The Mazzei Letter


Philip Mazzei


The Teaching Guide for the Equal Justice Under Law series stated that John Marshall and Thomas Jefferson disagreed over many issues including The Mazzei letter, in which Jefferson maligned George Washington.1 However, in the letter Jefferson did not attack Washington by name he attacked the Federalist party and the government; which under the United States Constitution was his right.2 The original letter was private, not meant for publication. The offending passage which was not even the full paragraph was published without his knowledge or consent.3 First in France and then in many newspapers in the United States. Even in the published version, printed in a New York newspaper, Washington is not mentioned by name.4

The commentary was only tangentially related to the passage and provides no insight into the meaning of the passage. Furthermore, the Executive Branch of the government is more than just the president. Jefferson more than likely was not referring to Washington with the phrases “all officers of the government…” and “all timid men who prefer the calm of despotism to the boisterous sea of liberty…”.5

Many words can be used to describe George Washington timid is not among them. Washington was not a Federalist. In fact, he was against political parties, or factions as he referred to them. That was why Alexander Hamilton was considered the leader of the Federalist party. Washington was held apart from his cabinet and the other officers in the Executive Branch. While Jefferson maligned Hamilton and other federalist cabinet members, he certainly would not have maligned Washington. Federalists commonly interpreted the letter as a thinly veiled attack against Washington, but they would, wouldn’t they. That’s what political parties do.6

It was clear that John Marshall and Thomas Jefferson had “deep-rooted philosophical differences,” and were “members of opposing political parties with often irreconcilable positions.7 But, John Marshall was far from a party ideologue. Marshall voted against the Federalist party on several occasions.8Furthermore, his dislike of Jefferson did not cause Marshall to support Burr in the presidential election of 1800. In fact, he did not use his influence to support Jefferson either. Marshall took Alexander Hamilton at his word regarding Aaron Burr’s character. Marshall made clear while he could not support Jefferson, he was less dangerous than Burr. In that same letter to Alexander Hamilton, Marshall made only one reference to the Mazzei letter stating, “the morals of the Author of the letter to Mazzei cannot be pure.”9

That phrase comes at the end of a paragraph in which Marshall explains to Hamilton his opinion of Thomas Jefferson, which is negative. Nevertheless, if the letter was a major irreconcilable issue between them why doesn’t Marshall clearly name Jefferson as a person of impure morals, instead of the word author? In any case, Marshall and Jefferson’s adversarial relationship had been clearly established. Referring to the letter introduced an unnecessary and confusing item into an unrelated complex event. It should have been removed.


1 Equal Justice Under Law Teaching Guide, (Judicial Conference of the United States, 1976): 20,
2 “Thomas Jefferson to Philip Mazzei,” The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Volume 29: 1 March 1796 to 31 December 1797 (Princeton University Press, 2002), 81-83,  accessed June 22, 2017,

3 “Jefferson’s Letter to Philip Mazzei,” Editorial Note The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Volume 29: 1 March 1796 to 31 December 1797 (Princeton University Press, 2002), 73-88, accessed June 22, 2017,

4 “Extract and Commentary Printed in the New York Minerva,” The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Volume 29: 1 March 1796 to 31 December 1797 (Princeton University Press, 2002), 86-87, accessed June 22, 2017,

5 “Thomas Jefferson to Philip Mazzei”; “Extract and Commentary Printed in the New York Minerva.”

6 “Jefferson’s Letter to Philip Mazzei,” Editorial Note.

7 Equal Justice Under Law Teaching Guide, 20.

8 Harold H. Burton, “John Marshall. The Man,” University of Pennsylvania Law Review, 104.1 (October 1955): 5.

9 “To Alexander Hamilton from John Marshall, 1 January 1801,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified March 30, 2017, [Original source: The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, vol. 25, July 1800 – April 1802, ed. Harold C. Syrett. New York: Columbia University Press, 1977, pp. 290–292.]

Equal Justice Under Law

Equal Justice Under Law was a television series that first aired in 1976 and again in 1987, to mark the 200th anniversary of both the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution. A production of the Judicial Conference of the United States and WQED Pittsburgh, The programs were intended “to inform the general public as well as educational and professional audience on the American constitutional heritage as exemplified in the major decisions of the Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Marshall” (1).

I started the process of creating activities for the Equal Justice Under Law videos. I found the videos and teaching guide sometime ago. The videos I found on YouTube, and the teaching guide I found at I am working on United States v. Aaron Burr (The Treason Trial of Aaron Burr). Going through the background section of the teaching guide, I found a mistake. The guide states that Thomas Jefferson Vice President of the United States presided over the House of Representatives (2). That was not the case the United States Constitution Article 1 Section 3 Clause 4 states that the Vice President is President of the Senate.

The Vice President of the United States shall be President of the Senate, but shall have no vote, unless they be equally divided.

Finding such an error, I decided to research Aaron Burr because any author or group of authors that would make such a mistake may gloss over or simplify Aaron Burr’s background. As a historian and teacher, I understand the need to condense content at the high school level, but accuracy should not be a casualty of that exercise.

The most recent biography of Burr was published in 2007 by Nancy Isenberg. The next piece “The Real Treason of Aaron Burr” by Gordon S Wood was published in 1999 in the Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society. There are a variety of other articles dating from 1951 to 1896. This information comes from a search of Jstor, search term Aaron Burr. This research may show that except for the one error teaching guide is accurate or it may reveal other flaws in the document.


(1) William F. Swindler, “Justice Under Law,” William and Mary Law School Scholarship Repository, Popular Media. Paper 264 (1977): 1099,

(2) Equal Justice Under Law Teaching Guide, (Judicial Conference of the United States, 1976): 19,

Citation Styles, Web Sources, and Responsive Design

I am an historian and educator. So, I have done; and continue to do a lot of writing. An important part of the process is the documentation of sources especially when creating online content. The Internet has made available a vast number of valuable primary and secondary sources through repositories such as JSTOR and the like. Citation styles whether Chicago, APA, or MLA have formats for scholarly journal articles, newspapers, personal correspondence, Federal and State court opinions, websites, and almost everything in between.

Most of the time, citing one of the above sources is straightforward. Follow the format given in a particular citation style, and even if the source was accessed via the Internet the URL is omitted. At least, that is what every professor I have ever had has told me, and the reason is a majority of readers will not be able to access the source through the URL provided. Additionally, any reader wanting to consult the source will go to a library, and librarians will not need the URL.

That holds true for every source above except websites. Obviously, URLs need to be cited. In the age of responsive design, that is, web content being consumed on smaller screens; increasingly longer URLs are an issue. They interfere with the presentation of content. Webpages of over a thousand words present another citation problem. The lack of page numbers makes it difficult for a reader to locate information cited from a specific source. Furthermore, webpages usually are not designed to be printed. Even when CSS media queries are used to make a webpage printable, it still may not have page numbers and it does not look quite right making the content difficult to read and understand.

Fortunately for the rest of this post, there are two solutions. Based on the premise that most written content that appears on a webpage is created in Microsoft Word, and then converted to HTML format by whatever process; one solution is to save or convert the content to a PDF file. Once the content is in PDF format a link to the file can be placed on the page displaying the HTML formatted content. There is, however, one drawback to the PDF format. It does not accurately reproduce the page layout of a Microsoft Word document. That is not to say that the PDF format is useless as will be seen later. But with the ability to view accurate renderings of Microsoft Word documents in a web browser that OneDrive and OneDrive for Business provide converting content to PDF format is an extra and unneeded step; which makes Microsoft’s cloud services the preferred solution. (Hereinafter, since both services have the identical capability, they will be referred to as OneDrive).

In an earlier post, I described the process of creating a public link for any documents stored in OneDrive. That process creates an extremely long URL that causes the problem described above. None of the citation styles have a way of dealing with these computer-generated or garbage URLs. In fact, a URL generated by OneDrive is so long that cannot easily be put into a footnote in a Microsoft Word document. Furthermore, reading in Microsoft Word document is difficult on any screen smaller than an iPad mini. So, a combination of a Microsoft Word document and a responsive design HTML document solve both problems for the self-publisher. The solution looks like this:

It consists of the URL of the responsive design webpage and the page number of the Microsoft Word document, which is linked to at the top of the webpage, and if the readers needs to print for any reason they can do so from the Microsoft Word document. OneDrive converts document into a, reasonably accurate PDF which is downloaded to readers’ computers.

The above solves the garbage URL problem for webpages that have links to the same content that has page numbers. That still leaves the problem of garbage URLs in a responsive design webpage. Most webpages do not have links to Microsoft Word versions of their contents. Many webpages have short enough URLs that their citation will not interfere with the presentation of the content. However, some blogs and webpages have garbage URLs. When citing a source that has a garbage URL, shorten the display text of the link, and note that the complete URL is available in the Microsoft Word document.
The note should appear at the beginning of the content.

The solutions described above make citing garbage URLs and the lack of page numbers in most webpages easier to handle. Citation, in whatever style, should be as important to online content as hyperlinks. It provides valuable information and credibility to any work.

The Writing Process…

Originally posted in October 2009, this post is about writing.

Does the writing process end? Is an author ever really satisfied with the end product of all his labor, or is that product just what could be produced in the time available? I started researching my masters thesis on the aftermath of Pearl Harbor in May 2008. I thought it would take no more than six months to research and write, but I just submitted my Committee draft eight days ago. So much for researching and writing in six months, and my thesis committee, which consists of three history professors from Millersville University, will most likely require that more editing be done before the final draft will be accepted by the University. When will it end?

I was told some time ago by one of my professors that the entire process would take a year or more. She was right, but I did not believe her. The research and initial writing took a total of about nine months on and off. At the end of August 2008, I had written a preliminary prospectus and put research aside to concentrate on classwork. By January 2009, I was eager to continue research, and in March, I was prepared to investigate primary sources available at the National Archives in Washington, DC. The trip to the National Archives was an exciting and unique experience, which has been one of the highlights of my research. I reluctantly submitted a short paper to the Phi Alpha Theta Conference in April. I was not happy with the paper or my presentation to the conference, but the paper did have some positive aspects, which formed the spine of my thesis.



My presentation was lackluster at best, so I did not receive the feedback I had hoped. However, I sent the paper to three of my friends and their constructive criticism was extremely helpful. By mid-July, I completed the first half of the rough draft of my thesis, and submitted a completed draft to my thesis advisor by mid-September. After incorporating his suggestions and some other editing, a draft was submitted to my thesis committee on October 1, 2009. The process sounds simple now, but each stage had its own unique difficulties.

The overarching difficulty was and is novelty; I have never attempted a project on such a scale before. Although I have written a previous article “United States, Japan, and Pearl Harbor”it did not undergo the level of editing and rewriting that my thesis has and will continue to undergo before I complete it. The constructive criticism I have received has improved the work, and I am indebted to my friends and my thesis advisor for their assistance. In addition to novelty, starting was also difficult. Not in the sense that I did not know where and how to begin, or I did not have a general direction, but I lacked a clear and interesting path connecting the topics I wanted to discuss. Hopefully, the Committee draft has solved that problem. I will know by next Friday night. I knew what I wanted to discussing in my thesis by the time I completed the conference paper, which was probably one of the reasons my thesis advisor suggested I participate in the conference.

The next difficulty was constructing an argument. Fortunately, the aftermath of Pearl Harbor provided ample historiography to analyze. At the center of the historiographical debate was whether the Navy and the United States government treated, the officer in command of the Pacific Fleet on December 7, 1941, Admiral Husband E. Kimmel, unjustly. Seeking an answer to whether Kimmel was unjustly treated, historians have mined the testimony, exhibits, and conclusions of the nine official investigations into the attack, as well as other sources. Based on that analysis, there are those who assert that Kimmel as Commander-in-Chief Pacific Fleet could have done more with the resources available to him. Therefore, relief and retirement at the rank of Rear Admiral was fair. Furthermore, posthumous advancement on the retirement list is unwarranted. Conversely, there are others who maintain that Kimmel was made a scapegoat and unjustly punished. Therefore, to correct the injustice of the Roberts Commission charge of dereliction of duty; they argue that Kimmel should be advanced on the retirement list to the rank of Admiral under the Officer Personnel Act of 1947.

It seemed simple enough; all I had to do was determine what aspects of each argument failed to explain what happened in the in the aftermath of the attack and then offer an argument that was in between the two extremes. So, borrowing the main concept of Richard Godbeer’s Sexual Revolution in Early America that contemporary knowledge and belief must be set aside in order to understand historical events in their proper context, I found that the argument that Kimmel could have done more with the resources available to him relied on such contemporary knowledge. However, explaining that failing was extremely difficult and led to the construction of the most difficult paragraph to write. I hope the paragraph clearly explains the concept.



I am nearing the end of the process and the well is running dry. I do not know how much more rewriting I can do. I will find out how much rewriting I will have to do next Friday afternoon. My thesis is at the point where there is not much more I can do with it. I am certain it can be improved, but I am not sure how. Now every time I reread a paragraph or a section with the idea of making some changes, I leave it alone. Is it because once on the page is good, or am I just tired and running out of ideas? I do not know which is probably why there it is a thesis committee in the first place. Two sets of fresh eyes and one set that is familiar with the work (my thesis advisor) will help in its improvement.

I chose to write a thesis as part of my master’s degree program because I wanted to learn more about the process of writing history. It has taught me that there is a time in every writing project when the author simply runs of steam and that is when the writing process truly ends.

History Topics: The United States Constitution

I have just completed a new resources page for the United States Constitution. I have taken all the resources from the unit the Launching of a New Constitution, and simply listed them without the lesson plans or reference to them. Additionally, I have embedded appropriate Schoolhouse Rock videos on the page. Many users have asked for the resources to be presented in this format.

Declaration of Independence Worksheet

I finally finished a worksheet for the Declaration of Independence. It’s been on the back burner so long that I forget when I started it. My goal is to provide a portfolio of quality social studies teaching resources for school districts, teachers, and those that are homeschooling students.

The Declaration of Independence worksheet is in two formats. A classroom format that students can fill-in by hand, and a lab format that students can fill-in using Microsoft Word. The lab or form version does not work in Word on-line, if anyone is interested in that copy email me a request and I will provide the file.