Ohio court clerk discovers Aaron Burr indictment in old desk

CLEVELAND (AP) - A clerk in the U.S. Courthouse in Cincinnati has discovered a 195-year-old federal indictment accusing Aaron Burr of conspiring in Ohio to conquer Mexico.
The indictment says Burr began "a certain military enterprise against a foreign prince with whom the United States were at peace, to-wit his most catholic majesty, the King of Spain."
The indictment was issued in Ohio's original capital city of Chillicothe by a grand jury of frontier settlers in January 1808.
A few months before the charges were filed in Ohio, Burr was acquitted of treason in Richmond, Va., after a trial in which he was accused of scheming to conquer Mexico and become its ruler.
Burr (pictured, above) was vice president from 1801 until 1805, under Thomas Jefferson. He killed his bitter political enemy Alexander Hamilton in a duel on July 11, 1804.
"The Oxford History of the American People" said Jefferson believed Burr was out to break up the Union.
Karen Jones, a deputy clerk at the Cincinnati courthouse, found a packet of documents marked "Burr" while scrounging through an old wooden desk.
Included in the papers was a 1939 court order providing an inventory of court documents about the Burr conspiracy. The documents were being transferred from Cincinnati to the National Archives in Washington.
Among them were 58 records from the early 1800s including transcripts of depositions and summonses for witnesses called to testify in Chillicothe.
"I hate to say they were lost," Jones said. "Let's just say they were securely tucked away. That desk didn't get used very much."
Federal officials initially weren't sure if they could track down the documents on the inventory, but Don Jackanicz, a federal archivist in Chicago, found them in the records center that stores federal legal documents originating in the Great Lakes states.
He said they haven't drawn much interest because scholars may not know the Ohio Burr file exists.
"It's an interesting postscript to the whole event," said Stuart Givens, a retired history professor at Bowling Green State University. "I taught Ohio history for years and I never knew that Burr was indicted in Ohio. I thought everything was over in Richmond when he was cleared."
One West Virginia historian writing a book about the Burr conspiracy said he had heard about the Chillicothe indictment, but acknowledged he had never seen such a document.
"I had tried to get copies of those papers years ago, maybe in the 1970s," said Ray Swick. "It's not well-known that charges were leveled against him in Ohio.
"If you are a real Burr scholar, you might know, but most historians don't. Certainly, it's a fact that most scholars haven't seen these documents because they were sort of hidden away. Now they will."
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)