To William Duer1
[Philadelphia, March 23, 1792]2
My Dear Duer
Five minutes ago, I received your Letter of yesterday.3 I hasten to express to you my thoughts; as your situation does not permit delay.
I am of opinion that those friends, who have lent you their money or security from personal confidence in your honor, and without being interested in the operation in which you may have been engaged, ought to be taken care of absolutely and preferably to all other Creditors. In the next place, public institutions ought to be secured. On this point the Manufacturing Society4 will claim peculiar regard. I am told the funds of that Society have been drawn out of both banks. I trust they are not diverted. The public interest & my reputation are deeply concerned in this matter.
Your affairs with the Government as connected with your office as Assistant to the Board of Treasury5 will deserve your particular attention.
Persons of whom you have made actual purchases and whose property has been delivered to you would stand next after public institutions. But here perhaps some arbitration may be made. It would certainly be desireable to distinguish between the price of the Stock at the time of purchase and enhanced price upon time.
With regard to contracts merely executory and in regard to which differences would be to be paid, no stock having been delivered—I postpone claims of this nature to all others. They ought not to interfere with any claim which is founded on value actually given.
As to the usurious Tribe—these present themselves under different aspects. Are these women or ignorant people or Trustees of Infants?6 The real principal advanced & legal interest would in such cases stand in my mind on high ground. The mere veteran usurers may be taken greater liberties with. Their real principal & interest however abstracted from usurious accumulation would stand better than claims constituted wholly by profits from speculative bargains.
But the following course deserves consideration. Take care of Debts to friends who have aided you by their money or credit disinterestedly and public institutions.
Assign the rest of your property for the benefit of Creditors generally. The Law will do the rest. Wherever usury can be proved the contract I take it will be null. Where it cannot be proved the parties will be obliged to acknowledge on oath & then their principal & Interest only will be due.
Wherever a fair count can be stated and all the sums borrowed & paid can be set against each other, it is probable it will be found that more has been paid than on a computation of legal interest was ever received. Here I presume the demand would be extinguished & possibly the parties would be compelled to disgorge.
These are rather desultory thoughts than a systematic view of the subject. I wish I had more time to form a more digested opinion but as I have not you must take what I can give.
Adieu My unfortunate friend God bless you & extricate you with reputation. Where is Lady Kitty?7 Give my love to her. Again Adieu.
Be honorable calm & firm.
Wm. Duer Esqr.
JCH Transcripts description begins John C. Hamilton Transcripts. These transcripts are owned by Mr. William H. Swan, Hampton Bays, New York, and have been placed on loan in the Columbia University Libraries. description ends .
1. Duer had been forced to suspend payments on his many obligations on March 9, 1792. For an account of his financial difficulties, see Duer to H, March 12, 1792; H to Duer, March 14, 1792; and Robert Troup to H, March 19, 1792. On the date on which H wrote this letter, March 23, Duer was imprisoned for debt.
2. This letter is dated May 23, 1792, in JCHW description begins John C. Hamilton, ed., The Works of Alexander Hamilton (New York, 1851–1856). description ends , VIII, 245–47; HCLW description begins Henry Cabot Lodge, ed., The Works of Alexander Hamilton (New York, 1904). description ends , IX, 510; Hamilton, History description begins John C. Hamilton, Life of Alexander Hamilton, a History of the Republic of the United States of America (Boston, 1879). description ends , IV, 289.
3. Letter not found.
4. Duer was at this time governor of the Society for Establishing Useful Manufactures.
5. Duer had served as secretary to the Board of Treasury from April, 1785, until the Board concluded its operations in 1789. H is presumably referring to the two charges for indents of interest during 1788 and 1789 for which Duer had not accounted. These charges formed the basis of the Government’s case in the suit which was instituted against Duer. See H to Duer, March 14, 1792.
6. In a notice of March 26, 1792, from New Prison, Duer requested “All widows, trustees of orphans, mechanics or tradesmen” who held his notes to present them to William S. Livingston “in order that the same may be registered and reported on previous to provision being made for the same” (The [New York] Daily Advertiser, March 28, 1792).
7. “Lady Kitty” was Duer’s wife and the daughter of the late William Alexander of Basking Ridge, New Jersey. While in England before the American Revolution, Alexander had tried without success to establish his claim to the title of Earl of Stirling. In America, however, he was generally known as “Lord Stirling.”