[1823, January] 9th. . . . I received a letter from General Alexander Smyth, asking the inspection of Mr. Brearley's printed draft of a constitution, reported to the Federal Convention on the 12th of September, 1787. I see at once his object, which is a new device to trump up a charge before the public against me. My first impression was to send him the paper itself, requesting him to return it at his convenience, and I wrote him an answer accordingly. But, reflecting upon the insidious character, as well as the malignity, of his first attack upon me, and on the evident portion of the same ingredients in this application, I thought it not safe to trust the paper with him. I therefore wrote him that the paper would be submitted to his inspection at the office whenever it would suit his convenience to call. . . .
11th. When I came to my own office, I found General Alexander Smyth there, with Mr. E. B. Jackson, another member of the House of Representatives, from Virginia. They were in my room with Mr. Brent, and Mr. Smyth was inspecting Mr. Brearley's copy of the draft of a Constitution — was taking a copy of a passage in it, and writing a certificate under the copy that he made which certificate he desired Mr. Brent to sign. The journal of the Federal Convention was published by a resolution of Congress under my direction, in the year 1819. In the section and paragraph enumerating the powers of Congress there are errors of punctuation — errors of the press, which had escaped my attention. Mr. Smyth now came with the intention of trumping up a charge against me of having intentionally falsified that publication, by introducing a false punctuation. Smyth was comparing Brearley's printed draft with the copy of it printed in the journal of the Convention, and eagerly seeking for variations between them. He found on Brearley's paper a manuscript minute, "Brought into the Convention 13th of September, 1787." "The book says on the 12th," said Smyth, and, charmed with his imaginary detection of a new blunder, wrote his certificate for Brent to sign, that it was a true copy from the Constitution reported on the 13th of September, showing the punctuation, obliteration, and amendments. He had written the copy in two different hands, one, it seems, intended to represent the printed, and the other the manuscript part of the copy.
Mr. Brent showed me the certificate, asking if he should sign it. I said the certificate, as written, was not correct. Smyth said, "It's not true. It is correct." I said the certificate purported to show the punctuation, obliteration, and amendments, but did not specify what part was in print and what part in manuscript. It also stated the Constitution to have been reported on the 13th, while the journal showed that it had been reported on the 12th of September. He said he had taken the date from what was written on the Brearley paper itself. I then showed by the journal that the report had been made on the 12th, and ordered to be printed for the use of the members, so that Brearley's manuscript minute, "Brought into the Convention 13th September," had reference to the printed paper, and not to the report itself, which had been brought in the day before.
Smyth then struck out of his projected certificate the 13th and inserted 12th; but I still objected that as the copy did not specify what part was print and what part manuscript, it was not fair for comparison with the printed journal of the Convention, which professedly gave only the printed part of Brearley's paper.
Smyth then cut off his proposed certificate from his copy and threw the certificate away. I immediately picked it up, and asked him to let me have the copy itself — which he refused. He said he meant to keep that himself. I might have a fac-simile of it. A fac-simile of the paper was what he wanted.
I then said that the book had not been printed from the printed paper, but from a copy of it made at this office, and which had been returned to it from the printers, and was still in the office. Smyth said he had what he wanted — the copy from the original paper.
I then said I was ready to explain any variation which there might be between the original paper and the printed book, and, turning to Jackson, I desired him to notice that Smyth had refused to let me have the copy which he had made; adding that I might perhaps be under a necessity of requiring his testimony hereafter.
This at length brought Smyth to; Jackson having repeated to him that I had said I should hereafter need his testimony. I then showed to Jackson the copy of Brearley's paper, which was sent to the printers at Boston, and from which the book was printed. In this copy the punctuation was not precisely the same as in Brearley's printed paper, from which it was copied, but it was the same at the passage upon which Smyth wished to fix the charge of falsification. Jackson asked how it was in the copy of the Constitution printed in the first volume of Bioren's edition of the laws, published under direction of Mr. Monroe when Secretary of State, and Mr. Rush, Attorney-General. Smyth said there were some differences of punctuation in that. I sent for the original roll of the Constitution itself, and for a copy printed from it in 1820 by my direction and then collated with the roll. The punctuation in no two of the copies was exactly the same. But the proof was complete that, in the only passage at which the punctuation could affect the sense, the copy made at the office and sent to Boston to be printed agreed precisely with the original printed paper of Mr. Brearley.
After a long and pertinacious examination of all the papers, which were taken for the purpose from my chamber into that of Mr. Brent, Smyth declared himself satisfied that he had been mistaken in his suspicions, and that the error of punctuation in the volume of the journal of the Convention, consisting in the substitution of a colon for a semicolon —: instead of; — and a capital T instead of a small t, was not a deliberate and wilful forgery of mine to falsify the Constitution and vest absolute and arbitrary powers in Congress, but a mere error of the press. He took, however, a certified copy from Mr. Brent of the passage as printed in Brearley's paper, with the punctuation, obliteration, and manuscript interlineations.