Alexander Hamilton Papers

Treasury Department Circular, 13 August 1791

Treasury Department Circular1

Philadelphia Augt. 13. 1791.

Dear Sir

Some investigations in which I am engaged induce a wish to be able to form as accurate an idea as can be obtained of the usual product in proportion to the value of cultivated lands in different parts of the United States.

As I am persuaded no person can better assist me in this object than yourself, I take the liberty to ask the favor of your assistance.

It has occurred to me that if the actual product on cultivated farms of middling quality could be ascertained with tolerable precision, it might afford as good a rule, by which to judge as the nature of the thing admits of.

With this view I have prepared a form with a number of Columns under heads specifying the different kinds of produce usual in your quarter in order that they may be filled in each case according to the fact and as the nature of each head shall require.2

There are besides some additional Columns which respect the Total value of the farm and the different kinds of Land of which it consists.

The value of the farm must be determined not by what it would fetch in Cash on a forced or sudden sale, but by what it would sell for at a reasonable and usual credit or perhaps by what the opinion of the neighbourhood would compute to be its true value.

The quantity of each kind of land must conform to the actual quantity in cultivation at the time for which the product is taken.

It is submitted to your judgment according to circumstances whether to determine the product by the average of a series of years, three or more, or by what has been considered as a year of middling fertility.

The price ought to express the value of each Article on the farm. Perhaps to determine this there is no better rule than to deduct the expence of transportation from the price at the nearest usual market. The high price of an extraordinary year would not be a proper criterion; but that which is deemed by intelligent and reasonable farmers a good saving price.

If not inconvenient to you to execute my present request, you will add to the favour by explaining in each case the rule by which you have proceeded; and if it would not be attended with too much trouble the extension of the inquiry to two or three different farms would be satisfactory.

In a matter with which I am not very familiar, it is possible I may have omitted circumstances of importance to the object of my inquiry. The supplying of such omissions will be particularly acceptable.

As whatever comes from the Treasury is apt to be suspected of having referrence to some scheme of taxation, it is my wish that the knowlege of this request may be confined to yourself. And I think it not amiss to add that in truth it has not the most remote referrence to any such purpose.

With great consideration & esteem   I remain   Sir   Your Obedt. servant

Alexander Hamilton

LS, Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston; LS, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia; LS, Mr. John E. Meals, Seattle; LS, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

1H sent this letter to at least five individuals. See Richard Peters to H, August 27, 1791; Henry Wynkoop to H, August 29, 1791; Timothy Pickering to H, October 13, 1791; John Neville to H, October 27, 1791; John Beale Bordley to H, November 11, 1791.

H presumably sent this letter to obtain information for use in his “Report on the Subject of Manufactures,” December 5, 1791. Copies of some of the answers received by H to this letter are in the George Washington Papers, Library of Congress. On June 18–21, 1792, Washington wrote to Arthur Young, the English agricultural reformer: “On applying to Colo. Hamilton for the statement mentioned in Mr. [Richard] Peters’ letter he put into my hands, together with the statement, several communications which were made to him last year by some of the most respectable farmers in this part of the Country, in consequence of an application from him for information on certain points respecting farms, And as they appeared to contain some matters worth attention I had them copied, and they are also enclosed” (GW description begins John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington (Washington, 1931–1944). description ends , XXXII, 71). For Peters’s statement, see Peters to H, August 27, 1791.

2D, Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston.

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