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The First Years of the Union (1797-1809)

The Coalition Begins to Fragment: The Quids and the Burr Conspiracy

Further Exploration and the West Florida Controversy

The Coalition Begins to Fragment: The Quids and the Burr Conspiracy, page 2

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Summary

In an attempt to capitalize on the tensions between Spain and the US, Napoleon suggested that he could arrange a deal under which the Spanish would sell West Florida and a part of Texas to the US for $10 million. This was exactly the amount which Spain paid to France yearly as a war subsidy, and it was understood that the money would go indirectly to the French. Even so, Jefferson thought the plan would benefit the US. He asked Congress for an advance of $2 million. Many Republicans in the House of Representatives refused to cooperate and held up the appropriations act. They were led by House leader John Randolph, who claimed the entire deal seemed like the second XYZ Affair.

Randolph was so disgusted with Jefferson's behavior that he broke ranks with the Republicans and started a faction called the Tertium Quids, based on the agrarian, states' rights roots of the party. The Quids presented only a minor stumbling block for Jefferson, and the Two Million Act passed in the spring of 1806, granting Jefferson's advance. Incidentally, West Florida was never bought. Rather, it was acquired by revolution when the southern pioneers who had moved there following the Louisiana Purchase rebelled against Spanish rule in 1810. James Madison, president at that time, deployed the army to secure the area and added it to the United States' land holdings.

Meanwhile, espionage continued to play a major role in the Southwest. Spanish agents tried continually to provoke inhabitants of the US Southwest to secede from the Union, often with the aid of paid American agents. The Creole population of Louisiana threatened to secede. This situation needed only a slight push to become a conspiracy. Aaron Burr provided that push. After failing to withdraw from the election of 1800 Burr had lost the trust of the Republican Party. George Clinton replaced him as vice president in 1804, when Jefferson defeated Charles Pinckney for the presidency. Burr ran for governor in New York in 1804, but was stymied by the efforts of Federalists, led by Alexander Hamilton. In anger he challenged Hamilton to a duel, which he won, killing Hamilton.

Fleeing New York, he met with General James Wilkinson (Zebulon Pike's commander) and hatched a plan to seize Texas in the confusion of the Spanish- American squabbling. From there, he hoped, they would gauge western satisfaction and attempt to sever the Union and control the land west of the Ohio River. Burr met with British foreign minister Anthony Merry, but Merry was unable to supply funding or military support for the plan. Additionally, Jefferson's decision to purchase West Florida calmed tensions between Spain and the US. Determined nonetheless, in July 1806 Burr sent word to Wilkinson that he was preparing for action, and began stockpiling weapons and recruiting men through an agent who owned an island in the Ohio River.

Jefferson, hearing rumors of a conspiracy, had Burr's hideout raided. Burr was not on the island and escaped down the Mississippi into sure disaster. Wilkinson betrayed Burr upon receiving his July letter, sending it to Jefferson, edited so as not to condemn himself. Jefferson issued a proclamation in late 1806 ordering the arrest of any man conspiring to attack Spanish territory, as Burr planned to do. Burr saw this proclamation in a newspaper in January 1807, and turned himself in to Mississippi Territory authorities. He was released, not having committed any crime in the Territory, and headed toward Florida disguised as a boatman. He was recognized and captured in Alabama.

Burr's case was dropped by government prosecutors after chief Justice John Marshall ruled that the inoperative intention to divide the Union did not constitute treason. Burr fled to Europe, only to return in 1812, father two illegitimate children in his 70s, and be divorced in his 80s for adultery.

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