30. Statement by William P. Van Ness


1804 June 18. Delivered a copy of the letter on the other side written to Genl. Hamilton at 11 o’clock 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 authorized 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, but that he would examine the publication in question and return me an answer in the course of the day.


  1. M. At half past one o’clock 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 is a copy was left at my house. I delivered the same to Col. Burr on the morning of Thursday the 21st Instant. In the evening of this day I received a letter form Col. Burr enclosing one intended for Genl. Hamilton. The following morning, Friday, June 22, I called on Col. Burr and at 12 o’clock or thereabouts, I delivered to Genl. Hamilton a letter of which No. 3 is a copy.


Genl. Hamilton perused it, and said it was such a letter as he hoped not to have received. That it contained several offensive expressions, and seemed to close the door to all further reply. That he had hoped that the answer he had returned to Col. Burr’s first letter would have given a different direction to the controversy. That he thought Mr. Burr would have perceived that there was a difficulty in his making a more specific reply and would have desired him to state what had fallen from him that might have given rise to the inference of Dr. Cooper. He would have done this frankly and believed it would not be found to exceed the limits justifiable among political opponents. If Mr. Burr should upon the suggestion of these ideas be disposed to give a different complexion to the present discussion that he was perfectly willing to consider the last letter as not delivered. But if that was to be the only communication he was to receive that he could make no reply and that Mr. Burr must pursue such course as he should deem most proper. At the request of Mr. Hamilton I replied that I would detail these ideas to Mr. Burr. But it appeared to me that the correspondence had far advanced towards a determination. That his answer to Col. Burr’s first letter appeared to me not to have left much room for discussion. That it appeared to me if in that letter he had introduced the idea (if it was a correct one) that he could recollect the use of no terms that would justify the construction of Dr. Cooper. That it would have opened a door for accommodation. Mr. Hamilton then repeated the same objections to this measure which were stated in substance in his first letter to Mr. Burr.


In the afternoon of this day I reported to Col. B. at his house out of town the above conversation, and promised to call on him again in the evening for his further instructions. I was detained in town this evening by some private business, and did not call on Col. Burr according to appointment.


On Saturday morning, the 23rd, I went out to his house, and received from him for Genl. Hamilton a letter of which No. 4 is a copy with some instructions for a verbal communication of which No. 5 is a copy. When I returned with these papers to the City which was about 2 o’clock P.M. I sent a note to Genl. Hamilton’s office and also to his house desiring to know when it would be convenient for him to receive a communication. The servant as he informed me received for answer at both places, that Genl. Hamilton had left the City and was gone to his Country residence. I then wrote him a note of which No. 6 is a copy. To which I received for answer the note, No. 7. At nine o’clock on Monday the 25th Inst. I called on Genl. Hamilton at his house in Cedar Street to deliver the letter, No. 4, and make the remarks I was instructed to do. When I entered he said before I delivered any communication, he wished to state that he had prepared a written reply to Mr. Burr’s last letter, which was in the hands of Mr. Pendleton who would deliver it to me. I answered that the communication I had to make to him was predicated upon the idea that he would make no reply to Mr. Burr’s letter of the 21st Instant. And that I had so understood him in our conversation of the 22d. Inst. Genl. Hamilton said that he believed he had offered to give a written reply which was however omitted. I said I recollected when he answered verbally that he could not answer Mr. Burr’s letter that he offered to put that in writing—and I concluded by observing that if he wished to reply that I would receive it. In our conversation I repeated to him as nearly as I could recollect the observations contained in No. 5. Genl. Hamilton said that he disclaimed every idea of personal enmity. That, to be sure, he had been a uniform political opponent of Col. Burr, but in that opposition he had been governed by public principles. Between 1 & 2 o’clock on the same day, Monday, 25th June, I received from Mr. Pendleton the letter, No. 8, but first promised that we were averse to continuing this correspondence any longer and that we should only return a verbal answer whether it was satisfactory or not. It was unsealed but I did not read it in his presence. After some little conversation concerning what Genl. Hamilton would say upon the subject of the present controversy, Mr. Pendleton left me for the purpose of seeing and consulting Mr. Hamilton. At ½ past 2 o’clock, Mr. Pendleton called at my house. I told him that I had perused the letter which he had given me a short time before and shown it also to Col. Burr. That it appeared to Col. Burr to be nothing more than the verbal reply which I had already reported to him. That it left the business precisely where it was then. That I did not think it proper or necessary to ask now for further explanation from us. That Mr. Burr had very explicitly stated the injuries he had received and the satisfaction he required. He then presented me with a paper to which I objected as being confined to a particular occasion, that we required a genl. disavowal of any intention on the part of Mr. Hamilton in his various conversations to convey impressions derogatory to the honor of Mr. Burr. Mr. Pendleton replied that he believed Genl. Hamilton would have no objection to say that much and left me for the purpose of consulting Genl. H. and wished me to call on him in the course of the afternoon for an answer. I called on him accordingly about 6 o’clock. He then observed that Genl. H. declined giving such a disavowal as I had stated in the earlier part of the afternoon. That he, Mr. P-n., did not then perceive the whole force and extent of it—and presented me with the paper, No. 10—which I transmitted in the evening to Mr. Burr. And the next day, Tuesday 26, June, as early as I could obtain conveniently an interview with him wrote Mr. Pendleton a letter of which No. 11 is a copy. In the evening I received from him an answer which is No. 12. I came home between 11 & 12. The following morning, June 27th, after a conference with C. B. upon the subject of Mr. Pendleton’s letter, that no misunderstanding might arise from verbal communications, I committed to writing the remarks contained in paper No. 14. Being, however, interrupted by private occupations in the course of the morning, I wrote Mr. Pendleton the note of which No. 13 is a copy & at 12 o’clock, I saw Mr. Pendleton and delivered him the paper of which No. 14 is a copy & after he had perused it, I delivered the message with which I was charged. The invitation was accepted. Mr. Pendleton remarked that as the court was sitting in which Genl. Hamilton had much business to transact, as well as some private arrangements to make, he would require some time. I asked how long. He replied he supposed about the termination of the present Court. I observed that though Col. B. was disposed to accommodate Genl. Hamilton as far as possible—that as a delay for a length of time would be attended with obvious inconvenience, he hoped that it might be as short as possible. &c., &c. Mr. Pendleton said he would call on me again in the course of the day or the next morning & confer further relative to time & place. June 28th, 1 o’clock Mr. Pendleton called on me and offered me a paper which he said contained some remarks upon the letter which I had yesterday delivered him & replied 1. that if the paper which he offered me contained a definite and specific proposition for an accommodation that I would then receive and take it into consideration—2. as I viewed the correspondence completely terminated and closed by the message which I had yesterday delivered and the acceptance of the invitation, that I thought it would be improper to open it again, and enter upon a new dissension. If not, that I must decline taking it. He said it was not of the nature I alluded to, but was a reply to my last letter. I then declined to receive it. As to time, nothing decisive was agreed on, but Mr. Pendleton said as the day before that Genl. H. would not conveniently be prepared until the termination of the present Court, which he presumed would be about a week from Saturday next, about 7 July, Mr. Pendleton then took leave and said he would call on me again in a day or two after consulting further with Genl. H. as to the time and arrange that point.


Tuesday. July 3. Mr. Pendleton called and left his card. Upon seeing it at my office, I immediately called on him. He informed that the Court would rise he supposed on Saturday, the 7th Inst. and that on Monday or Tuesday following Mr. Hamilton would be ready to meet Mr. Burr, and we agreed to ride out on Thursday or Friday to fix upon the ground. On Wednesday I wrote Mr. Pend. a note of which No. 15 is a copy. I called on Mr. Pendleton and stated that after my interview with Genl. H. on Friday, I had reported to Col. B. that Genl. H. would make no reply to his letter of the 21st, that I then received from Col. B. a communication for Genl. H. predicated upon that reply, that agreeable to appointment, I had seen Genl. H. at 9 o’clock, & that he supposed I had somewhat misunderstood him, and wished me to call on him, Mr. P., for a written reply which had been left with him.