Alexander Hamilton Papers
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To Alexander Hamilton from Oliver Wolcott, Junior, 5 April 1798

From Oliver Wolcott, Junior1

Private

Phila. Apl. 5. 1798

Dear Sir

I recd your note2 and delivered the enclosure to Fenno3 who will publish it with its Successors. I hope it will do good, for if the Country cannot be roused from the Lethargy into which it fell in consequence of the miserable conduct of Congress last Summer,4 the Government will not in one year be worth defending.

The papers relative to the Negotiation which has been attempted with France have been laid before Congress.5 Many in both Houses I believe find that the gratification of their curiosity has made them responsible, for the management of a pretty difficult subject. The disclosure was I suppose necessary, though I regret the necessity. The dose will kill or cure, and I wish I was not somewhat uncertain which; not that I doubt the expediency of what the Government had done, or attempted, but I believe Faction & Jacobinism to be natural & immortal Enemies of our system. It is some satisfaction however to know, that the instructions & the conduct of the President generally in this affair, have enlisted the reluctant approbation of our most inveterate opposers.

A few days will determine whether the Legislature can act with that decision & energy which the Crisis demands. Nothing further by way of impression can be done except recourse is had to the desperate & doubtful remedy of a popular appeal.

The Revenue does not decline so much as I expected, but the management of the Treasury becomes more & more difficult. The Legislature will not pass laws in gross. Their appropriations are minute. Gallatin to whom they all yield, is evidently intending to break down this Department by charging it with an impracticable detail.6 The duties are high, the merchants are embarrassed. There is some considerable smuggling in places where correction is difficult. In common with the rest of the Country, the public Officers have grown lazy or dishonest. The sum which has been lost by delinquencies of the Revenue Officers would alarm you—see below.# I have done all in my power, the delinquents are dismissed promptly & without mercy—and yet new discoveries are making. I pray God, that we may not find that most of the old fashioned honesty has left the Country. But I will complain no more at present.

I am assuredly yours

Oliv Wolcott.

see above # Randolph embezled 50.000 Dolls while Secy of State7 besides which, there ought to be 200.000 Dollars in the Treasy which rests in the Accounts of Revenue Officers—most of this money will be lost. You will at first suspect that I have been careless in suffering the money to remain too long in their hands. The fact however is that in most instances I have been imposed on by fictitious accounts or by other frauds equally alarming.

O. W.

ALS, Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford; LC, Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford.

1At the bottom of the last page of this letter Wolcott wrote: “July 23d. 1811. This Letter to Genl Hamilton was recd. from Mrs Hamilton on this day. O. W.”

2Letter not found.

3John Fenno was the editor of the Gazette of the United States, and Philadelphia Daily Advertiser. The enclosure, which has not been found, was a copy of the “The Stand No. I,” which first appeared in The [New York] Commercial Advertiser, March 30, 1798, and which was reprinted in the Gazette of the United States on April 5, 1798.

4Although Congress had passed “An Act to provide for the further Defence of the Ports and Harbors of the United States” 1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America (Boston, 1845). description ends 521–22 [June 23, 1797]) and “An Act providing a Naval Armament” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America (Boston, 1845). description ends 523–25 [July 1, 1797]), it had defeated a bill “to raise a provisional army” (Annals of Congress description begins The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States; with an Appendix, Containing Important State Papers and Public Documents, and All the Laws of a Public Nature (Washington, 1834–1849). description ends , VII, 25) and had refused to give the President authority to establish an embargo similar to that of 1794 (Annals of Congress description begins The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States; with an Appendix, Containing Important State Papers and Public Documents, and All the Laws of a Public Nature (Washington, 1834–1849). description ends , VII, 386, 531).

5This is a reference to the papers concerning the XYZ affair, which President John Adams submitted to Congress on April 3, 1798 (ASP description begins American State Papers, Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States (Washington, 1832–1861). description ends , Foreign Relations, II, 150–68).

6On January 31, 1797, Albert Gallatin, a leading opponent of Federalist fiscal policies in the House of Representatives, proposed an amendment to a resolution for an appropriation for the civil list. The original resolution stated that “there be appropriated a sum not exceeding ——, viz.” Gallatin’s amendment proposed striking out those words and substituting: “The following sums be respectively appropriated, viz.” In defending his proposed amendment, Gallatin “said his object in this amendment was, that each appropriation should be specific; that it might not be supposed to be in the power of the Treasury Department to appropriate to one object money which had been specifically appropriated for any other object. He did not know, he had never investigated the subject, whether, as to the Civil List, appropriations had ever been mixed, or whether it was understood they might be so mixed; but they knew it had been officially declared that so far as related to the Military Department, the items had been totally mixed: for instance, if the estimate for clothing or any other item fell short, the officers of the Treasury did not think themselves bound by that particular appropriation, but had recourse to other items, for which larger sums were granted than there was occasion for. Such construction of the law, Mr. G. said, totally defeated the object of appropriation, and it was necessary, therefore, so to express the law that no color for such a construction should be given. The amendment he proposed would have this effect” (Annals of Congress description begins The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States; with an Appendix, Containing Important State Papers and Public Documents, and All the Laws of a Public Nature (Washington, 1834–1849). description ends , VI, 2040). See also Annals of Congress description begins The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States; with an Appendix, Containing Important State Papers and Public Documents, and All the Laws of a Public Nature (Washington, 1834–1849). description ends , VI, 2341–42.

7The Secretary of State, when Edmund Randolph was in office, was held accountable for all money advanced to the diplomatic representatives of the United States if he could not produce receipts from the agents to whom the money had been allocated. Under this arrangement the Secretary of State could be held personally responsible for funds lost through the sinking of a ship, the failure of a bank, and a variety of other natural or man-made disasters. After Randolph resigned in 1795, the Government charged that there were no receipts in his accounts for $49,154.89. Part of this money had been lost because of a failure of a bank in Amsterdam, and another shortage had occurred because of the failure of an American firm whose bills had been purchased by the Government. Randolph’s biographer has argued convincingly that Randolph was at most guilty of carelessness (Moncure Daniel Conway, Omitted Chapters of History Disclosed in the Life and Papers of Edmund Randolph [New York, 1889], 370–77).

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