From Aaron Burr1
Nyork 21 June 1804
Your letter of the 20th. inst. has been this day received. Having Considered it attentively I regret to find in it nothing of that sincerity and delicacy which you profess to Value.
Political opposition can never absolve Gentlemen from the necessity of a rigid adherence to the laws of honor and the rules of decorum: I neither claim such priviledge nor indulge it in others.
The Common sense of Mankind affixes to the epithet adopted by Dr Cooper the idea of dishonor: it has been publicly applied to me under the Sanction of your name. The question is not whether he has understood the meaning of the word or has used it according to Syntax and with grammatical accuracy, but whether you have authorised this application either directly or by uttering expressions or opinions derogatory to my honor. The time “when” is in your own knowledge, but no way material to me, as the calumny has now first been disclosed so as to become the Subject of my Notice, and as the effect is present and palpable.
Your letter has furnished me with new reasons for requiring a definite reply.
I have the honor to be sir your obt st
ALS, New-York Historical Society, New York City; ADfS, New York State Historical Association, Cooperstown, New York; Df, in the handwriting of William P. Van Ness, New York State Historical Association, Cooperstown, New York.
1. The draft in Van Ness’s handwriting, which differs from the letter printed above, reads: “I have this day received your letter of the 20th: Political opposition can never absolve gentlemen from a rigid adherence to the laws of honor or the rules of decorum. I neither claim such privilege myself nor indulge it in others.
“You appear sensible that from the style of your conversations inferences injurious to my character may have been drawn. I also feel a conviction that they have. Ordinary attention to the transactions of Society and the language of the world would evince that opinions highly desreputable to me have been expressed by you. Justified by these circumstances and peculiarly urged by the formal declaration of Mr Cooper respect for my own character & the opinion of the public demand the enquiry I have made. I cannot conceive it incumbent on me to trace reports publicly and extensively delivered to their source. They exist and can only be contradicted by a direct application to you. They are either well or ill founded which you alone can know, and a refusal to disavow them is not only a confirmation of their truth but an adoption of the sentiments ascribed to you.
“If you have used language of a dubious import without intending to convey injurious impressions, it behoves you as a man ‘of sincerity and delicacy,’ by a general disavowal of such intention to correct the hasty opinions of others and remove imputations which have thus been improperly connected with my reputation.
“To the word: ‘despicable’ the common sense of mankind, unaided by either Syntax or Grammar affixes the idea of dishonor, every shade of which demands investigation. The application of this term has been made under the sanction of your name. To ascertain how far it has been authorized by you is my object. Permit me therefore to solicit again your attention to the enquiry which I deemed before sufficiently intelligible, whether, you have indulged in the use of language derogatory to my honor as a gentleman or which in this same sense could warrant the expressions of Dr Cooper. To this I expect a definite reply, which must ⟨lead⟩ to an accomodation or to the only alternative which the circumstances of the case will justify.”