Alexander Hamilton Papers

From Alexander Hamilton to George Washington, 12 February 1795

To George Washington1

Philadelphia Feby 12


I have maturely reflected on the subject of the within papers.2 I do not hesitate to give it as my opinion that if it were not for very peculiar personal circumstances the fittest arrangement upon the whole would be to consign the temporary execution of the Comptroller’s office to The Commissioner of the Revenue. But I could not advise this, because it could not fail for strong reasons to be unpleasant to Mr. Wolcott, & because there is real danger that Mr. Coxe would first perplex and embarrass and afterwards misrepresent and calumniate.3

The Treasurer4 would by no means answer, because as the Keeper of the money it is particularly essential that all the Checks upon him should be maintained in full vigour; and The comptroller is the officer who in the last resort settles his accounts as well as concurs in the first instance in authorising by the warrants which are issued by the Secy and countersigned by the Comptroller the payments & receipts of the Treasurer.

The Register5 is also one of the principal checks of the Department, first upon the Secretary & Comptroller whose warrants he must register & sign before they can take effect and secondly upon the settlements of the Comptroller & Auditor by recording their acts & entering them on the Books to the proper accounts.

Of any of the Officers of the Department, except the Commissioner of the Revenue, the business can be best managed through the Auditor, consistently with the preservation of the most material checks, with the restriction I mentioned this Morning—of his not deciding as Comptroller upon any account he may have settled as Auditor.6 The temporary suspension of the final conclusion of the Accounts, all the previous examination going on, cannot be attended with any serious inconvenience. If the laws admit of it (which I doubt as they now stand) the appointment of the Auditors first * Clerk to act as Auditor in his stead will be a conveniency. In one sense to appoint the Auditor to act as Comptroller will comport best with the spirit of the constitution of the Department. This is that the officer who is to settle the accounts, by countersigning the Warrants for receipts & payments, shall have an opportunity to observe their conformity with the course of business at it appears in the Accounts and shall have notice in the first instance of all payments and receipts in order to the bringing all persons to account for public monies. This reason operates to make the Auditor who is the coadjutor of the Comptroller in settlements his most fit substitute in this particular view.

On the whole I am of opinion that it is most adviseable to appoint the Auditor. A Clerk for reasons already mutually adverted to does not appear to me expedient.

I have the honor to be   Sir   Yr. Affectionate & Obed serv

A Hamilton

P.S. The restriction above suggested for greater caution had best be in writing in a letter to The Secretary of the Treasury.

The instrument appears to me in proper form.

The President of The UStates

ALS, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress; copy, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.

2The papers which H enclosed were a letter from Oliver Wolcott, Jr., to Washington, February 12, 1795, and the “instrument” which Wolcott had enclosed in his letter to Washington. Wolcott’s letter reads: “I have the honor to inclose a draft of an instrument for constituting a temporary Comptroller of the Treasury.

“I have had a conference with the auditor [Richard Harrison] & I learn from him that he will undertake to perform any duties which in the judgment of the President the public interest may require, but as he is engaged jointly with the Commissioner of the Revenue [Tench Coxe] in the settlement of certain important accounts, it is questionable whether the business of the Department will not suffer considerable interruption by his removal. But in case the auditor is designated, I take the liberty to recommend Mr William Simmons, the principal Clerk, as a suitable person to conduct temporarily the business of the Auditor’s office.

“Mr. Henry Kuhl, principal clerk in the Comptroller’s office, would I am confident ably & faithfully perform any duties in the Comptroller’s office relative to the current business—in cases of doubt or difficulty it would be a matter of course for him to suspend any decision until a Comptroller of the Treasury should be appointed.” (LC, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress.)

4Samuel Meredith. H is referring to the provisions of Section 4 of “An Act to establish the Treasury Department,” which reads in part: “That it shall be the duty of the Treasurer to receive and keep the monies of the United States, and to disburse the same upon warrants drawn by the Secretary of the Treasury, countersigned by the Comptroller, recorded by the Register, and not otherwise; he shall take receipts for all monies paid by him, and all receipts for monies received by him shall be endorsed upon warrants signed by the Secretary of the Treasury, without which warrant, so signed, no acknowledgment for money received into the public Treasury shall be valid. And the said Treasurer shall render his accounts to the Comptroller quarterly (or oftener if required,) and shall transmit a copy thereof, when settled, to the Secretary of the Treasury …” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America (Boston, 1845). description ends 66 [September 2, 1789]).

5Joseph Nourse. Section 6 of “An Act to establish the Treasury Department” reads: “That it shall be the duty of the Register to keep all accounts of the receipts and expenditures of the public money, and of all debts due to or from the United States; to receive from the Comptroller the accounts which shall have been finally adjusted, and to preserve such accounts with their vouchers and certificates; to record all warrants for the receipt or payment of monies at the Treasury, certify the same thereon, and to transmit to the Secretary of the Treasury, copies of the certificates of balances of accounts adjusted as is herein directed” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America (Boston, 1845). description ends 67).

6This is a reference to Section 5 of “An Act to establish the Treasury Department,” which reads in part: “That it shall be the duty of the Auditor to receive all public accounts, and after examination to certify the balance, and transmit the accounts with the vouchers and certificate to the Comptroller for his decision thereon …” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America (Boston, 1845). description ends 66).

Authorial notes

[The following note(s) appeared in the margins or otherwise outside the text flow in the original source, and have been moved here for purposes of the digital edition.]

* I do not think this would be liable to the same objection as the appointing a Clerk to act as Comptroller whose office imports the second trust in the Dept.

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