Alexander Hamilton Papers

From Alexander Hamilton to Pierce Butler, 19 February 1794

To Pierce Butler1

Treasury Department
Feby 19. 1794


The President has communicated to me an application from you on behalf of the State of South Carolina for the original vouchers of that State, which were deposited by its Agent with the commissioners for settling Accounts between the United and Individual States—and by them with the Treasury as part of the Materials upon which the settlement made by them was founded, with direction to reply to it.2

It is conceived, that these original vouchers3 cannot with propriety be delivered out of the possession of the Treasury, without some legislative direction for the purpose, until at least the Legislature shall have acted upon the Report of the Commissioners.4

But if it shall be desired the state may at its own expence obtain copies of the vouchers whenever it shall be thought fit.5

I have the honor to be Sir   Your most Obed serv

Pierce Butler Esqr

ADf, Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford.

1Born in Ireland, Butler had settled in South Carolina shortly before the American Revolution. He had been a member of the Constitutional Convention, had advocated the adoption of the Constitution in the South Carolina Ratifying Convention, and had served as a United States Senator since 1789.

2On December 21, 1793, both houses of the South Carolina legislature resolved that “the Senators and Representatives in Congress from this State, be requested to make immediate application to the proper officers, and if need be, to the United States in Congress, for all the vouchers sent from this State, to Major [Simeon] Theus, to enable him to settle the Accounts of this State, with the United States, and that the same be forthwith forwarded to the Commissioners for settling the Accounts of the former Commissioners of the Treasury of this State, and other public officers, to enable them to do justice to persons whose Indents and Certificates have been taken out of the Treasury on forged orders. And that if it shall be required by the Congress of the United States, or their officers, the said Senators and Representatives do cause authentic copies to be made out and left with the Officers of the United States and this State will make provision for defraying the expence to be incurred for transcribing and authenticating the said vouchers.

“Resolved, That the said Senators and Representatives be authorized to contract with some proper person for taking copies of the said vouchers.” (“Journal of the Senate of South Carolina,” D, Microfilm Collection of Early State Records, Library of Congress.)

In closing the accounts for state expenditure during the American Revolution, South Carolina faced conflicting claims. The largest single controversial account had grown out of the plans to buy ships in France for a state navy in which Alexander Gillon was given the title of “commodore.” At the time that Butler wrote this letter Gillon was preparing to go to Philadelphia as United States Representative from South Carolina (D. E. Huger Smith, “The Luxembourg Claims,” The South Carolina Historical and Genealogical Magazine, X [April, 1909], 112–13). Gillon and Butler were close friends, and in his will Gillon named Butler as executor and residuary beneficiary. The benefits to Butler were negligible, however, for despite Gillon’s pre-Revolutionary wealth the estate after his death on October 6, 1794, was unable to make more than token payments to his creditors, the largest of which was the state (D. E. Huger Smith, “Commodore Alexander Gillon and the Frigate South Carolina,” The South Carolina Historical and Genealogical Magazine, IX [October, 1908], 189, 218; Smith, “The Luxembourg Claims,” 113).

In the settlement of the accounts of the states with the Federal Government South Carolina had been charged with more than two hundred thousand livres tournois for bills of exchange which had been drawn on Benjamin Franklin for Gillon while Gillon was in France attempting to purchase ships for South Carolina (D, RG 217, Miscellaneous Treasury Accounts, 1790–1894, Account No. 5593, National Archives). On the other hand, the state charged the Federal Government with thirty-five thousand pounds sterling for indents issued to the state naval department, seventeen thousand of which were issued to Gillon for the crew of the frigate South Carolina which Gillon leased in France. Although the frigate’s officers certified that Gillon had been appointed agent, critics questioned whether some of the indents issued to Gillon might not have been for “legionnaires” who had deserted during the American Revolution and for those who had died without legal representatives (Report to the South Carolina House of Representatives, December 19, 1791 [“Journal of the Senate of South Carolina,” D, Microfilm Collection of Early State Records, Library of Congress]).

The financial tangle involved not only the settlement of state-Federal claims, but also a suit brought against Gillon by South Carolina in its own courts. Also involved were various claims of agents for the estate of Anne Paul Emanuel Sigismond de Montmorenci de Luxembourg, who had leased the South Carolina to Gillon. Dr. Edward Bancroft, a double agent during the American Revolution, commenced legal proceedings concerning “the Luxembourg claims” in Charleston in 1784, but the final payment by the state was not made until 1855 after court revisions and discussions between the French government and the United States (Smith, “The Luxembourg Claims,” 92–115). See also Julius Goebel, Jr., Antecedents and Beginnings to 1801, Vol. I of The Oliver Wendell Holmes Devise History of the Supreme Court of the United States (New York and London, 1971), 738–40.

3A “Digest of the Boxes containing the Individual State claims passed by the late board of Commissioners against the United States” lists “Alexander Gillon’s account, Indent checks issued at Columbia,… pay to the Ship So. Carolina’s crew” among the South Carolina papers (D, RG 53, Register of the Treasury, Estimates and Statements for 1794, Vol. “136-T,” National Archives).

4On June 29, 1793, John Kean, William Irvine, and Woodbury Langdon, the United States commissioners to settle the accounts of the individual states with the Federal Government, completed their report. George Washington transmitted the report to the House of Representatives on December 5, 1793 (Journal of the House description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States (Washington, 1826), I, II. description ends , II, 10). Legislation confirming this report was enacted on May 31, 1794, when the President approved “An Act making provision for the payment of the interest on the balances due to certain States, upon a final settlement of the accounts between the United Sates and the individual States” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America (Boston, 1845). description ends 371).

Two weeks earlier, on May 14, 1794, the House of Representatives appointed a committee composed of Abraham Clark of New Jersey, Benjamin Bourne of Rhode Island, and John Hunter of South Carolina to consider a motion directing the Secretary of the Treasury to deliver to the Senators and Representatives from South Carolina all the vouchers which had been requested by the legislature of their state (Annals of Congress description begins The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States; with an Appendix, Containing Important State Papers and Public Documents, and All the Laws of a Public Nature (Washington, 1834–1849). description ends , IV, 684). The following day the committee reported as follows: “That they have conferred with the Secretary of the Treasury and also with one of the Commissioners and their principal Clerk [Patrick Ferrall] relative to the Subject referred to them, and the Committee after full enquiry are of opinion, that it is not expedient, that Congress shall pass any resolution on the subject at the present Session” (D, RG 233, Reports, Select Committees, Vol. 1, First Congress, First Session, to Fourth Congress, First Session, National Archives).

5In the Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, there is a draft of a letter to Ralph Izard, written by Oliver Wolcott, Jr., and dated February 19, 1794, which is similar to H’s letter to Butler. Despite the similarity in content between the two letters and despite the fact that Izard, like Butler, was a Senator from South Carolina, there is no evidence that the letter sent to Izard was signed by H.

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