; had I not recently heard that the Secretary of War is very unwell. The Court Martial for the trial of Genl. Wilkinson has been in session twenty three days, and for the want of the principle witnesses on the part of the prosecution, no witnesses have yet been examined, the Judge Advocate having declined commencing the trial, until the witnesses relied on for supporting the most important charges shall attend. Genls. Scott Boyd & Macomb, & Col Walback, are by the Judge Advocate concidered the most important witnesses, and as they are under the control of the Government, there attendence has been expected.1 The long delay has occasioned many remarks unfavourable to the Government, Genl. Wilkinson has been under arrest about eight months by the orders of the Secretary of War. A Genl. Court Martial has been ordered by the same authority, and having been in Session almost a month, cannot proceed to the trial for want of the principle witnesses. It begins to be said by many, that the Government did not intend that a trial should be had, &c &c. You will readily perceive Sir what use will be made of such a want of attendence of witnesses as must prevent any trial. I fear that the man who now acts as Adjut. & Inspector Genl. at Washington, has had a greater control of whatever relates to this Court, than his Judgement & information is capable of directing. I am Sir with great respect your Obedt. Humble Servant

RC (DLC). Unsigned; docketed by JM: “Genl. Dearborn,” with his note: “(in his hand writing).” Also docketed in an unidentified hand: “Anonymous / Supposed from Major Genl Dearborn / has been attended to by the Secy of War.”

1Brigadier generals Winfield Scott and Alexander Macomb did not testify at Maj. Gen. James Wilkinson’s court-martial. On 31 Jan. 1815 judge advocate Evert A. Bancker read to the court letters of 25 Jan. from both men explaining that their other military duties would prevent their attendance. He also submitted a 23 Jan. letter from the adjutant and inspector general, Daniel Parker, stating that Brig. Gen. John Parker Boyd and Col. John De Barth Walbach, along with other officers, had been ordered “to repair to Troy, as soon as practicable.” Because Boyd and Brig. Gen. Robert Swartwout were already present, Bancker agreed to go forward with the trial, over which Dearborn presided. Wilkinson was charged with neglect of duty and unofficerlike conduct, drunkenness on duty, conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman, and countenancing and encouraging disobedience of orders, all during the failed campaign on the northern frontier in the fall of 1813. The court-martial concluded on 21 Mar. 1815 with an honorable acquittal on all charges (Wilkinson, Memoirs of My Own Times, 3:16–21, 39–42, 496).

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