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Report on the Petition of Stephen Porter, [12 February 1794]

Report on the Petition of Stephen Porter

[Philadelphia, February 12, 1794
Communicated on February 17, 1794]1

[To the Speaker of the House of Representatives]

The Secretary of the Treasury to whom was referred the
Petition of Stephen Porter,2 respectfully makes the
following Report.

The Petitioner claims compensation and indemnification in relation to 1st a quantity of Grain which he furnished for the Use of the Army in the Year 1778. 2nd. the rent of a Store-House belonging to him, which was occupied for the Use of the Troops of the United States for the term of about eleven Months. 3d. the Amount of a Judgement recovered against him as Assistant Commissary of Forage since the rendering of his Accounts and not included therein.

It appears that sometime in September 1786 the Account of the Petitioner was settled by Jonathan Burrall Commissioner for settling the Accounts of the Quarter Masters Department, and a balance found in his favor of 1812 Dollars and ⁴⁄₉₀; for which he received Certificates as was usual in the like Cases.

It appears, further, that in Consequence of Objections made at the time which prevented the first Settlement from being considered as definitive, a revision was afterwards had (to wit in October following) which produced a confirmation of the Settlement.

After full consideration it is conceived to be inexpedient to open this Settlement to a new revision. The point involved is a question concerning the rule by which depreciation has been adjusted. The inconveniences of innovating in this particular, have been repeatedly remarked to the House.3

It may be added, that, independent of Objections arising from this general Consideration, the case is so circumstanced as to admit of difference of opinion on the Merits of the Claim. The Petitioner while he claims the Specie price for grain furnished by him early in 1778, expects to account for a balance of Continental Money, put in his hands for purchases in April, May and July of the same Year, according to the rate of depreciation at the time when he ceased to act, which was the end of the Year. To render this equitable it were necessary that it should appear, that the money actually remained unused to that time, a fact which from the nature of the thing, would be difficult of proof; however Confidence in the assertion of the Petitioner may induce a persuasion of its having been the case. The Petitioner also claims depreciation on his pay as Assistant Commissary of Forage, and an Allowance for expences while attending the Settlement of his Account; both which last mentioned Claims are inadmissable, with reference either to legal provisions or Usage.

The Claim of Rent for his Store-House while in the occupation of the Troops may be adjusted at the Treasury, if, as the Petitioner alleges, the claim was preferred in time. If it was not, there occur no circumstances sufficiently special, to render it adviseable to except the Case out of the operation of the Acts of Limitation.4

The Claim of Indemnification for the Sum recovered by judgment at Law, is opposed by some general Considerations of weight. It is admitted, not to have been preferred within the time prescribed by the Acts of Limitation, and that no notice of the pendency of the Suit was given to any public Officer or Department.

The precedent of Indemnification against a judgment so obtained might have extensive Mischiefs, whatever probability of fairness there may be in the present Case. The guards arising from the Acts of limitation, might thereby be eluded. In every such Case, where the Government is to be considered as the party to pay, it is proper and necessary, that, by timely Notice, it should be enabled to interpose for the Care of its own interests.

All which is respectfully submitted

Alexander Hamilton
Secy. of the Treasury.

Copy, RG 233, Reports of the Secretary of the Treasury, 1784–1795, Vol. IV, National Archives.

1Journal of the House description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States (Washington, 1826), I, II. description ends , II, 64.

2On February 27, 1792, the petition of Stephen Porter was “presented to the House and read … praying compensation for supplies furnished or property impressed, for the use of the Army of the United States, during the late war.…

Ordered, That the said … [petition] be referred to the Secretary of the Treasury, with instruction to examine the same, and report his opinion thereupon to the House.” (Journal of the House description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States (Washington, 1826), I, II. description ends , I, 521.)

4Among the statutes of limitation concerning Revolutionary War claims passed by the Continental Congress, those most frequently referred to are the resolutions of November 2, 1785, and July 23, 1787. On November 2, 1785, Congress resolved: “That all persons having claims for services performed in the military department, be directed to exhibit the same for liquidation to the commissioners of army accounts, on or before the first day of August, ensuing the date hereof, and that all claims, under the description above mentioned, which may be exhibited after that period, shall forever thereafter be precluded from adjustment or allowance, and that the commissioner of army accounts give public Notice of this resolve in all the states for the space of six Months” (JCC description begins Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (Washington, 1904–1937). description ends , XXIX, 866). On July 23, 1787, Congress resolved: “That all persons having unliquidated Claims against the United States pertaining to the late Commissary’s Quartermaster’s, hospital Cloathier’s or marine department shall exhibit particular abstracts of such claims to the proper commissioner appointed to settle the accounts of those departments within eight Months from the date hereof; And all persons having other unliquidated claims against the United States shall exhibit a particular abstract thereof to the Comptroller of the treasury of the United States within one year from the date hereof; And all accounts not exhibited as aforesaid shall be precluded from settlement or allowance” (JCC description begins Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (Washington, 1904–1937). description ends , XXXIII, 392).

In March, 1792, the door was again opened for the settlement of unadjusted Revolutionary War claims by “An Act to provide for the settlement of the Claims of Widows and Orphans barred by the limitations heretofore established, and to regulate the Claims to Invalid Pensions” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America (Boston, 1845). description ends 243–45 [March 23, 1792]) and “An Act providing for the settlement of the Claims of Persons under particular circumstances barred by the limitations heretofore established” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America (Boston, 1845). description ends 245 [March 27, 1792]). Further adjustments were made by Section 2 of “An Act relative to claims against the United States, not barred by any act of limitation, and which have not been already adjusted” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America (Boston, 1845). description ends 301–02 [February 12, 1793]), which provided “That it shall be the duty of the Auditor of the Treasury, to receive all such claims aforesaid as have not been heretofore barred by any act of limitation, as shall be presented before the time aforesaid, with the certificates, or other documents in support thereof, and to cause a record to be made of the names of the persons, and of the time when the said claims are presented; which record shall be made in the presence of the person or persons presenting the same, and shall be the only evidence that the said claims were presented, during the time limited by this act.” The expiration date of this act was May 1, 1794. See also “Report on Sundry Petitions,” April 16, 1792; “Report on Several Petitions Seeking Compensation for Property Damaged or Destroyed During the Late War,” November 19, 1792.

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