[New York, January 19, 1802]
The same Subject continued.
As to Holland being the second power which acknowledged our Independence, and made a treaty with us,2 a step which involved her in war with Great Britain,3 it was deemed proper to treat her with a marked respect. Besides this, from the time of our revolution to the present, we have had large money concerns with her people.4 A trusty and skilful public agent was for a long time necessary to superintend those concerns. If in a different capacity, it could not have cost much less, and by the annexation of a diplomatic character, a double purpose was answered.5 The honourable nature of the station enabled the Government to find an agent at a less expence than would have been requisite to procure one merely for the money object. It is not meant to deny, that the great change which has lately happened in the affairs of that country, making it in effect a dependency on France,6 rendered a removal of the minister proper; but it does not follow that it ought to have been done sooner. It is also known, that Mr. Murray, the late envoy, has been for a considerable time past, employed in our negociations with France; which probably was a collateral reason for not recalling him sooner.7 In respect to one, if not to both these ministers, it may be observed, that a time of war was not the most eligible moment for the removal of a minister.
As to Berlin, the inducements for keeping a minister there, have never been fully explained. It is only known, that our commercial treaty with Prussia had expired, and that a renewal has been effected by the envoy sent thither;8 but influental as was the Court of Prussia in the affairs of Europe during the late dreadful storm, it may have been conceived, that a cultivation of the good will of the Prussian Monarch9 was not a matter of indifference to the peace and security of this country. If this was the object of the mission, though there may have been too far-fetched a policy in the case, it offers a defence of the measure which, exculpates the executive at least from the charge of a desire to multiply officers improvidently.10
On the most unfavourable supposition then, here was one diplomatic agent too many, and two others were continued longer than was absolutely necessary. This surely is not of magnitude sufficient to constitute a serious charge, where malevolence did not inspire a spirit of accusation. In considering this question, it ought to be remembered, that it is the prevailing policy of Governments to keep diplomatic agents at all Courts where they have important relations.
As to the navy agents it is sufficient to say, that they were temporary persons who grew up out of our rupture with France; who when they were appointed, were useful to accelerate naval preparations at as many points as could be advantageously occupied, and that it was only proper to discontinue them when an accomodation had been effected, and after they had had time enough to wind up the affairs of their agency. This was not the case previous to Mr. Jefferson’s administration. In other instances of removal he only did it to make way for members of his own sect, and it will not be pretended that here there was any foundation for the charge under examination.11
As to the inspectors of the Revenue, the case in brief stands thus—When the excise on distilled spirits was established, three different descriptions of officers were instituted to carry it into effect. Supervisors, Inspectors and Collectors were distributed to districts, surveys and divisions, one to each.12 A district comprehends an entire state: a survey some large portion of it or a number of counties; a division for the most part a single county. In some of the small states there were no district officers for the surveys—the duties of inspector being annexed to those of supervisor; in larger ones there were Inspectors more or less numerous according to their extent. As other internal revenues were established, they were put under the management of the same officers.13 The bare statement of the fact shews the necessity of these officers. The revenues of no government were perhaps ever collected under a more simple organization, or through a smaller number of channels. It is not alleged that the first and last classes of officers were unnecessary. It is only to the middle class that any specious objection can be made. Let us conjecture the reasons for employing them.
In some of the States great opposition was expected, and was actually experienced.14 In such States especially it was evidently useful to have the exertions of some men of weight and character in their sphere of moderate extent, to reconcile the discontented; to arrange the details of business, and to give energy to the measures for collection. In others similar officers were probably useful in the early stages, for the purpose of establishing the details simply. The subdivision was in all cases favourable to an active and vigilant superintendence. Nor does it require extraordinary penetration to discern that the policy was wise at the time when the measures were adopted. It is possible that upon the complete establishment of the plan, when all opposition had been vanquished, and when the collection has become an affair of mere routine, that this intermediate class may have ceased to be essential. But till this had become perfectly evident, it would have been premature to alter the original plan. Though it be true, that some years have elapsed since the excise law was passed, it is not very long since it has been in full and uninterrupted operation. Other laws introducing other branches of internal revenue, have been subsequently passed from time to time, and the agency of the same officers have probably been found useful on their first introduction and execution. Hence it is easily accounted for that they were not before discontinued, if indeed experience has shewn that they are not still necessary, which is itself problematical. Nothing is more easy than to reduce the number of agents employed in any business, and yet for the business to go on with the reduced number. But before the reduction is applauded, it ought to be ascertained that the business is as well done as it was before. There is a wide difference between merely getting along with business and doing it well and effectually.
These observations sufficiently shew that in the instances which have been cited, there is no evidence of a disposition in the preceding Administrations, improperly to multiply Offices and Officers. Acting under different circumstances, they conducted as those circumstances dictated, and in all probability, in a manner the best adapted to the advancement of the public service. A change of circumstances, may in some instances have rendered a continuance of some of the agents thus employed unnecessary; and the present Chief Magistrate may even be right in discontinuing them; but it is not therefore right to attempt to derive from this any plea of peculiar merit with the people; and it is very far from right to make it a topic of slander on predecessors. Perhaps however this is too rigorous a construction and that nothing more was intended than to set off to the best advantage, the petty services of petty talents.
If this was the true aim, it is be regretted that it was not so managed as to avoid the appearance of a design to depreciate in the public estimation, the men who went before. Had this delicacy or caution been observed, the attempt would have attracted neither notice nor comment.
“Commas and points he sets exactly right,
And ’twere a sin to rob him of his mite.”15
New-York Evening Post, January 19, 1802.
1. For background to this document, see the introductory note to “The Examination Number I,” December 17, 1801. For the text of Thomas Jefferson’s first annual message to Congress on December 8, 1801, which H discusses in this document, see “The Examination Number I,” December 17, 1801, note 1.
In HCLW description begins Henry Cabot Lodge, ed., The Works of Alexander Hamilton (New York, 1904). description ends , VIII, 299–303, this document is dated ‘January 25, 1802.”
2. The Treaty of Amity and Commerce between the United States and the Netherlands, which was negotiated by John Adams, United States Minister Plenipotentiary to the United Provinces, was signed at The Hague on October 8, 1782, and proclaimed on January 23, 1783. For the text of this treaty, see Miller, Treaties, II description begins Hunter Miller, ed., Treaties and Other International Acts of the United States of America (Washington, 1931), II. description ends , 59–90.
3. Actually, Great Britain went to war with the Dutch over the issue of maritime neutrality in December, 1780, or two years before the treaty with the United States. Great Britain declared war not only because the Dutch had joined the League of Armed Neutrality, but also because the Dutch were conducting preliminary treaty negotiations with the United States.
4. For a summary of these “large money concerns,” see the statement marked “C” in “Report on a Plan for the Further Support of Public Credit,” January 16, 1795.
5. William Short was both a diplomat and H’s representative in Europe for securing loans to the United States. Short had gone to France as Jefferson’s secretary in 1784; he was named chargé d’affaires at Paris in 1789; and in 1792 and 1793 he was United States Minister Resident at The Hague. For H’s instructions to Short on the negotiation of loans, See H to Short, September 1, 1790.
7. William Vans Murray served as United States Minister Resident at The Hague from 1797 to 1801. In 1799 John Adams appointed Murray, Oliver Ellsworth, and William R. Davie commissioners to negotiate peace with France. Murray was in Paris for this purpose from March, 1800, to October, 1800.
On June 1, 1801, James Madison wrote to Murray recalling him on the ground that the President wished to economize on public expenses and to limit diplomatic relations with Europe “to cases indispensably requiring them …” (LC, RG 59, Diplomatic and Consular Instructions of the Department of State, 1791–1801, December 3, 1798–September 28, 1801, Despatches to Consuls, Vol. I, National Archives). On July 15, 1801, a week before he received the news of his recall, Murray wrote to John Quincy Adams: “From all I hear it seems pretty certain besides that the President wishes to get rid of all the old set & I hear much of changes that look like a party change, & though a very unimportant man, I wd. Stand or fall with the men & principles of the two last administrations …” (ALS, Adams Family Papers, deposited in the Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston). See also Murray to John Quincy Adams, April 25, 1801 (ALS, Adams Family Papers, deposited in the Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston).
8. The first Treaty of Amity and Commerce between the United States and Prussia was signed on September 10, 1785, and ratifications were exchanged at The Hague on August 8, 1786 (Miller, Treaties, II description begins Hunter Miller, ed., Treaties and Other International Acts of the United States of America (Washington, 1931), II. description ends , 162–84). According to Article 27 of this treaty, “His Majesty the King of Prussia & the United States of America agree that this treaty shall be in force during the term of ten years from the exchange of ratifications …” (Miller, Treaties, II description begins Hunter Miller, ed., Treaties and Other International Acts of the United States of America (Washington, 1931), II. description ends , 182). John Quincy Adams, Minister Plenipotentiary from the United States to the King of Prussia, signed a new Treaty of Amity and Commerce with Prussia at Berlin on July 11, 1799. Ratifications were exchanged on June 22, 1800 (Miller, Treaties, II description begins Hunter Miller, ed., Treaties and Other International Acts of the United States of America (Washington, 1931), II. description ends , 433–56).
9. Frederick William III.
10. On June 2, 1797, John Adams wrote to his son, John Quincy Adams: “The mission to Portugal appeared to me to be less important to the United States, than a mission to Prussia. The north of Europe at present is more interesting to us, than the south; the neutral powers of Denmark Sweden and Prussia, seeme to be naturally more allied by Sympathy at least with us neutrals than others and I thought your Talents, Sagacity and Industry might be more profitably exerted in collecting and transmitting Intelligence of the Views and designs of those courts and nations, than they could be in Lisbon, where there will be little to do, that I can forsee besides Sleeping Sastas. The Treaty with Prussia is to be renewed, and after you shall have compleated that, you will inform me whether you choose to remain at Berlin or go to Sweden and Denmark.…
“The part which the King of Prussia means to take either during the war, or at and after the peace, and what his relations are to be in future towards France and England will be important for us to know.” (LC, Adams Family Papers, deposited in the Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston.)
11. See Carl E. Prince, “The Passing of the Aristocracy: Jefferson’s Removal of the Federalists, 1801–1805,” The Journal of American History, Vol. 57 (December, 1970), 563–75.
12. See Section 4 of “An Act repealing, after the last day of June next, the duties heretofore laid upon Distilled Spirits imported from abroad, and laying others in their stead; and also upon Spirits distilled within the United States, and for appropriating the same” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, I (Boston, 1845). description ends 199–214 [March 3, 1791]). This section is also printed in the enclosure to “Treasury Department Circular to the Collectors of the Customs,” May 26, 1791.
13. See “An Act concerning the Duties on Spirits distilled within the United States” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, I (Boston, 1845). description ends 267–71 [May 8, 1792]); Section 4 of “An Act laying duties on licenses for selling Wines and foreign distilled spirituous liquors by retail” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, I (Boston, 1845). description ends 376–78 [June 5, 1794]); Section 3 of “An Act laying certain duties upon Snuff and Refined Sugar” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, I (Boston, 1845). description ends 384–90 [June 5, 1794]); Section 6 of “An Act laying duties on property sold at Auction” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, I (Boston, 1845). description ends 397–400 [June 9, 1794]); and Section 2 of “An Act to lay and collect a direct tax within the United States” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, I (Boston, 1845). description ends 597–604 [July 14, 1798]).
14. For information on the Whiskey Insurrection, see “Deposition of Francis Mentges,” August 1, 1794; “Conference Concerning the Insurrection in Western Pennsylvania,” August 2, 1794; H and Henry Knox to George Washington, August 5, 1794; H to Washington, August 2, 5, 1794; H’s draft of Edmund Randolph to Thomas Mifflin, August 7, 1794. For information on Fries’s Rebellion, See James McHenry to H, March 13, 1799, note 12.
15. Alexander Pope, Fragment of a Satire (John Butt and Norman Ault, eds., Minor Poems, Vol. VI of The Twickenham Edition of the Poems of Alexander Pope [London: Methuen & Company, Ltd., 1954], 283, lines 11–12). The two lines actually read:
“Commas and Points they set exactly right;
And ’twere a Sin to rob them of their Mite.”