Alexander Hamilton Papers

To Alexander Hamilton from John F. Mercer, 31 January 1793

From John F. Mercer1

Philadelphia Jany. 31. 1793.


I receiv’d a letter from you containing several enclosures2 the Evening before I left Annapolis, & in the hurry of departure the package was left behind. I have since repeatedly written to have it forwarded to me but as this has not yet been done, I conclude that it is mislaid & that I shall not receive it whilst here. I must rely altogether therefore on my memory for the contents & will only suppress a wish that this Controversy might draw to a conclusion, as protraction has given room for many injurious calumnies—such as that I had denied at Philadelphia what I had asserted in Maryland—this I was told had been explicitly declar’d at the State House in Annapolis where the Legislature were then in Session during my absence, & I felt it ⟨therefore necessary⟩ to place every paper that had in any manner passed between us & relative to the subject in the hands of Mr. George Mann3 for the perusal of any person, on whom he coud rely for their return.

After premising thus, I now declare generally that the Statements & Certificates Contain’d in your last exhibit full as much candor & much more truth, than I coud have expected from the preceding violence of the parties, all of whom excepting Mr. Key & Mr. Cramptin4 (who also voted against me) were the principal partizans in the late opposition. In my general observations I mean to exclude Majr. Ross’s own statements & Remarks. I have invariably declin’d answering directly any letter from him or expressing any sentiment relative to his Conduct on my Election unless when calld on in the public prints & I shall in this indirect manner commit myself as little as possible. It may not however be amiss to observe that it [is] not a legal attempt, to prove words declard to be spoken at Marlbrough by evidence of what was said at Annapolis, for the very obvious reason that there is not an opportunity of producing opposite testimony. However Capn. Campbells statement may perhaps set this in a clear light.5 He brought your transactions in the purchase of Stock forward himself & produced the Law under which you acted sanction’d by the implied approbation of the President & a Majority of the Board.6 He states this conduct to have arisen from a conversation I had with him on the subject of the procedure of that Board, & in fine that conversation & the discussion turning on yr. Conduct under the Law & his not suggesting that I exhibited you in any manner as dealing in Stocks on yr. own Acct. must evidence, that no such surmise was entertain’d there, as Majr. Ross is supposed to have brought forward in his publication7 viz. that you dealt in Stock on your own acct. directly or indirectly. It will be also proper to remark that altho’ the Questions in which you were involv’d were the leading or ostensible reasons originally assigned for the opposition to me as stated by Capn Campbell which however cannot be reconcild with his avow’d intention of offering for my District before I ever came to Congress, yet as brought before the public they were but a small part of his charges—these related chiefly to my conduct as a Member of the State Legislature & only gave way to the introduction of ye. subject as the Capital ground, after Major Ross took up his pen, & as my observations were all in reply to Capt. Campbells charges which I had Stated by impartial Persons in writing in Order to comment on whenever I spoke, it will account for the reiteration of similar observations in several distinct parts of the District.

With regard to the particular Certificates after remarking the uncandid insinuation that I had procurd Certificates from persons friendly to my Election & had meant to infer the contrary,8 & stating what appears evidently on the fact of the Letter that the Gentlemen whom I had selected for moderatn & integrity, two on each side were furnished with a Copy of that Letter before I receiv’d any answer or coud possibly divine, that Mr. Rozier & Mr. Young9 woud not be as willing & as explicit as the other two Gentlemen. I must fully admit that what Mr. Key states10 who was present at Marlbrough is the fact as far as it states facts. It shoud have gone farther & stated that I had explain’d that this conduct was founded on what I conceiv’d false principles of supporting public credit. The conclusion is Mr. Key’s it was not mine. Mr. Cramptin’s11 did not appear to me to be explicit it only seems to corroborate Majr. Ross’s publication by a general kind of warranty without descending to any particulars. There is no Certificate that insinuates that I wished to impress the public Mind with the Idea that you were a speculator in any sense of the word; unless it may be a part of Mr. Worthingtons12 Certificate & this is not explicit & certainly admits of a different exp[la]nation. To say you were the head of the speculators, coud fairly be construed that they were under your patronage, & If I used any language of this kind which I cannot recollect that must have been the idea. For the contrary if it had been the case must have appeared explicitly from some one person as I spoke several times & pains have not been spared & the selection not such as to promise a very candid statement. Messrs. Wallace & Davidson,13 state generally that I meant to make unfavorable impressions with respect to you & that people must have taken me as a great Enemy from what I said. I neither did nor do mean to impress any one that what I said was intended to raise your reputation as Member of the Government, not did I mean to promote it in any manner, but this I repeat that I spoke nothing that coud tend in my opinion to wound your honesty or integrity—which at that time I thought unimpeach’d & which I do not at this moment intend to insinuate any thing against. I certainly used language in every respect much more favorable than I had done before on the floor of Congress, & which had been very generally promulgated.

Capt. Campbell has stated the substance of private conversation in which he acknowledges that ye. subject was introduc’d by himself & he has committed several errors perhaps from want of recollection—particularly with regard to a precise Sum of 200,000 dollars.14 I never knew the sum & he must have got this else where. Some of the errors I recollect to have contradicted before the first assemblage at Annapolis, but in general the conversation is such as really passed & altho’ my authorities may have not been accurate, yet they were such as warranted my language in the manner in which the thing actually came forward. I recollect to have particularly declard that I never had said or thought that you were any how personally or pecuniarily interested with Duer,15 & particularly stated my idea on that subject, that Duer was favor’d from motives of personal friendship in whatever transactions he was concern’d in that were connected with your office. With respect to the whole opposition agt. me, wherever it commenc’d it will ever be a disgrace to the opponents in its conduct & its event—deduct Mr. Thomas’s16 personal Warm friends & Relatives & a numerous Religious Society who heretofore attach’d to me & my politics were seperated by the Negro business in the State Legislature.17 There never was a more feeble & contemtable Opposition for Numbers Wealth & Character. After this detail I here again repeat what I formerly said that I neither did directly or indirectly represent you as any wise pecuniarily concern’d in purchasing or Selling Stock or impeach your honor or honesty. That I have been led into this business with provocation & that the attack has not been on my side—that altho I am infinitely above retorting the terms you have used, because it woud be but a paltry compromise with a delicacy really offended. Yet I again place myself on the ground of my original reply & without fearing or provoking any personal difference, I shall let it rest with you to decide whether any or what further steps the present controversy may require.

I am with due respects &c

John F. Mercer

ALS, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.

2See H to Mercer, December 6, 1792, in which H enclosed copies of certificates concerning remarks made by Mercer during the Maryland campaign in the fall of 1792.

3Mann was the owner of an inn in Annapolis.

4Philip Barton Key and Thomas Cramphin. Both men sent statements of their recollection of Mercer’s remarks during the Maryland election campaign to Ross. See Ross to H, November 23, 1792.

7For Ross’s statement, see the introductory note to H to Mercer, September 26, 1792.

9Mercer had written to Henry Rozier and Notley Young, among others, requesting statements on their recollection of Mercer’s remarks concerning H. On October 23, 1792, Young replied to Mercer that, as he was “but partially present during your address to the people of Prince Georges County, and the greater part was unheard by me, I can not with propriety answer your Queries” (copy, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress). At the bottom of a letter from William Paca, dated October 26, 1792, Mercer wrote: “No answer has yet been receivd from Mr. Henry Rozier” (copy, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress).

10Key’s statement, dated November 17, 1792, was sent to Ross. See Ross to H, November 23, 1792. It reads as follows:

“In answer to your favor, I must inform you that I was present at Marlborough and at Annapolis the second time, that Col. Mercer addressed the People on the subject of his Election, in Opposition to Mr. Campbell. I was not in Annapolis at the first meeting.

“The general impressions made by Col. Mercer on Me were very unfavorable to the secretary of the Treasury. I can not detail particular expressions, for they have escaped my Memory, but two of his Charges were, ‘that the secretary had interfered in our State Elections in favor of Campbell against him;’ And that the secretary had lavish’d the public Money by purchasing equal Portions of Stock from different Persons; at different Prices, When He might have purchased the same from one, at the lowest Price, to answer better the Views and Object of Government.

“The Inference to be drawn from this was, that the secretary of the Treasury encouraged Speculation, and protected Speculators. He further declared that there were a Considerable Number of Persons in congress Who always voted with the Treasury, from undue Treasury Influence as I infered.

“I do not recollect any expressions of Col. Mercer reflecting on Mr Hamiltons private Life. But as I consider public Dishonor of Character incompatible with private Integrity, and as those Charges, if true, are a stain on the secretary of the Treasury, I confess the Impressions on my Mind made by Col. Mercer Were very unfavorable to the secretary. A direct Interference in an Election would be very highly improper in him, and if the purchase of stock as related, was earnestly intended to encrease his Influence, It was dishonorable.” (ALS, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.)

11See note 4.

12For John Worthington’s statement, see Ross to H, November 23, 1792, note 5.

13Ross had asked Charles Wallace and Major John Davidson to state their recollections of Mercer’s remarks concerning H. See Ross to H, November 23, 1792. Davidson’s reply is dated November 17, 1792 (ALS, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress). Wallace’s statement has not been found.

15For the statements of William Campbell and John Worthington concerning Mercer’s remarks on William Duer’s Army contract, see Ross to H, November 23, 1792, notes 5 and 6.

16John Thomas, Mercer’s opponent in the 1792 Maryland election campaign.

17By “the Negro business in the State Legislature” Mercer is referring to the debates on the status of slaves which had taken place in 1791 when he had been a member of the Maryland House of Delegates. In December, 1791, the House of Delegates had considered complaints “respecting the conduct of the society in Baltimore county, who style themselves the Maryland Society for promoting the Abolition of Slavery and the relief of free Negroes and others unlawfully held in Bondage” and examined the society’s memorial to the legislature. The society had been sponsoring petitions brought by slaves and freed Negroes in the criminal court of Baltimore County. On December 21, 1791, the House of Delegates resolved “That the memorial of the said society is indecent, illiberal, and highly reprehensible, and moreover is as untrue as it is illiberal.” At the same time the House passed additional resolutions circumscribing the right of slaves to file manumission petitions in the Maryland courts (Votes and Proceedings of the House of Delegates of the State of Maryland. November Session, 1791. Being the First Session of this Assembly, 105–06, Microfilm Collection of Early State Records, Library of Congress).

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