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To Alexander Hamilton from Hugh Hughes, 21 November 1790

From Hugh Hughes1

Yonkers [New York] Novbr. 21st. 1790


Happening very lately to see an Act of Congress, which was passed the last Session, making certain Appropriations of Monies arising from Duties on Goods, Wares and Merchandize imported, as well as on the Tonnage of Ships &c. which Act has the following Clause—“The Sum of forty thousand Dollars towards discharging certain Debts contracted by Colonel Timothy Pickering late Quarter Master General, and which Sum was included in the Amount of a Warrant drawn in his Favour by the late Superintendant of the Finances of the United States, and which Warrant was not discharged.”2 It immediately occurred to me that this must mean the 40,000 Dollars which Colonel Pickering first gave me a Draught on Mr. Tillotson3 for, and next, on ye late Board of Treasury; but as neither Mr. Tillotson, who was the Receiver of Taxes in this State, nor the Board of Treasury, was in Cash, not either of the Draughts was paid and the last was deposited with Messrs. Osgood and Livingston, who composed the Board at the Time of Presenting it, which as near as my Memory serves, was, in the Spring of ’84,4 when, I received for Answer, “That whenever Congress were invested with sufficient Funds, it should be discharged.” From which, to the Time that the Legislature of this State made a Specie Grant of 1,80000 Dollars to Congress, which, if I mistake not, was in ’85,5 as I resided in another State and often severely indisposed, and heard no further of it. But on hearing of that Grant, which, as I was informed by several Persons of Veracity, was the more readily made, from an Apprehension that 40,000 Dollars of it would go to satisfying the just Claims of their Constituents. In Fact, this was confided to me by several Members of the Legislature, themselves. I applied for that Sum, I was told that it had been issued for the current Service, & dischargg some Part of the Interests of the Dutch Loan, and was told that there were no Hopes of it untill a more efficient Government took Place. From all which it will evidently appear that I never lost Sight of it, tho’ sometime prevented by Sickness & Locality from attending.

What the whole Intention or Design of those who have made this last Application to Congress for the sd. 40,000 Dollars is, I can not say, as I have never been consulted on it, but beg to be believed, when I assure you, Sir, that the original Intention of giving me the aforesd. Draughts, was to enable me to fulfil my Engagements and which were made at the ⟨–⟩ Request of the QMG to the Inhabitants of this State in particular as having afforded him more ⟨supplies⟩ than any other ⟨whatsoever⟩, and that not only in an official Capacity, but in a private one, as there was a Time, when neither the QMG, nor my Self, could obtain what the Service required without becoming responsible in a private Capacity,6 and, which he, I ⟨am⟩ very confident, must well remember. Then it was, Sir, that I became answerable, in my private Character, for Services and Supplies for the Publicke, and received repeated ⟨written⟩ Assurances, that I should be furnished with Monies to pay for whatever I procured on that Condition but which I have not paid, tho’ often called on, and threatened with Suits. Nay, the QMG. authorized me to promise Payment, in Specie, at three Months Credit, for all Services and Supplies from the Beginning of the Year 1782, as well to that Branch of his Department, under my Direction, as to the Country at large, and this I did, in the most perfect Confidence & solemn Manner, but without being enabled to fulfil my Promises to this Day, tho’ it was in Consequence of those very Assurances in my private Capacity that I not only procured large Supplies, but retained a good Number of the most useful Persons in the Service—however my Zeal then might have had the ascendancy of Prudence.

This being an incontestable State of Facts, Sir, I appeal to your well known Love of public, as well as private, Justice, whether the 40,000 Dollars first mentioned ought to be diverted from the Original Design of granting them, and whether the Persons to whom they are due, are not as fairly & justly entitled to Interest on their respective Sums, as any other public Creditor whatever without Deduction of any Kind? specially when the liberal Services and Supplies, as well as the Length of Time that they have lain out of their Property, are considered, and that many others withheld, when they so cheerfully and nobly contributed to the Salvation of their Country? If this original Design be done, ⟨and⟩ is but carried into Execution, I care not who does it; as I wish not to receive any public Money but what is fairly and honestly due to me, and that, I know your Candor will allow me the same Right to as others, as you are very sensible, that I have not ⟨–⟩ it less faithfully.

Impressed with these Ideas of the Services and Supplies rendered the Public by the worthy Inhabitants of this State, at my special Insistance and being that the Money in Question were not paid, I could do no less, in Justice to them as well as myself, than address you on the Subject, Sir,—

Whatever, in this, relates to Colonel Pickering, the late QMGeneral, I am very confident, from repeated Experience, he will confirm.

Whenever you may think it proper to favor me with a Line I will thank you, as I reside in the Country, to order it under Cover to General Lamb.7

Should personal Attendance be requisite, I will do myself the Honor, Sir—

If I have trespassed on your Time, I know you have Goodness to forgive the Prolixity of Age especially in one whom you have so often favor’d with your Confidence & Friendship.

I have the Honor to be, with every Sentiment of Esteem and Regard   Sir, your most obdt. Humble Servant


ADfS, Papers of Hugh Hughes, Library of Congress.

1Hughes was assistant quartermaster general from May 11, 1776, to December 6, 1781.

This letter concerns the payment of debts incurred by the quartermaster’s department after August 5, 1780, when Timothy Pickering became quartermaster general. By 1780, because of an empty treasury, army contractors and suppliers were given in lieu of money certificates which amounted to promises to pay. The question of redeeming these certificates was further complicated by various changes in the relationship of individual states to first the Confederation and then the Federal Government.

As the letter printed above indicates, the matter was still not settled after H had been Secretary of the Treasury for more than a year, and the complexities attending the various attempts to collect such payments often rested on circumstances for which any kind of specific proof appeared to be lacking. Then, too, there was the question of just how responsible the officials in the quartermaster’s department were for pledges they had made. For example, on August 5, 1790, H wrote: “The then Quarter Master General alleges, and the allegation is supported by some evidence, that he and his assistants relying on being enabled to make due payment, have rendered themselves in a number of cases personally answerable for its being done.…

“It has happened, that several persons have brought in the Certificates they received from the Quarter Master General and his deputies, to the Commissioner for settling the accounts of that department, to be cancelled and have received other certificates in lieu of them which now constitute a part of the general debt. To what extent this has been done is not ascertained, nor can be so without going over an immense mass of cancelled papers.” (PAH description begins Harold C. Syrett, ed., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton (New York and London, 1961– ). description ends , VI, 522.)

Finally, Hughes’s demand represents a special problem, for as H reported on November 30, 1792: “The books and vouchers of Mr. Hughes having been destroyed by fire, no aid to his recollection can be supposed to have been drawn from that source” (PAH description begins Harold C. Syrett, ed., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton (New York and London, 1961– ). description ends , XIII, 260).

2This quotation is from “An Act making certain Appropriations therein mentioned’ (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, I (Boston, 1845). description ends 185–86 [August 12, 1790]).

For the transaction mentioned in this quotation, see “Report on a Particular Statement of the Warrants Issued by the Late Superintendent of Finance, and by the Board of Treasury,” September 25, 1789 (PAH description begins Harold C. Syrett, ed., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton (New York and London, 1961– ). description ends , V, 400–03). See also “Report on the Estimate of the Expenditure for the Civil List and the War Department to the End of the Present Year,” September 19, 1789 (PAH description begins Harold C. Syrett, ed., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton (New York and London, 1961– ). description ends , V, 379–92); “Report on Additional Sums Necessary for the Support of Government,” August 5, 1790 (PAH description begins Harold C. Syrett, ed., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton (New York and London, 1961– ). description ends , VI, 520–42).

Robert Morris resigned as Superintendent of Finance on November 1, 1784.

3Thomas Tillotson. For his accounts with Pickering, see references in note 2.

4Samuel Osgood and Walter Livingston did not become commissioners of the Board of Treasury until January 25, 1785 (JCC description begins Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (Washington, 1904–1937; Reprinted, New York, 1968). description ends , XXVIII, 18).

5Hughes may have been mistaken in the figure in this sentence and may have intended to write “100,800.” In any event, “An Act directing the Treasurer of this State, to pay into the Treasury of the United States, 147,734 9–90 Dollars” authorized the “Treasurer of this State … to pay into the Treasury of the United States …, in Specie, amounting to One Hundred and Ten Thousand and Eight Hundred Dollars, and fifty-one ninetieths of a Dollar …” (New York Laws, 8th Sess., Ch. LIII [April 4, 1785]).

6For example, see Pickering to Hughes, January 22, 1782 (ALS, Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston); Hughes to Sickles, January, 1782 (ALS, Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston).

7John Lamb, collector of customs at New York.

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