Alexander Hamilton Papers

To Alexander Hamilton from James Reynolds, [13–15 November] 1792

From James Reynolds1

[Philadelphia, November 13–15, 1792. On July 19, 1797, Henry Seckel attested that sometime between November 13 and 15, 1792, “the said James Reynolds requested this Deponent to carry a letter for him to Alexander Hamilton … that this Deponent carried the said letter as requested.” Letter not found.]

1Seckel’s deposition is printed as document No. XXIII in the appendix of the “Reynolds Pamphlet,” August 31, 1797.

Seckel’s deposition concerned the second phase of the Reynolds affair. The first phase of that affair resulted in H’s paying blackmail to his mistress’s husband, James Reynolds. For background to these payments, see Reynolds to H, December 15, 17, 19, 22, 1791, January 3, 17, March 24, April 3, 7, 17, 23, May 2, June 3–22, 23, 24, August 24, 1792; H to Reynolds, December 15, 1791, April 7, June 3–22, 24, 1792; Maria Reynolds to H, December 15, 1791, January 23–March 18, March 24, June 2, 1792.

The second phase of the affair began with the prosecution of Reynolds and Jacob Clingman, a clerk employed by Representative Frederick A. C. Muhlenberg of Pennsylvania, for attempting to defraud the United States Government. The scheme worked out by the two men was to make themselves executors of the estate of a claimant against the United States. To achieve this, Reynolds and Clingman had persuaded a third person, John Delabar, to commit perjury. Early in November, 1792, the fraud was detected, and Oliver Wolcott, Jr., comptroller of the Treasury, had Clingman arrested, but Clingman secured his release on bail the same day. On November 13, 1792, Reynolds was also apprehended. Once in prison, Reynolds requested Henry Seckel, a Philadelphia merchant who earlier had employed Clingman as a bookkeeper, to carry to H the letter mentioned in Seckel’s deposition. Reynolds now began to hint that he had information which, if disclosed, would discredit a certain head of a department, obviously H. When Wolcott heard of Reynolds’s threats, he informed H who advised him “to take no step towards a liberation of Reynolds, while such a report existed and remained unexplained” (“Reynolds Pamphlet,” August 31, 1797). Reynolds and Clingman, however, soon found a way to secure their release from prison. In return for Wolcott’s promise to drop the prosecution against them, they gave him a list of creditors of the United States which they had obtained from the Treasury Department. According to Clingman, the list had been furnished by William Duer, former Assistant to the Secretary of the Treasury, a charge which Wolcott refuted. On or shortly after December 4, 1792, Clingman was released from jail, and on December 12 Reynolds was also set free.

In mid-November, 1792, shortly after his imprisonment, Clingman had asked Muhlenberg for help. Muhlenberg agreed to assist Clingman, but declined to aid Reynolds on the ground that he was not “particularly acquainted” with him. For the next three weeks, according to Muhlenberg, “Clingman, unasked, frequently dropped hints to me, that Reynolds had it in his power, very materially to injure the secretary of the treasury, and that Reynolds knew several very improper transactions of his” (“Reynolds Pamphlet,” August 31, 1797). The reiteration of these charges disturbed Muhlenberg, and on December 12 he shared them with his fellow-Congressmen, James Monroe and Abraham Venable. Monroe and Venable immediately called on Reynolds, who repeated the accusations against H. Their suspicions were heightened when on the evening of the same day, December 12, Mrs. Reynolds corroborated her husband’s story. Clingman contributed to the mounting evidence against H by handing over to the Congressmen a number of letters from H to James Reynolds.

On the morning of December 15, Muhlenberg, Monroe, and Venable called on H and informed him of the charges which Clingman and Reynolds had made. H told the three men that it was in his “power by written documents to remove all doubt as to the real nature of the business, and fully to convince, that nothing of the kind imputed to me did in fact exist” (“Reynolds Pamphlet,” August 31, 1791). It was agreed that this documentary evidence should be submitted at a meeting to be held at H’s house on the evening of the same day. At H’s request, Wolcott was invited to attend the meeting. The three Congressmen decided that President Washington should be told of the Reynolds affair. On December 13, 1792, they wrote to Washington: “We think it proper to lay before you, some documents respecting the conduct of Colo. Hamilton, in the Office of Secretary of the Treasury.” But they added: “We were, however, unwilling to take this step without communicating it to the gentleman, whom it concerns, that he might make the explanation, he has it in his power to give” (copy, Lehigh University). H’s accusers obviously planned to send this letter to the President only after they had talked with H. After hearing H’s explanation, they presumably decided not to send it.

In a joint statement, Muhlenberg, Venable, and Monroe described the meeting at H’s house as follows: “Last night we waited on Colo. H. when he informed us of a particular connection with Mrs. R; the period of its commencment & circumstances attending it. His visiting her at Inskeeps—the frequent supplies of money to her & her husband on that acct. His duress by them from the fear of a disclosure & his anxiety to be relieved from it and them. To support this he shewed a great number of letters from Reynolds & herself commencing early in 1791. He acknowledged all the letters in a disguised hand, in our possession, to be his. We left him under an impression our suspicions were removed. He acknowledged our conduct toward him had been fair & liberal. He could not complain of it. We brot. back all the papers even his own notes, nor did he ask their destruction…” (D, in the handwriting of James Monroe, Lehigh University).

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