Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from William Waller Hening, 15 November 1807

Richmond 15th. Novr. 1807.


I know not whether it be proper to address this letter to you; but I hope you will ascribe it rather to an ignorance of the correct channel of communication that to a wish to offer you any disrespect.—I am induced, however, to write directly to you, because the circumstance to which I wish to call your attention was considered by me an individual and not an official act. In this, I may have been mistaken.

Shortly after the trial of Burr and his accomplices had commenced in this place Mr. Hay sent for me and communicated your wish that the evidence should be fully & correctly taken; and requested that I would constantly attend for that purpose. I stated to him the impossibility of any one persons performing the work in time; and obtained his permission to associate Mr. Munford with me; without receiving any other assurance than that “I might make my own charge” as to what sum should be deemed an adequate compensation. It was well known that the enemies of the government were prepared to go all lengths, and to misrepresent every fact. We therefore chearfully engaged in the business in order to counteract them in their first impressions on the public mind; and expected that if we did not receive a liberal compensation from the government, we should not be permitted to sustain a loss. In devoting ourselves to this subject, we had to neglect our practice in every court which we attented, and to suspend entirely the publication of our Reports of the decisions of the Supreme Court of Appeals. We were threatened, by a certain party, with expulsion from our seats in the council, for having undertaken the business; and in the whole progress of it we had to submit to a degree of labour never experienced before. Every day, not even excepting Sundays, were we employed, the greater part of the trial, from early in the morning till a late hour in the night; and I am just informed that for these extraordinary services and sacrifices we are to be allowed five dollars a day,—a sum which would not reimburse us for the money we have actually sunk.

I cannot believe that it is any part of the character of the government to do injustice to individuals; nor can I suppose that the above sum would have been fixed on, had there been a full representation of our case. But I should be wanting in candour were I not to declare, that to pay us at the rate of five dollars per day, would bring us manifest injustice. No person who has witnessed our services would believe that that sum had been offered as a full compensation.

You will, I hope, pardon the freedom with which I have addressed you. I am unwilling to utter even a whisper of complaint against an administration which has received my warmest support both in my public and private character; and I assure you that my sole object has been to present to your view a full statement of facts, under a firm reliance that nothing else is wanting to the attainment of justice. I am Respectfy. Yrs.

Wm. W: Hening

PHi: Gratz Collection.

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