William P. Van Ness to Nathaniel Pendleton1
[New York, June 26, 1804]
The letter2 which you yesterday delivered me and your subsequent communications,3 in Col Burrs opinion evince no disposition on the part of Genl Hamilton to come to a satisfactory accomodation. The injury complained of and the reparation expected are so definitely expressed in Col: Burr’s letter of the 21st Instant, that there is not perceived a necessity for further explanation on his part. The difficulty that would result from confining the enquiry to any particular times and occasions must be manifest. The denial of a specified conversation only, would leave strong implications that on other occasions improper language had been used. When and where injurious opinions and expressions have been uttered by Genl Hamilton must be best known to him and of him only will Col: Burr enquire. No denial or declaration will be satisfactory unless it be general, so as wholly to exclude the idea that rumors derogatory to Col: Burr’s honor have originated with Genl Hamilton as have been fairly inferred from any thing he has said. A definite reply to a requisition of this nature was demanded by Col: Burrs letter of the 21 Inst. This being refused invites the alternative alluded to in Genl Hamilton’s letter of the 20th. It was required by the position in which the controversy was placed by Genl Hamilton on friday last and I was immediately furnished with a communication demanding a personal interview. The necessity of this measure has not in the opinion of Col. Burr been diminished by the General’s last letter or any communication which has since been received.
I am consequently again instructed to deliver you a message as soon as it may be convenient for you to receive it. I beg therefore you will be so good as to inform me at what hour I can have the pleasure of seeing you.
Your Most obt & very hm Sert
W: P: Van N⟨ess⟩
Nathaniel Pendleton Esqr
ALS, New-York Historical Society, New York City; ADfS, New York State Historical Association, Cooperstown, New York; ADf, New York State Historical Association, Cooperstown, New York.
1. The unsigned draft, which differs from the letter printed above, reads: “The letter which you yesterday delivered me from Genl Hamilton in Col. Burr’s opinion evinces as little disposition on the part of Genl Hamilton to come to a satisfactory accomodation [as any of his former communications & least it may not be accurately understood however what Col. Burr conceives to be the injury he has sustained, and the reparation which he deems necessary, permit me again to solicit your attention to his letter of the 21 Instant. You will there find his complaint specified in language so definite and precise as to preclude in his opinion the necessity of all further explanation on his part. It is impossible for Col. Burr to point out the various objectionable conversations and expressions which at different times may have been indulged in by Genl Hamilton, and from him alone he can make the enquiry. It is too evident to be denied, that reports injurious to the character of Col. Burr have been extensively circulated under the sanction of Genl Hamilton’s name, and that language derogatory to his honor has been used by Genl Hamilton he has sufficient reason to presume. The time when is not material, and you must perceive the difficulty that would result from a specification. Should Genl Hamilton deny having used exceptionable language on any specified occasion—this though true would not remedy the evil which is complained of, for the preceeding or subsequent day might be referred to as that on which the injury had been done and the controversy would thus become endless. A retraction or denial therefore of all such declarations or a disavowal of any intention to impeach the character of Col Burr without reference to time or place is the only reparation that can be made,] and a definite reply to a requisition of this nature is demanded in Col: Burr’s letter of the 21st Inst. This being refused, invites the alternative alluded to, in Genl Hamiltons letter of the inst. [H to Burr, June 20, 1804]. It was demanded by the position in which the controversy was placed by Genl Hamilton on the 22d Inst. and I was immediately furnished with a communication demanding the usual interview. The necessity of resorting to this measure has not in the opinion of Col: Burr been diminished by Genl Hamiltons last letter or any subsequent communications which have been received and I am again instructed to deliver you a Message as soon as it may be convenient for you to receive it. If therefore you will have the politeness to inform me at what hour I shall wait on you, I shall be greatly obliged.”
Van Ness endorsed this unsigned draft: “Drt letter 1st to Mr Pendleton which was altered by Col B & not sent—this be substituted.” Burr’s alteration, which was to be used as a substitute for the bracketed material in Van Ness’s unsigned draft, reads: “The injury complained of and the reparation expected, are so definitely expressed in his letter of the 21 that there is not perceived a necessity for further explanation on his part—to ask of him to specify particular times & occasions is absurd. The denial of a specified conversation only, would have strong implications that on other occasions language had been used.
“When and where injurious expressions and opinions have been is best known to genl H & of him only will Col. B. inquire. No denial or declaration will be satisfactory unless it be general so as perfectly to exclude the idea that rumors derogatory to Col. B.’ honor can have originated with Genl H or have been fairly inferred from any thing he had said.” (ADf, New York State Historical Association, Cooperstown, New York.)