From John Marshall1
[Washington] Jany 1st. 1801
I receivd this morning your letter of the 26th of Decr.2 It is I believe certain that Jefferson & Burr will come to the house of representatives with equal votes. The returns have been all receivd & this is the general opinion.
Being no longer in the house of representatives & consequently compeld by no duty to decide between them, my own mind had scarcely determind to which of these gentlemen the preference was due. To Mr. Jefferson whose political character is better known than that of Mr. Burr, I have felt almost insuperable objections. His foreign prejudices seem to me totally to unfit him for the chief magistracy of a nation which cannot indulge those prejudices without sustaining debt & permanent injury. In addition to this solid & immovable objection Mr. Jefferson appears to me to be a man who will embody himself with the house of representatives. By weakening the office of President he will increase his personal power. He will diminish his responsability, sap the fundamental principles of the government & become the leader of that party which is about to constitute the majority of the legislature. The morals of the Author of the letter to Mazzei3 cannot be pure.
With these impressions concerning Mr. Jefferson I was in some degree disposd to view wiith less apprehension any other character & to consider the alternative now offerd us as a circumstance not to be entirely neglected.4
Your representation of Mr. Burr with whom I am totally unacquainted shows that from him still greater danger than even from Mr. Jefferson may be apprehended. Such a man as you describe is more to be feard & may do more immediate if not greater mischief. Believing that you know him well & are impartial my preference woud certainly not be for him—but I can take no part in this business. I cannot bring my self to aid Mr. Jefferson. Perhaps respect of myself shoud in my present situation deter me from using any influence (if indeed I possessd any) in support of either gentleman. Altho no consideration coud induce me to be the secretary of State while there was a President whose political system I believd to be at variance with my own, yet this cannot be so well known to others, & it might be suspected that a desire to be well with the successful candidate had in some degree governd my conduct.
With you I am in favor of ratifying our treaty with france5 tho’ I am far very far from approving it. There is however one principle which I think it right to explain. Our Envoys were undoubtedly of opinion that our prior treaty with Britain6 woud retain its stipulated advantages7 & I think that opinion correct. Was our convention with any other nation than France I shoud feel no sollicitude on this subject. But France, the most encroaching nation on earth, will claim a literal interpretation & our people will decide in her favor. Those who coud contend that a promise not to permit privatiers of the enemy of France to be fitted out in our ports amounted to a grant of that privilege to France woud not hesitate to contend that a stipulation giving to France on the subject of privatiers & prizes the privileges of the most favord nation placd her on equal ground with any other nation whatever.8 In consequence of this temper in our own country I think the ratification of the treaty ought to be accompanied with a declaration of the sense in which it is agreed to. This however is only my own opinion.
With very much respect & esteem I am dear sir your Obedt
ALS, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.
1. For background to this letter, see H to Oliver Wolcott, Jr., December 16, 1800, note 1.
2. Letter not found.
3. For this letter, see H to Benjamin Stoddert, June 6, 1800, note 40.
4. On December 28, 1800, Marshall wrote to Edward Carrington: “It is understood that votes for Mr. Jefferson & Colo. Burr are equal.… In the event of equality it is extremely doubtful who will be President. I take no part & feel no interest in the decision. I consider it as a choice of evils & I really am uncertain which would be the greatest. So far as I can learn however from what passes around me I really think the probability in favor of Burr.…
“I have only to wish that the best for our common country may be done but I really do not know what that best is.” (ALS, Yale University Library.)
5. For the ratification of the Convention of 1800 (Treaty of Môrtefontaine), see Harrison Gray Otis to H, December 17, 1800, note 5.
6. The Jay Treaty.
7. See Article XXI of Timothy Pickering’s instructions to the United States envoys to France, dated October 22, 1799 (ASP description begins American State Papers, Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States (Washington, 1832–1861). description ends , Foreign Relations, II, 304). See also H to George Washington, first letter of October 21, 1799, note 2; the enclosure to H to Marshall, October 2, 1800.
8. For the text of Article VI of the Convention of 1800, see Oliver Ellsworth to H, October 16, 1800, note 20.