George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Jesse Higgins, 3 April 1789

From Jesse Higgins

[Newcastle] Delaware State April 3d 1789.

The humble and respectful Application of Jesse Higgins of the Town and County of Newcastle in the State aforesaid, seteth forth.

That your Applicant resigned a considerably valuable employ, to accept the appointment of the Legislature of said State, to the Office of Collector of the Revenue in said County, from the prospect of its affording constant employ and at least a competency for himself & Family—that by the change of Governments, the Revenue is expected to change from the direction of the State Legislatures to the Legislature of the United States, and from direct Tax’s, to duties collected under the title of Impost & Excise. Therefore your Applicant anxious to avoid being put in a worse situation from the change of Governments and that he may not be deprived of an employment upon which he had depended, but that he may be continued in the same capacity, doth humbly pray for the honorable appointment of Collector of the Revenue of the United States within the Delaware State arising from the Impost and Excise upon Goods &Ca—that not only the conscious discharge of duty hath flattered your Applicant that he merits a continuation, but he hath also obtained the Recommendations of the first official and private Charaters in the State, among whom are the President, sundry of the Legislature, the Treasurer &Ca and is provided with (as he apprehends) sufficient and unexceptionable Securities for the due and faithful execution and discharge of said Commission, the attainment of which shall ever be remembered and acknowledged with unfeigned Gratitude, by your humble Applicant

Jesse Higgins


Jesse Higgins (1761–1810) served as subsheriffof New Castle County until he resigned to become collector under the state government. A certificate dated March 1789 and signed by a number of Delaware citizens recommended Higgins as a person qualified to fill the post of collector; and a letter of 18 Mar. 1789 from Robert Kirkwood, a captain in the Delaware regiment during the Revolution, stated that Higgins was a person “whose late employ, situation, capacity & integrity all combine in intitleing him to your Excellencies confidence & favors. . . . his family is respectable and connexions of the first Class—his residence in the Town of Newcastle with a Wife & four Children. . . . I am led to this liberty Sir, from the impurtunity of the Gentleman himself, who flatters me, that my services under your Excellency in the field, will intitle this address to your excellencies particular attention” (both in DLC:GW).

On 13 April Higgins again wrote GW reminding him that his position as collector of the revenue under the state had been “attended with very great difficulty and expence—I possessed it without a Rival; but as the channel of the Revenue is expected to change from direct Tax’s to duties with the change of Government; there now appears a number of Applicants . . . eager to supplant me. From a conscious discharge of duty under the old I never doubted of continuing in the employ of the new Government, and therefore have waited unemployed during a suspension of measures in the State for its Operations. Your excellency will readily perceive the hardship of my Case, and the manifest injury I would receive, if turned out of employ merely because it was like to become better, and to see it bestowed upon some one who cannot complain of being made worse by the change of Government or having suspended their former avocations from the reasonable expectation of being employed. . . . I have therefore lodged my application and Recommendations with the Senators of this State . . . to whom I beg leave to refer your excellency” (DLC:GW).

On 28 April Higgins pursued the matter further: “Having been informed that upon the application of some of the Gentlemen of Wilmington, competitors for the Collectorship of the Revenue of the United States, within this State—your excellency observed that you had recieved a Letter from the old Collector praying a continuance of said employ &ca and that some pains was taken by them to convince your excellency that no such Officer had ever been appointed in the State since the Revolution, and consequently the writer had endeavored to impose a falshood: which if fact and your excellency has not attended to the Letter so as to discover the distinction there taken (which in fact is what may be termed a distinction without a difference) I must beg leave to set the matter on a fuller point of view, and leave your excellency to determine whether the contents of said Letter be literal truths or not. The Revenues of Congress heretofore having been raised by Requisitions on the several States, to be levied and raised as the Legislature of each State might direct the Legislature of Delaware raised their quota by direct tax’s, and appointed the Officers who were to raise or Collect it in the same Law, that granted the money and authorized the levying of it.

“It was thus Sir, I was appointed by the Legislature in Feby of the year 1787 in which capacity I have remained. And Sir, therefore it is, that there has been no such Officer as Collector of the Imposts because the revenue was not raised by Impost but still I have been Collector of the Revenue—And as the Revenue is to be transfered from the State Legislatures to the general Legislature, and the Channel from direct tax’s to that of Duties of course without a continuance in Collecting the Revenue, I am as much thrown out of business by the change of Government as any Collector of Impost under the Legislature of a State that raised the Revenue by Impost, who is not continued under the General Government. I hope your excellency has observed that the Letter states the matter fairly and will indulge my troubleing with this, from a fear that the imputation of want of candour, might have done me injury” (DLC:GW). The post of collector at Wilmington went not to Higgins but to George Bush. On 23 Feb. 1791 Higgins made another unsuccessful application for office, this time for the post of collector of excise for Delaware (DLC:GW).

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