Today in Texas History – October 20

From the Annals of Treason – In 1807, former Vice-President Aaron Burr was acquitted on charges of treason.  Burr’s treason trial arose from his ambitious plan for the United States to seize the Spanish colonies in the Southwest and establish a great American empire. After leaving the vice presidency in disgrace in 1804, he toured the west as part of a conspiracy aimed towards invading Texas.  Burr made no real secret of his plan, as in 1805 he announced in Kentucky and New Orleans that he planned to overthrow the Spanish empire in America.

In 1806, he negotiated for the purchase of land near Natchitoches, Louisiana. From there he planned to establish a colony that would be a launching point for his projected invasion of Mexico.  His treason trial was based on a supposed plan to begin a western rebellion against the United States and form a break-away republic in the west. Gen. James Wilkinson, American military commander in New Orleans, however, informed President Thomas Jefferson that he had received a coded letter from Burr disclosing a plan to seize control of the Mississippi valley.  When his party of colonists set sail from Nashville in December 1808, Jefferson ordered Burr arrested for treason and high misdemeanors.   When Burr arrived at Bayou Pierre, LA on January 10, he learned that he had been betrayed. On January 17 he surrendered to the governor of Mississippi Territory. After an attempt to escape from the authorities he was tried in Richmond, Virginia. After a prolonged trial Justice John Marshall ruled that Burr was not guilty of treason but was guilty of contemplating an invasion of Spanish territory. He was placed under $3,000 bond.

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