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Special Message

January 20, 1808

To the House of Representatives of the United States:

Some days previous to your resolutions of the 13th instant a court of inquiry had been instituted at the request of General Wilkinson, charged to make the inquiry into his conduct which the first resolution desires, and had commenced their proceedings. To the judge-advocate of that court the papers and information on that subject transmitted to me by the House of Representatives have been delivered, to be used according to the rules and powers of that court.

The request of a communication of any information which may have been received at any time since the establishment of the present Government touching combinations with foreign agents for dismembering the Union or the corrupt receipt of money by any officer of the United States from the agents of foreign governments can be complied with but in a partial degree.

It is well understood that in the first or second year of the Presidency of General Washington information was given to him relating to certain combinations with the agents of a foreign government for the dismemberment of the Union, which combinations had taken place before the establishment of the present Federal Government. This information, however, is believed never to have been deposited in any public office, or left in that of the President's secretary, these having been duly examined, but to have been considered as personally confidential, and therefore retained among his private papers. A communication from the governor of Virginia to President Washington is found in the office of the President's secretary, which, although not strictly within the terms of the request of the House of Representatives, is communicated, inasmuch as it may throw some light on the subjects of the correspondence of that time between certain foreign agents and citizens of the United States.

In the first or second year of the Administration of President Adams Andrew Ellicott, then employed in designating, in conjunction with the Spanish authorities, the boundaries between the territories of the United States and Spain, under the treaty with that nation, communicated to the Executive of the United States papers and information respecting the subjects of the present inquiry, which were deposited in the Office of State. Copies of these are now transmitted to the House of Representatives, except of a single letter and a reference from the said Andrew Ellicott, which, being expressly desired to be kept secret, is therefore not communicated, but its contents can be obtained from himself in a more legal form, and directions have been given to summon him to appear as a witness before the court of inquiry.

A paper on "The Commerce of Louisiana," bearing date the 18th of April, 1798, is found in the Office of State, supposed to have been communicated by Mr. Daniel Clark, of New Orleans, then a subject of Spain, and now of the House of Representatives of the United States, stating certain commercial transactions of General Wilkinson in New Orleans. An extract from this is now communicated, because it contains facts which may have some bearing on the questions relating to him.

The destruction of the War Office by fire in the close of 1800 involved all information it contained at that date.

The papers already described therefore constitute the whole of the information on the subjects deposited in the public offices during the preceding Administrations, as far as has yet been found; but it can not be affirmed that there may be no other, because, the papers of the office being filed for the most part alphabetically, unless aided by the suggestion of any particular name which may have given such information, nothing short of a careful examination of the papers in the offices generally could authorize such an affirmation.

About a twelvemonth after I came to the administration of the Government Mr. Clark gave some verbal information to myself, as well as to the Secretary of State, relating to the same combinations for the dismemberment of the Union. He was listened to freely, and he then delivered the letter of Governor Gayoso, addressed to himself, of which a copy is now communicated. After his return to New Orleans he forwarded to the Secretary of State other papers, with a request that after perusal they should be burnt. This, however, was not done, and he was so informed by the Secretary of State, and that they would be held subject to his orders. These papers have not yet been found in the office. A letter, therefore, has been addressed to the former chief clerk, who may perhaps give information respecting them. As far as our memories enable us to say, they related only to the combinations before spoken of and not at all to the corrupt receipt of money by any officer of the United States; consequently they respected what was considered as a dead matter, known to the preceding Administrations, and offering nothing new to call for investigations, which those nearest the dates of the transactions had not thought proper to institute.

In the course of the communications made to me on the subject of the conspiracy of Aaron Burr I sometimes received letters, some of them anonymous, some under names true or false, expressing suspicions and insinuations against General Wilkinson; but one only of them, and that anonymous, specified any particular fact, and that fact was one of those which had been already communicated to a former Administration.

No other information within the purview of the request of the House is known to have been received by any department of the Government from the establishment of the present Federal Government. That which has been recently communicated to the House of Representatives, and by them to me, is the first direct testimony ever made known to me charging General Wilkinson with the corrupt receipt of money, and the House of Representatives may be assured that the duties which this information devolves on me shall be exercised with rigorous impartiality. Should any want of power in the court to compel the rendering of testimony obstruct that full and impartial inquiry which alone can establish guilt or innocence and satisfy justice, the legislative authority only will be competent to the remedy.


Thomas Jefferson, Special Message Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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