Alexander Hamilton Papers
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William P. Van Ness’s Narrative of the Events of June 18–21, 1804

William P. Van Ness’s Narrative of the Events
of June 18–21, 18041

Genl Hamilton read the Note of Mr Burr2 and the printed letter of Mr Cooper to which it refers, and remarked that they required some consideration, and that in the course of the day he would send a answer to my office. At ½ past 1 O clock Genl Hamilton called at my house and said that a variety of engagements would demand his attention during the whole of that day and the next—but that on wednesday the 20th Inst: he would furnish me with such answer to Col: Burr’s letter as he should deem most suitable and compatible with his feelings.

In the evening of wednesday the 20th while I was from home, the following letter addressed to Col: Burr3 was left at my house under cover to me. On the morning of Thursday the 21st I delivered to Col: Burr the above letter.…

“Van Ness’s Narrative,” AD, New York State Historical Association, Cooperstown, New York; ADf, New York State Historical Association, Cooperstown, New York.

1In the draft of his narrative Van Ness described these events as follows: “1804 June 18, Delivered a copy of the letter on the other side written to Genl Hamilton at 11 oclock A.M.

“Genl Hamilton upon examining the letter alluded to by Col. Burr, & signed C. D. Cooper observed, that he did not think that the publication in question authorised Col. Burr to call upon him in the way he had—that its language and its references were so general and undefined that he did not perceive how he could with propriety return a specific answer to Col Burr’s letter. That if Mr. Burr would refer to any particular expressions he would recognize or disavow them. I remarked that I did not think Mr Burr was prepared to point out any specific & exceptionable language that had been used by him Mr Hamilton—but that the publication of Mr Cooper evidently alluded to expressions made by Mr Hamilton derogatory to the character and reputation of Mr Burr—and that the laws of honor would justify Mr Burr in enquiring of any gentleman whether he had uttered expressions that imparted dishonor. Mr Hamilton said that he did not think my position correct, that he would examine the publication in question—and return me an answer in the course of the day.

“P.M. At half past one oclock Genl Hamilton called at my house in person, and said that a variety of engagements would demand his attention through this day and tomorrow, but that on wednesday he would return such answer to Mr Burr’s letter as he should deem most suitable and compatible with his feelings. That he was sorry Mr Burr had adopted the present course, that it was a subject that required some deliberation, and that he wished to proceed with justifiable caution and circumspection.

“On Wednesday morning I saw Genl Hamilton in Court; He told me that I should be furnished with an answer to Col Burr’s letter in the course of the afternoon. I assented very readily to the delay. I remained at home most of the afternoon, at 8 o clock I went out and during my absence the letter of which No. 2 [H to Burr, June 20, 1804] is a copy was left at my house.

“I delivered the same to Col Burr on the morning of thursday the 21. Instant.”

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