This is the statement given by Aaron Burr (as reported in authentic court records) at his commitment hearing on
March 31, 1807 in the House of Delegates in Richmond, before Chief Justice John Marshall.
[Burr claims to have been vindicated in prior proceedings]
Col. Burr then addressed the court, not, as he said, to remedy any omission of his counsel, who had done great justice to the subject, but to state a few facts, and repel some observations of a personal nature. The present inquiry involved a simple question of treason or misdemeanor. According to the Constitution, treason consisted in acts; whereas, in this case, his honor was invited to issue a warrant based upon mere conjecture. Alarms existed without cause. Mr. Wilkinson alarmed the President, and the President alarmed the people of Ohio. He appealed to historical facts. No sooner did he understand that suspicions were entertained in Kentucky of the nature and design of his movements, than he hastened to meet an investigation. The prosecution not being prepared, he was discharged. That he then went to Tennessee. While there he heard that the attorney for the district of Kentucky was preparing another prosecution against him; that he immediately returned to Frankfort, presented himself before the court, and again was honorably discharged; that what happened in the Mississippi Territory was equally well known; that there he was acquitted by the grand jury, but they went farther, and censured the conduct of the government; and if there had really been any cause of alarm, it must have been felt by the people of that part of the country;
[Burr claims his objects were peaceful and beneficial]
that the manner of his descent down the river was a fact which put at defiance all rumors about treason and misdemeanor; that the nature of his equipments clearly evinced that his object was purely peaceable and agricultural; that this fact alone ought to overthrow the testimony against him; that his designs were honorable, and would have been useful to the United States.
[Burr says his "flight" not evidence of guilt]
His flight, as it was termed, had been mentioned as evidence of guilt. He asked, at what time did he fly? In Kentucky, he invited inquiry, and that inquiry terminated in a firm conviction of his innocence; that the alarms were first great in the Mississippi Territory, and orders had been issued to seize and destroy the persons and property of himself and party; that he endeavored to undeceive the people, and convince them that he had no designs hostile to the United States, but that twelve hundred men were in arms for a purpose not yet developed; the people could not be deceived; and he was acquitted, and promised the protection of government; but the promise could not be performed; the arm of military power could not be resisted; that he knew there were military orders to seize his person and property, and transport him to a distance from that place; that he was assured by the officer of an armed boat, that it was lying in the river ready to recieve him on board. Was it his duty to remain there thus situated? That he took the advice of his best friends, pursued the dictates of his own judgment, and abandoned a country where the laws ceased to be the sovereign power; that the charge stated in a handbill, that he had forfeited hi recognizance, was false; that he had forfeited no recognizance; if he had forfeited any recognizance, he asked why no proceedings had taken place for the breach of it?
[Burr complains about treatment by military authorities]
If he was to be prosecuted for such breach, he wished to know why he was brought to this place? Why not carry him to the place where the breach happened? That more than three months had elapsed since the order of the government had issued to seize and bring him to that place; yet it was pretended that sufficient time had not been allowed to adduce testimony in support of the prosecution. He asked why the guard who conducted him to that place avoided every magistrate along the way, unless from a conviction that they were acting without lawful authority? Why had he been debarred the use of pen, ink, and paper, and not even permitted to write to his daughter? That in the state of South Carolina, where he had happened to see three men together, he demaned the interposition of the civil authority; that it was from military despotism, from the tyranny of a military escort, that he wished to be delivered, not from an investigation into his conduct, or from the operation of the laws of his country.
[Burr says the prosecution has no case]
He concluded that there were three courses that might be pursued,--an acquittal; or a commitment for treason, or for a misdemeanor; that no proof existed in support of either but what was contained in the affidavits of Eaton and Wilkinson, abounding in crudities and absudities.
The next day, Chief Justice Marshall committed Burr to stand trial on the charge of conspiring to invade the territories of a nation at peace with the United States (Mexico, a dominion of Spain).