John Adams to John Jay1
Philadelphia March 21. 1792
A difference of opinion having arisen among those of the Trustees of the Sinking Fund, who are now in this City, respecting the construction of their authority under the Act making provision for the Reduction of the Public Debt, by which they are equally divided,2 your presence here towards settling the principle which is in question, in order to the future conduct of the business, has become indispensable.
The Board at a Meeting this day have accordingly come to a resolution to request your attendance here as speedily as possible; which on their behalf I now do.
I have the honor to be very respectfully Sir Your most Obedient ser
The Chief Justice of The United States
LS, in the writing of H, Columbia University Libraries; Df, in the writing of H, Essex Institute, Salem, Massachusetts.
1. Jay was the Federalist candidate for governor of New York in 1792. At the time this letter was written, he was in New York City in his capacity as judge of the Circuit Court.
A note, signed by Charles Francis Adams, which appears at the top of the draft, reads as follows: “This is an Autograph of Alexander Hamilton, Secretary of the Treasury—A copy of a letter written by him to John Jay, Chief Justice of the United States, as a Trustee of the Sinking fund, furnished to John Adams, as Vice president and likewise a Trustee.”
A letter written by Edmund Randolph to Jay on March 21, 1792, reads in part as follows:
“The four trustees of the sinking fund, who are here, having been divided on two occasions, very interesting to the United States, I am instructed to request your attendance, as soon as it may be convenient to you.
“They are aware, how much their desire to see you here may interfere with your arrangements for the ensuing circuit; but in truth they cannot justify themselves in forbearing to represent to you the urgency of the case.” (ALS, Columbia University Libraries.)
2. The questions dividing the commissioners concerned Section 1 of “An Act making provision for the Reduction of the Public Debt,” which reads in part as follows: “That all such surplus of the product of the duties … as shall remain after satisfying the several purposes for which appropriations shall have been made by law to the end of the present session, shall be applied to the purchase of the debt of the United States, at its market price, if not exceeding the par or true value thereof” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America (Boston, 1845). description ends 186 [August 12, 1790]).
The differences in the interpretation of this section which arose at the March 21, 1792, meeting of the commissioners of the sinking fund were later summarized by the commissioners and forwarded to Jay for his opinion. Randolph’s transcription of that summary reads as follows:
“The following questions have been approved by the Vice President, the secretary of State, the secretary of the treasury, and the attorney general of the U. S, as comprehending the points, on which the board was divided.
“1. Do the words, ‘if not exceeding the par or true value thereof,’ in the first section of the act, making provision for the reduction of the public debt, restrict the purchase of any part of the debt of the United States, (whether subscribed, and bearing an immediate interest of six per centum, or an immediate interest of three per cent, or a future interest of six per cent.; or unsubscribed;) so long as the market-price of the same shall not exceed twenty shillings in the pound?
“2. If those words do restrain the purchase of any species of the public debt within limits, narrower than twenty shillings in the pound; what rate of interest shall be adopted, as the rule for computing the value of each kind of stock at this day?” (ADS, Columbia University Libraries.)
Above Randolph’s summary in this document are minutes of the meeting of the commissioners of the sinking fund of March 28, 1792, signed by Randolph and sent by him to Jay in a letter dated March 29, 1792 (ALS, Columbia University Libraries).