To George Washington
New York October 26
I have noticed a piece in the Aurora under the signature of the Calm Observer which I think requires explanation and I mean to give one with my name.1 I have written to Mr. Wolcott for materials from the Books of the Treasury.2
Should you think it proper to meet the vile insinuation in the close of it by furnishing for one year the account of expenditure of the salary, I will with pleasure add what may be proper on that point. If there be any such account signed by Mr. Lear3 it may be useful.
I wrote to you some days since directed to you at Philadelphia chiefly on the subject of Young La Fayette.4 I mention it merely that you may have knowlege that there is such a letter in case it has not yet come to hand.
I touched in it upon a certain intercepted Letter.5 The more I have reflected, the more I am of opinion that it is inadviseable the whole should speedily appear. With affection & respect
I have the honor to be Sir Yr. Obed serv
The President of The U States
ALS, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress; copy, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.
1. On October 23, 1795, an article by “A Calm Observer” appeared in the [Philadelphia] Aurora. General Advertiser. Addressed to Oliver Wolcott, Jr., the article accused Washington of having overdrawn his annual salary of twenty-five thousand dollars. The article reads in part: “By an annual act of Congress, provision is made for the President’s compensation by a specific appropriation of the sum of 25,000 dollars and no more.
“Between the 30th of April 1789, the day on which the President qualified into office and the 30th of April 1790, which completed the first year of his Presidency he drew by warrants from the late Secretary of the Treasury countersigned by the Comptroller the sum of 25,000 and no more.
“Between the 30th of April 1790 and the 30th of April 1791 being the second year of his service the President drew by like warrants the sum of 30,150 dollars, being an excess beyond annual compensation made by law and the appropriation thereof by Congress of 5,150 dollars.
“Between the 30th of April 1791 and the 30th of April 1792, being the third year of his service the President drew by like warrants the sum of 24,000 dollars which being 1000 dollars less than his annual compensation reduced the excess that he received the year before to 4.150 dollars.
“Between the 30th of April 1792 and the 30th of April 1793 being the fourth year of his service the President drew by like warrants the sum of 26,000 which again made up the excess of his second year’s compensation to 5,150 dollars more than the law allows.
“On the 4th of March 1793 when the first term of four years for which the President was elected into office expired, he had drawn from the public Treasury by warrants from the late Secretary of the Treasury, countersigned by the Comptroller the sum of 1037 dollars beyond the compensation allowed him by law estimating from the day he qualified into office.
“The evidence of the sums drawn and of the truth of the facts here stated, will be seen in the official reports made to Congress of the annual receipts and expenditures of the public monies, signed by you as Comptroler of the Treasury, and which have been published for the information of the people.
“But, Sir, as if it had been determined by the late Secretary of the Treasury, and yourself as Comptroler, to set at defiance all law and authority, and to exhibit the completest evidence of service submission and compliance with the lawless will and pleasure of the President, attend to the following facts.…
“On the 18th of February 1793 Congress passed an act providing that ‘from and after the 3d day of March in the present year (1793) the compensation of the President of the United States shall be at the rate of 25,000 dollars per annum in full for his services, to be paid Quarter Yearly at the Treasury.’
“Between the 4th day of March 1793, and the 4th day of June following, being the first quarter after the passing of the last mentioned act, there was paid to the President out of the public treasury by warrants from the late Secretary of the Treasury, countersigned by you as Comptroller, the sum of eleven thousand dollars, being an excess of 4750 dollars in one quarter beyond the compensation allowed by law, and making at the same rate a compensation of 44,000 dollars per annum instead of the 25,000 dollars, fixed by Congress.”
On October 24, 1795, Wolcott answered the charges in a letter addressed to Benjamin Franklin Bache, editor of the [Philadelphia] Aurora. General Advertiser. Wolcott’s letter reads: “I have read in your paper of the 23d inst. an indecent invective addressed to me, under the signature of ‘A Calm Observer,’ the object of which, is to impress an opinion on the public mind, that the President has received from the Treasury greater sums than were authorized by law. As connected with the main design of calumniating the Executive, the writer has, however, adduced against my predecessor and myself, the serious charges—of having violated the Constitution of the United States, by issuing monies for which there was no appropriation—of having violated the law establishing the Treasury Department, which directs that no warrants on the Treasurer, shall be signed by the Secretary, or countersigned by the Comptroller, unless pursuant to some appropriation—of having violated the oath prescribed for the officers of the treasury.
“In respect to the President, it is proper to say, that it has been well understood at the treasury, that the monies appropriated for his compensation, were applied solely to defray the expences of his household, of which a regular account has been kept by his private secretary. The advances from the Treasury have heretofore been uniformly made on the application & in the name of some one of the private secretaries, except in a single instance, lately, when the present secretary was absent. The special order of the President for monies to defray the current expences of his household, has never been deemed necessary.
“If, therefore, there has been an error in advancing monies, the President is not responsible for it; he is merely accountable in a pecuniary view for the act of his agent; as a matter affecting personal character, he is in no manner concerned.
“The responsibility for whatever is complained of by the ‘Calm Observer,’ therefore rests entirely upon the Treasury Department, and I readily assume it to myself. At the same time I affirm, notwithstanding what is asserted to the contrary, that not one dollar has been advanced at any time for which there was not an existing appropriation by law; & it is my belief, that nothing in the least degree contrary to law, has been practiced in respect to the time and manner of making the advances.
“Candid men will believe this to be a sincere declaration when they are told that the course of conduct which is now censured, has prevailed ever since the Treasury Department was established, and that the accounts which exhibit the evidence of this conduct, have been regularly laid before Congress, and have been printed and disseminated throughout the United States. It is not credible that the officers of the Treasury have knowingly violated the law, and at the same time have published the evidence of their guilt.
“Mr. Bache, such has been the virulence of the attacks in your paper against public measures, and the characters of men, who, until they held public appointments were thought to deserve the confidence of their fellow citizens, that I believe a common opinion prevails, that some decisive explanation is necessary: that it is time it was known whether the public officers deserve all, or any part of the abuse which you publish; or, whether there exists a confederacy whose nefarious object it is, by calumny and misrepresentations, to induce the people to believe, that those who manage their public concerns, are utterly destitute of integrity. I accede to this opinion—I invite the explanation as it respects myself—I wish that it may embrace the accusers of government—I await the consequences of the charges which you have published, that I have violated the constitution and laws of my country; and the oath of office which I have taken. I shall not avoid an investigation of my public conduct—and I hope not long to regret that slander can be published in your paper with impunity.” ([Philadelphia] Aurora. General Advertiser, October 26, 1795.)
3. Tobias Lear had served as Washington’s secretary from 1786 to June, 1793.