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To Alexander Hamilton from Tench Coxe, [6 May 1792]

From Tench Coxe

[Philadelphia, May 6, 1792]

Dear Sir

The bill relative to the debt having passed thro the House1 I hope an handsome conclusion will be made to the business of the Departments.2 I should not have troubled you again upon [it], but that I am well informed that a Member of the Senate, who opposed the bill in its present Shape said a week ago that “the whole of the Treasury clauses except the Compensations3 would be struck out in the House” and one of the Eastern gentlemen told the Auditor that the bill would certainly be taken up and passed “at least so far as regarded the Compensations.” The delays which have been made since the bill came from the Senate, which is now near two weeks,4 are a painful comment on the observations abovementioned. Permit me, Sir, to say a few words upon this subject before it be too late to remedy the public & personal Evils such a conclusion of the business will produce.

The state of the public business will remain in its present perplexing form—there will be no provision for the settlement of accounts audited by Mr. Wolcot5—there will be no provision for the temporary execution of the duties of the Executive offes. of the government. I, and my family will be left without an Establishment—as will Mr. Meyer & Mr. Jones.6 After so much consideration & discussion this matter cannot fail to be ascribed to causes irritating to and inconsistent with the national interests. It will appear to some members, I know, from every part of the Union as a most undeserved ill turn done to me by a respectable part of the federal interest, a circumstance, which will have, I may say, an astonishing and very unpleasing Complexion to all the sincere friends of the general Government considering the part I have borne in regard to it from the Annapolis Convention to the present time.

The clause relative to the deposit of the Customs is viewed among many good & judicious men as inconsistent with the office of Comptroller of the Treasury.7 I have good reason to believe that Mr. Morris’s8 vote in the Senate against it was founded on an opinion that the director of the Collectors conduct ought not to sit in Judgment upon their accounts. Mr. Cabot9 told me in the most explicit terms that he disapproved of the annexing of the Customs to the office of Comptroller. The first remark I ever heard upon the first Report was from Mr. Delany,10 who called upon me to know, if you were in your office, & finding you were engaged mentioned to me his alarm at the Union of those two duties. He wished to represent it to you, and I earnestly intreated and almost insisted, that he should not, observing that as He was a Pennsylvanian, I should be suspected of moving him to do so. On Saturday, I spoke to Mr. Findley11 for the first time, on the bill generally, when he told me a Number of the Members & he among them had determined to oppose that clause with decision—and for the reason abovementioned. Now, Sir, I can prove to you that I mentioned to one of the House, whom I once asked to call up the report of Mr Smith12 &c. (in fact to Mr Murray)13 that tho I thought ye clause improper I hoped nothing would prevent the arrangement taking effect, as it was necessary for me to get an Establishment for my family, and I was sure the first Session would produce an alteration of the business of the Customs from a general conviction of its impropriety.

I hope & trust, Sir, that the mere circumstance of leaving the Customs in your hands, and the not adding that power to an office, which members of the new & old Congress sought in Competition with Mr. Wolcot, will not influence to unkindness and injustice to me. The Eastern Gentlemen are not aware of the deep impolicy & impression, which will attend a unfavorable issue to this business. For my own part I know not which way in such an Event to turn from the most painful feelings. In your office and in your domestic circle I shall meet with the Authors of my unmerited dishonor and sufferings. I must exhibit to the gentlemen who are in and above the government a contemptible appearance of good will and harmony with those members of the legislature from whose hands I shall have recd the most unhandsome treatment—or I must avoid (so far as my office will permit) those scenes where they so often are. In short, Sir, I must seek in the bosom of my family, that comfort wch this Event will deprive me of in every other Scene. I do not mean, Sir, to talk of a resignation for tho I own the dignity of my public & personal Character would be better preserved by that measure it is unhappily not in my power at this Moment.

It may be suggested perhaps that all the Sensibility I now feel is the mere workings of Ambition, but to you, Sir, that will not appear to be possible when you remember that I was willing to have left all the prospects of the Treasury for the post office14 and the connected opportunity of a life employed at pleasure in the investigation of the great interests of my Country. I believed I had some of that talent, which would have enabled me to lead a generous intelligent people, by the light of unknown but interesting truth into the true road to wealth and happiness. Excuse me, Sir, for this last effort to avoid a course of things out of which many evils will arise which I forbear to particularize, & Believe me when I devoutly pray, with an aching heart, for the consummation of your noble Scheme of national Happiness with confidence in its success, and for a greater portion of personal felicity to you and your family than, I fear, will result from all your exertions & Services.

Yr. respectful Servt.

T. Coxe

ALS, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress; Updated copy, Papers of Tench Coxe in the Coxe Family Papers at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.

1“An act supplementary to the act making provision for the debt of the United States” passed the House of Representatives on May 7, 1792 (Journal of the House, I description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States (Washington, 1826), I. description ends , 601). It became law on May 8, 1792 (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America (Boston, 1845). description ends 281–83).

2Coxe is referring to “An Act making alterations in the Treasury and War Departments.” On January 19, 1792, the House of Representatives "Ordered, That a committee be appointed to consider and report whether any, and what, alterations ought to be made in the acts for establishing the Treasury and War Departments..." (Journal of the House, I description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States (Washington, 1826), I. description ends , 493). The committee reported on February 29, 1792 (Journal of the House, I description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States (Washington, 1826), I. description ends , 523). On April 3, 1792, a committee of the Senate was appointed to consider what alterations, if any, should be made in the Treasury and War departments. The committee reported on April 10, and the bill passed the Senate on April 17 (Annals of Congress, III 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 , 116, 120, 125). After the House had proposed some amendments and these had been altered by the Senate, the bill became law on May 8, 1792 (1 Stat. 279–81). Coxe was particularly interested in this bill because he was assistant to the Secretary of the Treasury, and the bill provided: “That the present office of assistant to the Secretary of the Treasury, be abolished, and that instead thereof there be an officer in the department of the treasury, to be denominated Commissioner of the Revenue …” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America (Boston, 1845). description ends 280). Coxe was appointed commissioner of the revenue on May 8, 1792.

3The act provided an additional allowance for the comptroller, auditor, treasurer, and register of the Treasury (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America (Boston, 1845). description ends 281).

4Although the bill passed the Senate on April 17, it was not taken up by the House until May 7 (Journal of the House, I description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States (Washington, 1826), I. description ends , 601).

5Oliver Wolcott, Jr., comptroller of the Treasury. Coxe is referring to Section 7 of “An Act making alterations in the Treasury and War Departments” which provided that “… in every case of an account or claim not finally adjusted, upon which the present comptroller of the treasury, as auditor, may have decided, it shall be the duty of the commissioner of the revenue, and of the auditor of the treasury, finally to adjust the same, and in case of disagreement between the said commissioner and auditor, the decision of the attorney general shall be final” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America (Boston, 1845). description ends 281).

6Edward Jones and John Meyer were Treasury Department clerks.

7There was no “clause relative to the deposit of the Customs” in the act that was passed by Congress. The plan to which Coxe is referring, however, was proposed by William Loughton Smith, a member of the House of Representatives from South Carolina, in a report presented to the House on February 29, 1792. The resolutions contained in Smith’s report that did not become part of the final act read as follows:

“5th. In relation to the Treasury Department. That it shall be the duty of the Comptroller of the Treasury to superintend, under the head of the Department, the collection of the duties on imports and tonnage.…

“7th. That in every case of a claim against the United States not finally adjusted, upon which the present Comptroller of the Treasury, as Auditor, may have decided, and in which his decision is not controverted by the claimant, the said Comptroller be empowered and directed finally to adjust the same; and that in every such case in which the decision of the said Comptroller, as Auditor, is controverted, it shall be lawful for the Secretary of the Treasury, on behalf of the United States, to submit the points in controversy to referees, who shall be three in number; one of whom to be appointed by the Secretary of the Treasury, one by the claimant, and the third to be agreed upon between the Secretary and the claimant; or, in case of disagreement, to be chosen by the two referees who shall have been appointed as aforesaid; and the decision of the said referees, or a majority of them, shall have the like force and effect with an award of arbitrators between individuals. But if any claimant shall refuse to join in a reference, then it shall be lawful for the Comptroller of the Treasury to proceed to an adjustment of the claim as in other cases. That each of the said referees be allowed ——— dollars per day while actually employed in the reference.

“8th. That in case of the death, absence from the seat of Government, or sickness of the Secretary of the Treasury, whereby he cannot perform the duties of his office, the Comptroller of the Treasury may perform the said duties until a successor be appointed, or until such absence or inability by sickness shall cease; and all warrants which shall be signed by the said Comptroller in place of the said Secretary shall be countersigned by the Commissioner of the Revenue.

“9th. That in case of the death, absence from the seat of Government, or sickness of the Comptroller of the Treasury, whereby he cannot perform the duties of his office, the Commissioner of the Revenue may perform the said duties until a successor be appointed, or until such absence or inability by sickness shall cease.

“10th. That in case of the death, absence from the seat of Government, or sickness of the Auditor of the Treasury, whereby he cannot perform the duties of his office, the first clerk of the said Auditor may perform the said duties until a successor be appointed, or until such absence or inability by sickness shall cease.

“11th. That in case of the death, absence from the seat of Government, or sickness of the Register of the Treasury, whereby he cannot perform the duties of his office, the first clerk of the said Register may perform the said duties until a successor be appointed, or until such absence or inability by sickness shall cease.…

“15th. That the restriction on the clerks of the Department of the Treasury, so far as respects the carrying on of any trade or business, be abolished.” (ASP description begins American State Papers, Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States (Washington, 1832–1861). description ends , Miscellaneous, I, 47.)

"In the Papers of Tench Coxe in the Coxe Family Papers at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, are the drafts of two letters by Coxe. Both letters are undated, and neither has an addressee. Both letters criticize the powers to the comptroller in the provisions of the House report quoted in the preceding paragraphs of this note. Either letter or both of them may have been drafts of letters addressed to H, but no internal or external evidence has been found that the letters were actually sent to H.

8Robert Morris, Senator from Pennsylvania.

9George Cabot, Senator from Massachusetts.

10Sharp Delany, collector of customs at Philadelphia.

11William Findley, a member of the House of Representatives from Pennsylvania.

12For the relevant sections of Smith’s report, see note 7.

13William Vans Murray, a member of the House of Representatives from Maryland.

14Coxe had applied for the office of Postmaster General in 1789. He was not, however, appointed.

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