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A History of the United States by Cecil Chesterton

He wrote peremptorily to Burr for an explanation


Jackson

had met Burr during the brief period when he was in Congress as representative of his State. He had been entertained by him and liked him, and when Burr visited Tennessee he was received by Jackson with all the hospitality of the West. Jackson was just the man to be interested in a plan for invading Mexico in the event of a Spanish war, and he would probably not have been much shocked--for the West was headstrong, used to free fighting, and not nice on points of international law--at the idea of helping on a war for the purpose. But he loved the Union as he loved his own life. Burr said nothing to him of his separatist schemes. When later he heard rumours of them, he wrote peremptorily to Burr for an explanation. Burr, who, to do him justice, was not the man to shuffle or prevaricate, lied so vigorously and explicitly that Jackson for the moment believed him. Later clearer proof came of his treason, and close on it followed the President's proclamation apprehending him, for Burr had been betrayed by an accomplice to Jefferson. Jackson at once ordered out the militia to seize him, but he had already passed westward out of his control. The Secretary for War, who, as it happened, was a personal enemy of Jackson's, thinking his connection with Burr might be used against him, wrote calling in sinister tone for an account of his conduct. Jackson's reply is so characteristic of the man that it deserves to be quoted. After saying that there was nothing treasonable in Burr's communications
to him personally, he adds: "But, sir, when proofs showed him to be a Treator" (spelling was never the future President's strong point), "I would cut his throat with as much pleasure as I would cut yours on equal testimony."

The whole conspiracy fizzled out. Burr could get no help from any of the divergent parties he had attempted to gain. No one would fight for him. His little band of rebels was scattered, and he himself was seized, tried for treason, and acquitted on a technical point. But his dark, tempestuous career was over. Though he lived to an unlovely old age, he appears no more in history.

Jefferson was re-elected President in 1804. He was himself doubtful about the desirability of a second tenure, but the appearance at the moment of a series of particularly foul attacks upon his private character made him feel that to retire would amount to something like a plea of guilty. Perhaps it would have served his permanent fame better if he had not accepted another term, for, owing to circumstances for which he was only partly to blame, his second Presidency appears in history as much less successful than his first.

Its chief problem was the maintenance of peace and neutrality during the colossal struggle between France under Napoleon and the kings and aristocracies of Europe who had endeavoured to crush the French Revolution, and who now found themselves in imminent peril of being crushed by its armed and amazing child.

Jefferson sincerely loved peace. Moreover, the sympathy for France, of which he had at one time made no disguise, was somewhat damped by the latest change which had taken place in the French Government. Large as was his vision compared with most of his contemporaries, he was too much soaked in the Republican tradition of antiquity, which was so living a thing in that age, to see in the decision of a nation of soldiers to have a soldier for their ruler and representative the fulfilment of democracy and not its denial. But his desire for peace was not made easier of fulfilment by either of the belligerent governments. Neither thought the power of the United States to help or hinder of serious account, and both committed constant acts of aggression against American rights. Nor was his position any stronger in that he had made it a charge against the Federalists that they had provided in an unnecessarily lavish fashion for the national defence. In accordance with his pledges he had reduced the army. His own conception of the best defensive system for America was the building of a large number of small but well-appointed frigates to guard her coasts and her commerce. It is fair to him to say that when war came these frigates of his gave a good account of themselves. Yet his own position was a highly embarrassing one, anxious from every motive to avoid war and yet placed between an enemy, or rather two enemies, who would yield nothing to his expostulations, and the rising clamour, especially in the West, for the vindication of American rights by an appeal to arms.


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