Article 2, Section 1, Clause 1

[Volume 3, Page 529]

Document 20

Thomas Jefferson to George Hay

12 June 1807Works 10:398--99

Your letter of the 9th is this moment received. Reserving the necessary right of the President of the U S to decide, independently of all other authority, what papers, coming to him as President, the public interests permit to be communicated, & 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 Genl Wilkinson, of Oct 21, 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, & the bundle retains the order in which I had arranged it, you will readily find the letter desired, under the date of it's receipt, which was Nov 25; 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 is at Philadelphia, Wilmington, or New Castle, may produce delay in his receiving my letter, of which it is proper you should be apprized. 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 & 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 Colo Burr, to the officers at Orleans, Natchez, &c., by the Secretaries of the War & Navy departments," it seems to cover a correspondence of many months, with such a variety of officers, civil & military, all over the U S, as would amount to the laying open the whole executive books. I have desired the Secretary at War to examine his official communications; and on a view of these, we may be able to judge what can & ought to be done, towards a compliance with the request. If the defendant alleges 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 researches of the Secretary at War should produce anything proper for communication, & pertinent to any point we can conceive in the defence before the court, it shall be forwarded to you.

The Founders' Constitution
Volume 3, Article 2, Section 1, Clause 1, Document 20
The University of Chicago Press

The Works of Thomas Jefferson. Collected and edited by Paul Leicester Ford. Federal Edition. 12 vols. New York and London: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1904--5.