Alexander Hamilton Papers
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From Alexander Hamilton to John Adams, 6 February 1794

To John Adams1

Treasury Department
February 6th. 1794

Sir

Having made the necessary examination into the means possessed by the Treasury for complying with a late order of the Senate2 and of the time which would be requisite for preparing them, I have the honor now to communicate the result.

Several Custom-house returns of Exports amounting to a large sum having been rendered for a term longer than a quarter; it is found impossible to make up that return for the twelve months directed by the Senate in the first paragraph. A Statement, however for one year differing therefrom only in one quarter is nearly matured.3 It can be completed in a few days, after the receipt of a quarterly return for the port of Philadelphia, the Custom-house business of which was exceedingly deranged by the late malady.4

The detailed statement of Imports for the year ending on the 30th day of June 1792 required by the second paragraph, can be made up in about two months, by suspending the formation of that for the Year ending with September 1792, which in the course of the Treasury business was in preparation, and would have been completed in a few days. This will require eight extra Clerks for two months, and will produce an additional expence of about 600 or 700 dollars.

The detailed statement of Imports for the year ending on the 30th of June last, also required by the second paragraph, cannot be made up at present, for want of the Returns from the Customhouses.

The returns of Tonnage in the old form will exhibit what is required by the third paragraph and can be made out in the proper office in a short time.5 The two sets of returns of Tonnage required by the fourth paragraph, can be made out in about six weeks after the preceding documents shall be compleated; or they can be matured at the same time by employing four more extra Clerks at an expence of about 250 dollars.

The Senate will perceive from this the state of the business and will judge whether it is expedient to pursue it in the form contemplated by the order. Such of the matters required as can go on without additional expence or the derangement of what is already on hand are in train. And if no revocation of the order is speedily received the other objects as far as they are practicable will be also prosecuted.

But I feel it a duty to use the liberty of taking the present occasion to remark, that it is extremely to be desired that the two houses of the Legislature could fix upon a plan for regulating the returns which they would choose to have made to them periodically from the Treasury, that the business might be prosecuted in conformity to that plan. Congress would then have the information, which they may deem useful, and the Treasury could be prepared systematically to furnish it; without any derangement of the current course of its operation, and without an unnecessary increase of expence. Occasional & desultory calls frequently made for returns and statements, which involve complicated and elaborate investigations, and much clerkship,6 interfere more materially with the regular conducting of the public business, than can easily be imagined, except by those who have the progress of it immediately under their eye. They oblige the principal officers and the most expert Clerks to transfer so much of their attention from the ordinary & indispensable operations of the Department, as must render it impossible, (if the practice should continue in the same degree in which it has for some time existed) for the Officers of the Department to be responsible for the orderly punctual and efficacious execution of its primary & most essential objects. This conclusion has so pressed itself upon me from experience that I have thought it incumbent upon me to submit these reflections to the consideration of the Senate.7

[With perfect respect I have the honor to be   Sir   Your most Obedient & humble servant]8

Alexander Hamilton
Secy of the Treasy

[The Vice President of The UStates
& President of the Senate.]

LS, RG 46, Third Congress, 1793–1795, Reports from the Secretary of the Treasury, National Archives.

1On February 10, 1794, “The Vice President laid before the Senate, a letter from the Secretary for the department of Treasury, in reference to the orders of Senate of the 13th of January last, for a return of sundry statements from that department, which letter was read” ([Philadelphia] Gazette of the United States and Evening Advertiser, February 17, 1794).

2On January 13, 1794, the Senate “Ordered, That the Secretary of the Treasury lay before the Senate a statement of the goods, wares, and merchandise, exported from the several States from the first day of July, 1792, to the 30th day of June, 1793; specifying the quantities and value of each kind, and the several countries to which the same have respectively been exported.

“Statements of the goods, wares, and merchandise, imported into the several States, from the 1st day of July, 1791, to the 30th day of June, 1792, and from the 1st day of July, 1792, to the 30th day of June, 1793; specifying, for each period separately, the quantities and the prime cost and dutied values of each kind, and the several countries from which the same have respectively been imported.

“Statements of the tonnage of foreign vessels, entered into the several States, from the 1st day of July, 1791, to the 30th day of June, 1792, and from the 1st day of July, 1792, to the 30th day of June, 1793; specifying, for each period separately, the several countries to which the said vessels respectively belong.

“Statements of the tonnage of the United States’ vessels, entered into the several States, from the 1st day of July, 1791, to the 30th day of June, 1792, and from the 1st day of July, 1792, to the 30th day of June, 1793; distinguishing, for each period separately, those employed in fisheries, in the coasting and in the foreign trade, and specifying the several countries from which the said vessels employed in the foreign trade came.” (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 , IV, 29–30.)

3Returns from the customhouses began in most cases on October 1, 1789, and Treasury Department reports concerning exports, imports, and tonnage were based on a fiscal year ending September 30. The Senate resolutions in effect requested that this fiscal year be changed to one ending on June 30. The report to which H is referring is “Report on Exports from the United States for the Year Ending September 30, 1793,” April 14, 1794.

4This is a reference to the yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia during the late summer of 1793. see George Washington to H, September 6, 1793, note 1.

6H is referring to the large number of reports the Senate recently had ordered him to make. In addition to the four reports requested on January 13 (see note 2), the Senate ordered on January 20 that he prepare six different annual statements on the public debt and finances. These Senate resolutions read in part as follows:

“First. A statement of the Domestic Debt of the United States as due on the 1st day of January, 1794.…

“Second. A Statement of the Domestic Debt redeemed since the commencement of the present Government, to the first day of January, 1794.…

“Third. A general statement of the Foreign Debt of the United States as due on the 1st day of January, 1794.…

“Fourth. A specific account of the application of the moneys obtained upon Foreign Loans, contracted since the commencement of the present Government, to the 1st day of January, 1794; stating the amount of the moneys drawn over to America, and of those applied in Europe, together with the dates of such applications or drafts.

“Fifth. A summary statement of the actual receipts and expenditures from the commencement of the present Government to the last day of December, 1790, including all moneys received on account of the United States.…

“Sixth. Similar and separate statements for the years 1791 and 1792, respectively, and, so far as the same is now practicable, for the year 1793; specifying, separately, in each statement under each branch of the revenue, the moneys received on account of the revenue of that year and those received on account of the revenue of each preceding year.…” (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 , IV, 35–36.)

H is also referring to the duplication of requests by the House of Representatives and the Senate. On January 3, 1794, for example, the House had called on him for a separate series of reports, some of which were similar to those covered in the Senate order of January 13. See “Report on Domestic and Foreign Tonnage for the Years 1789, 1790, 1791, and 1792,” January 7, 1794; “Report on the Actual Tonnage Employed Between the United States and Foreign Countries for a Year Ending the 30th of September 1792,” January 10, 1794.

7Attached to this letter are three lists of H’s previous reports to the Senate.

8Material within brackets in this letter is in H’s handwriting.

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