The Hickey

Minutes of the
Committee for
Detecting Conspiracies

Enoch Crosby
Describes His
Career As A Spy


Dr. Edward


Other Spies


The Burr

Alien and
Sedition Acts—



End Notes


The Burr Conspiracy

When Vice President Aaron Burr killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel in 1804, he also killed his chance to be president. Wanted for murder in New York, he fled the state and went to Philadelphia. Realizing that he had no future on the east coast, Burr, in a frantic effort to salvage his destroyed political power and heavily in debt, conceived a plan to seek political fortunes beyond the Alleghenies. He first contacted the British Minister, Anthony Merry, living in Philadelphia. He offered Merry his services in any efforts by Great Britain to take control over the western part of the United States. Merry, who hated the United States, wrote his Foreign Ministry that while Burr was notoriously profligate, nevertheless, his ambition and spirit of revenge would be useful to the British government. Merry became a strong supporter of Burr's schemes.

One of Burr's schemes was to organize a revolution in the West, take the Ohio and Mississippi Valleys and form them into a separate republic. His other scheme was to establish a republic bordering the United States by seizing Spanish possessions. To gain further support for his plans, Burr approached an old friend, General James Wilkinson; both had served as aides to then Colonel Benedict Arnold during the Quebec expedition. Wilkerson played a crucial role in the conspiracy for he not only conspired with Burr but conspired against him.

Wilkinson, after being commissioned a captain in the Continental Army in 1776, rose rapidly in rank and position. Assigned as aide-de-camp to General Horatio Gates, Wilkinson became involved in a plot, called the Conway Cabal, to replace George Washington as commander-in-chief with Gates. Wilkinson, himself, leaked aspects of the plot, probably believing in doing so he could gain some advantage for himself, but his scheme and the original plot failed. Wilkinson lost his job and military honors but kept his rank.

Despite this reversal, Wilkinson proceeded with several conspiracies. Replacing George Rogers Clark as leader in Kentucky, Wilkinson embarked on an attempt to separate Kentucky from Virginia. At the same time, he reasoned that an opportunity existed to make money from national resentment toward Spain. He traveled to New Orleans, where he convinced the Spanish authorities he was secretly working for the partition of the United States. He offered his services to the Spaniards, who identified him as "agent 13" in Spanish messages. Washington and Hamilton both thought that Wilkinson was a spy for the Spanish but felt that his loyalty could be purchased with a promotion.

Not satisfied with his intrigues involving Kentucky statehood and working an agent for the Spanish, Wilkinson accepted in 1792 a commission as brigadier general of a volunteer army fighting Indians north of the Ohio River. He then contrived to replace his commander, General "Mad Anthony" Wayne. Wilkinson succeeded only because Wayne died in 1796. He then seized Detroit from the British and became its military governor. His administration was short-lived as the citizens protested his greed and he returned to the South.

After arriving in the South, Wilkinson wheeled and dealed in land speculation and lucrative Army contracts and contrived to become governor or surveyor-general of the Mississippi Territory. President George Washington became uneasy about Wilkinson's activities and ordered his surveillance. Wilkinson discovered the surveillance and was able to have the surveillant withdrawn. Presidents John Adams and Thomas Jefferson did not share Washington's distrust of Wilkinson. In fact, in 1803 Jefferson fully trusted Wilkinson that he commissioned him to be one of two individuals to take formal possession of the Louisiana Purchase from the French.

In New Orleans, Wilkinson returned to his old ways and acted on Spanish fears concerning Florida, which was Spanish territory until 1819. For his ruse he received a $12,000 bribe. He purchased a boatload of sugar, took it to New York to sell and while there began secret negotiations with Burr, Jefferson's vice-president.

Burr, aware that war between the United States and Spain over boundary disputes was a possibility because of various Spanish conspiracies to achieve control of the lower Mississippi Valley, made covert plans with Wilkinson to invade and colonize Spanish territory in the West. They also schemed to establish an independent "Empire of the West" on a Napoleonic model. The conspirators even considered invading and annexing Mexico to add to their empire with New Orleans as capital.

Burr was dropped from the presidential ticket by Jefferson and in April 1805 commenced to put his plans into motion. He again approached the British via Minister Merry. He informed Merry that Louisiana was ready to break with the United States and once it did all the western country would follow suit. To be successful, Burr requested that Britain assure his protection, provide him with a half of million dollar loan, and dispatch a British naval squadron to the mouth of the Mississippi River. The British might have entertained Burr's requests but Prime Minister Pitt died and was succeeded by Charles James Fox, a life-long friend of the United States. Fox considered the Merry-Burr discussions indiscreet, dangerous and damnable and recalled Merry to England on June 1, 1806. Having failed to secure British aid in an attempt to separate western states from the United States, Burr then headed west across Pennsylvania. In Pittsburgh, he procured a riverboat and embarked down the Ohio River. He stopped to visit Harman Blennerhassett, a wealthy, gentleman-scholar and Irish emigrant, who lived with his wife Margaret on an island in the middle of the river. Burr explained his plan to Blennerhassett, who enthusiastically expressed his support by giving Burr money. Burr used the funds to later purchase the Batrop lands on the Ouachita River, in present-day northern Louisiana, to serve as his base of operations into the Southwest.

Burr continued down the river to New Orleans, recruiting frontiersmen, filibusters, adventurers, and others along the way. When he arrived in New Orleans in 1806, he was fervently welcomed because his game plan to colonize or conquer the Spanish possessions touched an appealing cord in many of the people. As rumors of his plan reached Washington, the political establishment suspected that Burr was talking treason. Wilkinson, who was stationed on the Sabine River on the Spanish border with the United States, learned of Washington's reaction and decided to inform on Burr to avoid being charged with treason himself. On November 25, 1806 a courier arrived in Washington carrying a dispatch for President Jefferson. In the dispatch, Wilkinson warned President Jefferson about Burr's threatening plan. Jefferson ordered Burr arrested and he was apprehended in late 1806 near Nachez, Mississippi, while attempting to flee into Spanish territory.

In May 1807, Burr was tried for treason in front of U.S. Chief Justice John Marshall in the circuit court at Richmond, Virginia. Jefferson prepared an account of Burr's criminal activity for Congress and wanted to present it to the court but Marshall requested President Jefferson appearance instead. The President refused, consequently establishing a precedent for future presidents. Marshall, who was not on amicable terms with Jefferson found Burr not guilty, explaining that Burr committed no overt act of treason. Although innocent of the charges against him, Burr was never able to overcome the accusations. He died in New York City in 1836.

In 1805, Jefferson appointed Wilkinson governor of the Louisiana Territory. To distance himself from Burr, Wilkinson made an effort to cozy up to Jefferson. His effort was successful as he averted indictment by the Richmond, Virginia grand jury investigating Burr. These efforts, however, caused him to neglect his duty as governor. The situation became so serious that troops were deployed to calm an angry populace, upset by his mismanagement.

After his wife died in 1807, Wilkinson appeared to lose the shrewdness that saved him in the past. He was reappointed by Jefferson to govern Louisiana but his administration was so openly corrupt that President Monroe ordered a court-martial in 1811. The court found him not guilty. Even his military acumen failed him. During the war of 1812, he made a complete mess of the campaign against Montreal that he lost his commission in the Army.

Wilkinson refused to give up and in 1812, at the age of 64, he once more attempted to defraud the Spanish. Using the cover as agent for the American Bible Society, he traveled to Mexico City to seek a Texas land grant. He secured the grant, but died in 1825 before fulfilling all of its provisions.

The Alien and Sedition Acts 1798

Following publication of the XYZ correspondence, Congress passed the Alien and Sedition Acts. Prompted by a spirit of nationalism by the Federalists, the real targets of the acts were the anti-Federalist editors and pamphleteers of English and French extraction. The Alien Acts were never enforced but did cause a number of French refugees to flee the country or go into hiding. The Sedition Act extended the jurisdiction of the federal courts but there was serious questions as to its constitutionality. The law was never challenged in court. In 1812 the Supreme Court ruled that the federal courts do not have common law jurisdiction in criminal cases. Of the twenty-five persons arrested under the Sedition Act only ten were convicted.

The Naturalization Act-June 18, 1798
An Act supplementary to and to amend the act, entitled "An act to establish an uniform rule of naturalization," and to repeal the act heretofore passed on that subject.

Section 1. Be it enacted..., That no alien shall be admitted to become a citizen of the United States, or of any state, unless ...he shall have declared his intention to become a citizen of the United States, five years, at least, before his admission, and shall, at the time of his application to be admitted, declare and prove, to the satisfaction of the court having jurisdiction in the case, that he has resided within the United States fourteen years, at least, and within the state or territory where, or for which such court is at the time held, five years, at least, besides conforming to the other declarations, renunciations and proofs, by the said act required, any thing therein to the contrary hereof not-withstanding: Provided that any Alien, who was residing within the limits, and under the jurisdiction of the United States, before...(January 29, 1795,)...may, within one year after the passing of this act-and any alien who shall have made the declaration of his intention to become a citizen of the United States, in conformity to the provisions of the act (of Jan. 29, 1795), may, within four years after having made the declaration aforesaid, be admitted to become a citizen, in the manner prescribed by the said act, ... And provided also, that no alien, who shall be a native, citizen, denizen or subject of any nation or state with whom the United States shall be at war, at the time of his application, shall be then admitted to become a citizen of the United States....

Section 4. And be it further enacted, That all white persons, aliens,...who, after the passing of this act, shall continue to reside in any port or place within the territory of the United States, shall be reported, the clerk of the district court of the district, if living within ten miles of the port or place, in which their residence or arrival shall be, and otherwise, to the collector of such port or place, or some officer or other person there, or nearest thereto, who shall be authorized by the President of the United States, to register aliens: and report, as aforesaid, shall be made in all cases of residence, within forty-eight hours after the first arrival or coming into the territory of the United States, and shall ascertain the sex, place of birth, age, nation, place of allegiance or citizenship, condition or occupation, and place of actual or intended residence within the United States, of the alien or aliens reported, and by whom the report is made....

Section 5. And be it further enacted, That every alien who shall continue to reside, or who shall arrive, as aforesaid, of whom a report is required as aforesaid, who shall refuse or neglect to make such a report, and to receive a certificate thereof, shall forfeit and pay the sum of two dollars; and any justice of the peace, or other civil magistrate, who has authority to require surety of the peace, shall and may, on complaint to him made thereof, cause such alien to be brought before him, and there to give surety of the peace and good behavior during his residence within the United States, or for such term as the justice or other magistrate shall deem reasonable, and until a report and registry of such alien shall be made, and a certificate of such surety, such alien shall and may be committed to the common goal, and shall be three held, until the order which the justice or magistrate shall and may reasonable make, in the premises, shall be performed....


The Alien Act-June 25, 1798, An Act concerning Aliens

Section 1. Be it enacted..., That it shall be lawful for the President of the United States at any time during the continuance of this act, to order all such aliens as he shall judge dangerous to the peace and safety of the United States, or shall have reasonable grounds to suspect are concerned in any treasonable or secret machinations against the government thereof, to depart out of the territory of the United States, within such time as shall be expressed in such order, which order shall be served on such alien by delivering him a copy thereof, or leaving the same at his usual abode, and returned to the Office of the Secretary of State by the marshal or other person to whom the same shall be directed. And in the case any alien, so ordered to depart, shall be found at large within the United States after the time limited in such order for his departure, and not having obtained a license from the President to reside therein, or having obtained such a license shall not have conformed thereto, every such alien shall, on conviction thereof, be imprisoned for a term not exceeding three years, and shall never after be admitted to become a citizen of the United States. Provided always, and be it further enacted, that if any alien so ordered to depart shall prove to the satisfaction of the President, by evidence to be taken before such person or persons as the President shall direct, who are for that purpose hereby authorized to administer oaths, that no injury or danger to the United States will arise from suffering such alien to reside therein, the President may grant a license to such alien to remain within the United States for such time as he shall judge proper, and at such place as he may designate. And the President may also require of such alien to enter into a bond to the United States, in such penal sum as he may direct, with one or more sufficient sureties to the satisfaction of the person authorized by the President to take the same, conditioned for the good behavior of such alien during his residence in the United States, and not violating his license, which license the President may revoke, whenever he shall think proper.

Section 2. And be it further enacted, That it shall be lawful for the President of the United States, whenever he may deem it necessary for the public safety, to order to be removed out of the territory thereof, any alien who may or shall be in prison in pursuance of this act; and to cause to be arrested and sent out of the United States such of those aliens as shall have been ordered to depart therefrom and shall not have obtained a license as aforesaid, in all cases where, in the opinion of the President, the public safety requires a speedy removal. And if any alien so removed or sent out of the United States by the President shall voluntarily return thereto, unless by permission of the President of the United States, such alien on conviction thereof, shall be imprisoned so long as, in the opinion of the President, the public safety may require....

Section 6. And be it further enacted, That this act shall continue and be in force for and during the term of two years from the passing thereof.

The Alien Enemies Act_July 6, 1798, An Act respecting Alien Enemies

Section 1. Be it enacted..., That whenever there shall be a declared war between the United States and any foreign nation or government, or any invasion or predatory incursion shall be perpetrated, attempted, or threatened against the territory of the United States, by any foreign nation or government,... all natives, citizens, denizens, or subjects of the hostile nation or government, being males of the age of fourteen years and upward, who shall be within the United States, and not actually naturalized, shall be liable to be apprehended, restrained, secured and removed, as alien enemies. And the President of the United States shall be, and he is hereby authorized,... to direct the conduct to be observed, on the part of the United States, towards the aliens who shall become liable, as aforesaid; the manner and degree of the restraint to which they shall be subject, and in what cases, and upon what security their residence shall be permitted, and to provide for the removal of those, who, not being permitted to reside within the United States, shall refuse or neglect to depart therefrom; and to establish any other regulations which shall be found necesary in the premises and for the publlic safety....

The Sedition Act-July 14, 1798
An Act in addition to the act, entitled "An act for the punishment of cerain crimes against the United States."

Section 1. Be it enacted..., That if any persons shall unlawfully combine or conspire together, with intent to oppose any measure or measures of the government of the United States, which are or shall be directed by proper authority, or to impede the operation of any law of the United States, or to intimidate or prevent any person holding a place of office in or under the government of the United States, from undertaking, performing or executing his trust or duty; and if any person or persons, with intent as aforesaid, shall counsel, advise or attempt to procure any insurrection, riot, unlawful assembly, or combination, whether such conspiracy, threatening, counsel, advice or attempt shall have the proposed effect or not, he or they shall be deemed guilty of a high misdemeanor, and on conviction, before any court of the United States having jurisdiction thereof, shall be punished by a fine not exceeding five thousands dollars, and by imprisonment during a term not less than six months nor exceeding five years; and further, at the discretion of the court may be holden to find sureties for his good behavior in such sum, and for such time, as the said court may direct.

Revolutionary Soldier

Section 2. That if any person shall write, print, utter, or publish, or shall cause or procure to be written, printed, uttered or published, or shall knowingly and willingly assist or aid in writing, printing, uttering or publishing any false, scandalous and mallows writing or writings against the government of the United States, or either house of the Congress of the United States, or the President of the United States, with intent to defame the said government, or either house of the said Congress, or the said President, or to bring them, or either of them, into contempt or disrepute; or to excite against them, or either of any of them, the hatred of the good people of the United States, or to stir up sedition within the United States, or to excite any unlawful combination therein, for opposing or resisting any law of the United States, or any act of the President of the United States, done inpursuance of any such law, or of the powers in him vested by the constitution of the United States, or to resist, oppose, or defeat any such law or act, or to aid, encourage or abet any hostile designs of any foreign nations against the United States, their people or government, then such person therof convicted before any court of the United States having jurisdiction thereof, shall be punished by a fine not exceeding two thousand dollars, and by imprisonment not exceeding two years.

Section 3. That if any person shall be prosecuted under this act, for the writing or pusblishing any libel aforesaid, it shall be lawful for the defendant, upon the trial of the cause, to give in evidence in his defense, the truth of the matter contained in the publication charged as libel. And the jury who shall try the cause, shall have a right to determine the law and the fact, under the direction of the court, as in other cases.

Section 4. That this act shall continue to be in force until March 3, 1801, and no longer....


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