Th: Jefferson presents his respectful salutations to Judge Washington and incloses him a package which came to Th:J. in a very voluminous mail. opening the letters hastily & without always reading the superscription [sender’s name], he had opened this and read some lines in M. de la Fayette’s letter before he discovered it not to be meant for him. looking at the corner & finding his mistake he instantly re-incloses it with an assurance on his honor that he did not see a word beyond the 4th. or 5th lines in la Fayette’s letter and not one in the others. he hopes Judge Washington will accept his apology & his regret for this accident
To Bushrod Washington, August 13, 1802
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Principled leaders do not take advantage of another’s mistake.
Bushrod Washington (1762-1829) was George Washington’s nephew, heir, executor of his estate and Supreme Court justice for more than 30 years, appointed to the Court in 1798 by President Adams. The rift between Jefferson and the first President had grown pronounced before the latter’s death in 1799. Bushrod would be considered both a personal and political opponent of Thomas Jefferson.
Bushrod was compiling a history of the Revolutionary War and using correspondence between his late uncle and Marquis de Lafayette. A packet of that correspondence mailed to Bushrod had come to President by mistake, who opened it, not noting the addressee on the package. He read just a few lines, realized the package was not for him, and only then noticed Bushrod’s name on the outside. He immediately resealed the package and included this letter of apology.