Ciphered Letter of Aaron Burr to General James Wilkinson (July 29, 1806)(As interpreted by General Wilkinson.)

Portion of cipher key used in the letter from Burr to Wilkinson

(The ciphered letter (using the key shown above) was dictated by Burr and written in the hand of his private secretary, Willie.   The letter sent from Philadelphia and carried to Wilkinson in Louisiana country by Samuel Swartwout.  After Burr's arrest, the prosecution proposed introducing the letter as evidence of Burr's treasonous intent.  Burr's private secretary, Willie, was called to answer questions that would establish the letter's authenticity and its contents.  Defense attorneys objected, arguing that Willie's answers might provide the basis for criminal charges against him, violating his privilege against self-incrimination contained in the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution.  Chief Justice Marshall ruled that Willie could refuse to answer questions concerning his former knowledge of the contents of the letter, but must answer questions concerning his present knowledge of the contents. To read Marshall's opinion regarding the letter, jump to: In Re Willie. )

Yours postmarked 13th May is received.  I have obtained funds, and have actually commenced the enterprise.  Detachments from different points under different pretences will rendevous on the Ohio, 1st November--everything internal and external favors views--protection of England is secured.  T[ruxton] is gone to Jamaica to arrange with the admiral on that station, and will meet at the Mississippi--England---Navy of the United States are ready to join, and final orders are given to my friends and followers--it will be a host of choice spirits.  Wilkinson shall be second to Burr only--Wilkinson shall dictate the rank and promotion of his officers.  Burr will proceed westward 1st August, never to return: with him go his daughter--the husband will follow in October with a corps of worthies.  Send forthwith an intelligent and confidential friend with whom Burr may confer.  He shall return immediately with further interesting details--this is essential to concert and harmony of the movement.  Send a list of all persons known to Wilkinson west of the mountains, who could be useful, with a note delineating their characters.  Ny your messenger send me four or five of the commissions of your officers, which you can borrow under any pretence you please.  They shall be returned faithfully.  Already are orders to the contractor given to forward six months' provisions to points Wilkinson may name--this shall not be used until the last moment, and then under proper injunctions: the project is brought to the point so long desired: Burr guarantees the result with his life and honor--the lives, the honor and fortunes of hundreds, the best blood of our country.  Burr's plan of operations is to move rapidly from the falls on the 15th of November, with the first five hundred or one thousand men, in light boats now constructing for that purpose--to be at Natchez between the 5th and 15th of December--then to meet Wilkinson--then to determine whether it will be expedient in the first instance to seize on or pass by Baton Rouge.  On receipt of this send Burr an answer--draw on Burr for all expenses, &c.  The people of the country to which we are going are prepared to receive us--their agents now with Burr say that if we will protect their religion, and will not subject them to a foreign power, that in three weeks all will be settled.  The gods invite to glory and fortune--it remains to be seen whether we deserve the boon.  The bearer of this goes express to you--he will hand a formal letter of introduction to you from Burr, a copy of which is hereunto subjoined.  He is a man of inviolable honor and perfect discretion--formed to execute rather than project--capable of relating facts with fidelity, and incapable of relating them otherwise.  He is thoroughly informed of the plans and intentions of Burr, and will disclose to you as far as you inquire, and no further--he has imbibed a reverence for your character, and may be embarrassed in your presence--put him at ease and he will satisfy you--29th July.
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