"A plain man, who knew nothing of the curious transmutations which the
wit of man can work, would be very apt to wonder
by what kind of legerdemain Aaron Burr had contrived to shuffle himself down to the bottom of the pack, as an accessory, and
turn up poor Blennerhassett as principal, in this treason. Who, then, is Aaron Burr, and what the part which he has borne in this
transaction? He is its author, its projector, its active executer. Bold, ardent, restless, and aspiring, his brain conceived it, his
hand brought it into action.
Who is Blennerhassett? A native of Ireland, a man of letters, who fled
from the storms of his own country, to find quiet in ours.
On his arrival in America, he retired, even from the population of the Atlantic States, and sought quiet and solitude in the bosom
of our western forests. But he brought with him taste, and science, and wealth: and "lo, the desert smiled!" Possessing himself of
a beautiful island in the Ohio, he rears upon it a palace, and decorates it with every romantic embellishment of fancy. A
shrubbery that Shenstone might have envied, blooms around him. Music that might have charmed Calypso and her nymphs, is
his. An extensive library spreads its treasures before him. A philosophical apparatus offers to him all the secrets and mysteries
of nature. Peace, tranquillity, and innocence, shed their mingled delights around him. And, to crown the enchantment of the
scene, a wife, who is said to be lovely even beyond her sex, and graced with every accomplishment that can render it
irresistible, had blessed him with her love, and made him the father of several children.
The evidence would convince you, Sir, that this is but a faint picture
of the real life. In the midst of all this peace, this innocence,
and this tranquillity,--this feast of the mind, this pure banquet of the heart,--the destroyer comes. He comes to turn this paradise
into a hell. Yet the flowers do not wither at his approach, and no monitory shuddering through the bosom of their unfortunate
possessor warns him of the ruin that is coming upon him. A stranger presents himself. It is Aaron Burr. Introduced to their
civilities by the high rank which he had lately held in his country, he soon finds his way to their hearts, by the dignity and
elegance of his demeanor, the light and beauty of his conversation, and the seductive and fascinating power of his address.
The conquest was not difficult. Innocence is ever simple and credulous.
Conscious of no designs itself, it suspects none in
others. It wears no guards before its breast. Every door and portal and avenue of the heart is thrown open, and all who choose
it enter. Such was the state of Eden when the serpent entered its bowers! The prisoner, in a more engaging form, winding
himself into the open and unpractised heart of the unfortunate Blennerhassett, found but little difficulty in changing the native
character of that heart, and the objects of its affections. By degrees he infuses into it the poison of his own ambition. He
breathes into it the fire of his own courage:--a daring and desperate thirst for glory; and ardor, panting for all the storm, and
bustle, and hurricane of life.
In a short time, the whole man is changed, and every object of his former
delight relinquished. No more he enjoys the tranquil
scene; it has become flat and insipid to his taste. His books are abandoned. His retort and crucible are thrown aside. His
shrubbery blooms and breathes its fragrance upon the air in vain--he likes it not. His ear no longer drinks the rich melody of
music; it longs for the trumpet's clangor, and the cannon's roar. Even the prattle of his babes, once so sweet, no longer affects
him; and the angel smile of his wife, which hitherto touched his bosom with ecstasy so unspeakable, is now unfelt and unseen.
Greater objects have taken possession of his soul. His imagination has been dazzled by visions of diadems, and stars, and
garters, and titles of nobility. He has been taught to burn with restless emulation at the names of great heroes and
conquerors,--of Cromwell, and Caesar, and Bonaparte. His enchanted island is destined soon to relapse into a wilderness;
and, in a few months, we find the tender and beautiful partner of his bosom, whom he lately "permited not the winds of" summer
"to visit her too roughly,"--we find her shivering, at midnight, on the wintry banks of the Ohio, and mingling her tears with the
torrents that froze as they fell.
Yet this unfortunate man, thus deluded from his interest and his happiness--thus
seduced from the paths of innocence and
peace--thus confounded in the toils which were deliberately spread for him, and overwhelmed by the mastering spirit and
genius of another,--this man, thus ruined and undone, and made to play a subordinate part in the grand drama of guilt and
treason--this man is to be called the principal offender; while he, by whom he was thus plunged in misery, is compartively
innocent, a mere accessory! Is this reason? Is it law? Is it humanity? Sir, neither the human heart nor the human understanding
will bear a perversion so monstrous and absurd; so shocking to the soul; so revolting to reason!"
- William Wirt.