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To George Washington from Tench Coxe, 31 January 1795

From Tench Coxe

Walnut Street [Philadelphia] Jany 31. 1795


I trust you will believe my solemn assurance of you, that a very powerful sense of duty has impelled me to the Communication, which I have now the honor to make to you. As it will be perceived, that it is one of those cases in which an obedience to that sense may produce inconveniencies, I address you, Sir, as much in confidence as you may conceive the nature of the case to admit.

The enclosed Authorization, by the Secretary of the Treasury, of the Comptroller, to execute in virtue thereof, the duties of the former, is the subject of my representation. The Authorization by the first and the acquiescence by the last are in my Judgment contraventions and infractions of the 8th Section of “the act” (of the 8th day of May 1792) “making Alterations in the Treasury & War Departments” They also operate a suspension of the Check upon the first Officer of the Treasury provided by “the act” (of the 2d day of September 1789) “to establish the Treasury department.”1

It is proper, that you should be informed, Sir, that a report was made by a Committee of the Representatives to that House in 1792, calculated to give that duty and that occasional standing in the department to the Comptroller, in the Event of the Absence &ca of the Secretary of the Treasury. That report, which was framed with the Secretary’s co-operation, was not adopted in that and another particular by the House of Representatives. The same parts in reference to the proposed powers &ca to the Comptroller, were copiously discussed, and formally rejected by the Senate.2 The ample provision in the 8th Section, as it now stands, was adopted by the Senate and confirmed by the House.

Substitutions for a variety of officers, commissioned by you, have been only admitted after regular provision by Law. It appears by the 6th Section of the altering act refered to, that the Legislature duly adverted to the Necessity of explicitly granting to the Secretary the power of transferring the Business of the Customs before he could do it, and of such other transfers of portions of the Secretary’s duties as the public Service might require or admit the Commissioner of the Revenue to perform. It also appears, that the Legislature judged, that even the President of the United States could not commit the powers and duties of the Secretary of the Treasury to any other person without the formal investment of him with Authority so to do.3

I sincerely wish my Ideas may be inaccurate, but entertaining them as I really do, it appears to be my duty to submit them to you. With the highest respect, I have the honor to be, Sir, your most obedt & most humble Servant

Tench Coxe

ALS, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters; copy signed by Coxe, PHi: Tench Coxe Papers.

1Coxe enclosed a copy of Alexander Hamilton’s letter to Oliver Wolcott, Jr., of 29 Sept. 1794, in which Hamilton, “Being about … to accompany the Army on its march against the Western Insurgents,” committed to Wolcott “the management of those matters which are reserved to my superintendence under the constitution and regulations of the Department, especially the receipts and expenditures of money.”

Hamilton warned that “With regard to remissions and mitigations of penalties and forfeitures, it will be best to avoid acting in any case in which particular inconvenience will not arise from delay” lest “the course of policy may … be innovated upon so as to occasion something like inconsistency. But in urgent cases you will act consulting the most recent precedents in similar cases.”

Hamilton noted that he had signed “a large number of blank Warrants” for various uses, and he directed Wolcott to conclude a loan with the president and directors of the Bank of New York if they agreed to the terms in a letter he enclosed. Wolcott would “find in the Office a Power from the President for the purpose.” Hamilton added, “It will be regular in any contract which may be made, to pursue the terms of the Power as to parties” (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters).

For the two acts, see 1 Stat. description begins Richard Peters, ed. The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, from the Organization of the Government in 1789, to March 3, 1845 . . .. 8 vols. Boston, 1845-67. description ends 279–81 and 65–67. Section 8 of the 1792 act stated that “in case of the death, absence from the seat of government, or sickness” of any of the three department heads, “it shall be lawful for the President … in case he shall think it necessary, to authorize any person or persons at his discretion to perform the duties” of the offices.

2For the report, which was presented to the House of Representatives on 29 Feb. 1792, see ASP description begins Walter Lowrie et al., eds. American State Papers. Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States. 38 vols. Washington, D.C., Gales and Seaton, 1832–61. description ends , Miscellaneous, 1:46–47. The bill as passed, however, originated in the Senate. For discussion of the legislative action on the bill, see Coxe to Hamilton, 6 May 1792 (Hamilton Papers description begins Harold C. Syrett et al., eds. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. 27 vols. New York, 1961–87. description ends , 11:364–68).

3Section 6 of the 1792 act enacted “That the Secretary of the Treasury shall direct the superintendence of the collection of the duties on impost and tonnage as he shall judge best.” It also abolished the “office of assistant to the Secretary of the Treasury” and created instead the office of “Commissioner of the Revenue, who shall be charged with superintending, under the direction of the head of the department, the collection of the other revenues of the United States, and shall execute such other services, being conformable to the constitution of the department, as shall be directed by the Secretary of the Treasury.”

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