Page images




Albany, September 24, 1841.

} Sir: There is much reason to apprehend that the country would be involved in war if any injury should befall Alexander M‘Leod while he remains in the custody of the law. The state of New York could be neither justified nor excused if any violence should reach him. Important as it is that the state shall vindicate its dignity, by subjecting him to a trial for the offence with which he is charged, the honor of New York, and even that of the United States, is more deeply concerned in protecting him against danger until that vindication be accomplished. You are aware of the solicitude of this department on that subject. You are aware that the same solicitude is expressed by the president, and, indeed, that it pervades the American people. I have the highest pleasure in acknowledging, that you have on all proper occasions expressed, and in every proper manner manifested, a deep sense of the responsibilities which, under such extraordinary circumstances, rest upon you. It is my duty now to state to you, that besides the communications of which you have heretofore been informed, very frequent letters have been received by the president, giving him notice of designs on the part of evil-disposed persons to rescue M‘Leod and assassinate him. Although I remain of the opinion before expressed to you,

that such apprehensions are without sufficient cause, yet it is certainly safer to err on the side of prudence, and no proper precaution can be omitted consistently with the respect due from the authorities of this state to those of the Union. I deem it suitable therefore to recommend that the constabulary force assigned to attend the court should be double or treble that usually called into requisition on such occasions. You have a surplus of arms and ammunition, after supplying the guard heretofore established. Let arrangements be made for placing those arms in the hands of your deputies and the constables. Should any disturbance of the peace take place, or be reasonably apprehended, you will, under the direction of the court, call out any portion of the militia of Oneida county that you may believe necessary; and to enable you to do so, the adjutant-general will be in attendance at or near Utica during the trial, and ready to render you effective assistance. Major-General Scott, commanding the army of the United States, has directed the company of regular troops now stationed at Rome to be held in readiness to support you if their services should be deemed necessary. Brigadier-General Wool will be near you throughout the trial, and will, whenever called upon, give you his advice, and his assistance if necessary. I leave it to your own prudence and discretion to determine how far you will avail yourself of the aid thus placed at your command. You will, however, allow me to remark, that the spec. tacle in this country of a court attended by an armed force would be a scene to be much regretted. You will, therefore, be exceed

a ingly careful to make either no military array, or the least that shall be consistent with the entire security of your prisoner and the preservation of public order. For the honor of the state and the country, it is to be desired that his trial, which will have all the importance and many of the features of a high state trial, may, if possible, be conducted with the simplicity which belongs to our institutions.

If the prisoner shall be convicted, you will be very careful to take such measures as shall prevent his escape or rescue. If an acquittal takes place, you will tender to him a safe conduct through the state, requiring him to proceed with as little delay as possible, and upon that route upon which it shall seem to you that he will be least exposed to lawless violence. You will call to your aid, in performing that duty, the marshal of the northern district, who will officially attend you. You will also avail yourself of the aid of so many public officers and of such a guard, either civil or military, and drawn either from the militia or the regular troops before mentioned, as you may have reason to believe will be required. With such aid, you will conduct the prisoner in safety to the frontier. If he refuse to leave the state or shall decline the protection thus tendered, your peculiar responsibilities and those of the state, so far as they shall have arisen from his detention, will have been discharged. I recommend that you resort, in every event, to the court for its sanction of your proceedings, and that you advise freely with the attorneygeneral, General Wool, the adjutant-general, and the marshal of the northern district.

You will not hesitate to send communications to me by express if any exigency should occur which shall seem to render such despatch necessary.

I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant.

David Moulton, Esq.,

Sheriff of Oneida County.




Albany, May 31, 1841. MY DEAR SIR: I welcome the news of your return to Washington. If it is regarded worthy your consideration, you will learn that during your absence a correspondence, not more unpleasant than unprofitable, has taken place between the president and myself concerning the affair of Alexander MʻLeod.

Your memory will retain the views presented to you when here, concerning the course on that subject deemed proper by me, and the fact that it was requested that, if those views were not approved at Washington, a further consultation might be had with me before definite action was adopted. You will, I trust, remember that I distinctly advised against any extraordinary proceedings being taken, or with the consent of the government permitted, to secure the prisoner's release without a trial before a jury, and that I, with all my counsellors, especially advised against the appointment of his retained counsel as district attorney expressly on the ground of its incongruity, and of the injurious and unseemly aspect it would present. From that time no communication, formal or otherwise, was received here until very recently; and, in the meantime, the course of the government was left to be learned from rumor, until the subject of a supposed collusion between the government at Washington and that of this state, to effect the prisoner's discharge without a trial, became a point of legislative inquiry and a charge of the opposition press. While satisfying the legislature and the public on that subject, I in good faith addressed a brief letter to the president concerning Mr. Spencer's appearing as counsel, to which I received a kind reply. From that reply I was induced to believe that the subject was viewed as having less importance at Washington than, considering all its bearings upon so delicate a question, I thought it really had, and that, at all events, my acquiescence in the course adopted would not be proper and safe. I therefore addressed a second letter to the president, in the same kind and confiding spirit as the former. An answer from the president, in any general form, overruling my opinions, although I should not have been convinced by it, would have ended the correspondence, and, leaving both parties to their proper responsibility, would have avoided all unkindness.

The president, however, replied at length in a spirit that seemned to me unkind, and in a manner that required the firmest adherence to my positions, and the most vigorous defence of them I could make. I replied accordingly, and his rejoinder is before me, in which, as I cheerfully admit was to be expected, he preserved the same disposition and tone as before. My further reply will go wi

with this letter. Although I feel that I am injured in this matter in the house of my friends, I care nothing for that, but I regret that I am misunderstood. I can not but believe that the confusion into which things necessarily fell for a time at Washington, in consequence of the death of General Harrison, and your absence from Washington in a season when your explanations would have been useful, have contributed to this result. My object in addressing you is to call your attention to the subject, in order that you may do whatever may seem to you to be useful. I do not ask your interposition. I have no personal reason for desiring it. I do not ask you even to acknowledge this communication. I should deem it improper for you, as a member of the cabinet, to write to me on the subject except in support of the president; but I think it well, in this informal way, to suggest that the talent and wit of the administration might be more profitably exercised in some other manner than in an unavailing effort to drive me from a course which, in my poor judgment, is required, not less by patriotism and the honor of this state than by devotion to the administration itself.

I think that, during your visit here, you acquired information enough to know, what President Tyler can not know, that in all that has passed, I have been frank and consistent. The course pursued in regard to the same question at Washington has not been so.

If you think it well to acquaint the president with what you know concerning the subject, I shall be personally obliged. But, I desire that it may be understood, it is done only as a matter of some public importance, and by no means in such a manner as to induce an opinion that I would either solicit notice of a personal grief, or carry it into general account.

With very sincere respect and esteem, your friend and obedient servant.


« PreviousContinue »