PROTEST AGAINST GOVERNOR SARGENT
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Territorial politics in early Mississippi was rough and ready, and Joseph and Thomas Calvit played a role in deposing Governor Winthrop Sargent.
The petitioners wrote on October 2, 1799:
The undersigned, a general Committee, regularly chosen by the inhabitants of the Mississippi Territory, in the several districts of the same, for the purpose of seeking, by the constitutional mode of petition, redress of the grievances which oppress this country; having drawn up and signed two petitions of this date, to be laid before Congress, one for confirmation of the rights to our lands, etc., the other against the improper and oppressive measures of the Territorial government, and praying for a legislative assembly, do hereby nominate and appoint, as our special agent, our fellow-citizen, Narsworthy Hunter (distinguished for his attachment to the United States,) to lay before Congress our aforesaid petitions, in full confidence that he will execute the trust reposed in him; and he is hereby authorized to make such explanations and further representations of the facts as he may find necessary during his continuance at the seat of government as Agent for this Territory, and we pray the honorable Congress to give full credence to his representations in our behalf.
The petition set forth:
That from the vast distance of the district from the seat of government, and all other settled portions of the United States, Congress could have but a partial knowledge of it or of the temper of its inhabitants; and that they had been grossly misrepresented by Andrew Ellicott, in his communications to the President and Secretary of State, and by Governor Sargent, who derived his opinions from Ellicott. Soon after Ellicott's arrival, he recommended for this district a government similar to that provided for the Northwestern Territory, two sections in their people and institutions entirely dissimilar. His recommendation was made without color of authority, and merely in the interest of himself and his satellites, who were chiefly those who had been favorites of the Spanish governor. Under our governor, those who enjoyed the patronage of the Spaniards, are the exclusive recipients of executive favor, and those who felt it their duty to oppose the intrigues of Ellicott are considered little better than a conquered people. We have no hope of seeing a militia organized capable of efficient service. The officers have been appointed in groups, not residing among and unknown to the men whom they are to command—appointed not on the recommendation of the sixty-four men who constitute a company, but at the instance of two or three favorites, of doubtful patriotism, and obnoxious to the people. Governor Sargent's letter of December 20th, 1779, to the Secretary of State does us much wrong.
He represents us as being soured with the government of the United States. This is extremely incorrect. Many of us have fought for the government, and all of us anchor our hopes in it. It is not with our government we are soured, but with executive caprice, oppression and intrigues at home, and an experience of these under the preceding dynasty has taught us to dread them now and to avert them by every means available to freemen. Upon his Excellency's arrival, we had the highest hopes of his administration, but we confess our disappointment. His promulgation of laws, framed by himself, in direct violation of the ordinance of 1787, and subjecting us to arbitrary taxation and exorbitant fees at his own pleasure, are alarming enough. Communications to the Governor, complaining of these grievances, receive no attention. We, therefore, pray your honorable body to extend to us the second grade of government contemplated under the ordinance, with such additions and modifications as may be adapted to our peculiar conditions.
A copy of their letter to Governor Sargent accompanied this memorial:
Your Excellency will bear in mind that for a long time before the arrival of Mr. Ellicott, two parties had existed in this district, one composed of the planters, mechanics, etc., chiefly natives of the United States. The other, of miscellaneous characters, informers and a train of court sycophants, who bad been in the habit of influencing the Spanish authorities for their own selfish ends, at the expense of the body of the inhabitants. This latter party, it is notorious, got possession of Commissioner Ellicott. For want of a manly confidence, or for want of personal courage and integrity, he fell into the snare; and under a pretext that the people were doing wrong, he shunned those whose counsels he should have taken, (including every officer of the United States then in the country,) and threw himself into the arms of ex-Spanish functionaries, and became a principal and active instrument in creating tumults and disaffection. After deserting and betraying the people, and abandoning the best interests of the United States, we are to view him now as engaged in new intrigues against us. Nothing can convince the people of this country to the contrary. While some of his coadjutors were propagating the impression that the United States would never get possession of the district, be took particular care not to contradict the report. And while these opinions were intimidating and discouraging the people, he secretly informed the Spanish governor that Colonel Hutchins, Colonel Green and Ebenezer Dayton had each made propositions to seize him (the governor) and carry him out of the country! His opposition to these three popular characters was because they had censured his inefficiency in not carrying the treaty into effect. When Captain Guion arrived and swept away his importance, Mr. Ellicott used every exertion to excite the people to assert a right to govern themselves and to control the military; that their liberties were in danger. This is the man who (to finish his mischievous labors) has given the present austere and unaccommodating tone to your administration, so foreign to the genius of the constitution, and so humiliating to a free and proud people. When he could profit no longer by fomenting quarrels in the first person, he has reached us by his influence over you. The impressions he has made of us not only degrade us before the country, but they encourage here the factious and disorderly. The exertions and influence of this man may be considered an unerring barometer of the state of public order. He kept us in perpetual commotion. But when Captain Guion took the command, tranquility was everywhere restored, notwithstanding Ellicott's unremitted efforts to create distrust between him and the people.
Upon your Excellency's arrival the people were ready to embrace you as a father. There was universal rejoicing that an American Governor had come. Your address of the 16th August, stating that merit and a firm attachment to the United States should be the qualification for office, and that you postponed your appointments until you could become personally acquainted with the people, was received with satisfaction and applause. But without waiting for this, you went directly to Ellicott's camp, and, as we firmly believe, you returned with your list of appointments, made out there by the American commissioner, and we hear no more of your seeking an acquaintance with the people and their wishes. We admit that some good men have been appointed to office, but the numerous rejections and resignations of your Excellency's appointments demonstrate the impossibility of reconciling the people to the influence of Ellicott & Co.
We entreat your Excellency to divide the Territory into proper districts. Let the people have the privilege of recommending their militia officers. Let your field officers be Americans, who have never been concerned in foreign intrigues, and your magistrates should be of the same character. Some of your laws cannot he reconciled with the constitution of the United States, or with the laws of the States. By your code, any person convicted of treason incurs the death penalty and forfeits all his property, real and personal, to the Territory. The constitution of the United States says that Congress alone shall have the power to declare the punishment for treason, and by their laws no forfeiture is incurred.
By your code the person convicted of arson is to be whipped, pilloried, confined in jail not exceeding three years, and forfeits all his estates to the Territory. The constitution of the United States says that excessive fines and punishments shall not be imposed, and that none of these offences shall work corruption of blood or forfeiture of estate, longer than during the life of the person convicted, and that in the case of treason only. If a state of society exists here, which makes it expedient for you to ignore the constitution of the United States in framing your statutes, we are yet to see it. We have been in the district for more than twelve months at a time without the benefit of laws of any kind, and notwithstanding we had been distracted by the intrigues of Ellicott and others, the general stock of virtue was sufficient to preserve peace and awe the vicious. Crimes were not more frequent then than they are at present; and if this fact be admitted (and it cannot be confuted) it affords a hint to executive and legislative bodies that merits their deepest attention.
Captain Hunter submitted these documents to Congress with a letter:
Philadelphia, February 4th, 1800.
Sir: You enquire 1st. "By what authority Cato West and others, were appointed a Committee for the Territory?"
A meeting was held by the principal inhabitants on the 6th July last, to consult upon the unhappy condition of affairs, and, if possible devise a remedy. The result of this conference was a circular to each of the districts, (or beats) recommending the people to assemble and nominate a committee charged to bring their grievances before the Governor and before Congress. The result was the election of the Committee. I have copies of the circular and of the instructions given by the people of the several districts to the committee.
2d. You enquire, "what is the aggregate number of free inhabitants of the Territory; what proportion are natives of the United States, and what the number of our militia?"
Our Governor has never taken a census of the people, nor has he been able to organize the militia, so that we are at a loss with respect to our numbers. I think, however, we cannot have less than six thousand free inhabitants, and about two thousand capable of bearing arms. Our people are, with the exception, perhaps, of one-tenth, natives of the United States.
3d. "Is there much immigration to the Territory? Have many of the citizens removed to the Spanish province below, and if so, what have been the inducements?"
The immigration to our Territory is, at this time, very limited, owing to the impossibility of obtaining lands except by purchase from individuals. The facility by which lands are obtained in the Spanish dominion by grant or order of survey, at merely nominal cost, draws the immigrant in that direction. Men of property are inclined, even with this difference, to prefer our Territory, but the poorer classes are induced to go below. A number of families have recently left for the Spanish territory with Dr. White, and others are preparing to sell out, if possible, for that purpose. Various circumstances have operated to this end, but the morose and arbitrary conduct of Governor Sargent, is a primary cause. The laws he has put forth are odious; in conflict with the federal constitution; with no precedent in the laws of other States; both the fees he exacts and the fines he imposes, are excessive. His appointments, civil and military, have given, for the most part, general dissatisfaction. All the officers that enjoy the respect of the people have either refused his appointments, or after holding them a short time, have thrown them up. He will never be able to organize the militia, notwithstanding his law imposing heavy fines on those who refuse his appointments. His exorbitant fees for passports to persons who desire to return to the United States, and for tavern and marriage licenses, are universally denounced as burdens on the public for his own enrichment."