Part 7 out of 17
reference to the claim and proofs will probably elucidate them. When
the claim is provided for by existing laws, the opinion of the
commissioners refers the claimant to the mode pointed out by such law.
"Demands of different natures by the same person are placed under the
head which comprises the greater demand. The claim and vouchers being
in such cases usually contained in the same paper or annexed together,
it was necessary so to place them in the report that there might be no
confusion in the references.
"To produce facility in the review of these proceedings, the documents
referred to are all herewith delivered, and are in bundles, marked
agreeably to the heads under which they are classed.
"_Claims for Militia Pay._
[In the report a number of cases are here inserted.]
"By an act passed the 27th of April, 1784, entitled _An act for the
settlement of the pay of the levies and militia for their services in
the late war, and for other purposes therein mentioned_, the mode in
which the rolls and abstracts for pay and subsistence are to be made
out and settled is particularly pointed out, and competent powers and
directions for the liquidation of those accounts are thereby given to
the treasurer and auditor."
"By the 14th section of an act passed the 21st of April, 1787,
entitled _An act for the relief of persons who paid money into the
treasury, &c_., the aforesaid act of the 27th of April, 1784, is
repealed. The commissioners consider this repeal as an exclusion of
all further claims for pay and subsistence of the militia and levies.
They are constrained to adopt this opinion, not only from the obvious
intention of the act, but because, by the absolute repeal of the act
of the 27th of April, 1784, there remains no prescribed mode of
authenticating these demands; that any rules which the discretion of
the commissioners should lead them to adopt would have been unknown to
the claimants, who could therefore have had no opportunity of adapting
their demands to such rules; and because, if the legislature shall be
disposed to direct compensations for such services, it will, in the
opinion of the commissioners, be most properly effected by a revival
of the said act of the 27th of April, 1784, with such further
provisions and checks as may be thought necessary; or by some other
general statute, to be passed for those purposes, and which may give
equal opportunities to the claimants, and place the liquidation and
settlement of such demands in the hands of the ordinary officers of
"_Claims for services, supplies, and losses, which, if admissible, can
be made against the United States only._
[In the report details follow, and the commissioners remark]--
"The foregoing claims and accounts the commissioners conceive to be
proper against the United States only. This is, in their opinion,
sufficiently evident in most of the cases from a bare statement of the
demands. Some few appear to require a more special report. The
resolutions of Congress of the 7th of May, 1787, and 24th of June,
1788, relative to the settlement of accounts between the United States
and individual states, will show the extent of the powers of the
Continental Commissioners, and will serve to explain the opinions in
such of the preceding cases as may appear to require farther
"_Claims for payment of State Agents' Certificates_.
"By the 25th section of the act passed the 5th of May, 1786, entitled
_An act for the payment of certain sums of money, and for other
purposes therein mentioned_, all persons holding or possessing
certificates of Udny Hay or any of his assistants, or of Jacob Cuyler,
Morgan Lewis, or Andrew Bostwick, were required to present them, in
the manner therein prescribed, to the treasurer, before the 1st of
September, 1786; and those who failed therein are thereby declared _to
be barred and for ever precluded_ from any compensation, of which the
treasurer was directed to give public notice by advertisement, which
was accordingly done.
"By another act, passed the 31st of March, 1787, the time for
presenting the certificates of Udny Hay and his assistants was
extended until the first of May then next, which time has not been
further extended by any law of this state: so that all certificates of
those denominations which were not presented within the times and in
the manner specified in those laws, are expressly barred and for ever
precluded from compensation.
"The commissioners have therefore, for the reasons contained in the
observations prefixed to this report, conceived that a reference to
the aforesaid acts was the most proper discharge of their duty with
respect to all claims of compensation for such certificates.
"_Claims for grain impressed for the use of the army by virtue of
warrants issued by his excellency the governor, pursuant to an act
passed 23d June, 1780_.
"The law authorizing these impresses declares the articles impressed
to be for the _use and service of the army_, and that the owner shall
be entitled to receive from the public officer authorized to pay the
same the current price for the articles impressed, but does not say by
whom that public officer is to be appointed. The commissioners have,
however, no doubt but these were proper claims against the United
States, and would have been allowed by the Continental Commissioner if
exhibited in proper season; therefore, and for the reasons contained
in the second preliminary observation, the commissioners are of the
opinion that these claimants cannot of right demand payment of this
"The claims of Van Rensselaer and Dumond, the commissioners are of
opinion are reasonable; that, having been employed under the governor,
the claimants could have no demand against the United States, and that
the charges are proper against this state.
"_Claims for services in assisting H.I. Van Rensselaer and Egbert
Dumond in making the said impresses_.
"The commissioners consider the reasons just before stated in favour
of the claims of Van Rensselaer and Dumond to apply to the eleven
preceding, and that they are therefore proper charges against this
"_Claims for payment of debts due from persons whose property hath
been forfeited or sequestered_.
"The several foregoing demands against forfeited estates arose after
the 9th day of July, 1776, and are expressly precluded by the 42d
section of an act passed the 12th of May, 1784, entitled _An act for
the speedy sale of the confiscated and forfeited estates within this
state, and for other purposes therein mentioned_.
"The next twenty-five claims are for satisfaction of debts out of the
proceeds of property sequestered. The estates of the several debtors
have become forfeited, but in some instances no property hath come to
the hands of the commissioners of forfeitures; and in others, the
property which has come to their hands hath been insufficient for the
discharge of debts which have been certified.
"The succeeding twenty-six claims are to have debts satisfied out of
the proceeds of property sequestered, though there had been no
conviction of adherence or other forfeiture of the estate of the
"The commissioners are of opinion that a law should be passed
authorizing the treasurer to pay demands against forfeited estates, in
all cases where there still remains in his hands a surplus from the
proceeds of such estates, notwithstanding the limitation contained in
the act of 12th May, 1784. But the commissioners would recommend that
some mode different from that prescribed in the said act be directed
for the ascertaining the amount of those demands. The several
claimants and such others as have neglected to avail themselves of the
benefit of the said act, may, in the opinion of the commissioners, be
with propriety holden to strict legal proof of their respective
demands, in due course of law, in some court of record, where the
interest of the state may be defended by some officer to be for that
"The commissioners are further of opinion, that where there has been a
sequestration of any part of the property of a person _whose estate
hath become forfeited_, the avails of the property so sequestered, as
far as the same _can be distinguished_, should be subject to the
payment of his debts, in like manner as may be provided with respect
to other demands against forfeited estates; but it would not, in the
opinion of the commissioners, be at this time advisable to assume the
payment of the debts of persons whose property hath been sequestered,
and where there hath been no other forfeiture or confiscation.
"_Claims relative to sequestration, and property taken by orders of
"These persons were voluntarily within the British lines, and their
property was therefore liable to sequestration under the acts of the
Convention. They produce a certificate of their attachment to the
American cause, signed by some respectable characters. But being
within the resolutions of the Convention, the commissioners cannot
advise a recompense.
"GERARD BANCKER, _Treasurer_.
"PETER T. CURTENIUS, _State Auditor_.
"AARON BURR, _Attorney-general_."
On the 19th of January, 1791, Colonel Burr was appointed a senator of
the United States, in the place of General Schuyler, whose term of
service would expire on the 4th of March following. Until about this
period he was but little known as a partisan politician. After the
organization of the federal government under the new constitution, he
appears to have felt a great interest in its operations. In the French
revolution also, his feelings were embarked; and he was among the
number of those who condemned the cold and repulsive neutrality which
characterized the administration of that day. That he was now about to
launch into the troubled ocean of politics was evident to Mrs. Burr,
and therefore, in a letter to him under date of the 23d of July, 1791,
she says, "It is of serious consequence to you to establish your
health _before you commence politician_," &c.
In the autumn of 1791 Congress convened at Philadelphia, and Colonel
Burr took his seat in the Senate of the United States. It has often
been remarked of him, and truly, that no man was ever more cautious or
more guarded in his correspondence. A disposition, from the earliest
period of his life, to write in cipher, has already been noticed. To
this may be added an unwillingness, on all important questions, to
commit himself in writing. As soon as he entered the political arena,
this characteristic was visible even in his letters to Mrs. Burr. On
the 14th of November, 1791, he writes her--"To the subject of politics
I can at present make no reply. The _mode of communication would not
permit_, did no other reason oppose." And again, December 21st, he
says--"You will perhaps admire that I cannot leave Congress as well as
others. This, if a problem, _can only be solved at a personal
At the commencement of the revolutionary war, the State of New-York
held an extensive tract of wild and unimproved lands. Sundry laws were
passed in the years 1779, 1780, 1784, 1785, and 1786, providing for
their sale and settlement. A board was created, entitled "the
Commissioners of the Land Office." It was composed of the governor,
the secretary of state, the attorney-general, the treasurer, and the
auditor. The powers conferred by the several acts above referred to
having been found inadequate to the proposed object, the legislature,
on the 22d of March, 1791, gave unlimited powers to the commissioners,
authorizing them to "dispose of any of the waste and unappropriated
lands in the state, in such parcels, and on such terms, and in such
manner as they shall judge most conducive to the interests of the
state." In pursuance of this authority, the commissioners sold during
the year 1791, by estimate, five millions five hundred and forty-two
thousand one hundred and seventy acres of waste land, for the sum of
one million and thirty thousand four hundred and thirty-three dollars;
leaving in the possession of the state, yet to be disposed of, about
two millions of acres. Among the sales was one to Alexander Macomb,
for three millions six hundred and thirty-five thousand two hundred
acres. The magnitude of this sale, and the price at which it was sold,
created a great excitement throughout the state, and at the session of
the legislature which commenced on the 4th of January, 1792, the
subject was brought before the assembly.
The price at which Mr. Macomb made his purchase was eight pence per
acre, payable in five annual instalments, without interest, with
permission to discount for prompt payment at six per cent. per annum,
which made the price about equal to seven cents per acre cash. Colonel
Burr, as attorney-general, was a member of the board. On the 9th of
April, 1792, the report of the commissioners being the order of the
day, the subject was taken up in the house. Mr. Talbot, from
Montgomery county, moved sundry resolutions. They were intended as the
foundation for an impeachment of a part of the commissioners of the
land office. They assumed to contain a statement of facts, evidencing
on the part of the commissioners great indiscretion and want of
judgment, if not corruption, in the sale of the public lands, and they
charged the commissioners with a willful violation of the law. These
resolutions, however, excepted Colonel Burr from any participation in
the maleconduct complained of, inasmuch as the minutes of the board
proved that he was not present at the meetings (being absent on
official duty as attorney-general) when these contracts, so ruinous,
as they alleged, to the interests of the state, were made: nor did it
appear that he (Colonel Burr) was ever consulted in relation to them.
These resolutions elicited a heated debate; in the progress of which
all the commissioners, except the attorney-general, were assailed with
great bitterness; and charges of corruption by innuendo were
unceremoniously made. At a late hour the house adjourned without
decision until the next day.
On the 10th of April, 1792, Mr. Melancton Smith moved the following
resolution, with a preamble as a substitute:--
"Resolved, That this house do highly approve of the conduct of the
commissioners of the land office in the judicious sales by them, as
aforesaid, which have been productive of the before mentioned
This resolution was adopted by a vote of ays 35--noes 20.
Of Melancton Smith it is proper to remark here that he was a plain,
unsophisticated man. A purer patriot never lived. Of the powers of his
mind some opinion may be formed by the following anecdote. Dr.
Ledyard, who was afterwards health officer of the port of New-York,
was a warm federalist. He was at Poughkeepsie while the federal
constitution was under discussion in the state convention. Smith was
an anti-federal member of that body. Some time after the adoption of
the constitution, Ledyard stated to a friend of his, that to Colonel
Alexander Hamilton had been assigned, in a special manner, the duty of
defending that portion of the constitution which related to the
judiciary of the United States. That an outdoor conversation between
Colonel Hamilton and Mr. Smith took place in relation to the
judiciary, in the course of which Smith urged some of his objections
to the proposed system. In the evening a federal caucus was held; at
that caucus Mr. Hamilton referred to the conversation, and requested
that some gentleman might be designated to aid in the discussion of
this question. Robert R. Livingston, chancellor of the state, was
accordingly named. Mr. Livingston was at that time a distinguished
leader in the ranks of the federal party. Whoever will take the
trouble to read the debates in the Convention, in which will be found
the reply of Smith to Livingston, will perceive in that reply the
efforts of a mighty mind. It was a high but merited compliment to the
talents of Melancton Smith, that such a man as Colonel Hamilton should
have wished aid in opposing him.
During the winter of 1791-92, being Colonel Burr's first session in
the Senate of the United States, he spent much of his leisure time in
the state department. For several sessions after the organization of
the federal government, all the business of the Senate was transacted
with closed doors. At that period the correspondence of existing
ministers was kept secret, even from the senators. With every thing
connected with the foreign affairs of the country, Colonel Burr was
exceedingly anxious to make himself intimately acquainted. He
considered it necessary to the faithful and useful performance of his
duty as a senator. He obtained permission from Mr. Jefferson, then
secretary of state, to have access to the records of the department
before the hour for opening the office arrived. He employed one of the
messengers to make a fire at five o'clock in the morning, and
occasionally an intelligent and confidential clerk to assist him in
searching for papers. Here he was engaged until near ten o'clock every
day. It was his constant practice to have his breakfast sent to him.
He continued this employment the greater part of the session, making
notes on, or extracts from, the records of the department, until he
was interrupted by a peremptory order from the president (Washington)
prohibiting his farther examination.
Wishing some information that he had not obtained in relation to a
surrender of the western posts by the British, he addressed a note to
the secretary of state, asking permission to make that particular
examination; to which he received the following answer:----
"Thomas Jefferson presents his respectful compliments to Colonel Burr,
and is sorry to inform him it has been concluded to be improper to
communicate the correspondence of existing ministers. He hopes this
will, with Colonel Burr, be his sufficient apology."
In April, 1792, there was an election for governor of the State of
New-York. By some it was supposed that Governor Clinton would decline
being again considered a candidate. It was known that John Jay would
be the candidate of the federal party. At that period Colonel Burr had
warm personal friends in both parties, who were urging his
pretensions. Among the most ardent was Judge Yates. In the latter part
of February, 1792, he authorized his friends to state that he declined
a nomination. He was placed, however, in an unpleasant dilemma. The
connexions, and many of the personal friends of Governor Clinton, were
jealous of Colonel Burr's talents and growing influence. Between the
governor and himself there was very little intercourse. On the other
hand, the kindest feelings towards him were evinced by Chief-justice
Jay, who was a most amiable man. It was his wish, therefore, as far as
practicable, consistent with his principles, to remain neuter. He had
never been an electioneering character, and with the people he wished
to leave the pending question, without the exercise of any influence
he might be supposed to possess.
By the then existing laws of New-York, the ballots that were taken in
the several counties were, immediately after the election, transmitted
to the office of the secretary of state, and there kept until the
second Tuesday in May, when the board of canvassers were, by law, to
convene and canvass them. The election for governor was warmly
contested; the federal party supporting Judge Jay, the anti-federal
party George Clinton. When the canvassers met, difficulties arose as
to the legality of the returns from certain counties, particularly of
Otsego, Tioga, and Clinton. The canvassers differing in opinion on the
question whether the ballots should be counted or destroyed, they
agreed to ask the advice of Rufus King and Colonel Burr. These
gentlemen conferred, and, like the canvassers, differed: whereupon Mr.
Burr proposed that they should decline giving advice. To this Mr. King
objected, and expressed a determination to give his own opinion
separate. This rendered it necessary for Colonel Burr to adopt a like
procedure. He thus became a partisan, and a most efficient partisan,
in that controversy.
_Seven_ of the canvassers determined to reject and destroy the ballots
alleged to have been illegally returned. To this decision _four_
objected. The ballots were accordingly destroyed, and George Clinton
declared to be duly elected governor. The excitement produced was
without a parallel in the state. The friends of Judge Jay contended
that he had been chosen by the people, but was cheated out of his
election by the corruption of the canvassers. Great asperity and
virulence were exhibited by both political parties on the occasion.
From the moment that Colonel Burr was driven to interfere in the
controversy, he took upon himself, almost exclusively, the management
of the whole case on the side of the anti-federal party. His
accustomed acumen, vigilance, and zeal, were promptly put in
requisition. Full scope was allowed for the display of those great
legal talents for which he was so pre-eminently distinguished. It has
been known to only a very few individuals that on Colonel Burr rested
nearly the whole labour; and that nothing was done, even by the
canvassers, but under his advice and direction. It has therefore been
deemed proper to insert here some of the official details of the case.
They are worthy record, as an interesting part of the political
history of the State of New-York.
"_Statement of the case by the Canvassers, for the advice of Rufus
King and Aaron Burr_.
"OTSEGO.--By the 26th section of the constitution of the State of
New-York, it is ordained that sheriffs and coroners be annually
appointed, and that no person shall be capable of holding either of
the said offices for more than four years successively, nor the
sheriff of holding any other office at the same time. By the ninth
section of the act for regulating elections, it is enacted that one of
the inspectors shall deliver the ballots and poll-lists, scaled up, to
the sheriff of the county; and, by the tenth section of the said act,
it is further enacted, that each and every sheriff of the respective
counties in this state shall, upon receiving the said enclosures,
directed to be delivered to him as aforesaid, without opening or
inspecting the same, or any or either of them, put the said
enclosures, and every one of them, into one box, which shall be well
closed and sealed up by him, under his hand and seal, with the name of
his county written on the box, and be delivered by him into the office
of the secretary of this state, where the same shall be safely kept by
the secretary, or his deputy. By the eleventh section of the said act,
all questions arising on the canvass and estimate of the votes, or on
any of the proceedings therein, shall be determined by a majority of
the members of the joint committee attending; and their judgment shall
be final, and the oath of the canvassers requires them faithfully,
honestly, and impartially to canvass and estimate the votes contained
in the boxes delivered into the office of the secretary of this state
by the sheriffs of the several counties.
"On the 17th of February, 1791, Richard R. Smith was appointed sheriff
of the county of Otsego, and his commission gives him the custody of
that county until the 18th of February, 1792. On the 13th of January,
1792, he writes a letter to the Council of Appointment, informing them
that, as the year for which he was appointed had nearly elapsed, he
should decline a reappointment.
"On the 30th of March, 1792, the Council of Appointment appointed
Benjamin Gilbert to the office of sheriff of the said county, with a
commission, in the usual form, to keep the county until the 17th of
February next. His commission was delivered to Stephen Van Rensselaer,
Esq., on the 13th of April last, to be forwarded by him to the said
Benjamin Gilbert. By the affidavit of the said Benjamin Gilbert,
herewith delivered, it appears that he qualified into the office of
sheriff on the 11th day of May, 1792. On the first Tuesday in April,
1792, Richard R. Smith was elected supervisor of the town of Otsego,
in said county, and on the first Tuesday in May took his seat at the
board of supervisors, and assisted in the appointment of loan officers
for the county of Otsego. By the affidavit of Richard R. Smith,
herewith delivered, it appears that the ballots taken in the county of
Otsego were delivered to him as sheriff, and by him enclosed in a
sufficient box, on or about the 3d of May, which box he then delivered
into the hands of Leonard Goes, a person specially deputed by him for
the purpose of delivering the said box into the hands of the secretary
of this state, which was accordingly done, as appears by information
from the secretary.
"A small bundle of papers, enclosed and sealed, was delivered to the
secretary with the box, on which is written, 'The votes of the town of
Cherry Valley, in the county of Otsego. Richard R. Smith, Sheriff.'
Several affidavits, herewith delivered, state certain facts respecting
this separate bundle, said to be the votes of Cherry Valley.
"On this case arise the following questions:--
"1. Was Richard R. Smith the sheriff of the county of Otsego when he
received and forwarded the ballots by his special deputy?
"2. If he was not sheriff, can the votes sent by him be legally
"3. Can the joint committee canvass the votes when sent to them in two
parcels, the one contained in a box, and the other contained in a
paper, or separate bundle? Or,
"4. Ought they to canvass those sealed in the box, and reject the
"TIOGA.--It appears that the sheriff of Tioga delivered the box
containing the ballots to B. Hovey, his special deputy, who set out,
was taken sick on his journey, and delivered the box to H. Thompson,
his clerk, who delivered it into the secretary's office.
"_Question_. Ought the votes of Tioga to be canvassed?
"CLINTON.--It appears that the sheriff of Clinton delivered the box
containing the ballots to Theodorus Platt, Esq., who had no
deputation, but who delivered them into the secretary's office, as
appears by his affidavit.
"_Question._ Ought the votes of Clinton to be canvassed?"
_Mr. King's opinion to the Canvassers_.
"OTSEGO.--It may be inferred, from the constitution and laws of the
state, that the office of sheriff is held during the pleasure of the
Council of Appointment, subject to the limitation contained in the
26th section of the constitution. The sheriff may therefore hold his
office for four years, unless within that period a successor shall
have been appointed, and shall have entered upon the execution of the
office. The term of four years from the appointment of R. R. Smith not
having expired, and B. Gilbert not having entered upon the execution
of the office before the receipt and delivery of the votes by R. R.
Smith to his deputy, I am of opinion that R. R. Smith was then lawful
sheriff of Otsego.
"This opinion is strengthened by what is understood to be practice,
namely, that the office of sheriff is frequently held for more than a
year under one appointment.
"R. R. Smith's giving notice to the Council of Appointment of his
disinclination to be reappointed, or his acting as supervisor, cannot,
in my opinion, be deemed a resignation or surrender of his office.
"Should doubts, however, be entertained whether R. R. Smith was
_lawfully_ sheriff when he received and delivered the votes to his
deputy, the case contains facts which in another view of the subject
are important. It appears that R. R. Smith was appointed sheriff of
Otsego on the 17th of February, 1791, and afterwards entered upon the
execution of his office: that no other person was in the execution of
or claimed the office after the date of his appointment, and before
the time when he received and delivered the votes of the county to his
deputy; that during that interval R. R. Smith was sheriff, or the
county was without a sheriff; that R. R. Smith, during the election,
and when he received and delivered the votes to his deputy, continued
in the actual exercise of the shrievalty, and that under colour of a
regular appointment. From this statement it may be inferred, that if
R. R. Smith, when he received and delivered the votes to his deputy,
was not _de jure_, he was _de facto_, sheriff of Otsego.
"Though all the acts of an officer _de facto_ may not be valid, and
such of them as are merely voluntary and exclusively beneficial to
himself are void; yet such acts as tend to the public utility, and
such as be would be compellable to perform, such as are essential to
preserve the rights of third persons, and without which they might be
lost or destroyed, when done by an officer _de facto_, are valid.
"I am therefore of opinion, that admitting R. R. Smith, when he
received and delivered the votes to his deputy, was not _de jure_
sheriff, yet that he was _de facto_ sheriff; and that his receiving
and delivering the votes being acts done under colour of authority,
tending to the public utility, and necessary to the carrying into
effect the rights of suffrage of the citizens of that county, they are
and ought to be deemed valid; and consequently the votes of that
county may lawfully be canvassed.
"2d Question. The preceding answer to the first question renders an
answer to the second unnecessary.
"3d and 4th Questions. The sheriff is required to put into one box
every enclosure delivered to him by an inspector appointed for that
purpose by the inspectors of any town or district; and for omitting to
put any such enclosure into the box, he is liable to prosecution; but
in case of such omission, the votes put into the box, and seasonably
delivered into the secretary's office, may, notwithstanding such
omission, be lawfully canvassed; and equally so whether the omitted
enclosure be kept back or sent forward with the box to the secretary's
office. I am therefore of opinion that the votes contained in the box
may lawfully be canvassed; that those contained in a separate packet,
from considerations explained in the depositions, and distinct from
the objection of not being included within the box, cannot be lawfully
"CLINTON.--The deputy having no interest in the office of sheriff, but
being merely the sheriff's servant, it does not seem to be necessary
that the evidence of his being employed or made a deputy should be a
deed or an instrument in writing, though the latter would be proper;
yet a deputy may be made by _parole_: I am therefore inclined to the
opinion that the votes of Clinton may be canvassed.
"TIOGA.--The sheriff is one who executes an office in person or by
deputy, so far at least as the office is ministerial; when a deputy is
required of the sheriff conomine, he may execute it in person or by
deputy; but if the deputy appoints a deputy, it may be doubtful
whether ordinarily the acts of the last deputy are the acts of the
sheriff. The present instance is an extreme case; had the duty been
capable of being performed within the county, the sheriff or another
deputy could have performed. Here the deputy, being in the execution
of his duty, and without the county, is prevented by the act of God
from completing it; the sheriff could not appoint, and the deputy
undertakes to appoint a deputy to finish his duty, who accordingly
does so. The election law is intended to render effectual the
constitutional right of suffrage; it should therefore be construed
liberally, and the means should be in subordination to the end.
"In this case it may be reasonably doubted whether the canvassers are
obliged to reject the votes of Tioga.
_Mr. Burr's opinion to the Canvassers._
"OTSEGO.--The duration of the office of sheriff in England having been
limited by statute to one year, great inconveniences were experienced,
as well by suiters as by the public. To remove which it was thought
necessary to pass an act of parliament. The statute of 12 Ed. IV., ch.
1, recites at large these inconveniences, and authorizes the sheriff
to execute and return writs in the term of St. Michael, before the
delivery of a writ of discharge, notwithstanding the expiration of the
year. The authority given by this statute being to execute only
certain specified duties, the remedy was not complete, and another
statute  was soon after passed, permitting sheriffs to do every act
pertaining to the office, during the term of St. Michael and St.
Hilary, after the expiration of the year, if not sooner discharged.
The practice in England appears to have been conformable to these
statutes,  though the king did pretend to dispense with them by
force of the royal prerogative; and this claim and exercise of a power
in the crown to dispense with and control the operation of statutes,
has been long and universally condemned as odious and
unconstitutional; yet the form of the commission is said still to be
"These considerations tend to show the principles of several opinions
and adjudications, which are found in English law-books, relative to
the holding over of the office of sheriff.
"None of the statutes of England or Great Britain continued to be laws
of this state after the first of May, 1778. So that at present there
remains no pretence for adopting any other than the obvious meaning of
the constitution, which limits the duration of the office to one year,
beyond which the authority to hold cannot be derived from the
constitution, the appointment, or the commission. If inconveniences
arise, remedies can be provided by _law only_, as has in similar cases
been done in England, deciding on legal principles; therefore, the
appointment and commission, and with them the authority of Mr. Smith,
must be deemed to have expired on the 18th of February.
"Yet there are instances of offices being exercised by persons holding
under an authority apparently good, but which, on strict legal
examination, proves defective; whose acts, nevertheless, are, with
_some limitations_, considered as valid. This authority is called
_colourable_, and the officer in such cases is said to be an officer
_de facto_; which intends an intermediate state between an exercise
strictly lawful and one without such colour of right. Mr. Smith does
not appear to me to have holden the office of sheriff on the 3d of May
under such colour or pretence of right. The term of his office had
expired, and he had formally expressed his determination not to accept
a reappointment; after the expiration of the year he accepted, and
even two days before the receipt of the ballots, openly exercised an
office incompatible with that of sheriff; and it is to be inferred,
from the tenour of the affidavits, that he then knew of the
appointment of Mr. Gilbert. The assumption of this authority by Mr.
Smith does not even appear to have been produced by any urgent public
necessity or imminent public inconvenience. Mr. Gilbert was qualified
in season to have discharged the duty, and, for aught that is shown,
his attendance, if really desired, might have been procured still
"Upon all the circumstances of this case, I am of opinion,
"1. That Mr. Smith was not sheriff of Otsego when he received and
forwarded the ballots.
"2d. That the ballots delivered by the deputy of Mr. Smith cannot be
"The direction of the law is positive, that the sheriff shall put all
the enclosures into one box. How far his inattention or misconduct in
this particular shall be deemed to vitiate the ballots of a county,
appears to be left to the judgment of the canvassers. Were the ballots
of this county subject to no other exception than that stated in the
third and fourth questions, I should incline to think it one of those
cases in which the discretion of the canvassers might be safely
exercised, and that the ballots contained in the boxes might be
legally canvassed; those in the separate package do not appear to be
subject to such discretionary power; the law does not _permit_ them to
be estimated. But the extent to which this power might be exercised in
cases similar in kind, but varying in degree, cannot be precisely
defined. Instances may doubtless be supposed, in which sound
discretion would require that the whole should be rejected.
"Clinton.----To the question relative to the ballots of this county,
it may suffice to say, that verbal and written deputation by a sheriff
are, in law, considered as of equal validity, particularly when it is
to perform a single ministerial act.
"Tioga.----it is said that a deputy may make a deputy to discharge
certain duties merely ministerial; but, considering the importance of
the trust in regard of the care of the ballots, and the extreme
circumspection which is indicated in the law relative to elections, I
think that the ballots of this county cannot, by any fiction or
construction, be said to have been delivered _by the sheriff_; and am
of opinion that they ought not to be canvassed.
The opinion of Rufus King in this case was concurred in by Stephen
Lush, T. V. W. Graham, and Abraham Van Vechten, of Albany; Richard
Harrison, John Lawrence, John Cozine, Cornelius J. Bogart, Robert
Troup, James M. Hughes, and Thomas Cooper, of New-York.
The opinion of Colonel Burr was sustained by Pierpont Edwards of
Connecticut, Jonathan D. Sergeant, of Philadelphia, Edmund Randolph,
of Virginia, United States attorney-general, Zephaniah Swift, Moses
Cleaveland, Asher Miller, David Daggett, Nathaniel Smith, and Dudley
Baldwin. These opinions were procured by Colonel Burr, as appears from
the private correspondence on the subject.
FROM JONATHAN D. SERGEANT.
Philadelphia, 4th May, 1792.
You will perceive by the date of the enclosed that it has been ready
some time, but I have waited in hopes that I should have the pleasure
of sending forward Mr. Randolph's opinion in company with mine. As he
is not yet quite ready, and I am going out of town, I send forward my
own singly. He is very solicitous to collect all possible information
on the subject before he gives his opinion, and would willingly excuse
himself from the task, were it not, as he says, that it would look
like a want of that independence and firmness which dispose a man to
meet any question, however important or strongly contended.
His opinion hitherto has been conformable to yours, and I expect will
continue so. When it is ready I will forward it without the delay of
sending it round to Dr. Edwards's in the country. The doctor had
spoken to me some time before your letter came to me, so that I was
nearly prepared when I received yours.
Your obedient servant,
JONATHAN D. SERGEANT.
On the 6th of November, 1792, the legislature met. On the 13th,
petitions, memorials, &c. were presented to the House of Assembly,
demanding an inquiry into the conduct of the board appointed to
canvass the votes given for governor, &c. at the preceding election,
held in the month of April. On the 21st the house, in committee of the
whole, took up the subject. Witnesses were examined at the bar;
various resolutions and modifications were offered and rejected. The
debate was continued at intervals from the 21st of November, 1792,
until the 18th of July, 1793. The minority of the canvassers entered a
protest against the proceedings of the majority, which it is due to
them to insert here.
"_The Protest of Messrs. Jones, Roosevelt, and Gansevoort_.
"We, the subscribers, members of the joint committee appointed to
canvass and estimate the votes taken at the last election in this
state for governor, lieutenant-governor, and senators, do dissent
from, and protest against, the determination of the major part of said
committee respecting the votes taken at the said election in the
county of Otsego.
"I. Because these votes having been given by the freeholders of
Otsego, and the packages containing the same having been received and
transmitted in season to the secretary's office by the person acting
as sheriff of the county, the committee have no right to reject them
under the pretence of judging of the legality, validity, operation, or
extent of the sheriff's authority or commission; these commissions
being foreign to the duty of their appointment, and capable of a
decision only in the ordinary courts of law.
"II. Because, if the committee were by law authorized to examine and
determine the legality and extent of the sheriff's authority and
commission, we are of opinion that Richard R. Smith, at the time he
received and transmitted the ballots, was the lawful sheriff of
Otsego. By the constitution, the sheriff, whatever may be the form of
his commission, must hold his office during the pleasure of the
Council of Appointment; and, by the law of the land, he must continue
therein until another is appointed and takes upon himself the office.
Richard R. Smith, having been appointed on the 27th of February, 1791,
and Benjamin Gilbert having been appointed on the 30th of March, 1792,
but not having qualified or taken upon himself the office until
Richard R. Smith had received and forwarded the same, must be deemed
the lawful sheriff of the county. The uniform practice which has
prevailed since the establishment of the constitution, precludes all
doubt respecting its true construction on this point. For although the
commissions of the sheriffs are for one year, they have nevertheless
continued to exercise the office until others were appointed and
entered upon the execution thereof, which has often been long after
the expiration of the year, and sometimes after the same person has
remained in office more than four years successively. And such
sheriffs, sometimes after the expiration of their year, at others
after having held the office for four successive years, have received
and transmitted ballots for governor, lieutenant-governor, and
senators, which ballots have on former elections been received and
canvassed; and even upon the present canvass, the committee have
canvassed the ballots taken in the counties of Kings, Orange, and
Washington, notwithstanding the year had expired for which the
sheriffs of these counties were commissioned, and no new commissions
had been issued. Hence the sheriffs of those counties, in receiving
and transmitting the ballots, must have acted under their former
commissions, since a mere appointment without a commission, and a
compliance with the requisites prescribed by law, could not, in our
opinion, give any authority as sheriff to the person so appointed.
"III. Because, if Richard R. Smith, at the time he received and
forwarded the ballots, was not sheriff, the county was without a
sheriff, a position too mischievous to be established by a doubtful
construction of law.
"IV. Because, if Richard R. Smith was not of right sheriff of the
county at the time he received and forwarded the ballots, he was then
sheriff in fact of that county; and all the acts of such an officer
which tend to the public utility, or to preserve and render effectual
the rights of third persons, are valid in law.
"V. Because, in all doubtful cases, the committee ought, in our
opinion, to decide in favour of the votes given by the citizens, lest
by too nice and critical an exposition of the law the rights of
suffrage be rendered nugatory.
"We also dissent from, and protest against, the determination of the
major part of the said committee respecting the votes taken at the
said election in the county of Clinton;
"Because it appears that the sheriff of the said county deputed a
person by parole to deliver the box containing the ballots of the said
county into the secretary's office. Such deputation we deem to be
sufficient; and as there is satisfactory evidence that the box was
delivered in the same state in which it was received from the sheriff,
the votes, in our opinion, ought to be canvassed.
"We also dissent from, and protest against, the determination of the
major part of the said committee, by which they declare that George
Clinton was, by the greatest number of votes taken at the last
election for governor, lieutenant-governor, and senators, chosen
governor of this state; and that Pierre Van Courtlandt was, by the
greatest number of votes at the said election, chosen
lieutenant-governor; and that John Livingston was, by the greatest
number of votes at the said election, in the eastern district of this
state, chosen a senator in the said eastern district.
"Because it cannot be ascertained whether George Clinton was chosen
governor, or Pierre Van Courtlandt lieutenant-governor of this state,
by the greatest number of votes at the last election, without
examining the ballots contained in the boxes delivered into the
secretary's office by the sheriffs of the counties of Otsego and
Clinton--there being a sufficient number of freeholders in these
counties, with the votes given in the other parts of the state for
John Jay as governor and Stephen Van Rensselaer as
lieutenant-governor, to give them a majority of votes for those
offices. Nor can it be ascertained whether John Livingston was chosen
a senator in the eastern district by the greatest number of votes in
that district, without examining the votes taken in the county of
Clinton--there being a sufficient number of freeholders in that
county, with the votes given in other parts of the district for Thomas
Jenkins as a senator, to give him a greater number of votes for a
senator than the number given for the said John Livingston.
Joshua Sands, another member of the board of canvassers, entered
separately a protest, but substantially the same as the preceding.
The majority of the canvassers presented a document to the
legislature, in which they assigned their reasons for the course they
had pursued. That document was drawn by Colonel Burr. The original
draught, with his emendations, has been preserved among his papers. On
the motion of a member, it was read in the house the 28th day of
December, 1792, and is entered at large on their journals as
"_The reasons assigned by the majority of the Canvassers in
vindication of their conduct_.
"The joint committee appointed to canvass and estimate the votes for
governor, lieutenant-governor, and senators at the last election,
having been constrained, by a sense of their duty in the discharge of
the trust reposed in them, to reject the ballots returned from the
counties of Clinton, Otsego, and Tioga; and perceiving that attempts
are made to misrepresent as well the principles of their determination
as the facts on which they are founded, feel it incumbent on them to
state the grounds of their decision.
"CLINTON AND TIOGA.--A box, said to contain the ballots of the county
of Clinton, was deposited in the secretary's office by a Theodore
Platt, without any deputation or other authority, accompanied only by
his own affidavit, that he had received the said box from the sheriff
Another box, said to contain the ballots of the county of Tioga, was
delivered by the sheriff of the county of Tioga to his deputy,
Benjamin Hovey, who, being detained by illness on the road, delivered
the said box to one James H. Thompson, by whom it was deposited in the
"The joint committee, pursuant to the law, are sworn to canvass the
votes 'contained in the boxes delivered into the office of the
secretary of the state by the sheriffs of the several counties.' Hence
arose a question, whether this was not a _personal trust_, which could
not be legally performed by deputy? Upon this point we entertained
different opinions; but agreed that, if the discretion of the
committee was to be in any degree controlled by the directions of the
law, there appeared no room to doubt of the illegality of canvassing
boxes which were not delivered by a sheriff or the deputy of a
sheriff. The ballots contained in these boxes were therefore rejected;
not, however, without sensible regret, as no suspicion was entertained
of the fairness of those elections.
"OTSEGO.---It appears that Richard R. Smith, on the 17th of February,
1791, was appointed sheriff of the county of Otsego, to hold that
office until the 18th of February, 1792; that a commission was issued
agreeably to that appointment; that on the 13th of January, 1792, he
wrote to the governor and council that he should decline a
reappointment; that on the 30th of March, 1792, Benjamin Gilbert was
appointed sheriff of the said county; that the commission to the said
Benjamin Gilbert was, on the 13th of April, 1792, delivered to Stephen
Van Rensselaer, one of the Council of Appointment, to be by him
forwarded; that the said commission was in the hands of William
Cooper, Esq., first judge of the said county, on or before the 3d of
May; that the said Richard R. Smith, on the first Tuesday in April,
was elected supervisor of the town of Otsego, accepted that office,
and on the 1st day of May took his seat at the board of supervisors,
assisted in the appointment of loan officers, and _then_ declared that
he was no longer sheriff of the county, but that Benjamin Gilbert was
appointed in his place. It also appeared that Benjamin Gilbert had no
notice of his said appointment, or of the receiving of the ballots by
the said Richard R. Smith, until the 9th day of May, and that he was
sworn to the execution of the office on the 11th; that, on the 3d of
May, the said Richard R. Smith put up the ballots of the said county
in the store of the said William Cooper, Esq., in whose hands the
commission of Benjamin Gilbert then was; that the box said to contain
the votes of the said county was delivered into the secretary's office
by Leonard Goes previous to the last Tuesday in May, under a
deputation from the said Richard R. Smith; together with the said box,
and at the same time, the said Leonard Goes delivered a separate
packet or enclosure, which, by an endorsement thereon, purported to
contain 'the ballots received from the town of Cherry Valley, in the
county of Otsego.'
"The manner of the delivery of the said box and enclosure, and the
authority of the said Leonard Goes, were reported to the committee by
the secretary of the state.
"These votes were not canvassed for the following reasons:--
"1. The committee found themselves bound, by their oath and by the
directions of the law before mentioned, to canvass only the votes
contained in the boxes which may have been delivered into the
secretary's office by the _sheriffs_ of the several counties. It
appeared to them absurd to suppose this duty should be so expressly
enjoined, and that they should nevertheless be prohibited from
inquiring whether the boxes were or were not delivered by such
officers; or that they should be restrained from ascertaining a fact,
without the knowledge of which it was impossible that they could
discharge the duty with certainty to the public or with confidence to
themselves. They could not persuade themselves that they were, under
_that_ law and _that_ oath, compelled to canvass and estimate votes,
however fraudulently obtained, which should be delivered into the
secretary's office _by any person styling_ himself sheriff, though it
should at the same time be evident to them that he was _not the
sheriff_. If such was to be their conduct, a provision intended as a
security against impositions would be an engine to promote them. They
conceived, therefore, that the objection to an inquiry so important,
and in a case where the question was raised and the inquiry imposed
upon them by the suggestions of the secretary, must have arisen from
gross misrepresentation or willful error.
"Upon investigating the right of the said Richard R. Smith to exercise
that office, the facts appeared as herein-before stated.
"2. The constitution requires that sheriffs shall be _annually
appointed_; which, to our apprehension, implies that no person shall
exercise the office by virtue of any other than an _annual_
appointment. And should it even be admitted that the council may, at
_their pleasure_, remove a sheriff within the year, yet we do not see
on what ground it can be denied that the duration of the office is
limited to one year, unless a new appointment should take place. It
would otherwise be true that the council could indirectly, or by a
criminal omission, accomplish what is not within their direct or legal
authority. It will be readily admitted that an appointment and
commission for three years would be void; and surely the pretence of
one thus claiming should be preferred to a usurpation without even
such appearance of right, and against the known right of another. To
assert, therefore, that 'by the constitution the sheriff, whatever may
be the form of his commission, must hold his office during the
pleasure of the Council of Appointment; and that, by the law of the
land, he must continue therein until another is appointed and has
taken upon himself the office,' is an assertion accompanied with no
proof or reason, and is repugnant to the letter and spirit of the
constitution, which is eminently _the law of the land_. The practice
which has prevailed since the revolution, as far as hath come to our
knowledge, does not warrant the position; neither could mere practice,
if such had prevailed, justify the adoption of a principle contrary to
the obvious meaning of the constitution. Upon the present occasion we
have not canvassed the votes of any county which were not returned by
a sheriff holding his office under an appointment unexpired. The
sheriffs of Kings, Orange, and Washington had all been reappointed
within the present year, which satisfied the words of the
constitution, and was the _known_ and avowed reason which influenced
the committee to estimate the ballots of those counties. The doctrine
concerning the constitutional pleasure of the council in the
appointment of the office of sheriffs _had not then been invented_.
"3. But even admitting the visionary idea that the office of sheriff
(_whose duration is limited by the constitution_) can nevertheless be
holden _during the pleasure_ of the Council of Appointment, yet that
appears to have been determined by the letter of the appointment and
commission, by the appointment of Benjamin Gilbert, by the declaration
of Richard R. Smith, and by his acceptance and exercise of another
office, which is, by the constitution, declared to be incompatible
with the office of sheriff.
"It was evident, therefore, that Richard R. Smith had no authority by
appointment, by commission, by the constitution, or by any law, to
hold or exercise the office of sheriff on the third of May.
"4. As Richard R. Smith was not legally or constitutionally sheriff on
the third of May, neither, under the circumstances of the case, can he
be said to have been sheriff in fact, so as to render his acts valid
in contemplation of law: the assumption of power by Mr. Smith appears
to have been warranted by no pretence or colour of right. The time
limited for the duration of his office had expired by the express
tenure of his commission and appointment, and he had formally declared
his determination not to accept a reappointment. He had, two days
previous to his receiving the ballots, openly exercised an office
incompatible with that of sheriff; then declared that he had resigned
the office of sheriff, and that Benjamin Gilbert was appointed in his
place; and by an affidavit which was produced to the committee, it
appeared that, upon the day upon which he had put up the ballots in
the house of the said William Cooper, he, the said Richard R. Smith,
declared that he had resigned the office of sheriff. The business
might with equal care and certainty have been executed by Benjamin
Gilbert. The single act of receiving ballots could of itself continue
_no man_ a sheriff--least of all _a man disavowing that office, and
then in the exercise of another_. It was foreign to the duty of the
committee to provide against evils which may possibly arise from
casual vacancies in the office of sheriff by death and otherwise.
Vacancies will sometimes unavoidably happen, without further
"There is not, therefore, in our opinion, any application to the
subject, or force in the objection, 'that if Richard R. Smith was not
sheriff, the county was without a sheriff;' neither is the position
true in fact, for it appears that the county was not then without a
sheriff. At the time the ballots were received, it was well known that
Benjamin Gilbert was appointed sheriff, and that his commission was in
the hands of William Cooper, in whose store Richard R. Smith put up
the ballots. It is also to be fairly inferred that, had proper
measures been taken to give notice to Mr. Gilbert, he would forthwith
have qualified and undertaken the execution of the office. It cannot,
therefore, consistent with truth or candour, be asserted that there
was the remotest probability that 'mischiefs' could in any parallel
case ensue from the principles adopted by the committee.
"It did not seem possible, therefore, by any principle of law, by any
latitude of construction, to canvass and estimate the ballots
contained in the box thus circumstanced.
"But, had the question been doubtful, it was attended by other
circumstances, which would have determined the committee against
canvassing those ballots.
"5. Because the notice of the appointment of Benjamin Gilbert was
received by Richard R. Smith on or before the first of May, and his
commission was received by William Cooper on or before the third of
May. Mr. Gilbert might therefore have been notified, qualified, and
executed the duty. He did actually qualify on the eleventh, which gave
ample time to have forwarded the ballots before the last Tuesday in
May. These facts, with other suggestions of unfair practices, rendered
the conduct of the Otsego election justly liable to suspicion; and the
committee were constrained to conclude that the usurpation of
authority by Richard R. Smith was wanton and unnecessary, and
proceeded from no motive connected with the preservation of the rights
of the people or the freedom and _purity of elections_.
"6. Because, having in several instances, by _unanimous vote_,
rejected ballots of whole towns, free from any suspicion of
unfairness, by reason of a defect in _form only_ of the return, the
committee conceived themselves the more strongly bound to reject
ballots where the defect was substantial, and the conduct at least
questionable; especially as the law regards the custody of enclosures
containing the ballots as a trust of high importance, and contemplates
but three persons in whose hands they are to be confided until they
come to the possession of the canvassers, to wit, the inspector, the
sheriff, and the secretary; all officers of great responsibility and
"7. Because the return, upon the face of it, appeared to be illegal.
The law requires the sheriff, 'upon receiving the said enclosure,
directed to be delivered to him as aforesaid, without opening or
inspecting the same, or any or either of them, to put the said
enclosures, and _every one of them, into one box_, which shall be well
closed, &c., and be delivered by him, without opening the same, or the
enclosures therein contained, into the office of the secretary of this
state before the last Tuesday in May in every year.'
"By recurring to the preceding state of facts it will be evident that
this direction of the law had been disregarded. If irregularities of
this kind should be permitted and countenanced, it would be in the
power of the sheriff, by excluding a part of the votes, to confer a
majority on any candidate, in counties where there were divisions of
interests. Affidavits were indeed produced tending to show that there
had been, in that town, disputes respecting the election of town
officers; that two enclosures, purporting to contain the votes of the
town, were delivered to Mr. Smith, and that he had put into the box
that enclosure which contained the votes taken by the persons whom _he
judged_ to be the legal inspectors: a matter proper to have been
submitted to the opinion of the committee.
"The committee have considered this subject with deliberate attention,
and in every light in which it could be placed; and whether they
regarded the channels of conveyance, the mode of the return, or the
general principles which ought to govern their decisions touching the
freedom of elections and security against frauds, they found
undeniable reasons which compelled them to reject the votes.
"P.V. COURTLANDT, jun.,
"JONATHAN N. HAVENS."
On the 18th of January, 1793, the House of Assembly passed the
following resolutions on the subject. "Thereupon, _Resolved_, That the
mode of prosecuting any joint committee of the Senate and Assembly,
appointed for the purpose of canvassing and estimating the votes taken
in this state for governor, lieutenant-governor, and senators, and the
penalties to be inflicted on such committee, or any of them, for any
improper conduct in the execution of the trust reposed in them by law,
are clearly pointed out in the twentieth and twenty-first sections of
the act for regulating elections, passed the 13th day of February, one
thousand seven hundred and eighty-seven; and that, therefore, any
person or persons who may suppose that any such joint committee, or
any of them have conducted themselves improperly in the execution of
the trust reposed in them, may prosecute the same to effect in the
ordinary course of law.
"_Resolved_, That notwithstanding this provision in the act for
regulating elections, this house hath gone into an inquiry with
respect to the conduct of the late committee appointed to canvass and
estimate the votes for governor, lieutenant-governor, and senators,
taken at the last general election held in this state, _to the intent_
that satisfaction may be given those citizens of the state who have
been dissatisfied with the decision of the major part of the said
committee, with respect to the votes taken in the counties of Otsego,
Tioga, and Clinton.
"_Resolved_, That after a full and fair examination into the conduct
of the major part of the said canvassing committee, it does not appear
to this house that the said major part of the committee, to wit: David
Gelston, Thomas Tillotson, Daniel Graham, Melancton Smith, David
M'Carty, Pierre Van Courtlandt, junior, and Jonathan N. Havens, have
been guilty of any mal or corrupt conduct in the execution of the
trust reposed in them by law.
"And whereas, by the eleventh section of the act for regulating
elections, it is enacted that all questions which shall arise upon any
canvass and estimate, or upon any of the proceedings therein, shall be
determined according to the opinion of the major part of the said
canvassing committee, and that their judgment and determination shall
in all cases be binding and conclusive; therefore,
"_Resolved_, As the sense of this house, that the legislature cannot
annul or make void any of the determinations of the said committee."
The question was taken on the preceding resolutions together, by yeas
and nays, and passed in the affirmative. Ays 35. Nays 22.
Among the individuals for whom Colonel Burr entertained a high degree
of respect, was Jacob De Lamater, Esq., of Marbletown. Between these
gentlemen, for several years, a friendly, and, in some instances, a
confidential correspondence existed. Mr. De Lamater was a federalist,
but personally attached to Colonel Burr. In 1792 he was among those
who wished him to become a candidate for the office of governor. After
the death of De Lamater, the letters addressed to him by Colonel Burr
were returned. They were written under the sacred seal of friendship;
but they contain not a sentence, not a word, that is not alike
honourable to his head and his heart. One is selected and here
published as explanatory of his _feelings_ and his _conduct_ in the
contested election (which so much agitated the State of New-York)
between George Clinton and John Jay. It requires no comment.
TO MR. DE LAMATER
New-York, 15th June, 1792.
MY DEAR SIR,
You will, before this can reach you, have heard of the event of the
late election. Some questions having arisen among the canvassers
respecting the returns from Clinton, Otsego, and Tioga, they requested
the advice of Mr. King and myself. We conferred, and, unfortunately,
differed; particularly as to the questions upon the Otsego return. I
therefore proposed that we should decline giving any opinion, being
for my own part much averse to interfere in the business. Mr. King,
however, determined to give his separate opinion, from what motives
you may judge. This laid me under the necessity of giving mine also,
which I did. If I can procure copies of both opinions, and of the
protest of the minority, and the reasons assigned by the majority of
the canvassers, I will send them herewith. They will enable you to
form a competent judgment of the law question, and of the fairness of
the Otsego return.
I do not see how any unbiased man can doubt, but still I do not
pretend to control the opinion of others, much less to take offence at
any man for differing from me. The reasons contained in my opinion,
and assigned by the majority of the canvassers, have never been
answered except by abuse. I can, in a personal interview, inform you
of some circumstances relative to the opinions which have been
procured in favour of the Otsego votes.
I have heard with much pride and pleasure of the warm and
disinterested manner in which I was espoused by some respectable
characters in your county. I shall never fail to recollect it with
sensibility and gratitude. It would therefore give me real pain to
believe that any part of my conduct had tended to thwart their wishes.
If it has had any such effect, it should at least be remembered that I
did not seek to gratify any wish or interest of my own. I took no part
in the election. I never gave to any person the most distant
intimation that I supposed you engaged to support Mr. Clinton, or to
take any other part than that which your inclinations and judgment
should direct. I felt no disposition to influence your conduct on that
occasion. Had I been so inclined, I have no doubt but I could, in
various parts of the state, have essentially injured Mr. Jay's
interest; but I made no attempt of the kind. Yet I shall never yield
up the right of expressing my opinions. I have never exacted that
tribute from another.
Upon the late occasion, indeed, I earnestly wished and sought to be
relieved from the necessity of giving any opinion, particularly from a
knowledge that it would be disagreeable to you and a few others whom I
respect and wish always to gratify. But the conduct of Mr. King left
me no alternative. I was obliged to give an opinion, and I have not
yet learned to give any other than which my judgment directs.
It would, indeed, be the extreme of weakness in me to expect
friendship from Mr. Clinton. I have too many reasons to believe that
he regards me with jealousy and malevolence. Still, this alone ought
not to have induced me to refuse my advice to the canvassers. Some
pretend, indeed, but none can believe, that I am prejudiced in his
favour. I have not even seen or spoken to him since January last. I
wish to merit the flattering things you say of my talents; but your
expressions of esteem and regard are still more flattering, and these,
I am sure, I shall never fail to merit, if the warmest friendship and
unalterable attachment can give me a claim.
Will you be abroad any, and what part of the summer? I ask, because I
propose to make you a visit on my way to, or return from, Albany, and
wish to be certain of finding you at home. No political changes can
ever diminish the pleasure with which I subscribe myself
Your affectionate friend,
The following letter is evidence of Colonel Burr's propensity to
correspond in cipher with his most intimate friends, even on
unimportant topics. Hundreds of the same character might be given.
TO JACOB DE LAMATER.
New-York, October 30th, 1792
Your letter by Mr. Addison was particularly kind, after my long
_supposed_ silence. We may make use of _both keys or ciphers_, and if
some of the persons or things are designated by different characters,
no inconvenience will arise; if there should, we will correct it.
_V_ is to be the candidate, as my former letter will have told you: He
has the wishes of 9 for his success, for reasons which will be obvious
to you. Do you think that 8 would be induced from any motive to vote
1. 17 Ed., ch. 7, more general.
2. 2 Hawks., 5, 51, Irish oct. edit., 2 mod. 261 statute 1 Wm. and
Mary, sess. 2, ch. 2. See also sec. 12 of the same statute.
On the 2d of October, 1792, Governor Clinton nominated Colonel Burr to
the Council of Appointment as Judge of the Supreme Court of the state,
which nomination was immediately confirmed. Thus, within the short
space of about three years, he was appointed by the democratic party
to the several important stations of Attorney-General, Senator of the
United States, and Judge of the Supreme Court. The last appointment
was made without consulting Mr. Burr. As soon as he was notified of
the fact, he informed the governor of his non-acceptance; yet so
anxious was his excellency, and so strong were his hopes that Colonel
Burr might be induced to withdraw his resignation, that be refused to
lay it before the council until the legislature, on the 7th of
December, adopted the following resolution--
"Whereas it appears to the legislature, by the records of the Council
of Appointment, that Aaron Burr, Esq., one of the senators for this
state in the Senate of the United States, was, on the 2d day of
October last, appointed one of the puisne justices of the Supreme
Court of Judicature of this state: Thereupon,
"_Resolved_ (if the honourable the Senate concur herein), That his
excellency the governor be and hereby is requested to inform the
legislature whether the said Aaron Burr hath accepted or refused the
On the 24th of October, 1791, Congress convened, and Colonel Burr took
his seat in the Senate of the United States. In those days it was the
practice of the president, accompanied by the heads of departments, to
proceed to Congress Hall for the purpose of meeting the two branches
of the national legislature, and opening the session with a speech, to
which a response was made by each body separately. On the 25th the
president made his annual communication; whereupon the Senate
"_Ordered_, That Messrs. Burr, Cabot, and Johnston be a committee to
prepare and report the draught of an address to the President of the
United States, in answer to his speech, delivered this day to both
houses of Congress in the Senate Chamber."
The next day Colonel Burr, as chairman of the committee, draughted and
reported an answer, which was adopted by the Senate without alteration
or amendment: an occurrence, it is believed, that happened in only two
other instances during the period that speeches were delivered by the
executive. After the election of Mr. Jefferson the system of sending
messages was substituted.
The journals of the Senate afford ample evidence that Colonel Burr was
an industrious and efficient member of that body. During the first
session of his term of service he was placed on numerous committees,
some of them important, and generally as chairman. His business habits
soon became evident, and were called into operation. His character for
firmness was well established before be took his seat in the Senate;
but on the 9th of January, 1794, it was displayed with effect. In
consequence of a difference between the two houses, a bill to increase
the standing army was lost.
Mr. King, of New-York, by consent, introduced a new bill; it was
entitled "An act for the more effectual protection of the southwestern
frontier settlers." Unsuccessful efforts were made by Colonel Burr and
others to amend it, by striking out some of its most odious features;
but there was a decided majority, as it was known to be an
administration measure, determined on carrying it through. The bill
was ordered to be engrossed for a third reading, and the question on
its passage was to be taken on the last day of the session. By the
rules of the Senate, the question could not be put if any member
objected. Colonel Burr objected, and the bill was thus defeated.
Notwithstanding his public engagements, Colonel Burr's mind was
constantly employed with the education of his daughter. Mrs. Burr's
health was gradually declining, insomuch that she was unable, at
times, to attend to her domestic concerns. This to him was a source of
unceasing care and apprehension. His letters to his daughter are
numerous. They are frequently playful, always interesting, displaying
the solicitude of an affectionate father anxious for the improvement
of his child.
TO MRS. BURR.
Philadelphia, 18th January, 1793.
By the enclosed to Mr. Gurney,  I have requested him to write me a
letter respecting the health of the family, and Theo.'s improvement.
Request him to enclose, on a separate sheet, some columns of figures,
pounds, shillings, and pence. I shall show the letter and enclosure as
a specimen of his talents to some persons to whom I wish to recommend
him. Beg him to use no uncommon word or expression. He will pardon
this piece of advice when he recollects that I know so much better
than he does what will suit the persons to whom it is to be shown. If
he should offer his letter for your perusal before he sends it, remark
freely; it will be a kindness of which no one is so capable.
Should this come to hand after he has given his lesson on Saturday,
send him his letter, and request him to call on you, if you should be
able to bear five minutes conversation with him.
I wrote you yesterday, and have nothing to add respecting myself; and
only a repetition of my prayers for you, with my most affectionate and
TO MRS. BURR.
Philadelphia, 8th February, 1793.
You may recollect that I left a memorandum of what Theo. was to learn.
I hope it has been strictly attended to. Desire Gurney not to attempt
to teach her any thing about the "concords." I will show him how I
choose that should be done when I return, which, I thank God, is but
three weeks distant.
It is eight days since I left home, and I have not a word from any one
of the family, nor even about any one of them. I have been out but
once, half an hour at Mrs. P.'s, a concert; but I call often at Mrs.
L.'s. I am more and more struck with the native good sense of one of
that family, and more and more disgusted with the manner in which it
is obscured and perverted: cursed effects of fashionable education! of
which both sexes are the advocates, and yours eminently the victims.
If I could foresee that Theo. would become a _mere_ fashionable woman,
with all the attendant frivolity and vacuity of mind, adorned with
whatever grace and allurement, I would earnestly pray God to take her
forthwith hence. But I yet hope, by her, to convince the world what
neither sex appear to believe--that women have souls!
Most affectionately yours,
TO MRS. BURR.
Philadelphia, 15th February, 1793.
I received with joy and astonishment, on entering the Senate this
minute, your two elegant and affectionate letters. The mail closes in
a few minutes, and will scarce allow me to acknowledge your goodness.
The roads and ferries have been for some days almost impassable, so
that till now no post has arrived since Monday.
It was a knowledge of your mind which first inspired me with a respect
for that of your sex, and with some regret, I confess, that the ideas
which you have often heard me express in favour of female intellectual
powers are founded on what I have imagined, more than what I have
seen, except in you. I have endeavoured to trace the causes of this
_rare_ display of genius in women, and find them in the errors of
education, of prejudice, and of habit. I admit that men are equally,
nay more, much more to blame than women. Boys and girls are generally
educated much in the same way till they are eight or nine years of
age, and it is admitted that girls make at least equal progress with
the boys; generally, indeed, they make better. Why, then, has it never
been thought worth the attempt to discover, by fair experiment, the
particular age at which the male superiority becomes so evident? But
this is not in answer to your letter; neither is it possible now to
answer it. Some parts of it I shall never answer. Your allusions to
departed angels I think in bad taste.
I do not like Theo.'s indolence, or the apologies which are made for
it. Have my directions been pursued with regard to her Latin and
Your plan and embellishment of my mode of life are fanciful, are
flattering, and inviting. We will endeavour to realize some of it.
Pray continue to write, if you can do it with impunity. I bless Sir
J., who, with the assistance of Heaven, has thus far restored you.
In the course of this scrawl I have been several times called to vote,
which must apologize to you for its incoherence. Adieu.
TO MRS. BURR.
Philadelphia, 16th February, 1793.
A line of recollection will, I am sure, be more acceptable than
silence. I consider myself as largely in your debt, and shall of
necessity remain so.
You have heard me speak of a Miss Woolstonecraft, who has written
something on the French revolution; she has also written a book
entitled "_Vindication of the rights of Woman_." I had heard it spoken
of with a coldness little calculated to excite attention; but as I
read with avidity and prepossession every thing written by a lady, I
made haste to procure it, and spent the last night, almost the whole
of it, in reading it. Be assured that your sex has in _her_ an able
advocate. It is, in my opinion, a work of genius. She has successfully
adopted the style of Rousseau's Emilius; and her comment on that work,
especially what relates to female education, contains more good sense
than all the other criticisms upon him which I have seen put together.
I promise myself much pleasure in reading it to you.
Is it owing to ignorance or prejudice that I have not yet met a single
person who had discovered or would allow the merit of this work?
Three mails are in arrear; that of Tuesday is the last which has
arrived. I am impatient to know how writing agrees with you. Pray let
me hear, from day to day, the progress of your cure. Most
TO MRS. BURR.
Philadelphia, 18th February, 1793.
Just what I apprehended, I find, has taken place. Three sheets were
too much for a first attempt. It will, I fear, discourage you, if not
disable you from more moderate experiments. Yet I will hope to receive
by this day's mail at least one line, announcing your progressive
recovery, under your own hand.
Be assured that, after what you have written, I shall not send for
Gurney. Deliver him the enclosed. I hope it may animate his attention;
and tell him, if you think proper, that I shall be much dissatisfied
if Theo.'s progress in Latin be not very considerable at my return.
Geography has, I hope, been abandoned, for he has no talent at
The close of a session being always crowded with business, keeps me
much engaged. You must expect short letters--mere notes. Adieu.
TO HIS DAUGHTER THEODOSIA.
Philadelphia, 20th February, 1793.
At length, my dear Theo., I have received your letter of the 20th of
January--written, you see, a month ago. But I observe that it was not
put into the postoffice until the day before yesterday. I suppose
Frederick or Bartow had carelessly put it in some place where it had
lain forgotten. It would indeed have been a pity that such a letter
should have been lost. There is something in the style and arrangement
of the words which would have done honour to a girl of sixteen.
All three of the Miss A.'s will visit New-York next summer, and pass
some weeks there. I hope to be at home in ten or twelve days from this
time. Let me receive one or two more letters from you, even if you are
obliged to neglect a lesson to find time to write them.
Alexis  often bids me to send you some polite and respectful
message on his part, which I have heretofore omitted. He is a
faithful, good boy. Upon our return home he hopes you will teach him
I am, my dear Theo.,
Your affectionate papa,
TO HIS DAUGHTER THEODOSIA.
Philadelphia, 24th February, 1793
MY DEAR THEO.,
In looking over a list made yesterday (and now before me), of letters
of consequence to be answered immediately, I find the name of T.B.
Burr. At the time I made the memorandum I did not advert to the
compliment I paid you by putting your name in a list with some of the
most eminent persons in the United States. So true is it that your
letters are really of consequence to _me_. I now allude to that of the
19th instant, covering a fable and riddle. If the whole performance
was your own, which I am inclined to hope and believe, it indicates an
improvement in style, in knowledge of the French, and in your
handwriting. I have therefore not only read it several times, but
shown it to several persons with pride and pleasure.
I confess myself unable to solve your riddle, unless the _teeth_ or
the _alphabet_ (generally supposed to be twenty-four in each) will
give the solution. But I have not yet had an opportunity to consult
Miss P. A. To-morrow I shall call on her for the purpose, and will not
fail to inform you of her conjectures on the subject.
Your affectionate papa,
TO HIS DAUGHTER THEODOSIA.
Philadelphia, 16th December, 1793.
I have a thousand questions to ask, my dear Theo., but nothing to
communicate; and thus I fear it will be throughout the winter, for my
time is consumed in the dull uniformity of study and attendance in
Senate; but every hour of _your_ day is interesting to _me_. I would
give, what would I not give to see or know even your most trifling
actions and amusements? This, however, is more than I can ask or
expect. But I do expect with impatience your journal. Ten minutes
every evening I demand; if you should choose to make it twenty, I
shall be the better pleased. You are to note the occurrences of the
day as concisely as you can; and, at your pleasure, to add any short
reflections or remarks that may arise. On the other leaf I give you a
sample of the manner of your journal for one day.
I began this letter at the date which you see, being Monday last--was
interrupted, and the mail closed. Yesterday I was confined with a
severe headache, owing, I believe, to a change from an active to a
sedentary life without a corresponding change in diet.
A week and more has elapsed since I left home, and not a line from
you; not even the Sunday letter. Observe, that the journal is to be
sent to me enclosed in a letter every Monday morning.
_Plan of the Journal._
16th December, 1793.
Learned 230 lines, which finished Horace. Heigh-ho for Terence and the
Greek grammar to-morrow.
Practised two hours less thirty-five minutes, which I begged off.
Hewlett (dancing-master) did not come.
Began Gibbon last evening. I find he requires as much study and
attention as Horace; so I shall not rank the reading of _him_ among
Skated an hour; fell twenty times, and find the advantage of a hard
Ma better--dined with us at table, and is still sitting up and free
Your affectionate papa,
TO MRS. BURR.
Philadelphia, 24th December, 1793.
Since being at this place I have had several conversations with Dr.
Rush respecting your distressing illness, and I have reason to believe
that he has given the subject some reflection. He has this evening
called on me, and given me as his advice that you should take hemlock.
He says that, in the way in which it is usually prepared, you should
commence with a dose of one tenth of a grain, and increase as you may
find you can bear it; that it has the narcotic powers of opium,
superadded to other qualities. When the dose is too great, it may be
discovered by a vertigo or giddiness; and that he has known it to work
wonderful cures. I was the more pleased with this advice, as I had not
told him that you had been in the use of this medicine; the
concurrence of his opinion gives me great faith in it. God grant that
it may restore your health, and to your affectionate
TO HIS DAUGHTER THEODOSIA.
Philadelphia, 25th December, 1793.
The letter, my dear Theo., which (I have no doubt) you wrote me last
Sunday, has not yet come to hand. Am I to blame Strong? or the
postmaster? or whom?
When you have finished a letter, read it carefully over, and correct
all the errors you can discover. In your last there were some which
could not, upon an attentive perusal, have escaped your notice, as you
shall see when we meet.
I have asked you a great many questions, to which I have as yet no
answers. When you _sit_ down to write to me, or when you _set_ about
it, be it sitting or standing, peruse all my letters, and leave
nothing unanswered. Adieu.
TO HIS DAUGHTER THEODOSIA.
Philadelphia, 31st December, 1793.
I received your letter and journal yesterday in the Senate Chamber,
just before the closing of the mail, so that I had only time to
acknowledge it by a hasty line. You see I never let your letters
remain a day unanswered, in which I wish you would imitate me. Your
last had no date; from the last date in the journal, and your writing
about Christmas holydays as yet at some distance, I suppose you wrote
about Sunday the 22d. Nine days ago! I beg you again to read over all
my letters, and to let me see by your answers that you attend to them.
I suspect your last journal was not written from day to day; but all
on one, or at most two days, from memory. How is this? Ten or fifteen
minutes every evening would not be an unreasonable sacrifice from
_you_ to _me_. If you took the Christmas holydays, I assent: if you
did not, we cannot recall the time. This is all the answer which that
part of your letter now admits of.
It is said that some few yet die of the yellow fever which lately
raged here; but the disorder does not appear to be, _at present_, in
any degree contagious; what _may_ be the case upon the return of warm
weather, is a subject of anxious conjecture and apprehension. It is
probable that the session of Congress will continue into the summer.
Give a place to your mamma's health in your journal. Omit the formal
conclusion of your letters, and write your name in a larger hand. I am
just going to Senate, where I hope to meet a letter from you, with a
continuation of your journal down to the 29th inclusive, which, if it
gives a good account of you and mamma, will gladden the heart of
TO HIS DAUGHTER THEODOSIA.
Philadelphia, 31st December, 1793.
This day's mail has brought me nothing from you. I have but two
letters in three, almost four weeks, and the journal is ten days in
arrear. What--can neither affection nor civility induce you to devote
to me the small portion of time which I have required? Are authority
and compulsion then the only engines by which you can be moved? For
shame, Theo.! Do not give me reason to think so ill of you.
I wrote you this morning, and have nothing to add but the repetition
of my warmest affection.
TO HIS DAUGHTER THEODOSIA.
Philadelphia, 4th January, 1794.
At the moment of closing the mail yesterday, I received your letter
enclosing the pills. I cannot refer to it by date, as it has none.
Tell me truly, did you write it without assistance? Is the language
and spelling your own? If so, it does you much honour. The subject of
it obliged me to show it to Dr. Rush, which I did with great pride. He
inquired your age half a dozen times, and paid some handsome
compliments to the handwriting, the style, and the correctness of your
The account of your mamma's health distresses me extremely. If she
does not get better soon, I will quit Congress altogether and go home.
Doctor Rush says that the pills contain two grains each of pure and
fresh extract of hemlock; that the dose is not too large if the
stomach and head can bear it; that he has known twenty grains given at
a dose with good effect. To determine, however, whether this medicine
has any agency in causing the sick stomach, he thinks it would be well
to take an occasion of omitting it for a day or two, if Doctor Bard
should approve of such an experiment, and entertains any doubts about
the effects of the pills on the stomach. Some further conversation
which I have had with Doctor Rush will be contained in a letter which
I shall write by this post to Doctor Bard.
My last letter to you was almost an angry one, at which you cannot be
much surprised when you recollect the length of time of your silence,
and that you are my only correspondent respecting the concerns of the
family. I expect, on Monday or Tuesday next, to receive the
continuation of your journal for _the fortnight past_.
Mr. Leshlie will tell you that I have given directions for your
commencing Greek. One half hour faithfully applied by yourself at
study, and another at recitation with Mr. Leshlie, will suffice to
advance you rapidly.
TO HIS DAUGHTER THEODOSIA.
Philadelphia, 7th January, 1794.
When your letters are written with tolerable spirit and correctness, I
read them two or three times before I perceive any fault in them,
being wholly engaged with the pleasure they afford me; but, for your
sake, it is necessary that I should also peruse them with an eye of
criticism. The following are the only mispelled words. You write
_acurate_ for _accurate_; _laudnam_ for _laudanum_; _intirely_ for
_entirely_; this last word, indeed, is spelled both ways, but entirely
is the most usual and the most proper.
Continue to use all these words in your next letter, that I may see
that you know the true spelling. And tell me what is laudanum? Where
and how made? And what are its effects?
"It was what she had long wished for, and was at a loss how to procure
Don't you see that this sentence would have been perfect and much more
elegant without the last _it_? Mr. Leshlie will explain to you why.
By-the-by, I took the liberty to erase the redundant _it_ before I
showed the letter.
I am extremely impatient for your farther account of mamma's health.
The necessity of laudanum twice a day is a very disagreeable and
alarming circumstance. Your letter was written a week ago, since which
I have no account. I am just going to the Senate Chamber, where I hope
to meet a journal and letter. Affectionately,
TO HIS DAUGHTER THEODOSIA.
Philadelphia, 8th January, 1794
Your two letters of Friday and Saturday came together by yesterday's
mail, which did not arrive till near sunset. Your letter of Friday was
not put into the postoffice until Saturday afternoon. You might have
as well kept it in your own hands till Monday eleven o'clock. Since
the receipt of these letters I have been three times to Doctor Rush to
consult him about a drink for your mamma; but not having had the good
fortune to find him, have written to him on the subject. I shall
undoubtedly procure an answer in the course of this day, and will
forward it by to-morrow's post.
I beg, Miss Prissy, that you will be pleased to name a single
"_unsuccessful effort_" which you have made to please me. As to the
letters and journals which you _did_ write, surely you have reason
abundant to believe that they gave me pleasure; and how the deuse I am
to be pleased with those you _did not_ write, and how an omission to
write can be called an "_effort_," remains for your ingenuity to
You improve much in journalizing. Your last is far more sprightly than
any of the preceding. Fifty-six lines sola was, I admit, _an effort_
worthy of yourself, and which I hope will be often repeated. But pray,
when you have got up to two hundred lines a lesson, why do you go back
again to one hundred and twenty, and one hundred and twenty-five? You
should strive never to diminish; but I suppose that _vis inertia_,
which is often so troublesome to you, does some times preponderate. So
it is now and then even with your
Learn the difference between _then_ and _than_. You will soonest
perceive it by translating them into Latin.
Let me see how handsomely you can subscribe your name to your next
letter, about this size,
TO HIS DAUGHTER THEODOSIA.
Philadelphia, 10th of January, 1794.
I fear that you will imagine that I have been inattentive to your last
request about Dr. Rush; but the truth is, I can get nothing
satisfactory out of him. He enumerates over to me all the articles
which have been repeatedly tried, and some of which did never agree
with your mamma. He is, however, particularly desirous that she should
again try milk--a spoonful only at a time: another attempt, he thinks,
should be made with porter, in some shape or other. Sweet oil,
molasses, and milk, in equal proportions, he has known to agree with
stomachs which had rejected every thing else. Yet he says, and with
show of reason, that these things depend so much on the taste, the
habits of life, the peculiarity of constitution, that she and her
attending physician can be the best, if not the only advisers. It
gives me very great pleasure to learn that she is now better. I shall
write you again on Sunday, having always much to say to you
Philadelphia, 13th January, 1794.
Your letter of the 9th, my dear Theo., was a most agreeable surprise
to me. I had not dared even to hope for one until to-morrow. In one
instance, at least, an attempt to please me has not been
"unsuccessful." You see I do not forget that piece of impudence.
Doctor Rush says that he cannot conceive animal food to be
particularly necessary; nourishment is the great object. He approves
much of the milk punch and chocolate. The stomach must on no account
be offended. The intermission of the pills for a few days (not however
for a whole week) he thinks not amiss to aid in determining its
effects. The quantity may yet be increased without danger, but the
present dose is in his opinion sufficient; but after some days
continual use, a small increase might be useful.
I was yesterday thronged with company from eight in the morning till
eleven at night. The Greek signature, though a little mistaken, was
not lost upon me. I have a letter from Mr. Leshlie, which pays you
many compliments. He has also ventured to promise that you will every
day get a lesson in Terence by yourself. You know how grateful this
will be to
Philadelphia, 14th January, 1794.
I really think, my dear Theo., that you will be very soon beyond all
verbal criticism, and that my whole attention will be presently
directed to the improvement of your style. Your letter of the 9th is
remarkably correct in point of spelling. That word rec_ie_ved still
escapes your attention. Try again. The words _wold_ and _shold_ are
mere carelessness; necess_e_ry instead of necess_a_ry, belongs, I
suspect to the same class.
"Dr. B. called here, but did not speak of his having rec_ie_ved a
letter from you, but desired," &c.
When I copied the foregoing, I intended to have shown you how to
improve it; but, upon second thought, determine to leave it to
yourself. Do me the favour to _endorse_ it on, or _subjoin_ it to,
your next letter, corrected and varied according to the best of your
"Ma begs you will omit the thoughts of leaving Congress," &c.; "omit"
is improperly used here. You mean "_abandon, relinquish, renounce_, or
_abjure_ the thoughts," &c. Your mamma, Mr. Leshlie, or your
dictionary (Johnson's folio), will teach you the force of this
observation. The last of these words would have been too strong for
the occasion. You have used with _propriety_ the words "encomium" and
"adopted." I hope you may have frequent occasion for the former, with
the like application.
"Cannot be committed to paper," is well expressed.
Philadelphia, 16th January, 1794.
I hope the mercury, if tried, will be used with the most vigilant
caution and the most attentive observation of its first effects. I am
extremely anxious and apprehensive about the event of such an
I fear, my dear little girl, that my letter of the 13th imposed too
much upon you; if so, dispense with what you may find too troublesome.
You perceive by this license the entire confidence which I place in
Your journal still advances towards perfection. But the letter which
accompanied it is, I remark with regret, rather a falling off. I have
received none more carelessly written, or with more numerous omissions
of words. I am sensible that many apologies are at hand; but you,
perhaps, would not be sensible that any were necessary, if I should
omit to remind you.
On Sunday se'nnight (I think the 26th) I shall, unless baffled or
delayed by ice or weather, be with you at Richmond Hill. I will not
bid you adieu till the Friday preceding. In the interim, we shall
often in this way converse.
I continue the practice of scoring words for our mutual improvement.
The use, as applicable to you, was indicated in a former letter.
I am sure you will be charmed with the Greek language above all
Philadelphia, 23d January, 1794.
Io, triumphe! There is not a word mispelled either in your journal or
letter, which cannot be said of a single page you ever before wrote.
The fable is quite classical, and, if not very much corrected by Mr.
Leshlie, is truly a surprising performance, and written most
beautifully. But what has become of poor Alpha Beta? Discouraged? That
is impossible. Laid aside for the present? That, indeed, is possible,
but by no means probable. Shall I guess again? Yes; you mean to
surprise me with some astonishing progress. And yet, to confess the
truth, your lessons in Terence, Exercises, and "music" (without a _k_,
observe) seem to leave little time for any other study. I must remain
in suspense for four days longer.
Doctor Rush thinks that bark would not be amiss, but may be beneficial
if the stomach does not rebuke it, which must be constantly the first
object of attention. He recommends either the cold infusion or
substance as least likely to offend the stomach.
Be able, upon my arrival, to tell me the difference between an
_infusion_ and _decoction_; and the history, the virtues, and the
_botanical_ or medical name of the bark. Chambers will tell you more
perhaps than you will wish to read of it. Your little mercurial
disquisition is ingenious, and prettily told.
I have a most dreary prospect of weather and roads for my journey. I
set off on Saturday morning, and much fear that it will take two or
three days to get to Now-York.