John Henry (1776 Dublin-1853 Paris(?)) immigrated to the United States in 1796. He edited a newspaper, managed a wine business in Philadelphia, ran a farm in Vermont, studied law, and gave speeches and wrote articles for the Federalist cause. He was said to be tall, charming, and handsome. He gained connections with leadership in Lower Canada through social gatherings and writing letters. On October 1807, he wrote Lower Canada’s civil secretary Herman Witsius Ryland telling him that war with Britain would lead to a “dissolution of the Confederation”. He would later write telling the political opinions in Vermont, Boston, and other parts of New England.
He was hired by Governor Sir James Henry Craig on February 6, 1809 to inform him of the strengths and weaknesses of the two political parties in the United States, Republicans and Federalists, and the public opinion concerning the possibility of war with Britain. He was to determine if the Federalists in the eastern states would separate from the Union and look to England for help. By this time President Thomas Jefferson had enacted an embargo on British goods which had seriously affected the U.S. economy in a negative way. From February 14, 1809 to May 22, 1809 Henry wrote fourteen letters. He tried to use them and his espionage work to gain high paying positions in the Canadian government, but failed.
He became close friends with a conman named Soubiran who was posing as Édouard, Comte de Crillon, knight of Malta and a member of a prestigious Spanish and French mixed family. Soubiran convinced him to sell his letters, the instructions given him by Governor Craig, and two memorials he had written to the Lord of Liverpool to President James Madison. Soubiran played the role of Henry’s representative and President Madison agreed to buy the documents for $50,000.
He doctored and rewrote some of the documents, adding insinuations that he had been
part of Federalist secession plots and removed the names of his Federalist friends. President Madison presented the papers to Congress, believing that this would be the final incentive to go to war. Congress believed the papers and word spread throughout the nation about the British “plot” to undermine the U.S. However, it did not drive the nation to war at that time. When it was finally proven that Henry’s papers were false and the entire secret service budget had been blown paying Henry, President Madison and his administration ended up looking like fools. John Henry had left the country before the papers were released and moved to Europe. Supposedly he died in Paris in 1853, but this cannot be substantiated.
“Biography – HENRY, JOHN – Volume VIII (1851-1860) – Dictionary Of Canadian Biography”. 2018. Biographi.Ca. Accessed June 12 2018. http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/henry_john_8E.html
“Founders Online: From James Madison To John G. Jackson, 9 March 1812”. 2018. Founders.Archives.Gov. Accessed June 12 2018. https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Madison/03-04-02-0245
“Founders Online: From James Madison To Congress, 9 March 1812”. 2018. Founders.Archives.Gov. Accessed June 12 2018. https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Madison/03-04-02-0244
“Founders Online: From James Madison To Thomas Jefferson, [9 March] 1812”. 2018. Founders.Archives.Gov. Accessed June 12 2018. https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Madison/03-04-02-0246
“Full Text Of “THE HENRY-CRILLON AFFAIR (War Of 1812)””. 2018. Archive.Org. Accessed June 22 2018. https://ia801704.us.archive.org/33/items/HenryCrillonAffair/Henry-Crillon_Affair.pdf