Alexander Hamilton Papers

From Alexander Hamilton to Oliver Wolcott, Junior, 22 April 1797

To Oliver Wolcott, Junior1

Albany April 22. 1797

Dear Sir

My absence from New York to attend the Court here has put it out of my power to answer sooner your letter of the 13th instant.2

The characters which occur to me as proper to be considered for Collector are these—

Benjamin Walker3—This Gentleman you know as well as I do. He is every way qualified and fit, and had he remained in the place of naval officer he might, qualified as he is, have looked to that of Collector almost as a matter of course—but the having quit the former terminates the pretension on that score.4 He stands a candidate at large. As such however, he equals any in the requisites for the Office, and has the peculiar advantage of Experience in relation to it. But you ought to be apprised that from his engagements in certain agencies from abroad &c, he has for a long time executed the naval office chiefly by deputy—and if he should be concluded upon for the other it ought to be well understood that his intire personal attention is expected and the relinquishment of his agencies, for I suspect they will not harmonize.

Matthew Clarkeson.5 This is among the worthiest and best esteemed of our Citizens. Till his appointment to the Office he now holds he has had little familiarity with accounts, but I should believe his attention and care, upon principle, would ensure a good execution of the Office & his personal qualities would render his appointment peculiarly acceptable. I believe however he is connected in Trade—& I do not know that he would relinquish it for the Office.

Nicholas Fish.6 I have a perfectly good opinion of this Gentleman who is also very generally esteemed and according to my ideas of him, he would execute the Office as well as any man & there is no circumstance in his situation against it. I presume he would prefer it to that which he now holds.

You however who have had the conduct of both these Gentlemen in their present Offices more immediately under your eye in different capacities, can from thence judge what that conduct promises in the other Office. There is I know always inconvenience in the change of a man who is in the train of a particular office. But there is also the motive (of no small consequence) of encouraging men to accept offices of less eligibility by the expectation of better when they occur.

Aquila Giles.7 There are few whom I should have preferred before this Gentleman, had I not been lately told that there have been some delays in bringing forward monies which came into his hands as Marshall. You probably have more light on this subject than me and can appreciate the force of the objection. He is however less a man of business than some others.

Gulian ver Plank (now President of the Bank of New York). He is a man of superior mental endowments to any of those who have been named & of superior acquirements. His moral character is of the most estimable sort. His habits have not led to a familiarity with accounts—& he is supposed not much addicted to labour. But I think he would upon principle apply himself closely to a good execution of whatever he should undertake. He is a man of moderate fortune & has no particular pursuit—so that I think he might be willing to accept though I am not certain.

Jonathan Burrall8 (now Cashier of the office of Discount). According to my opinion no man would be better qualified or more faithful. He is respectably connected in our state by marriage9—and well esteemed though not of important standing in our community. He would however be an acceptable appointment.

James Watson10—would no doubt be well qualified & there is every ground of confidence in his fidelity. He affords the public the security of a good fortune. It must however not be omitted that by something in his character, by too much fondness for office, by some marks of indecision & temporising in lesser matters, he is far less well esteemed in our community than the other characters who have been named.

For qualifications relative to the Office I should prefer Walker Fish Burrall & Watson.

The consideration for the candidates in the better part of the community stands nearly thus. Clarkeson, ver Plank, Fish = Walker, Burrall, Giles, Watson.

I have thought it better to give you this map of Characters for the information of the President than to draw myself any definitive conclusion. It is not easy to err much in a choice among them.

I should have mentioned Col Smith11 among the most prominent but for the late unfortunate circumstances which attend him and which would render his appointment ineligible to such an Office at this time.

Yrs truly

A Hamilton

Ol Wolcott Jun Esq

ALS, RG 59, General Records of the Department of State, Applications and Recommendations, 1797–1801, National Archives.

1When PAH description begins Harold C. Syrett, ed., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton (New York and London, 1961– ). description ends , XXI, was printed, only the last three paragraphs of this letter had been found.

This letter concerns candidates for the office of collector of customs at New York City to replace John Lamb, who had been dismissed for a shortage of funds in his accounts. For background to this letter, see H to Wolcott, April 22, 1797 (PAH description begins Harold C. Syrett, ed., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton (New York and London, 1961– ). description ends , XXI, 54–55); Wolcott to H, April 4, 1800 (PAH description begins Harold C. Syrett, ed., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton (New York and London, 1961– ). description ends , XXIV, 390–91).

2Letter not found. H was in Albany to attend the New York Supreme Court, which met from April 18 to April 29, 1797.

3Walker was naval officer of the port of New York. In May, 1795, he became a representative of the Pulteney Associates, a London company that speculated in lands in the Genesee country of western New York.

4See H to George Washington, January 31, 1797 (PAH description begins Harold C. Syrett, ed., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton (New York and London, 1961– ). description ends , XX, 498–99).

5Clarkson was commissioner of loans for New York.

6Fish was supervisor of the revenue for the District of New York.

7Giles was United States marshal for the District of New York.

8Burrall was cashier of the New York Office of Discount and Deposit of the Bank of the United States.

9Burrall was married to Frances Amelia Wickham, great-granddaughter of Gabriel Ludlow and Sarah Hanmer. Ludlow came to America from England in 1694 and became a successful merchant in New York City. He built and owned several vessels engaged in the coasting trade, and obtained a royal patent for four thousand acres of land in what is today Orange County. He also served as clerk of the New York House of Assembly from 1699 to 1733.

10Watson, a New York City lawyer and merchant, was a member of the Senate from 1796 to 1798.

11William S. Smith, John Adams’s son-in-law. For the “late unfortunate circumstances,” see H to Wolcott, April 22, 1797, note 10 (PAH description begins Harold C. Syrett, ed., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton (New York and London, 1961– ). description ends , XXI, 54–55).

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