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To Thomas Jefferson from Alexander Hamilton, 8 June 1791

From Alexander Hamilton

[Philadelphia], “Treasury Department,” 8 June 1791. He thinks it would be useful if an officer of the U.S. in each foreign country where there is one were directed to transmit occasional state of the coins of the country, specifying standards, weights, and values, also periodical listing of market prices of gold and silver in coin and bullion, the rates of foreign exchange, and the wages of labor both in manufactures and in tillage.—He requests that, if no inconvenience in the idea appears to TJ, an instruction for this purpose be sent and copies of statements received be furnished the Treasury.

RC (DLC: Madison Papers); in clerk’s hand except for signature; endorsed by TJ as received 21 June 1791 and so recorded in SJL. Full text appears in Syrett, Hamilton description begins The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, ed. Harold C. Syrett and others, New York, 1961–1979, 27 vols. description ends , viii, 450.

The presence of the above letter in Madison’s Papers suggests that TJ consulted his close collaborator on this as on almost all other matters of public interest. So also does the inclusion there of another document in which TJ recorded the available sources of information concerning questions raised by Hamilton. This shows that for France, Spain, Portugal, England, and Holland, data on the “State of the coin” were readily accessible in the Encyclopédie. For stocks and foreign exchange, the Gazette de France was given as the source for France and Lloyd’s List for England, with none for the other three nations. For the market price of bullion and coin, Lloyd’s List for England was the only recorded source. Understandably, there was none for any of the five countries on the price of labor in tillage and manufactures (undated MS in tabular form, in TJ’s hand; DLC: Madison Papers). The result of Hamilton’s suggestion was a cautionary response reflecting TJ’s characteristic disinclination to trouble American officials abroad with requests for needless or duplicative information, coupled with an invitation to discuss the matter and ascertain what was already available before proceeding further (TJ to Hamilton, 25 June 1791). The account of the episode in Leonard D. White’s The Federalists, p. 227n., contains a number of errors and omissions, among them the following: TJ did not neglect the request, Hamilton did not in precise terms renew it in his letter of 26 Dec. 1792, and Washington’s instruction to the Secretary of State of 20 Mch. 1793 was required by the Act for regulating foreign coins, not, as implied, because of Hamilton’s urging. In consequence the intended conclusion—that this was an instance of TJ’s failure to cooperate with his colleague—cannot be accepted.

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