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TO GEORGE HAY.
Washington, June 5, 1807. Dear Sir, Your favor of the 31st instant has been received, and I think it will be fortunate if any circumstance should produce a discharge of the present scanty grand jury, and a future summons of a suller : though the same views of protecting the offender may again reduce the number to sixteen, in order to lessen the chance of getting twelve to concur. It is understood, that wherever Burr met with subjects who did not choose to embark in his projects, unless approved by their government, he asserted that he had that approbation. Most of them took his word for it, but it is said that with those who would not, the following stratagem was practised. A forged letter, purporting to be from General Dearborn, was made to express his approbation, and to say that I was absent at Monticello, but that there was no doubt that, on my return, my approbation of his enterprises would be given. This letter was spread open on his table, so as to invite the eye of whoever entered his room; and he contrived occasions of sending up into his room, those whom he wished to become witnesses of his acting under sanction. By this means, he avoided committing himself to any liability to prosecution for forgery, and gave another proof of being a great man in little things, while he is really small in great ones. I must add General Dearborn's declaration, that he never wrote a letter to Burr in his life, except that when here, once in a winter, he usually wrote him a billet of invitation to dine. The only object of sending you the enclosed letters is to possess you of the fact, that you may know how to pursue it, if any of your witnesses should know any thing of it. My intention in writing to you several times, has been to convey facts or observations occurring in the absence of the Attorney General, and not to make to the dreadful drudgery you are going through the unnecessary addition of writing me letters in answer, which I beg you to relieve yourself from, except when some necessity calls for it. I salute you with friendship and respect.
TO DOCTOR HORATIO TURPIN.
Washington, June 10, 1807. Dear Sir, Your favor of June the 1st has been duly received. To a mind like yours, capable in any question of abstracting it from its relation to yourself, I may safely hazard explanations, which I have generally avoided to others, on questions of appointment. Bringing into office no desires of making it subservient to the advancement of my own private interests, it has been no sacrifice, by postponing them, to strengthen the confidence of my fellow-citizens. But I have not felt equal indifference towards excluding merit from office, merely because it was related to me. However, I have thought it my duty so to do, that my constituents may be satisfied, that, in selecting persons for the management of their affairs, I am influenced by neither personal nor family interests, and especially, that the field of public office will not be perverted by me into a family property. On this subject, I had the benefit of useful lessons from my predecessors, had I needed them, marking what was to be imitated and what avoided. But, in truth, the nature of our government is lesson enough. Its energy depending mainly on the confidence of the people in their Chief Magistrate, makes it his duty to spare nothing which can strengthen him with that confidence.
* * * * * * * * * Accept assurances of my constant friendship and respect.
TO JOHN NORVELL.
Washington, June 11, 1807. Sir, Your letter of May the 9th has been duly received. The subjects it proposes would require time and space for even moderate developement. My occupations limit me to a very short notice of them. I think there does not exist a good elementary work on the organization of society into civil government: I mean a work
which presents in one full and comprehensive view the system of principles on which such an organization should be founded, according to the rights of nature. For want of a single work of that character, I should recommend Locke on Government, Sidney, Priestley's Essay on the First Principles of Government, Chipman's Principles of Government, and the Federalist. Adding, perhaps, Beccaria on Crimes and Punishments, because of the demonstrative manner in which he has treated that branch of the subject. If your views of political inquiry go further, to the subjects of money and commerce, Smith's Wealth of Nations is the best book to be read, unless Say's Political Economy can be had, which treats the same subjects on the same principles, but in a shorter compass, and more lucid manner. But I believe this work has not been translated into our language.
History, in general, only informs us what bad government is. But as we have employed some of the best materials of the British constitution in the construction of our own government, a knowledge of British history becomes useful to the American politician. There is, however, no general history of that country which can be recommended. The elegant one of Hume seems intended to disguise and discredit the good principles of the government, and is so plausible and pleasing in its style and manner, as to instil its errors and heresies insensibly into the minds of unwary readers. Baxter has performed a good operation on it. He has taken the text of Hume as his ground-work, abridging it by the omission of some details of little interest, and wherever he has found him endeavoring to mislead, by either the suppression of a truth, or by giving it a false coloring, he has changed the text to what it should be, so that we may properly call it Hume's history republicanized. He has, moreover, continued the history (but indifferently) from where Hume left it, to the year 1800. The work is not popular in England, because it is republican; and but a few copies have ever reached America. It is a single quarto volume. Adding to this Ludlow's Memoirs, Mrs. Macaulay's and Belknap's histories, a sufficient view will be presented of the free principles of the English constitution.
To your request of my opinion of the manner in which a newspaper should be conducted, so as to be most useful, I should answer, .by restraining it to true facts and sound principles only.' Yet I fear such a paper would find few subscribers. It is a melancholy truth, that a suppression of the press could not more completely deprive the nation of its benefits, than is done by its abandoned prostitution to falsehood. Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle. The real extent of this state of misinformation is known only to those who are in situations to confront facts within their knowledge with the lies of the day. I really look with commiseration over the great body of my fellow-citizens, who, reading newspapers, live and die in the belief, that they have known something of what has been passing in the world in their time; whereas the accounts they have read in newspapers are just as true a history of any other period of the world as of the present, except that the real names of the day are affixed to their fables. General facts may indeed be collected from them, such as that Europe is now at war, that Bonaparte has been a successful warrior, that he has subjected a great portion of Europe to his will, &c. &c.; but no details can be relied on. I will add, that the man who never looks into a newspaper is better informed than he who reads them; inasmuch as he who knows nothing is nearer to truth than he whose mind is filled with falsehoods and errors. He who reads nothing will still learn the great facts, and the details are all false.
Perhaps an editor might begin a reformation in some such way as this. Divide his paper into four chapters, heading the 1st, Truths. 2nd, Probabilities. 3rd, Possibilities. 4th, Lies. The Ist chapter would be very short, as it would contain little more than authentic papers, and information from such sources, as the editor would be willing to risk his own reputation for their truth. The 2nd would contain what, from a mature consideration of all circumstances, his judgment should conclude to be probably true. This, however, should rather contain too little than too much. The 3rd and 4th should be professedly for those readers who would rather have lies for their money than the blank paper they would occupy.
Such an editor too, would have to set his face against the demoralizing practice of feeding the public mind habitually on slander, and the depravity of taste which this nauseous aliment induces. Defamation is becoming a necessary of life ; insomuch, that a dish of tea in the morning or evening cannot be digested without this stimulant. Even those who do not believe these abominations, still read them with complaisance to their auditors, and instead of the abhorrence and indignation which should fill a virtuous mind, betray a secret pleasure in the possibility that some may believe them, though they do not themselves. It seems to escape them, that it is not he who prints, but he who pays for printing a slander, who is its real author.
These thoughts on the subjects of your letter are hazarded at your request. Repeated instances of the publication of what has VOL. IV.
not been intended for the public eye, and the malignity with which political enemies torture every sentence from me into meanings imagined by their own wickedness only, justify my expressing a solicitude, that this hasty communication may in nowise be permitted to find its way into the public papers. Not fearing these political bull-dogs, I yet avoided putting myself in the way of being baited by them, and do not wish to volunteer away that portion of tranquillity, which a firm execution of my duties will permit me to enjoy. I tender you my salutations, and best wishes for your success.
TO WILLIAM SHORT.
Washington, June 12, 1807. DEAR SIR,
* * * * * * The proposition in your letter of May the 16th, of adding an umpire to our discordant negotiators at Paris, struck me favorably on reading it, and reflection afterwards strengthened my first impressions. I made it therefore a subject of consultation with my coadjutors, as is our usage. For our government, although in theory subject to be directed by the unadvised will of the President, is, and from its origin has been, a very different thing in practice. The minor business in each department is done by the Head of the department, on consultation with the President alone. But all matters of importance or difficulty are submitted to all the Heads of departments composing the cabinet; sometimes by the President's consulting them separately and successively, as they happen to call on him ; but in the greatest cases, by calling them together, discussing the subject maturely, and finally taking the vote, in which the President counts himself but as one. So that in all important cases the executive is, in fact, a directory, which certainly the President might control : but of this there was never an example either in the first or the present administration. I have heard, indeed, that my predecessor sometimes decided things against his council *
* * of separate consultation.
I adopted in the present case the mode