Letter from Thomas Jefferson to George Hay, June 12, 1807

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Letter from Thomas Jefferson to George Hay  (1807) 
by Thomas Jefferson

This letter was Jefferson's response to a subpoena ducues tecum issued by Chief Justice John Marshall in the treason trial of Aaron Burr. The letter was read into the record of the proceedings by its recipient, prosecutor George Hay. United States v. Burr, 25 F. Cas. 55, 65 (C.C.D. Va. 1807).

Washington, June 12, 1807.

Sir: Your letter of the 9th is this moment received. Reserving the necessary right of the president of the United States to decide, independently of all other authority, what papers coming to him as president the public interest permits to be communicated, and to whom, I assure you of my readiness under that restriction, voluntarily to furnish on all occasions whatever the purposes of justice may require. But the letter of General Wilkinson, of October 21st, requested for the defence of Colonel Burr, with every other paper relating to the charges against him, which were in my possession when the attorney general went on to Richmond in March. I then delivered to him; and I have always taken for granted he left the whole with you. If he did, and the bundle retains the order in which I had arranged it, you will readily find the letter desired under the date of its receipt which was November 25th; but lest the attorney general should not have left those papers with you, I this day write to him to forward this one by post. An uncertainty whether he be at Philadelphia, Wilmington, or New Castle, may produce delay in his receiving my letter, of which it is proper you should be apprised. But as I do not recollect the whole contents of that letter, I must beg leave to devolve on you the exercise of that discretion which it would be my right and duty to exercise, by withholding the communication of any parts of the letter which are not directly material for the purposes of justice. With this application, which is specific, a prompt compliance is practicable; but when the request goes to copies of the orders issued in relation to Colonel Burr to the officers at Orleans and Natchez, and by the secretaries of the war and navy departments, it seems to cover a correspondence of many months, with such a variety of officers civil and military, all over the United States, as would amount to the laying open of the whole executive books. I have desired the secretary of war to examine his official communications, and on a view of these we may be able to judge what can and ought to be done towards a compliance with the request. If the defendant allege that there was any particular order which, as a cause, produced any particular act on his part, then he must know what this order was, can specify it, and a prompt answer can be given. If the object had been specified, we might then have had some guide for our conjectures, as to what part of the executive records might be useful to him. But with a perfect willingness to do what is right, we are without the indications which may enable us to do it. If the reseaiches of the secretary at war should produce anything proper for communication, and pertinent to any point we can conceive in the defence before the court, it shall be forwarded to you. I salute you with esteem and respect

Thomas Jefferson.

George Hay, Esq.

This work was published before January 1, 1928, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.