Newburgh Jany 18. 1783.
Your Excellency had but just left my quarters, this evening, when a deputy sheriff of Ulster arrested me. He shewed me a writ of which I beg leave to inclose a copy. To prevent any injury to the public, by taking me from my office, I gave bail; and have wrote to an attorney to defend the suit.
I thought it my duty to apprize your Excellency of this event. The plaintiff is a Melancton L. Woolsey. I do not know him, nor ever heard his name before: But a gentleman who happens to be at my office, tells me that he is a trader at Poughkeepsie, who has been purchasing up specie certificates (signed by me, & issued pursuant to an act of Congress of the 23d of August 1780) at a very great discount. The suit, therefore, is doubtless grounded on such certificates. But on the same ground some thousands of suits may be brought against me in this state alone. Congress, by an act of the 19th of March 1782, recommended to the several states to pass laws to exempt public officers from such suits. Some complied with the recommendation. This state deliberated upon it; and a bill passed the assembly: but the council of revision offered objections; and it was dropped.
To subject public officers to such actions is doubtless a cruel oppression: at the same time the community is burthened with a great expence. If such suits be multiplied (and the numerous public creditors have all as just cause of action) they cannot even benefit the prosecutors: for the property of public officers compared with the vastness of the public debts, is but as the small dust of the balance. There is but one class of people who can derive advantage from such prosecutions: they, indeed, will reap a rich harvest, if all, or a majority of the public creditors become equally unreasonable with the few that have hitherto commenced such suits. With the writ, the sheriff presented me a letter from Mr Benson, of which the inclosed is a copy.
I am singularly unfortunate in being subjected to suits on specie certificates: for it was at my instance that Congress passed the act authorizing men to issue them. My motive was, to do the best possible justice to the public creditors, by fixing their dues in specie, and allowing them the interest of their money, which I saw it was impossible for the public promptly to pay. I am, with the greatest respect, your Excellency’s most obedient servant
DLC: Papers of George Washington.
26 October 1782
The people of the State of Newyork by the Grace of God, Free and Independent, To the Sheriff of Ulster Greeting. We command you that you take Timothy Pickering Esqr. if he shall be found in your Bailiwic, and him safely keep, so that you may have his body before us on Friday the twenty fourth day of January next, wheresoever our supreme court of judicature shall then be held within the state aforesaid, to answer unto Melancton L. Woolsey of a plea of trespass, and also to a bill of the said Melancton against the said Timothy for Three thousand pounds an assumption according to the Custom of our court before us to be exhibited, And have you then there this writ witness Richard Morris Esqr. Chief Justice at Albany the twenty sixth day of October in the seventh year of our Independance.
Poughkeepsie Jany 8th 1783
If I could have gratified my own wishes, I would have apprized you of the Errand of the Bearer; my Client is entitled to the Process of the Law, and it is my duty to obey his Directions, which were peremtory to issue a Writ without any previous notice—Lest you might suppose me wanting in point of Civility I conceived this Explanation necessary. I remain with respect Your most obt Servt