To James McHenry1
N York Jany 4, 1801
My Dear Mack
By yesterday’s post I received your letter of the 31 of December. I was just about to write to you on the principal subject of it.
Nothing has given me so much chagrin as the Intelligence that the Fœderal party were thinking seriously of supporting Mr. Burr for President. I should consider the execution of the plan as devoting the country and signing their own death warrant. Mr. Burr will probably make stipulations, but he will laugh in his sleeve while he makes them and he will break them the first moment it may serve his purpose. But will not his interest govern him? It doubtless will, as he understands it. But stable power and great wealth being his objects, and these being unattainable by means that the sober part of the Fœderalists will countenance, he will certainly deceive and disappoint them. A H——Lee2 &c. &c. may find their account in it but good men in the Country never will. At least such ought to be the calculation; from a profligate, a bankrupt, a man who laughing at democracy has played the whole game of Jacobinism nothing better ought to [be] expected. Nor should a mere chapter of accidents be hazarded; it ought to be enough for us to know that he is certainly one of the most unprincipled men in the UStates.
Very different ought to be our game. Under the uncertainty of the event we ought to seek to obtain these assurances from Mr Jefferson as the motive of our cooperation in him—1 The support of the present fiscal system. 2 An adherence to the present neutral plan. 3 The preservation and gradual increase of the Navy. 4 The keeping in office all our Fœderal Friends except in the Great Departments. There and in other matters he ought to be free.
Be assured, You cannot better serve your Country than by exerting your influence with your friends to detach them effectually from the idea of supporting Mr. Burr.3
Adieu Yrs truly
James Mc.Henry Esq
ALS, New York State Historical Association, Cooperstown; ALS (photostat), James McHenry Papers, Library of Congress.
1. For background to this letter, see H to Oliver Wolcott, Jr., December 16, 1800, note 1.
On the envelope of this letter H wrote “Private & Confidential.”
2. After a distinguished career as commander of Lee’s Partizan Corps during the American Revolution, Henry Lee had been a member of the Continental Congress from 1785 to 1788, a delegate to the Virginia Ratifying Convention, and governor of Virginia from 1792 to November 30, 1794. From 1799 to 1801 he was a Federalist member of the House of Representatives and supported Burr for President when the election of 1800 was before the House (Annals of Congress description begins The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States; with an Appendix, Containing Important State Papers and Public Documents, and all the Laws of a Public Nature (Washington, 1834–1849). description ends , X, 1032).
3. McHenry endorsed this letter: “As well might we expect to measure a strait line with a crooked rule, as to find public virtue in the private profligate. Burk.
“Prostrate the beauteous ruin lies, and all
that shar’d its shelter, perish in its fall.
“He trembled at the apprehension of his losing the Presidency, and he sacrificed every thing to secure it.”
The poetry that McHenry is quoting is from William Pitt, the younger, Poetry of the Anti-Jacobin, No. 36.