Alexander Hamilton Papers

From Alexander Hamilton to Tench Coxe, 1 September 1792

To Tench Coxe

Treasury Department September 1st 1792


After mature reflection upon the communications handed you by the Supervisor of this District,1 from the Inspector of Survey No 4,2 I am of opinion, that it is adviseable for the Supervisor immediately to repair in person to that Survey.

The Objects of his journey will be—

I   To ascertain the real state of the Survey in its several subdivisions.

II   To inquire carefully concerning the persons, who are represented to have menaced Captain Faulkner, and those who appeared in arms for the purpose of obstructing the law.3 To obtain evidence, as precise as possible, as well to identify the persons, as to ascertain their language and conduct. To take for this purpose depositions of as many respectable characters as may be knowing to the circumstances, and to engage one or two of the best informed to come to this city. The Secretary at war will direct the commanding officer to order Captain Faulkner hither.4 Every necessary measure with regard to bearing the expence and compensating for the time of those who may come must be taken.

III   To collect evidence respecting the persons, who actually composed the meeting at Pittsburg, on the 21st of August, whose proceedings are published under the signature of John Cannon Chairman, and the particulars of their behaviour.5 Depositions on those heads will be acceptable.

IV   To uphold the confidence and encourage the perseverance of the officers under the law. For this purpose, he may assure them, that vigorous measures will very speedily be taken to enforce its execution. And I further authorise him to acquaint them, on my part, that I have the fullest confidence the Government will indemnify any person, whose property may suffer in consequence of his cooperation in the execution of the law, and that I engage to be personally responsible to them for such indemnity, in case of accident to the property of either of them, on account of their official situation and conduct.

V   To endeavour to persuade the inhabitants of Alleghany county in particular, to come immediately and voluntarily into the law.6 For this purpose, he may, in conversations with discreet men, represent the impossibility of the government remaining longer a passive spectator of such persevering and contemptuous resistance to its laws.

When there, his own judgment will suggest any other measures, which it may be proper for him to take. And having fulfilled the objects of his journey he will please to return as speedily as may be convenient to this City.

It is in my opinion absolutely necessary that a decided experiment should without delay be made of the energy of the laws, and of the ability of the government to put them in execution. The present is a preparatory step.

with great consideration & esteem   I am Sir   Your obedt Servt

Alexander Hamilton

Tench Coxe Esqr
Commissr of the Revenue

LS, Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford.

1George Clymer was supervisor of the revenue for the District of Pennsylvania.

Opposition to the excise tax on distilled spirits had been expressed in Pennsylvania even before the approval of “An Act repealing, after the last day of June next, the duties hereto-fore laid upon Distilled Spirits imported from abroad, and laying others in their stead; and also upon Spirits distilled within the United States, and for appropriating the same” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America (Boston, 1845). description ends 199–214 [March 3, 1791]). It was, however, in the western survey of Pennsylvania that opponents of the act first resorted to force. On September 6, 1791, Robert Johnson, collector for Washington and Allegheny counties, was tarred and feathered near Pigeon Creek. Joseph Fox, a deputy marshal, was sent to serve process on John, Daniel, and David Hamilton because of their alleged part in the incident. Fox, instead, sent a messenger, John Connor, who was tarred and feathered (Leland D. Baldwin, Whiskey Rebels [Pittsburgh, 1939], 82–83).

Because of continued criticism of the excise, H suggested alterations in the act in his “Report on the Difficulties in the Execution of the Act Laying Duties on Distilled Spirits,” March 5, 1792. The law was amended by “An Act concerning the Duties on Spirits distilled within the United States” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America (Boston, 1845). description ends 267–71 [May 8, 1792]).

2John Neville to Clymer, August 23, 1792 (ALS, Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford). On the cover of Neville’s letter H wrote: “concerning Treatment of Faulkner & danger to himself.”

3Neville’s letter to Clymer of August 23, 1792, states: “I have now to inform you that after many Sollicitations, applications and great trouble I established offices of Inspection in Washington and at Pittsbg.; the House I got at Washington for that purpose belonged to a Captn. Wm. Faulkner who commands a Rifle company in the Service of the United States; I was advised and strongly urged by my Friends respecting the danger which would attend this Measure, however conceiving the Experiment to be necessary I advertised in the Pittsburgh Gazette that I would attend two days in every week at the House of Captn. Wm. Faulkner to receive Entries of Stills &c. which I did until prevented from the Use of the House. Capt. Faulkner when in pursuit of some deserters was encountered by a Number of people in the same Neighbourhood where Mr. Johnson was abused last year, who reproached him for letting his House for such purposes. They drew a knife on him, threatened to scalp him, tar & feather him, and finally to reduce his House and property to ashes if he did not solemnly promise them to prevent the office of Inspection from being there, in consequence of which he sent me the in-closed letter and published the within Notice” (ALS, Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford).

The notice, as reprinted by the [Philadelphia] National Gazette on September 5, 1792, reads as follows: “The Pittsburgh Gazette of August 25 contains the following notification from Capt. Faulkner: ‘Notice i[s] hereby given, as an inspection office has been kept by Gen. Neville, at my house in Washington, I hereby inform the public that it shall be kept there no longer. Those who are uneasy and making threats, may give themselves no further trouble.’”

The importance of this action to the collection of the revenue is described by Neville in his letter to Clymer of August 23: “I do not think it will be possible to get another House in Washington County for the purpose, of course I shall be obliged to desist from further attempts to fulfill the law. The office at Pittsburg is open but no person makes an entry, many say they would willingly comply with the Law but for the severe denunciations of fire &c. with which they are threatened in case they do” (ALS, Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford).

4Henry Knox wrote to General Anthony Wayne concerning Faulkner on September 21, 1792, but by then it had been decided to bring the evidence before the Circuit Court for the Middle Circuit which was scheduled to be held at York, Pennsylvania, on October 11, 1792. Knox wrote: “The Secretary of the Treasury has requested, that in case the Supervisor George Clymer should judge it necessary, that you will preemptorily order Capt Faulkner to repair to York Town in this State in order to give his evidence before the Circuit Court of the United States which will commence its session at that place on the 11th. of October ensuing. You will please to communicate with Mr. Clymer and order Captain Faulkner accordingly …” (Knopf, Wayne description begins Richard C. Knopf, ed., Anthony Wayne: A Name in Arms; Soldier, Diplomat, Defender of Expansion Westward of a Nation; the Wayne-Knox-Pickering-McHenry Correspondence (Pittsburgh, 1960). description ends , 105).

5The meeting to which H is referring was not the first expression of organized opposition to the excise tax in western Pennsylvania. On July 27, 1791, a public meeting at Redstone, Fayette County, had recommended meetings at the county seats of Fayette, Allegheny, Westmoreland, and Washington counties (The [New York] Weekly Museum, August 20, 1791). On August 23, 1791, the committee of Washington County passed resolutions which were later published in the Pittsburgh Gazette. On September 7, 1791, representatives from the four western counties met at Pittsburgh and agreed to several resolutions that were critical not only of the Excise Act but also of the general financial policies of the Secretary of the Treasury (Pennsylvania Archives, 2nd ser., IV description begins Pennsylvania Archives, 2nd ser., IV (n.p., 1876). description ends , 7, 20–22).

H’s earliest knowledge of the meeting of August 21–22, 1792, came from Neville’s letter to Clymer of August 23, 1792, and the minutes of the meeting which Neville enclosed in his letter. Neville wrote: “About three Weeks ago a Notification appeared in our paper desiring the different districts to meet & choose committee men, the whole to meet at this place on the 21st. Inst., accordingly on that day sundry Persons assembled here, I do not believe the elections were general for you will observe they no longer call themselves a ‘Committee’ indeed there was not a single person present from Westmoreland County, but two from Alleghany (& those obscure Characters) but from Washington and Fayette came their leading men as you will observe from their Minutes which I in-close you; in the course of their debates they agree’d that if I would resign no other person would ‘accept the appointment:’ & that it would give a ‘mortal Stab to the Business’” (ALS, Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford).

The National Gazette on August 4, 1792, reprinted a notice which had appeared in the Pittsburgh Gazette on July 21, 1792. The notice stated that, in view of the fact that Congress in its last session had not removed “the numerous evils” of which they had earlier complained, “it is hereby earnestly recommended to the inhabitants of the counties of Westmoreland, Washington, Fayette, and Alleghany, to meet at their usual places of electing members of Assembly, &c. on Tuesday the 14th day of August next, and then and there elect not more than three persons as a deputation from each of the election districts in the counties afore-said, to meet at the house of Josiah Tannehill, in the town of Pittsburgh, on Tuesday the 21st day of the same month of August next, to deliberate on the most adviseable means of obtaining redress in the premises and other grievances” ([Philadelphia] National Gazette, August 4, 1792).

The minutes of the August 21–22 meeting were issued as a broadside which reads as follows:

“At a Meeting of sundry Inhabitants of the Western Counties of Pennsylvania, held at Pittsburgh, on the 21st day of August, 1792.

Present. John Canon, William Wallace, Shesbazer Bentley, Bazel Bowel, Benjamin Parkeson, John Huey, John Badollet, John Hamilton, John M’Cleland, Neal Gillespie, David Bradford, Thomas Gaddis, David Philips, Albert Gallatin, Matthew Jamison, James Marshel, James Robinson, James Stewart, John Smilie, Robert M’Clure, Peter Lisle, Alexander Long, Samuel Wilson, and Edward Cook.

“Colonel John Canon, was placed in the Chair, and Albert Gallatin appointed Clerk.

“THE Excise Law of Congress being taken under consideration and freely debated, a committee of five members was appointed to prepare a draught of Resolutions, expressing the sense of the Meeting on the subject of said Law.

“Adjourned to 10 o’clock to-morrow.

“22d. August, 1792.

“The Members of the Meeting having met according to adjournment, the Committee appointed yesterday made report, which being read twice and debated by paragraphs, was unanimously adopted as followeth, to wit.

“STRONGLY impressed with a sense of the fatal consequences that must attend an Excise, convinced that a tax upon liquors which are the common drink of a nation operates in proportion to the number and not to the wealth of the people, and of course is unjust in itself, and oppressive upon the poor; taught by the experience of other countries that internal taxes upon consumption, from their very nature, never can effectually be carried into operation, without vesting the officers appointed to collect them with powers most dangerous to the civil rights of freemen, and must in the end destroy the liberties of every country in which they are introduced; feeling that the late Excise Law of Congress, from the present circumstances of our agriculture, our want of markets, and the scarcity of a circulating medium, will bring immediate distress and ruin on the Western Country. We think it our duty to persist in our remonstrances to Congress, and in every other legal measure that may obstruct the operation of the Law, until we are able to obtain its total repeal.

“Therefore, Resolved, That David Bradford, James Marshel, Albert Gallatin, Peter Lisle, and David Philips, be appointed for the purpose of drawing a remonstrance to Congress stating our objections against the law that imposes a duty upon spirituous liquors distilled within the United States, and praying for a repeal of the same, and that the Chairman of this Meeting be directed to sign the same in the name of the Meeting, and to take proper measures to have it presented to Congress at their next sessions.

“Resolved, That in order that our measures may be carried on with regularity and concert, that William Wallace, John Hamilton, Shesbazer Bentley, Isaac Weaver, Benjamin Parkinson, David Redick, Thomas Stokely, Stephen Gapen, and Joseph Vanmetre, Andrew Rabb, Thomas Gaddis, Alexander Long, William Whiteside, John Oliphant, Robert M’Clure, and James Lang, and Thomas B. Patterson, James Stewart, Samuel Johnson, William Plumer, and Matthew Jameson, be respective appointed committees of correspondence for the counties of Washington, Fayette and Allegheny, and that it shall be their duty to correspond together and with such committee as shall be appointed for the same purpose in the county of Westmoreland, or with any committees of a similar nature that may be appointed in other parts of the United States, and also, if found necessary, to call together either general meetings of the people in their respective counties, or conferences of the several committees.

“And whereas some men may be found amongst us, so far lost to every sense of virtue and feeling for the distresses of this country as to accept offices for the collection of the duty,

“Resolved therefore, That in future we will consider such persons as unworthy of our friendship, have no intercourse or dealings with them, withdraw from them every assistance, and withhold all the comforts of life which depend upon those duties that as men and fellow citizens we owe to each other, and upon all occasions treat them with that contempt they deserve, and that it be and it is hereby most earnestly recommended to the people at large to follow the same line of conduct towards them.

“On Motion, Resolved, That the Minutes of this meeting be signed by the Chairman, attested by the Clerk, and published in the Pittsburgh Gazette.

John Canon, Chairman.

Attest.   Albert Gallatin, Clerk.”

(New-York Historical Society, New York City.)

The list of those who attended the meeting included four members of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives: Albert Gallatin and John Smilie of Fayette County, and David Bradford and John Cannon of Washington County. Gallatin had been clerk of the earlier meeting at Redstone on July 27, 1791, and four of those present at the August 21–22, 1792, meeting (Edward Cook, the Reverend David Phillips, Colonel James Marshal, and David Bradford) had represented their respective counties at the general meeting at Pittsburgh on September 7, 1791. Bradford, who was one of the earliest lawyers to settle in Washington County, assisted the attorney general of Pennsylvania, Jared Ingersoll, in the state courts. Marshal, who had been a county lieutenant, was appointed register for the probate of wills and recorder of deeds for Washington County on August 17, 1791. Jean Badollet, a Geneva school friend of Gallatin, had joined Gallatin on his Fayette County farm. Cook, who had been chairman of the 1791 meeting, was associate judge of the Court of Common Pleas for Fayette County. Cannon, the founder of Cannonsburg, Pennsylvania, was George Washington’s land agent in western Pennsylvania. Like Cannon, Shesbazer Bentley was one of the largest landholders in Washington County. Thomas Gaddis, who had been a colonel in the American Revolution, had built Fort Gaddis before the outbreak of the Revolution.

6Neville concluded his letter to Clymer of August 23, 1792, by contrasting the situation in Washington County with that in Allegheny County:

“I have no doubt but my attendance at Washington was at the risque of my Life, I had great reason to expect abuse at the time, and last friday which was the day I had appointed to attend, but was prevented by other Business, the Road near Washington was waylaid by men in disguise, armed with Rifles, twelve or fifteen in number, and I have no doubt but I should have fallen a Sacrifice to their Violence had I have went; indeed it is the opinion of Colo. Cannon Chairman to the Meeting and a Squire [Craig] Ritchie who live in the Neighborhood who gave the information.

“When I speak of the difficulty of getting a House, and the danger of attending the Office, I confine it entirely to Washington County: in Alleghany County particularly in Pittsburg altho the law has not been comply’d with I have met with neither threat or insult, the office stands mark’d and unmolested, none of the Inhabitants appeared at the meeting, nor do I believe that they approve the Measures of those that did. In Westmoreland and Fayette Counties no attempts have been lately made to establish offices; indeed the Collectors are too much intimidated to undertake it, and however willing I may be, I do not see at present any chance of doing my duty in the office. I shall write the different occurrencies from time to time.…” (ALS, Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford.)

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