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hamilton to burr - Alexander Hamilton, The Works of Alexander Hamilton, (Federal Edition), vol. 10 
The Works of Alexander Hamilton, ed. Henry Cabot Lodge (Federal Edition) (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904). In 12 vols. Vol. 10.
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hamilton to burr
June 20, 1804.
I have maturely reflected on the subject of your letter of the eighteenth instant, and the more I have reflected, the more I have become convinced that I could not, without manifest impropriety, make the avowal or disavowal which you seem to think necessary. The clause pointed out by Mr. Van Ness is in these terms: “I could detail to you a still more despicable opinion which General Hamilton has expressed of Mr. Burr.” To endeavor to discover the meaning of this declaration, I was obliged to seek in the antecedent part of this letter for the opinion to which it referred, as having been already disclosed. I found it in these words: “General Hamilton and Judge Kent have declared in substance that they looked upon Mr. Burr to be a dangerous man, and one who ought not to be trusted with the reins of government.”
The language of Dr. Cooper plainly implies that he considered this opinion of you, which he attributes to me, as a despicable one; but he affirms that I have expressed some other, more despicable, without, however, mentioning to whom, when, or where. ’T is evident that the phrase “still more despicable” admits of infinite shades, from very light to very dark. How am I to judge of the degree intended, or how shall I annex any precise idea to language so indefinite?
Between gentlemen, despicable and more despicable are not worth the pains of distinction; when, therefore, you do not interrogate me as to the opinion which is specifically ascribed to me, I must conclude that you view it as within the limits to which the animadversions of political opponents upon each other may justifiably extend, and consequently as not warranting the idea of it which Dr. Cooper appears to entertain. If so, what precise inference could you draw as a guide for your conduct, were I to acknowledge that I had expressed an opinion of you still more despicable than the one which is particularized? How could you be sure that even this opinion had exceeded the bounds which you yourself deem admissible between political opponents?
But I forbear further comment on the embarrassment to which the requisition you have made naturally leads. The occasion forbids a more ample illustration, though nothing could be more easy than to pursue it. Repeating, that I cannot reconcile it with propriety to make the acknowledgment you desire, I will add that I deem it inadmissible, on principle, to consent to be interrogated as to the justness of the inferences which may be drawn by others from what I may have said of a political opponent in the course of fifteen years’ competition. If there were no other objection to it, this is sufficient, that it would tend to expose my sincerity and delicacy to injurious imputation from every person who may at any time have conceived the import of my expressions differently from what I may then have intended or may afterwards recollect. I stand ready to avow or disavow, promptly and explicitly, any precise or definite opinion which I may be charged with having declared of any gentleman. More than this cannot fitly be expected from me, and especially it cannot be reasonably expected that I shall enter into an explanation upon a basis so vague as that which you have adopted. I trust, on mature reflection, you will see the matter in the same light with me. If not, I can only regret the circumstance, and must abide the consequences.
The publication of Dr. Cooper was never seen by me until after the receipt of your letter.