From Aaron Burr1
Nyork June 22d. 1804
Mr. V Ness has this evening reported to me Verbally that you refuse to answer my last letter,2 that you consider the course I have taken as intemperate and unnecessary and some other conversation which it is improper that I should notice.
My request to you was in the first instance proposed in a form the most simple in order that you might give to the affair that course to which you might be induced by your temper and your knowledge of facts. I relied with unsuspecting faith that from the frankness of a Soldier and the Candor of a gentleman I might expect an ingenuous declaration; that if, as I had reason to believe, you had used expressions derogatory to my honor, you would have had the Spirit to Maintain or the Magnanimity to retract them, and, that if from your language injurious inferences had been improperly drawn, Sincerity and delicacy would have pointed out to you the propriety of correcting errors which might thus have been widely diffused.
With these impressions, I was greatly disappointed in receiving from you a letter3 which I could only consider as evasive and which in manner, is not altogether decorus. In one expectation however, I was not wholly deceived, for at the close of your letter I find an intimation, that if I should dislike your refusal to acknowledge or deny the charge, you were ready to meet the consequences. This I deemed a sort of defiance, and I should have been justified if I had chosen to make it the basis of an immediate message: Yet, as you had also said something (though in my opinion unfounded) of the indefiniteness of my request; as I believed that your communication was the offspring, rather of false pride than of reflection, and, as I felt the utmost reluctance to proceed to extremities while any other hope remained, my request was repeated in terms more definite. To this you refuse all reply, reposing, as I am bound to presume on the tender of an alternative insinuated in your letter.
Thus, Sir, you have invited the course I am about to pursue, and now by your silence impose it upon me. If therefore your determinations are final, of which I am not permitted to doubt, Mr. Van Ness is authorised to communicate my further expectations either to yourself or to such friend as you may be pleased to indicate.
I have the honor to be Your Ob st
ALS (photostat), Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.
1. William P. Van Ness never delivered the letter printed above. On June 25, 1804, he visited H to deliver it, but H stated that he had written a reply to Burr’s letter of June 21 and had given it to Nathaniel Pendleton to deliver to Van Ness. Van Ness thought that Burr should read H’s reply before he delivered Burr’s letter of June 22 to H. See “William P. Van Ness’s Narrative of the Events of June 22–23, 1804,” “… of June 23, 1804,” “… of June 25, 1804.”
In an undated memorandum Van Ness wrote: “After the second letter of A. B. Ham. expressed to V. N. a wish that A. B. would take back that letter which V. N. declined to report to A. B.
“Insert A. B’s letter No. 4 verbatim. By the letter No. 4 is meant that letter which was not delivered, but which was substantially contained in the subsequent one of V. N. Relate the manner in which Ham. evaded the reception of that letter, being aware of it’s import. How he met you and without salutation begged you not to deliver it.
“Relate minutely all the various propositions made by B. for accomodation; and insert particularly those circumstances which shew the evasion, hesitation and tergiversation of H.” (AD, New-York Historical Society, New York City.)