Alexander Hamilton Papers

To Alexander Hamilton from William Duer, 12 March 1792

From William Duer

New York March 1⟨2⟩th. 1792.1

A Hamilton Esqr.

My dear Friend.

I find by a Letter from Colo. Wadsworth2 that News has arrived there of my hav[in]g skipt Payment.3 The Fact is that I have been compelled to do it, with Respect to a certain Description of Notes, which were issued by my agent4 during my absence from this City—the Circumstances are too long and too Painful to detail: you shall know them on my Arrival in Phila. for which Place I will certainly set off to morrow.5 Colo. Wadsworth writes me that Unless I arrive this day a Suit will Certainly be brought against me.6

For Heavens sake, Use for once your Influence to defer this till my Arrival—when it will not be Necessary. My Public Transactions are not blended with my private affairs. Every Farthing will be Immediately accounted for. Of this I pledge my Honor. If a Suit should be brought on the Part of the Public, under my present distrest Circumstances, My Ruin is complete. I despatch this by Express in order that this Step may not be taken—if it is I am sure that those who persue this Measure will in a short Time lament the Consequence.

I am your affectionate but distrest Friend

W Duer.

ALS, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.

1In MS the date is illegible. In Mitchell, Hamilton description begins Broadus Mitchell, Alexander Hamilton (New York, 1957–1962). description ends , II, 175, 615, note 28, this letter is dated March 10; Allan McLane Hamilton dates it March 18 (Intimate Life, 272); and Joseph Stancliffe Davis on one page dates it March 11 and on another page March 18 (Essays, I, 292, 293). H in answering this letter refers to it as “Your letter of the 11th” (H to Duer, March 14, 1792). In the first sentence, however, Duer refers to a letter Jeremiah Wadsworth wrote to him. Apparently Duer received the Wadsworth letter on March 12, for in a letter clearly dated March 12 he replied to Wadsworth: “I have this Moment received your Letter, to which I answer immediately” (ALS, Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford). Moreover, in both the letter to H printed above and the letter to Wadsworth, Duer writes of leaving New York for Philadelphia “to morrow.”

2Wadsworth, who during the American Revolution had served as commissary general of purchases and as a representative from Connecticut to the Continental Congress, had widespread business interests. He was a founder of the Bank of North America, the Hartford Bank, and the Hartford Woolen Manufactory, and had engaged in a number of speculative enterprises. For several years he had been a member of a Hartford firm which carried on an extensive trade with the West Indies. During the Confederation period H had handled the legal affairs of Wadsworth and his wartime business partner, John B. Church.

3In December, 1791, Duer, former Assistant to the Secretary of the Treasury, formed a partnership with Alexander Macomb, a wealthy New York merchant, for speculation in public securities. By using all his available money and borrowing large sums on his personal notes, Duer furnished most of the operating capital of the firm. The extensive purchases of securities by Duer and Macomb were chiefly responsible for the speculative mania of the first months of 1792. Not only in New York, where Duer had his headquarters, but in other large American cities, there was a feverish buying and selling of stocks. The success of Duer’s operations depended on a steady rise in stock prices. But after reaching a high point in late January, 1792, security prices declined for the next five weeks, and Duer was ruined. On March 9 he was forced to suspend payments. Duer’s failure produced a panic which was accompanied by a further decline in security prices and a corresponding increase in Duer’s difficulties. On March 23, 1792, Duer was imprisoned for his debts.

4Although it cannot be stated with certainty, Duer may at this point be referring to John Pintard. See Mitchell, Hamilton description begins Broadus Mitchell, Alexander Hamilton (New York, 1957–1962). description ends , II, 612, note 28.

5Duer was not able to carry out his plan of going to Philadelphia. See H to Duer, March 14, 1792.

6On the day Duer wrote this letter, Oliver Wolcott, Jr., comptroller of the Treasury, announced that the Treasury Department intended to bring suit against Duer for a deficiency of two hundred thousand dollars in his account with the United States. For an account of Duers’ finances, see Davis, Essays description begins Joseph Stancliffe Davis, Essays in the Earlier History of American Corporations (“Harvard Economic Studies,” XVI [Cambridge, 1917]). description ends , I, 279–91. A statement of Duer’s account for indents of interest for 1787–1788 over which this action arose, as well as the relevant vouchers, may be found in RG 217, Miscellaneous Treasury Accounts, 1790–1894, Account No. 3508, National Archives.

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