Alexander Hamilton Papers

To Alexander Hamilton from George Clymer, [4 October 1792]

From George Clymer1

[Pittsburgh, October 4, 1792]


Not one of the expectations mine by last post might have raised has been realised.2 Cannon undoubtedly fell into bad hands for ’tho he still avows to me his disapprobation of the Proceedings of the 21 August3 into which he was as he says unwarily drawn, no publick recantation has come from him. Neither has any thing favourable turned up here. The people I mentioned were content with calling a Town-meeting at which many of themselves appeared, and nothing was proposed. They then made a new promise, and talked of signing a disavowal individually which they said would have a better effect. A postponement succeded on hearing of a new meeting intended here of the Countey Committee. And all the satisfaction I have is to find them out—that they greatly want sincerity or spirit or both, still professing friendship to the federal government. This new assembling of the Committees was it seems projected on the first rumour of my being here and runners dispatched to bring together a numerous band of the chieftains of opposition from all quarters. Their deliberations, if I can call them so, were open, for nothing was done but the repeated readings of a petition to Congress—agreed to without dissent. I have not had a sight of this piece, but I am told it contains a declaration of their readiness to contribute their share to the public exigencies, a complaint of the peculiar hardship of the Excise, prays for an abolition of it and the substitution of a direct tax. This they know will be refused, and is only a device to keep up the mad temper of the people.

Mr Addison4 the circuit judge has affected to mistake the nature of my application—this together with his constitutional objection to take any part in the business have disappointed me in that quarter.5 Or rather I would say has not disappointed me for my expectations from any Washington magistrate could not be great, ’tho of necessity obliged to resort to him. Indeed had he been willing to the business little could have been done. The few well disposed people there being all afraid to say more than that they saw an undistinguished mob at Falkener’s house.6 One person supposed to be as well informed as any there I sent Captain Falkener for but he could testify to nothing more, and I have sent him back. So that the whole amount of the testimony collected after the daily and hourly pains taken by General Nevil7 and my self—is that of Falkener who declares to the threats uttered against him by two of the County Magistrates8 some time previous to the riot—and that of one Peter Myers9 now one of Falkener’s Soldiers but who at the time of the riot was in the charge of his house at Washington—his deposition identifies two of the mob, one of them of sufficient consideration to be prosecuted.10 Falkener and Myers have the Commander in chiefs order to proceed tomorrow for York,11 which I am fearful they cannot reach before the 10th—Falkener having spent a much longer time at Washington in search of evidence than I expected or intended. I shall in-close their depositions to the judge of the circuit Court at York12 together with some others ’tho they mean little. Falkener’s deposition also identifies the persons of the Committee of 21 Augt. as well as one Mr. Tannehils’13 which I send with it. Perhaps these latter testimonies may be still useful there, for I can hardly persuade my self that the laws have left the Commonwealth defenceless in a part where she may be attacked as successfully as by force of arms. If so, great will be my chagrin in losing my first and principal object.

You have under cover Addison’s letter to me,14 and I have taken the liberty to accompany it with a copy of my reply to him.15

Two of General Nevil’s collectors have been with me. They complained of having led a dog’s life among their neighbours, proposed to resign, but Nevil fearing the very bad effects of that step I have been obliged to offer them at the rate each of one hundred dollars for such time as they may continue during the current year, beyond what they may in possibility get of the ordinary emoluments of office.

In coming here I left the escort of horse behind me at Bed-ford but this new stirring of the waters of bitterness yesterday, has it is supposed encreased the personal risque of the revenue Officers and General Wayne16 has without any application of mine ordered a party to attend me in the morning.

I have the honour to be   Sir   Your most obedt hum st

Geo Clymer

Secretary of the Treasury

ALS, Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford.

3For the proceedings of August 20–21, 1792, see H to Coxe, September 1, 1792, note 5.

4Alexander Addison was presiding judge of the County Court of the western district of Pennsylvania.

5Addison’s letter to Clymer of September 29, 1792, reads as follows:

“Your letter of yesterday from Pittsburgh states to me that among other objects of your journey to this country one is to take Depositions respecting the persons who in various ways have obstructed the revenue laws of the united states, and have those depositions and some of the best informed witnesses sent to York before the 11th Octr. when the Circuit federal court will begin its session, that you have been induced to fear it is much too hazardous for you to attend to this business in person; and therefore request that I will execute this part of your commission and transmit the Depositions to you at Pittsburgh.

“I am convinced Sir, that your information or suspicions of personal danger in the execution of this commission at this place have no real foundation. For your coming here is not to set up an office of Inspection in this county and fix on the distillers the penalties of the Revenue Law; and it is against this that the passions of the people are directed. If however my opinion should fail to give you confidence, several Gentlemen of this town and county, who, having been members of the Pittsburgh Committee, may be supposed to have influence with the opponents of the duty, will be in Pittsburgh in a few days; in whose company, you will not doubt, you may come safely, and who, I am confident, will pledge their word for your security.

“If after all this you should believe there is danger in the business, you must believe it owing to some very deep rooted resentment in the minds of the people, and that the object of this resentment is not the person but the thing. Do you believe that your person can be liable to danger from any inhabitant of this county except in so far as your presence here opposes their interests, or opinions? Or do you believe that any respectability of person or character will save a man from dislike, if his office or employment obstruct the interests or opinions of those among whom he is? Ask General [John] Nevill. If therefore it be true (and you cannot doubt it) that it is the measure, and not the man, that the people hate, is it proper for you who have accepted this commission from the President of the united States to devolve the execution of it on one in whom no confidence is placed by it? Or is it proper, if the measure be odious in this corner of the country to require the exercise of it from an inhabitant of this corner, every day exposed to the passions of the people in it, and who, from the nature of another office with which he is honoured, ought, if possible, to possess the affection, the esteem, and the confidence of those among whom he is? And is it not more reasonable, if this measure be necessary that it should be effected by a man not resident here, in whom the confidence of this people is not necessary, and to whom their opinions of him is of no immediate concern? I am persuaded, Sir, you did not see these things in the light in which I do.

“But I have more important reasons for declining this commission. It is my fixed opinion that the judicial system of the United States is impracticable, unless it is intended to sacrifice to it the essential principles of the liberty of the citizens, and the just authority of the state courts. As a citizen and as a judicial officer, it is my duty to preserve both. As you state therefore that the object of this enquiry is to found a prosecution in the federal courts, if even you had authority to delegate your power (of which I doubt) and it were my duty to execute this delegated authority (which is not hinted) I should do it with reluctance, because I should be serving a cause, which I think unfavourable to liberty and the just authority of the state Courts. As it is, I shall certainly not be a volunteer in this affair. I consider the Laws of Congress as the rules of judgement in the state Courts and the citizens as punishable in the state courts for their infraction, as much as the respective state laws. I have taken and shall continue to take all such measures as appear to me proper to bring to justice in the proper Courts of Pennsylvania those persons of whose violence it is the object of your mission to enquire. But this is all that is to be expected of me untill I am convinced that it is my duty to do more.…” (ALS, Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford.)

6Faulkner kept a tavern at Washington. Addison’s charge to the Grand Jury at the September session of the County Court describes the incident as follows: “… in Washington, in the evening of the 24th of August last … About thirty men, armed and blacked, rode through the streets; surrounded, entered, and searched, the house of William Faulkner, with a design to seize and punish the Inspector of Excise, who had advertised an Inspection office at that house” (Alexander Addison, Charges to Grand Juries of the Counties of the Fifth Circuit, in the State of Pennsylvania [Washington: Printed by John Colerick, 1800], 50).

7John Neville was inspector of the revenue for Survey No. 4 in the District of Pennsylvania.

8DS, Pennsylvania Miscellany, Whiskey Rebellion, Vol. 1, Library of Congress.

Seven individuals are mentioned in Faulkner’s deposition as having threatened him directly. David Hamilton, one of the seven, was justice of the peace for Nottingham township in Washington County (Pennsylvania Archives, 9th ser., I description begins Pennsylvania Archives, 9th ser., I (n.p., 1931). description ends , 331).

9The deposition of Peter Myers is dated September 29, 1792 (D, Pennsylvania Miscellany, Whiskey Rebellion, Vol. 1, Library of Congress). Meyers’s mark was subscribed to before John Gibson, one of the judges of the Court of Common Pleas for Allegheny County.

10Alexander Berr and William Kerr, cited in Meyers’s deposition, were the two men against whom proceedings were instituted in the Middle Circuit Court which met at York, Pennsylvania, on October 11, 1792.

12William Cushing, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, and Richard Peters, judge of the District Court of Pennsylvania, presided over the meeting of the Circuit Court at York, Pennsylvania, on October 11, 1792.

13Josiah Tannehill’s deposition has not been found. The meeting of August 20–21, 1792, was held at his tavern. See H to Coxe, September 1, 1792, note 5.

14See note 5.

15Clymer’s letter to Addison, of October 1, 1792, reads as follows:

“I am favoured with yours of the 29 Sept. and am sorry to observe in it several grounds of objection to a compliance with the request made in mine of the 28th.

“I did not mean you should act under a delegated powers having no powers myself but to point out to the magistrate certain witnesses who might be examined by him: this Sir I presumed might have been done by me as well at a distance of twenty miles as in your immediate presence—that presence nevertheless I should have sought but for an opinion of personal danger founded on the general apprehension here, and which you will pardon me in saying your letter is by no means fitted to remove—for if in the performance of a judicial duty not voluntarily engaged in but properly called to, you who stand so well with your people could not hope to escape the popular odium, what ought the prompter himself, and one too in my predicament, to expect? something beyond the passiveness of hatred. Neither to avoid this hazard would I so much affront my character as a publick agent as to accept the protection which you say may be had, of any of those persons composing the Assembly at Pittsburgh, who in putting the officers of the revenue under the ban of society, by which they must necessarily cease to act and a law to operate, have in fact undertaken to annul the law itself, for the law exists but through its Officers and in its execution—thus beginning the measures of opposition where the most decided enemies of government would have ended, in a bold and open hostility to its authority.…

“I am not so competent to examine the constitutional reason assigned for declining my request—a doubt entertained of the judicial rights of a federal court in this business: ’tho I can discover in it another battery raised against the United states—but it must seem plain to the plainest understanding that it must be an indispensable of any government to have the cognizance of crimes committed against itself, and not to be obliged to devolve upon any other the case either of its honour or of its defence. Neither do I well comprehend why an offence against the Union can be an Offence only as it may happen to disturb the peace or order of any of its component members, for on this ground can the pretensions of the States individually to such exclusive jurisdiction only rest.

“But Sir were my personal apprehensions got over to what purpose does your invitation tend, for proposing to act only through you as the most reputable magistrate how could the shortening any distance between us change any of the circumstances which have disinclined you to serve me.” (ALS, marked “copy” by Clymer, Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford.)

16On September 11, 1792, Knox wrote to Major General Anthony Wayne requesting that he provide any necessary protection to Clymer on his return and that “in doing this, you will be careful to keep yourself within the limits of the law; and will doubtless act with all due caution and circumspection” (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 , 92).

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