From Oliver Wolcott, Junior
Phila. Apl. 4. 1800
As you feel interested in favr. of any reasonable indulgence to Mr. Robertson, I think proper to inform you, that the propositions made by Colo. Burr & reduced to writing by him in my presence were agreed to &—that with the exception of Mr. R. there appears to be no sincere desire to come to an explanation—we have lost two years, in fruitless negotiations.1 Mr. Robertson appeared to be satisfied with the last proposals. He cannot bring the other Sureties to agree, & I see no ground upon which he can be excepted from the effects of the Judgement against all the Sureties.
Mr. Evans of Virginia2 a very worthy & candid man, has expressed a great desire to know, whether any & if any which of the numbers of Publius were written by Mr. Madison.3 I do no know whether it is proper to request the information of you. If it can be done with perfect propriety I should like to satisfy Mr. Evans’s wishes. He is strictly a correct man & will be satisfied with any answer.
I am Dr. Sir, with perfect regard, yrs
ALS, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.
1. John Lamb, who had served as collector of customs of the port of New York since 1789, was forced to resign in 1797 because of a large shortage in his accounts. Alexander Robertson, Henry Rutgers, Melancton Smith, and Marinus Willett had served as sureties for Lamb in accordance with Section 52 of “An Act to provide more effectually for the collection of the duties imposed by law on goods, wares and merchandise imported into the United States, and on the tonnage of ships or vessels” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, I (Boston, 1845); II (Boston, 1850). description ends 145–78 [August 4, 1790]). This section reads in part: “And be it further enacted, That every collector, naval officer and surveyor shall, within three months after he enters upon the execution of his office, give bond with one or more sufficient sureties, to be approved by the comptroller of the treasury of the United States, and payable to the said United States, with condition for the true and faithful discharge of the duties of his office according to law—that is to say: The collector of Philadelphia, in the sum of sixty thousand dollars: the collector of New York, fifty thousand dollars.… Which bonds shall be filed in the office of the said comptroller, and be by him severally put in suit for the benefit of the United States upon any breach of the condition thereof.…” The obligation, which was signed by Lamb, Robertson, Rutgers, Smith, and Willett, is dated November 23, 1789 (copy, RG 21, Southern District of New York, District Court Law Series, Alexander Robertson, National Archives; copy, RG 21, Southern District of New York, District Court Law Series, Henry Rutgers, National Archives).
As Lamb was unable to raise the necessary funds to cover the deficiency in his accounts, the United States Government sought to recover the money in 1799 through suits brought by Richard Harison, United States attorney for the District of New York, against Lamb, Robertson, and Rutgers in the District Court of the United States for the District of New York. Lamb’s lawyer was Robert Troup; Aaron Burr represented Robertson and Rutgers. H was involved in these suits as an advisor to Troup. No evidence has been found that the Government ever brought suit against Willett. Smith had died on July 29, 1798.
In these suits, the Government charged that Lamb owed $150,000, while Lamb put his debt to the Government at $127,952.99. For the case papers relating to these suits, see the documents filed under Lamb, Robertson, and Rutgers in RG 21, Southern District of New York, District Court Law Series, National Archives. See also RG 21, Minutes of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, 1789–1801, National Archives, under the dates of February 4, 7, May 7, August 6, November 5, 1799; February 4, 1800. On March 15, 1803, the District Court decided in favor of the United States (copy, RG 21, Southern District of New York, District Court Judgment, March, 1803, Alexander Robertson, National Archives; copy, RG 21, Southern District of New York, District Court Judgment, March, 1803, Henry Rutgers, National Archives), and in 1808 Robertson and Rutgers settled with the Government (satisfaction pieces, filed under Robertson and Rutgers, RG 21, Southern District of New York, District Court Law Series, National Archives). Although Lamb had died on May 31, 1800, as late as 1822, the United States had not settled with the terre-tenants of Lamb for the balance of this debt. See the case papers filed under Lamb, RG 21, Southern District of New York, District Court Law Series, National Archives.
While these suits were in progress, Lamb’s sureties sought relief from the Federal Government. On February 3, 1801, Robertson, Rutgers, and Willett petitioned Congress “praying to be released from the obligation of a bond entered into by the petitioners, for the faithful performance by the Collector of the port of New York of the duties of his said office; which Collector has been found delinquent to the United States to a large amount; in consideration of their having delivered up all the property of the said Collector to, and for the use and benefit of, the United States” (Journal of the House description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States (Washington, 1826), I, II, III, IV. description ends , III, 783–84). There is no record that the House acted on this petition. See Journal of the House description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States (Washington, 1826), I, II, III, IV. description ends , IV, 132, 200.
For additional information on these cases, see Burr to Lamb, March 27, April 2, 1797 (both ALS, New-York Historical Society, New York City).
2. Thomas Evans, a Virginia lawyer, was a member of the House of Representatives from 1797 to 1800.