Politics has always been a back-stabbing industry and there's certainly a qualitative difference between "politicians" and "statesmen." This anecdote about Aaron Burr by Thomas Jefferson illustrates this distinction.
August Glen-James, editor
That as to any harm he could do me, I knew no cause why he should desire it, but at the same time I feared no injury which any man could do me: that I never had done a single act, or been concerned in any transaction, which I feared to have fully laid open, or which could do me any hurt if truly stated: that I had never done a single thing with a view to my personal interest, or that of any friend, or with any other view than that of the greatest public good: that therefore no threat or fear on that head would ever be a motive of action with me.
April 15, 1806.
About a month ago, Colo. Burr called on me & entered into a conversation in which he [mentioned] that a little before my coming into office I had written to him a letter intimating that I had destined him for a high employ, had he not been placed by the people in a different one; that he had signified his willingness to resign as V. President to give aid to the admn in any other place; that he had never asked an office however; he asked aid of no body, but could walk on his own legs, & take care of himself; that I had always used him with politeness, but nothing more: that he aided in bringing on the present order of things, that he had supported the admn, & that he could do me much harm: he wished however to be on different ground: he was now disengaged from all particular business, willing to engage in something, should be in town some days, if I should have anything to propose to him.
I observed to him that I had always been sensible that he possessed talents which might be employed greatly to the advantage of the public, & that as to myself I had a confidence that if he were employed he would use his talents for the public good: but that he must be sensible the public had withdrawn their confidence from him & that in a government like ours it was necessary to embrace in its admn as great a mass of public confidence as possible, by employing those who had a character with the public, of their own, & not merely a secondary one through the Exve.
He observed that if we believed a few newspapers it might be supposed he had lost the public confidence, but that I knew how easy it was to engage newspapers in anything. I observed that I did not refer to that kind of evidence of his having lost the public confidence, but to the late presidential election, when, tho’ in possn of the office of V.P. there was not a single voice heard for his retaining it. That as to any harm he could do me, I knew no cause why he should desire it, but at the same time I feared no injury which any man could do me: that I never had done a single act, or been concerned in any transaction, which I feared to have fully laid open, or which could do me any hurt if truly stated: that I had never done a single thing with a view to my personal interest, or that of any friend, or with any other view than that of the greatest public good: that therefore no threat or fear on that head would ever be a motive of action with me.
I did not commit these things to writing at the time but I do it now, because in a suit between him & Cheetham, he has had a deposition of Mr. Bayard taken, which seems to have no relation to the suit nor to any other object but to calumniate me. Bayard pretends to have addressed to me, during the pending of the Presidential election in Feb. 1801 through Genl. Saml. Smith, certain conditions on which my election might be obtained, & that Genl. Smith after conversing with me gave answers from me. This is absolutely false. No proposition of any kind was ever made to me on that occasion by Genl. Smith, nor any answer authorized by me. And this fact Genl. Smith affirms at this moment.
For some matters connected with this see my notes of Feb. 12 & 14, 1801 made at the moment. But the following transactions took place about the same time, that is to say while the presidential election was in suspense in Congress, which tho’ I did not enter at the time they made such an impression on my mind that they are now as fresh as to their principal circumstances as if they had happened yesterday.
Coming out of the Senate chamber one day I found Gouverneur Morris on the steps. He stopped me & began a conversation on the strange & portentous state of things then existing, and went on to observe that the reasons why the minority of states were so opposed to my being elected were that they apprehended that 1. I should turn all federalists out of office. 2. Put down the navy. 3. Wipe off the public debt & 4 . . . [cut out--editor]. That I need only to declare, or authorize my friends to declare, that I would not take these steps, and instantly the event of the election would be fixed.
I told him that I should leave the world to judge of the course I meant to pursue by that which I had pursued hitherto; believing it to be my duty to be passive & silent during the present scene; that I should certainly make no terms, should never go into the office of President by capitulation, nor with my hands tied by any conditions which should hinder me from pursing the measures which I should deem for the public good. It was understood that Gouverneur Morris had entirely the direction of the vote of Lewis Morris of Vermont, who by coming over to M. Lyon would have added another vote & and decided the election.
About the same time, I met with Mr. Adams walking in the Pennsylvania avenue. We conversed on the state of things. I observed to him, that a very dangerous experiment was then in contemplation, to defeat the Presidential election by an act of Congress declaring the right of the Senate to naming a President of the Senate, to devolve on him the govmt during any interregnum: that such a measure would probably produce resistance by force & incalculable consequences which it would be in his power to prevent by negativing such an act. He seemed to think such an act justifiable Y observed it was in my power to fix the election by a word in an instant, by declaring I would not run out the federal officers, not put down the navy, nor sponge the National debt.
Finding his mind made up as to the usurpation of the government by the President of the Senate I urged it no further, observed the world must judge as to myself of the future by the past, and turned the conversation to something else. About the same time Dwight Foster of Massachusetts called on me in my room one night & went into a very long conversation on the state of affairs the drift of which was to let me understand that the fears above-mentioned were the only obstacles to my election, to all of which I avoided giving any answer the one way or the other. From this moment he became most bitterly & personally opposed to me, & so has ever continued.
I do not recollect that I ever had any particular conversation with Genl. Saml. Smith on this subject. Very possibly I had however, as the general subject & all its parts were the constant themes of conversation in the private tet à tetes with our friends. But certain I am that neither he, nor any other republican ever uttered the most distant hint to me about submitting to any conditions or giving any assurances to anybody; and still more certainly was neither he nor any other person ever authorized by me to say what I would or would not do.
Ford, Paul Leicester, ed. The Works of Thomas Jefferson. Vol. I. The Knickerbocker Press, New York and London, 1904. PP. 391-395.