Alexander Hamilton Papers

From Alexander Hamilton to Henry Knox, 14 November 1792

To Henry Knox1

Treasury department November 14. 1792


In answer to your letter of this day2 I observe

I recalled your having spoken to me at the period to which you allude, concerning the contract which you were then about to make with Mr. Duer and the making of which by you was agreeable to former practice in similar cases.

You stated that you had adjusted with Mr. Duer the terms of the Contract; that an advance upon it of four thousand dollars was asked by him; that a question occurred whether it was necessary to take sureties of him for its performance; that it had not been your practice to demand sureties in other similar cases and that you felt some ⟨– – – –⟩ and concluded with asking my opinion whether it was essential to do it.

I replied that as it had not been your practice in other like cases—as the object could not be of much necessary magnitude—as the current supply would ⟨–⟩ away the proposed advance which was not large in no very long time—as any deficiency which might happen could not be of material consequence to the public service being ⟨–⟩ by you I thought the taking of Sureties could not be deemed essential ⟨and⟩ that a ⟨–⟩ bond in some adequate penalty ⟨might suffice.⟩

At this time Mr. Duer was in high Credit and it appeared to me that such a mode of proceeding might be ⟨pursued⟩ consistently with a due regard to caution. There is no law requiring ⟨it or⟩ any uniform usage commanding the taking of ⟨Sureties⟩ in all cases. It has consequently been deemed matter of discretion and the thing has been done or omitted according to the magnitude of the object, the course of the business to be executed and the circumstances of the parties.

With respectful consideration I have the honor to be   Sir your obedient servant

Alexander Hamilton

The Honble. Henry Knox, Esq. Secretary at War.

Copy, Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston.

1For background concerning William Duer’s agency as contractor for the Army during the campaign of Major General Arthur St. Clair in the fall of 1791, see “Contract for Army Rations,” October 28, 1790; H to Duer, April 7, 1791; Joseph Nourse to H, May 1, 1792, note 1; H to Richard Harison, August 30, 1792.

This letter concerns the contract concluded with Duer on March 26, 1792, after the October 28, 1790, contract with Theodosius Fowler had been assigned to Duer. The letter is part of a report sent by Knox to the committee of Congress appointed to consider the report of an earlier committee, dated May 8, 1792, concerning the failure of St. Clair’s campaign. In his report Knox introduces this letter from H as follows: “At the time of forming the Contract in question a conversation occurred with the Secretary of the Treasury upon the point of requiring collateral security the purport of which is contained in his letter of the 14th November 1792 …” (copy, Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston).

2Letter not found.

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