Wilkinson was able to lure a number of Kentuckians into the separatist movement. George Rogers Clark seriously disturbed the arch plotter by seizing a Spanish trader's store wherewith to pay his soldiers, whom Virginia had omitted to recompense. This act aroused the suspicions of the Spanish, either as to Number Thirteen's perfect loyalty or as to his ability to deliver the western country. In 1786, when Clark led two thousand men against the Ohio Indians in his last and his only unsuccessful campaign, Wilkinson had already settled himself near the Falls (Louisville) and had looked about for mischief which he might do for profit. Whether his influence had anything to do with what amounted virtually to a mutiny among Clark's forces is not ascertainable; but, for a disinterested onlooker, he was overswift to spread the news of Clark's debacle and to declare gleefully that Clark's sun of military glory had now forever set. It is also known that he later served other generals treacherously in Indian expeditions and that he intrigued with Mad Anthony Wayne's Kentucky troops against their commander.
Spain did not wish to see the Indians crushed; and Wilkinson himself both hated and feared any other officer's prestige. How long he had been in foreign pay we can only conjecture, for, several years before he transplanted his activities to Kentucky, he had been one of a cabal against Washington. Not only his ambitions but his nature must inevitably have brought him to the death-battle with George Rogers Clark. As a military leader, Clark had genius, and soldiering was his passion. In nature, he was open, frank, and bold to make foes if he scorned a man's way as ignoble or dishonest. Wilkinson suavely set about scheming for Clark's ruin. His communication or memorial to the Virginia Assembly--signed by himself and a number of his friends --villifying Clark, ended Clark's chances for the commission in the Continental Army which he craved. It was Wilkinson who made public an incriminating letter which had Clark's signature attached and which Clark said he had never seen. It is to be supposed that Number Thirteen was responsible also for the malevolent anonymous letter accusing Clark of drunkenness and scheming which, so strangely, found its way into the Calendar of State Papers of Virginia.* As a result, Clark was censured by Virginia. Thereupon he petitioned for a Court of Inquiry, but this was not granted. Wilkinson had to get rid of Clark; for if Clark, with his military gifts and his power over men, had been elevated to a position of command under the smile of the Government, there would have been small opportunity for James W Wilkinson to lead the Kentuckians and to gather in Spanish gold. So the machinations of one of the vilest traitors who ever sold his country were employed to bring about the stultification and hence the downfall of a great servant.
* See Thomas M. Greene's "The Spanish Conspiracy," p. 78, footnote. It is possible that Wilkinson's intrigues provide data for a new biography of Clark which may recast in some measure the accepted view of Clark at this period.
Wilkinson's chief aids were the Irishmen, O'Fallon, Nolan, and Powers. Through Nolan, he also vended Spanish secrets. He sold, indeed, whatever and whomever he could get his price for. So clever was he that he escaped detection, though he was obliged to remove some suspicions. He succeeded Wayne as commander of the regular army in 1796. He was one of the commissioners to receive Louisiana when the Purchase was arranged in 1803. He was still on the Spanish pay roll at that time. Wilkinson's true record came to light only when the Spanish archives were opened to investigators.
There were British agents also in the Old Southwest, for the dissatisfaction of the Western men inspired in Englishmen the hope of recovering the Mississippi Basin. Lord Dorchester, Governor of Canada, wrote to the British Government that he had been approached by important Westerners; but he received advice from England to move slowly. For complicity in the British schemes, William Blount, who was first territorial Governor of Tennessee and later a senator from that State, was expelled from the Senate.
Surely there was never a more elaborate network of plots that came to nothing! The concession to Americans in 1796 of the right of navigation on the Mississippi brought an end to the scheming.
In the same year Tennessee was admitted to the Union, and John Sevier was elected Governor Sevier's popularity was undiminished, though there were at this time some sixty thousand souls in Tennessee, many of whom were late comers who had not known him in his heyday. His old power to win men to him must have been as strong as ever, for it is recorded that he had only to enter a political meeting--no matter whose--for the crowd to cheer him and shout for him to "give them a talk."
This adulation of Sevier still annoyed a few men who had ambitions of their own. Among these was Andrew Jackson, who had come to Jonesborough in 1788, just after the collapse of the State of Franklin. He was twenty-one at that time, and he is said to have entered Jonesborough riding a fine racer and leading another, with a pack of hunting dogs baying or nosing along after him. A court record dated May 12, 1788, avers that "Andrew Jackson, Esq. came into Court and produced a licence as an Attorney With A Certificate sufficiently Attested of his Taking the Oath Necessary to said office and Was admitted to Practiss as an Attorney in the County Courts." Jackson made no history in old Watauga during that year. Next year he moved to Nashville, and one year later, when the Superior Court was established (1790), he became prosecuting attorney.