Thomas Jefferson Papers

X. Jefferson’s Account of the Bargain on the Assumption and Residence Bills, [1792?]

X. Jefferson’s Account of the Bargain on the Assumption and Residence Bills


The assumption of the state debts in 1790. was a supplementary measure in Hamilton’s fiscal system. When attempted in the House of Representatives it failed. This threw Hamilton himself and a number of members into deep dismay. Going to the President’s one day I met Hamilton as I approached the door. His look was sombre, haggard, and dejected beyond description. Even his dress uncouth and neglected. He asked to speak with me. We stood in the street near the door. He opened the subject of the assumption of the state debts, the necessity of it in the general fiscal arrangement and it’s indispensible necessity towards a preservation of the union: and particularly of the New England states, who had made great expenditures during the war, on expeditions which tho’ of their own undertaking were for the common cause: that they considered the assumption of these by the Union so just, and it’s denial so palpably injurious, that they would make it a sine qua non of a continuance of the Union. That as to his own part, if he had not credit enough to carry such a measure as that, he could be of no use, and was determined to resign. He observed at the same time, that tho’ our particular business laid in separate departments, yet the administration and it’s success was a common concern, and that we should make common cause in supporting one another. He added his wish that I would interest my friends from the South, who were those most opposed to it. I answered that I had been so long absent from my country that I had lost a familiarity with it’s affairs, and being but lately returned had not yet got into the train of them, that the fiscal system being out of my department, I had not yet undertaken to consider and understand it, that the assumption had struck me in an unfavorable light, but still not having considered it sufficiently I had not concerned in it, but that I would revolve what he had urged in my mind. It was a real fact that the Eastern and Southern members (S. Carolina however was with the former) had got into the most extreme ill humor with one another, this broke out on every question with the most alarming heat, the bitterest animosities seemed to be engendered, and tho’ they met every day, little or nothing could be done from mutual distrust and antipathy. On considering the situation of things I thought the first step towards some conciliation of views would be to bring Mr. Madison and Colo. Hamilton to a friendly discussion of the subject. I immediately wrote to each to come and dine with me the next day, mentioning that we should be alone, that the object was to find some temperament for the present fever,1 and that I was persuaded that men of sound heads and honest views needed nothing more than explanation and mutual understanding to enable them to unite in some measures which might enable us to get along. They came. I opened the subject to them, acknoleged that my situation had not permitted me2 to understand it sufficiently but encouraged them to consider the thing together. They did so. It ended in Mr. Madison’s acquiescence in a proposition that the question should be again brought before the house by way of amendment from the Senate, that tho’ he would not vote for it, nor entirely withdraw his opposition, yet he should not be strenuous, but leave it to it’s fate.3 It was observed, I forget by which of them, that as the pill would be a bitter one to the Southern states, something should be done to soothe them; that the removal of the seat of government to the Patowmac was a just measure, and would probably be a popular one with them, and would be a proper one to follow the assumption. It was agreed4 to speak to Mr. White and Mr. Lee, whose districts lay on the Patowmac and to refer to them to consider how far the interests of their particular districts might be a sufficient inducement to them to yield to the assumption. This was done.5 Lee came into it without hesitation. Mr. White had some qualms, but finally agreed. The measure came down by way of amendment from the Senate and was finally carried by the change of White’s and Lee’s votes. But the removal to Patowmac could not be carried unless Pennsylvania could be engaged in it. This Hamilton took on himself, and chiefly, as I understood, through the agency of Robert Morris, obtained the vote of that state, on agreeing to an intermediate residence at Philadelphia. This is the real history of the assumption, about which many erroneous conjectures have been published. It was unjust,6 in itself oppressive to the states, and was acquiesced in merely from a fear of disunion, while our government was still in it’s most infant state. It enabled Hamilton so to strengthen himself by corrupt services to many, that he could afterwards carry his bank scheme, and every measure he proposed in defiance of all opposition: in fact it was a principal ground whereon was reared up that Speculating phalanx, in and out of Congress which has since been able to give laws and to change the political complexion of the government of the US.

MS (DLC: TJ Papers, 231: 41531); at head of text: “The Assumption”; entirely in TJ’s hand except for the following notation at head of text made much later by George Tucker: “Slip 1st. in the order they were arranged”; undated, but perhaps set down in 1792. Ford, description begins Paul Leicester Ford, ed., The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Letterpress Edition, N.Y., 1892–1899, 10 vols. description ends vi, 172–4, assigns the queried date “Feb.? 1793.” Malone, Jefferson, ii, 507, thinks it may have been written about the time TJ “left the administration, that is, late in 1793 or early in 1794.” All that can be said with certainty is that the memorandum was set down after the establishment of the Bank of the United States in 1791. Tucker’s notation on the text may mean that this was placed first in the three volumes of Anas, in which the initial entry as now ascertainable is under date of 13 Aug. 1791. But even if this assumption is valid, it does not necessarily follow that the text was composed before that time. It seems more likely that it was written sometime during 1792. In that year TJ had several conversations with the President about his increasing unhappiness over the tendency of the administration as reflected in Hamilton’s system (see under 1 Mch. 1792, 10 July 1792, and 1 Oct. 1792). It was in this year, too, that TJ wrote the famous letter setting forth in brief form another account of the episode that agrees in substance with the above (TJ to Washington, 9 Sep. 1792). Further, entries in SJPL—in which TJ customarily recorded immediately the dated memoranda that later became known as the Anas—for items that appear to be missing may include the present document. The most significant of these is that of 6 Oct. 1792, which reads: “Notes. Hamilton.” No identifiable document for that date and subject has been found, and it may be that this entry covered a number of memoranda of which that labelled “The Assumption” was one, perhaps being the first and thus perhaps explaining the notation by Tucker. Another entry in SJPL under 2 Feb. 1793 for which no document can be found is entitled “History of A. Hamilton.” It is possible that these entries relate to those items of the Anas which in 1818 TJ “cut out from the rest, because … they were incorrect, or doubtful, or merely personal or private” (see under 13 Aug. 1791), but it is also possible that they allude to such a note or such a history as the above. Certainly at the time TJ made the entry of 6 Oct. 1792 his most profound concern was over the evident drift of the administration away from republican principles under the impact of Hamilton’s methods and his system of finance. In mid-summer he had written a “Note of Agenda to reduce the government to true principles” (entry in SJPL for 11 July 1792); on his way northward, after giving Washington a full and frank account of his views and of his part in securing the transfer of state debts, he had stopped at Gunston Hall and discussed with George Mason Hamilton’s fiscal system as well as his “maneuvres in the grand convention” of 1787; and the next day at Mount Vernon he had gone over the same familiar ground of discordant principles. Neither before nor after 1792 is TJ known to have spoken and written so often or so forcefully to Washington about Hamiltonian methods and their effect on the “principles of administration” that he had so much at heart. The date of the history of his part in a transaction that had become abhorrent to him cannot be ascertained, but the year 1792 when he made such desperate efforts to swing the helm back on course—particularly the autumn of that year—seems the most plausible time of composition. The allusion to the “Speculating phalanx” in the final sentence, the tense employed, and the similarity of this to an allusion of the same import in the letter to Washington of 9 Sep. 1790 all seem to support this conjecture.

I immediately wrote to each: No letters to Hamilton and Madison during the week of 13–20 June 1790 have been found and none is recorded in SJL. Mr. White and Mr. Lee: Richard Bland Lee (1761–1827) and Alexander White (1738–1804). Both were re-elected. In addition to these, Daniel Carroll (1730–1796) also supported the agreement respecting assumption and the seat of government (of which his cousin Charles Carroll of Carrollton was one of the leaders in the Senate). Daniel Carroll resigned as representative from Maryland and on 22 Jan. 1791 was appointed by Washington one of the Commissioners of the District of Columbia. Alexander White was also made a Commissioner in 1795, the year that Carroll resigned because of ill health.

1This word substituted for “difference,” deleted.

2TJ first phrased this passage as follows: “I … acknoleged my situation did not permit me …” and then altered it to read as above.

3At this point TJ wrote and then deleted: “He observed.”

4Preceding three words interlined in substitution for “Mr. Madison undertook,” deleted.

5At this point TJ wrote and then deleted: “They agreed to vote for the m[easure?].”

6At this point TJ wrote and then deleted: “impolitic.”

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