Alexander Hamilton Papers

To Alexander Hamilton from John F. Mercer, 5 March 1793

From John F. Mercer1

Baltimore Mar 5. 1793.


I was surprizd by a letter from you2 at the moment I was about to leave Philadelphia with Mrs. Mercer very much indisposed & still more astonished to find on my arrival here, that Major Ross had brought this subject again before the public in the Newspapers,3 in a manner calculated to make the falsest & most injurious impressions, where the progress of this business was altogether unknown. It woud have been more candid & honorable to have settled this in Philadelphia where we were all on the spot. My intention in my last4 was to place this controversy, on such neutral ground that you might with propriety put an end to the correspondance on the principles you had yourself declard “that if I did not impeach your integrity, you woud not have concluded an attack on your public conduct a sufficient ground to adopt this mode of discussion.”5 But since you have thought proper to reject this mode you will make the best of that which you have prefered. I will now abide by what has already passed & as matter of opinion only is disputed. I shall deem all further explanation unnecessary on my part & risk a return of the gross expressions of your last. I shall wait any further communication from you 8 days in Annapolis.

I am &c.

John F Mercer

ALS, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.

3The following notice, dated March 2, 1793, and signed by David Ross, appeared in The Maryland Journal and Baltimore Advertiser on March 5, 1793: “In Messieurs Goddard and Angell’s Paper of the 30th of October, the Public are informed, that Colonel Mercer had given a full, explicit, and direct answer to the letter of the Secretary of the Treasury, calling on him to state what he really did say of him, if he had been misunderstood; but they are not yet informed whether Colonel Mercer disavows or justifies the charges he was understood to have made: I am induced, therefore, to observe, if the person that gave this information is sufficiently informed, and had consulted his candour, he would have found that justice to the Secretary required he should, by this time, have let the Public know, as I now do, that Colonel Mercer disavows his ever having impeached the integrity of the Secretary, or that he had charged him with being privately interested in the contract for supplying the western army with provisions, or that he had ever charged him with offering to him a bribe, or money, to vote for the assumption, and explicitly acknowledges what passed between him and the Secretary, on this subject, was altogether in jest, it being in the presence of Mr. Samuel Sterett, and several other gentlemen; and Colonel Mercer not only disavows that he had ever charged the Secretary with being privately interested in the purchases made by the Commissioners for buying up the public debt; but, in Colonel Mercer’s own language to the Secretary, he says he neither did, directly or indirectly, represent him as any wise pecuniarily concerned in purchasing or selling stock, or impeach his honour or honesty. The Public are also assured, that General Hiester informed me, there was no foundation for the information Colonel Mercer alleged he had received of General Hiester’s being the author of the report that the opposition to Colonel Mercer’s election could be traced up to the Secretary; and so far from it, that General Hiester had not himself heard of even any suggestion of such an opposition being instituted by the Secretary. This communication is rendered the more necessary, in justice to the Public, it relating to an officer of theirs so highly intrusted, as well as in justice to the Secretary himself, since it has been circulated, in some parts of the State, that the Secretary had admitted every one of the charges brought against him by Colonel Mercer; and since others, as well as myself, understood Colonel Mercer very differently, indeed, from what he now states to the Secretary to have been said by him, respecting several of these subjects; and it affords also, I hope, a laudable gratification thus to be enabled to assure the Public, that I have not been mistaken in the high opinion I had formed of the Secretary’s honour and integrity, from a personal acquaintance with him, and the impeaching of which, at least as I understood Colonel Mercer, was one of the principal inducements for taking a part against him in the late election.”

Mercer answered Ross’s observations in a statement dated March 7, 1793, which was published in The Maryland Journal and Baltimore Advertiser, March 12, 1793. This statement, addressed to James Angell, publisher of The Maryland Journal, reads as follows: “A Publication in your paper of Tuesday last, requires some transient animadversion. The repeated and unprovoked attacks I have experienced from this character, are unpleasant. When they have been addressed to me in private life, I have ever deemed them unworthy of reply; but while I remain a Representative of Maryland, I shall not disdain a public charge from even the meanest of my constituents. On my return, during this session, to Annapolis, where the legislature of the state were then convened, I was apprized that some treasury scouts or runners had spread a report similar to the one in your paper. In other words, they had repeated, that ‘I had denied in Philadelphia, what I had asserted in Maryland.’ I immediately placed in the hands of Mr. George Mann every paper that had passed relative to the controversy between Mr. Hamilton and myself (the whole has been committed to writing) with directions to permit any person to peruse them, on whom he could rely for their return. Many read them, and their contents became, I believe, generally known. A similar conduct may, perhaps, be most advisable now—it is all that time, and I believe propriety, will admit. I shall therefore leave with you every paper that has hitherto passed on this subject, for the perusal of any person in whose honor you can confide for their return; or you have my leave to publish the whole transaction in the order it occurred, provided I am subjected to no expense: In either case, those that desire it may form their judgments from the whole of the documents; and from the perusal of them, I trust, it will unequivocally result, that Mr. Hamilton does not directly deny any one fact that I have really, at any time, asserted. It is true that the discussion has not yet ceased; but it will appear that the issue now joined is not a matter of fact but a matter of opinion only. I am sensible that motives of delicacy would have forbid the disclosure of a correspondence, at so critical a period of its progress; but I must plead the boring nonsense of this officious intermeddler, if not as a justification, at least as an excuse.”

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