Puslapio vaizdai

fugitive from justice and under indictment for a capital offense.

reached its

The fantastic situation climax when it fell to his lot to conduct the impeachment trial of a justice of the Supreme Court before the Senate. The spectacle of this malefactor thus engaged must have caused laughter among the immortals. Mortals, however, were impressed, he bore himself with such dignity and composure. A reaction set in, and for a time the duel was almost forgotten in admiration of his conduct of the trial "with the impartiality of an angel and the vigor of a devil." For a moment this admiration changed to emotion, even to tears, when, two days before his term as Vice-President ended, he took leave of the Senate in a short speech grave to the point of coldness. "It was the solemnity, the anxiety, the expectation and the interest which I saw strongly painted on the countenances of the auditors that inspired whatever was said," he explained. "I neither shed tears nor assumed tenderness; but tears did flow abundantly."

Jefferson was undoubtedly glad to have him out of his official family. A VicePresident hanged for murder would not have been an edifying spectacle to present to the nations, but a Vice-President guilty and going unpunished was an object-lesson even less desirable.

A month later Burr went into the South. His errand is even yet a subject of doubt. In that day of slow and difficult communication his projects and his progress were shrouded in eloquent mystery. Yet he traveled in a state befitting one who had held high office. "My boat," he wrote his daughter, "is a floating house." And when he reached the rich and settled regions of the lower Mississippi, he chose his society with the regal assumption that he would be welcome. "During the residue of my voyage to New Orleans, about 300 miles, I shall take breakfast and dinner each day at the house of some gentleman on shore. . . . I take no letters of introduction; but whenever I hear of any gentleman whose acquaintance or hospitality I should desire, I send word that I am

coming to see him, and have always met a most cordial reception."

To all these people he told variations of one story. To an angular major-general of Tennessee militia named Andrew Jackson, whom he visited at Nashville, he talked about Spanish aggression in the Southwest. For the benefit of Harman Blennerhasset, an excitable Irishman who lived with his young wife in a fool's paradise on an island near Marietta, Ohio, he hinted at interesting conspiracy. Το others he explained that his sole intention was to buy and colonize a large tract known as the Bastop lands on the Washita River. To General Wilkinson, the highest military officer of the United States, and incidentally in the pay of Spain, he unfolded a scheme of a new Western empire made up of Mexico and the dissatisfied Southwestern States. He had known Wilkinson of old and did not overestimate his loyalty. To no one, however, did he commit himself definitely. Perhaps he had not mapped out, even in his own mind, the limit of his desires. He was an opportunist, with a leaning toward surprising coups, and in this first trip he may have been merely taking soundings, trusting to chance to determine the final out


The throne of Montezuma is believed to have gleamed as his ultimate goal, and there are indications that his plottings began even before he left the Vice-Presidency-in fact, at the very time when he was impressing the country by his dignity in trying circumstances. If these suppositions be true, the scheme included such spectacular events as the capture of Washington, the kidnapping of President Jefferson, and tampering with the United States navy. The British minister at Washington averred that he dangled part of such a plot before his eyes, offering to put the new empire under protection of the British flag in return for help in taking New Orleans. But finding that his Majesty's home office refused to be dazzled, he turned with characteristic effrontery to Spain, attempting to get money. with which to rob her of her own colonies.

With such unlikely foreign help, the aid of young and wealthy adventurers in the East and West, the active coöperation of General Wilkinson, the credit of the rich Allston family of South Carolina, into which his daughter had married, and last, but not least, assistance from the priests of Texas and Mexico, he would take his seat upon the throne, make his daughter chief lady of the empire, his son-in-law heir presumptive, Wilkinson general-inchief, and Blennerhasset minister to England. The scheme is as grotesque as any nightmare, and this final touch encourages the suspicion that Burr was playing upon personal vanity and enjoying his own. sardonic joke. He was a knave, but no fool, and the idea of the gullible Blennerhasset in the rôle of ambassador to anything could never have entered a sane man's plans. But there was no harm in raising hopes; and he went his charming, insinuating way, scattering his poison and relishing the antics of his victims.

His desire for the help of the priests made necessary marked attentions to the Catholics of New Orleans. Always alive to the dramatic contrasts of his position, he set himself to win their favor with a keen delight in the situation. In view of his reputation as a libertine and his late prominence as a murderer, it especially pleased him to visit the chaste ladies of the Ursuline convent in company with the reverend bishop. He wrote his daughter a detailed and lively account of the visit.

We conversed at first through the gates; but presently I was admitted within, and I passed an hour with them, greatly to my satisfaction. None of that calm monotony which I expected. All was gaiety, wit, and sprightliness. Saint A. is a very accomplished lady. . . . All except two appear to be past thirty. They were dressed with perfect neatness, their veils thrown back. We had a repast of wine, fruit, and cakes. I was conducted to every part of the building. . . . At parting I asked them to remember me in their prayers, which they all promised with great promptness and courtesy-Saint A. with earnestness. I will

ask Saint A. to pray for thee too. I believe much in the efficacy of her prayers.

Burr's vague hints met with astonishingly cordial response. One resident of New Orleans promised $50,000 toward the enterprise. But to rail at conditions in the exaggerated and sometimes profane manner of the Southwest was one thing; it was quite another to follow words with action. The American privilege of free speech, bought and paid for, was easy to exercise while Burr sat opposite, listening with the absorbed interest that was his subtlest flattery. But after the fumes of wine had passed and the hypnotic charm of Burr's presence was removed, it was a more serious matter to count the cost of treason.

Burr returned to the East, very possibly duped by the dupes he had made, a not uncommon form of auto-suggestion. August, 1806, saw him again journeying westward, this time accompanied by his daughter. But sane and loyal men had had time to rally, and seeing the connection between Burr's plot and old jealousies of East and West, as well as old border resentments still smoldering against France and Spain, they denounced him in the newspapers. A few of his partizans were active. Blennerhasset set about a noisy attempt to raise a force of Ohioans, and Jackson, who should have seen under the tempter's mask by this time, called out the militia of western Tennessee, ready to invade either Florida or Mexico, though the United States was at peace with Spain. But even his impetuous eagerness could not overlook certain dark hints, and he demanded assurance of Burr's loyalty.

Society in the Southwest made much of the Burrs, but the authorities began to deal blow after blow. In Kentucky, Burr's name was twice presented to the grand jury for treason. Henry Clay, a young and already distinguished lawyer, acted as his counsel. Though successful in this case, a doubt lingered in Clay's own mind, and he, like Jackson, demanded a statement of intentions, which Burr cheerfully furnished. One after another

the men Burr had counted upon as supporters ranged themselves against him. General Wilkinson, having sounded his subordinate officers and found them hopelessly loyal, took the next logical step for a man of his caliber and turned informer. Jefferson, deeming the time ripe at last for Federal interference, issued a proclamation for Burr's arrest. He had been in possession of some facts and many suspicions as early as January, 1806, but thought the enterprise too fantastic for government action. "It is," he wrote, "the most extraordinary since the days of Don Quixote," "so extravagant that those who know his understanding would not believe it if the proofs admitted doubt." At that time he was inclined to leave it to be dealt with by the state authorities.

The President's proclamation was answered from all parts of the country by military organizations offering their services. The document itself, traveling westward from post to post, overtook Burr near Natchez as he was dropping down the Mississippi with the flotilla Blennerhasset had collected for him. These boats were supposed to contain settlers and supplies for the Bastop lands. Burr slipped his chests of arms overboard, surrendered gracefully to the acting governor of Mississippi, gave bonds, then vanished in disguise into the Indian country. A reward of two thousand dollars was offered for his capture, and a month later he was taken into custody near the Spanish border in Alabama.

On his arrival in Richmond, where the trial took place, he found himself overburdened with social attentions. He invited his daughter to visit him in jail.

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friends and acquaintances of both sexes are permitted to visit me without interruption, without inquiring their business, and without the presence of a spy. It is well I have an antechamber or I should often be gêné with visitors. If you come I can give you a bedroom and parlor on this floor. The bedroom has three large closets and is a much more commodious one than you ever had in your life.

Released on bail, he accepted hospitality outside his hundred-foot suite, and ChiefJustice Marshall, who was to preside at the trial, found himself one day at the same dinner-table, to his manifest great embarrassment and the prisoner's covert glee.

The attention of the whole country centered upon Richmond, and the nation's most famous men crowded the courtroom; the younger aspirants to political honor eager to see and take note, the older men bringing with them their burden of experience and their personal liking or distrust. Witnesses were summoned from far and near, for, as Jefferson picturesquely expressed it, Burr's crimes had been "sown from Maine through the whole line of western waters to New Orleans." Andrew Jackson was one of these witnesses. If Chief-Justice Marshall had had his way, President Jefferson would have been another; but he refused to do more than send his papers. The right of a President of the United States to the custody of his own executive papers was a by-subject of discussion. Clad in black, with queue and powder, Burr was once more a model of correct dignity, and conducted his own case with consummate skill, the four eminent counsel he had retained being thrust quite into the background. The verdict of not guilty was reached after a trial lasting two weeks. It was proved that Burr had not waged war against the United States or adhered to its enemies, and that the levying of men that actually occurred had not taken place in the State where the trial was held. Politics, of course, entered into it at every turn. It was claimed that the Federalists

made Burr's cause their own and did everything to shield him. He had never been a Federalist; but this shifty soldier of fortune had a way of enlisting the sympathies of every party in turn. Jefferson took a deep, some thought a vindictive, interest in the trial; but if personal dislike entered into it, he did not let it interfere to the hurt of others. "Remove the major!" he exclaimed, when urged to retaliate upon an officer at Richmond who opened his house to Burr's friends. "Remove the major! I would sooner divide my last hoe-cake with him.”

Again at liberty, Burr went to Baltimore; but, feeling the chill of public sentiment against him, made a hurried departure for England. The story of his wanderings abroad, of his return to America and of his existence in ostracized poverty until death released him at the age of eighty, reads like some grim masterpiece of fiction. Whatever the portion of malefactors beyond the tomb, that thirty years' martyrdom in the flesh, within sight of those he had hoodwinked and those he had envied, ought to count as no small part of his final expiation. Success, had it been possible, would have made him Emperor of Mexico; death as a traitor would still have been attended with some splendor and renown: but the sordid existence to which he was condemned for more than a quarter of a century had in it not one drop of balm.

Yet he bore his reverses, as he had his success, with a malevolent grace all his


One cannot help admiring his courage after all zest had died out of "the adventure." For at first there was zest in the game. He cut an attractive figure abroad in society, sometimes under a borrowed name, sometimes under his own. Invited at last to leave London, he had the audacity to claim that he was a British subject, which so puzzled the cabinet that they referred it to the law officers, thereby granting him a respite of some months. Afterward he wandered through Scotland, Sweden, Denmark, and Germany, always asked to move on, growing daily poorer. Learning that Napoleon had given his

consent to the independence of Mexico, he hurried to Paris, to meet with studied coldness and have his passports refused at the instigation of the American minister. It was here that he received that oftquoted message from Talleyrand, "Say to Colonel Burr that I will receive him tomorrow; but tell him also that General Hamilton's likeness always hangs over my mantel," and even Burr's effrontery was not enough to carry him to the interview.

Americans living in Paris would have nothing to do with him. One of them, however, lent him a little money upon which to live through the chill of a Parisian winter. His letters to his daughter, infrequent for lack of wherewithal to pay postage, mocked at want. "How sedate and sage one is with only three sous!" he wrote, recounting gaily the subterfuges by which he sought to outwit poverty. When remittances came he indulged in all sorts of speculation in the hope of recouping his fortune, invading for this purpose the opening fields of science and mechanics. His restless mind was as eager in these directions as that of Jefferson, with this important difference: Burr thought of them with himself as the center and beneficiary, while Jefferson's interest was philosophic and personal.

In one of his rare moments of affluence Burr ordered a new set of false teeth, became intimate with the operator, watched the process closely, and when permission was finally given him to sail for America, bought and carried with him a thousand artificial teeth as a speculation. But the French ship on which he sailed had the bad luck to be captured by the British, and he found himself in London instead of America, with this strange luggage as his only asset. He placed his newly acquired knowledge at the disposal of his hosts, but they patriotically spurned the idea of having anything to do with French teeth.

Reaching America at last under a name not his own, he made his way in wig and ill-fitting coat to the custom-house to get permission to land his effects. The official


on duty proved to be the son of an old enemy who would gladly have reported his arrival; and when his books were opened, all bore the name of Burr, instead of the Arnot he had just signed. there was no need for his elaborate precautions; he and his misdeeds were forgotten. War had just been declared against England; even his two largest creditors had no eyes for his return. It was humiliating, but convenient. He slipped into an unimportant law practice in New York City. Clay, meeting him, refused his proffered hand; and as such rebuffs were repeated, he drew more and more into himself.

Then came the great sorrow of his life. His daughter, sailing from Charleston to join him, fell a victim to one of the unexplained tragedies of the ocean. There were weeks of suspense; but when the last slender thread of hope was broken, he put away everything that could remind him of the one being he had really loved, and bore his grief in silence. He sank lower and lower in the professional scale into mere pettifogging practice. Women took care of him out of pity, as they had before out of love. He could make love even yet. In a last effort to mend his fortune he persuaded a rich widow to marry him. They soon parted, and when paralysis claimed him three years before his death, it was in the home of a humble and kindly matron that he awaited the final summons.

It is a sordid story, and morally quite

what he deserved; but it is a sad story, too, with enough of doubt in it to indulge the hope that the blackest charge against his name is false-that he did not deliberately plot to break up the Union for his own personal glory. He denied this at his trial, and in old age in the very presence of death. He admitted plotting revolution in Mexico, but as for the other, he asserted hotly that he would as soon have thought of dividing the moon among his friends.

Feeling against Mexico was in the air. Jackson's eagerness to cross the border never called forth serious reproach. The time came when the feeling could no longer be restrained. Burr's biographer described him lying a paralytic, eyes blazing, newspaper in hand, when war was finally declared. "There! You see," he exclaimed, "I was right. I was only thirty years too soon. What was treason in me is patriotism now."

The final estimate of a man may not agree with even his honest opinion of himself, and it is possible that this being of strangely warped and gifted nature was sincere in his own villainies, the victim of his own talents and eccentricities. Since the Almighty works with what to the finite mind seem such very poor tools, it ill becomes fellow-mortals to usurp day of judgment power; but it seems strange indeed that Destiny could not have used his youthful military talents and spared a bullet for him in some brilliant brush with the enemy.

(The next paper in this series will be published in April. Thereafter, for a while, fairly long instalments will appear every other month)

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