Alexander Hamilton Papers

From Alexander Hamilton to Joseph Ward, 26 May 1791

To Joseph Ward1

Treasury Department,
May 26 1791


I duly received your letter of the 2d instant.2 The species of paper you mention presents an embarrassing question.3 Being issued upon the funds of individual states with a stipulation for the payment of interest by the United States, and a contingent guarantee of the principal, it is not easy to pronounce under what denomination of public debt it properly falls. It is however not in my opinion provided for by the Act making provision for the debt of the United States.4 It is not comprehended within the enumeration of the kinds of certificates receivable upon loan as debt of the United States; and if it is to be considered as on state foundation, it seems to come under the description of paper money, which has not been understood as within the meaning of the words certificates or notes which “were issued by the respective states as acknowlegements or evidences of debt by them respectively owing.”

This question has been rendered the more embarrassing by some steps taken in the house of Representatives during the last session concerning it which however did not issue in any provision.

It is with regret I find myself thus circumstanced on the subject; as there is nothing more my wish than to see the interest of every class of public creditors equitably embraced.

I am, sir   with consideration,   Your obdt Servant

A Hamilton

Joseph Ward Esqr.

LS, Chicago Historical Society.

1On February 11, 1791, “A memorial of Thomas Walley, William Smith, and Joseph Ward, was presented to the House and read, praying that certain bills issued under the authority of the former Congress, of which the petitioners are possessed, the interest whereof was payable in sterling bills of exchange in Europe, may be liquidated, and the arrears of interest paid, or the principal and interest of the said bills funded in like manner with loan office certificates” (Journal of the House, I description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States (Washington, 1826). description ends , 376).

2Letter not found.

3Presumably H is referring to the “new emission” certificates authorized by the Continental Congress under a resolution of March 18, 1780. See Charles Pettit to H, April 30, 1791, note 3.

4Sections 3 and 13 of “An Act making provision for the (payment of the) Debt of the United States” stipulated certificates receivable upon loan (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America (Boston, 1845). description ends 139–40, 142 [August 4, 1790]). For Section 3, see Nathaniel Appleton to H, February 5, 1791, note 1. For Section 13, see Thomas Smith to H, June 6, 1791, note 1.

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