Alexander Hamilton Papers

To Alexander Hamilton from Jeremiah Olney, 18 March 1793

From Jeremiah Olney

Custom House
District of Providence 18th. March 1793.


I do myself the Honor to Transmit, for your information, the enclosed Impeachment against me Signed on the 31st. January last by Twenty Seven respectable Merchants and others, which was contemplated to have been Transmitted to the President of the United States, togeather with my Letter to the Committee, and my Vindication of the particular Charges; which last was intended merely as an Individual explanation of my official Conduct.1 This malicious impeachment has been brought about through the artfull and persevering address of Welcome Arnold Esquire, my avowed and inveterate enimy (and was drawn up by his Brother Thomas Arnold A man professing the Quaker Religion and possessing great abilities and I wish I could add an Honest Heart) and for no other reason than because I will not dispence with the Law whenever it may Suite his convenience! Many of the Signees to the Petition have shewn so much candor as to Confess that they were deceived into the measure, and Since upon examination, they find some of the charges are malicious and Totally unfounded while others are unfairly and uncandidly Stated, have declared their determination to withdraw their names from the Petition, should the promoters of it attempt to Transmit it to the President. The Signees were furnished on the 23rd. Ulto. with a Copy of my vindication but they have had no meeting in consequence of it, that I can learn, nor do I believe they will, as the greater part of the Gentlemen are dissatisfied with the proceedings. My wish has uniformly been (and which I fully expressed to the Committee who waited upon me),2 that the impeachment might be Transmitted, as I should then have an opportunity of vindicating my official Conduct before the President of the United States to whom alone I am ameniable on impeachment, and for this I am the more desirous, as it seems to leave an implied or indirect Censure upon me, and from a conciousness that I have done my duty consonant to Law, and at the same time, with an upright impartiallity. A Second copy of my vindication has been presented to his Excellency Governor Fenner3 who is a Firm and influential Friend and Supporter of the Revenue Laws, having uniformly advocated my official Conduct against the present and every other attack made upon me with a design to effect a deviation from the Law. It has been Circulated also, among the respectable Citizens of this Town and I am happy to add it has met with general approbation. Having long waited in expectation that the Gentlemen would have gratified my desire by Transmitting the impeachment to the President, and finding they are disposed to keep it back, I have upon due Consideration deemed it expedient to make you (as the principle officer of the revenue department) acquainted with the reason of its detention, as well as the real state of this Transaction, lest some misrepresentation has or should reach you, and possibly make, on your mind, an unfavourable impression, and respectfully to request Sir your Friendship and Support so far as my official Conduct shall (upon a full and Critical investigation) appear to you to have been dictated by principles consonant to law and my instructions from you. I could very soon Silence the opposition long carried on against me, through the persevering Temper of Mr. Arnold, provided I would descend to the base and unworthy principle of deviating from the plain Letter of the Law and my instructions, to serve on all occasions his, and the unwarrantable desires of a few restless Characters under his particular influence, but this neither he, nor they, can ever drive me to. Tho’ it may be possible, by persevering in a misrepresentation of Facts, he may raise an influence to effect my removeal from office—but this could never afford any unpleasant reflections while I should carry along with me the Supporting consolation that I had done my duty according to the best of my skill and abilities, and with an honest Zeal to promote the public Interests.

I have the Honor to be very respectfully   Sir   Your Most Obed. and Most Hum Servt.

Jereh. Olney Collr.

Alexander Hamilton Esquire
Secretary of the Treasury

P. S. In justice to Mr. Geo. Benson and Mr. Thomas P. Ives of the House of Brown Benson & Ives, I feel a pleasure of mentiong. that they have uniformly been against the impeachment, and the Signature of that firm on the Petition was made, contrary to their wish and even advice, by the principle of the house, Mr. Nicho. Brown, and wch. was effected through the instigation of W. Arnold Esqr, but Mr. Brown has since declared his intention to withdraw his name.

ADfS, Rhode Island Historical Society, Providence.

1As collector of customs at Providence, Olney was involved in numerous disputes and subsequent litigation with Welcome Arnold, a Providence merchant, over Olney’s enforcement of the revenue laws. See Olney to H, May 19, November 28, 1792; H to Olney, September 19, October 12, November 27, 1792. In a document dated November 20, 1792, Olney presented a defense of his official conduct against “the unwearied endeavours of Welcome Arnold Esquire, of this Town, Merchant, calculated to prejudice the minds of the good People, in this and the District of Newport, against my official Character” (Olney to H, December 10, 1792).

By the “Impeachment” Olney was referring to the following document addressed to the President and dated January 31, 1793:

“The Merchants Sea Captains, & other Citizens in the district of Providence, most respectfully Shew.

“Whilst your Petitioners have been chearfully strugling in the discharge of duties for the support of A Government wich they Venerate, and wich they used every exertion to induce this State to Adopt—whilst they have been labouring under a heavy increase of those duties not yet eqallized upon the Consumers at large—whilst they have been looking for the mild and fostering principles of the Constitution; they have been harrassed in this district with a rigorous and severe execution of the Revenue Laws; contrary as they Apprehend, to the True Intent, & meaning of them, and unexampled, & unparell’d in Other destricts in the United States.

“A. The Laws really doubtfull in their Construction in some cases and attended with forms in their Executions, in many Instances not fully understood by the Citizens or the Collector himself, have been uniformly so construed by him, as to render them in the highest degree penal, and attended with a variety of unessary and perplexing Embarresments to the great Injury of the Commerce of this district.

“We have long waited in hopes that further experience and a knowledge of the mode in wich the like Business is conducted in Other States, particularly in the principal Towns, & Citys, accompanied, with a Conduct on our part respectfull and attentive, to the laws in every substantial particular, would remove the Grounds of our Complaint & the nescessity of Troubling the President with our application for redress. But Time has proved the reverse to be True—And we regret that Justice to ourselves Obliges us to say that a Conduct bordering on Insult has been in some Instances, Added to Official Rigour, & Oppression. We are Confident it was the intention of the Legislature to afford every aid and accomodation to Commerce consistant with an exact, & punctual Collection of the Revenue; and that we shall entertain injustice in Our minds toward the Supreme Executive if we should longer remain Silent, thro’ distrust of obtaining redress of the Greveiances under wich we have laboured.

“The Schedule accompanying this with Alphabetical referances States a number of Instances wich may serve as an examplification of the Conduct Complain’d off.

“B. We have been refused certain allowances upon the quantities, & Qualities of Goods Imported here, customary in Other States and Warrented as we apprehend by Law. Our Vessells arriving in the Winter season and Confined in the Isce, are Compelled to give Bond bearing Instant Date, and the time of Credit running has sometimes nearly expired before the Goods could be Unladen. And having been compelled to enter and pay the fees of Office in the destrict below, whilst So Confined in the Ice, or Otherwise by distress, have been here Compelled to pay them over again.

“C. We have often been Subjected to the great disadvantage of loss of fair Winds, & Sometimes maney days, detention of our vessells, Thro’ the Critical, & unaccomodating disposition of the Collector in Clearing Them Out. Altho our Vessells are liable to Seisure and Confiscation for breaking bulk, without entry, to lighten when cast on Shore in Cases of extremity, yet in no cases of Urgency or extremity to our knowledge have we been able to Obtain a Vessell Cleared or Entere’d Out of the hours, of Office, wich he has been pleased to appoint.

“D. The delays and embaressments attending the Shipment of Goods intitled to Drawback, such as Salted Provissions, Fish &c., have been so great Thro’ the Introduction of Unessary and Absurd forms (introduced in no Other District within our knowledge) and Calculated to increase The fees of Office by multyplying the number of Entries permitts &c. as in a great measure to defeat the Benifit thereof and to Induce some wholly to forego, the Benifit rather than submitt to the disadvantages attending such Procedure.

“E. The Commanders of Coasting Vessells & others have been perplex’d with penal prossecutions in a number of Cases of deviation from the Letter of the Law merely; wich have been passed by in the neighbouring States, as not being within the intention of the law: tho’ in no Instance of the maney prossecutions in this District of a Merchant or Commander of Vessell has the Charge of a disposition to defraud the Revenue or Intentional deviation from the Law been suggested; yet in several Instances they may be said to have been led into the deviation for Want of the Communication of that knowledge wich it was the duty of the Office to give: and altho in every Instance where application to the Secretary of the Treasury has been made a remission of that part of the fine or forfeiture payable to the United-States has been Obtained, yet the remainder being uniformly exacted, with the Costs of Court and nesscessary fees for Council to Conduct the Business thro’ its various Stages, has in many Instances proved the remedy to be equal to the disease.

“The Excise duty wich has been submitted to with so much reluctance in some parts of the Union and wich falls with great weight On this small State; it having paid upwards of 50,000 Dollars the last year, has nevertheless been Collected with the utmost harmony.

“We have no personal objection to the Collector, as a Citizen he is a native of this Town, & otherwise Connected with some of your Petitioners; but experience has Convinced us that from his past mode of Conduct, the Trade of this Town must Languesh under maney embaressments, unknown to Our fellow Citizens in Other Districts, during his administration of the Revenue Laws here; and must soon be attended to with the loss of some of Our most Active, & valueable Citizens, unless an alteration takes place. We have no desire to defeat the reward wich may be tho’t Justly due to aney One for former Services; but we trust that the Commerce of this District will never be made subservant to the Caprices of the Collector of its Revenue; or that the Citizens thereof be subjected to the mortification of Submitting to Incivilities in an Office where the Law has made it their duty to repair daily to hand in their Contributions for the Support of the Government under wich they live.” (Copy, Rhode Island Historical Society.)

Another statement by the “Merchants of Providence and Newport,” which is undated and unaddressed and which complains about the operation of customs regulations, may be found in the Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.

2Olney’s letter to the merchants’ committee is dated February 4, 1793, and addressed to John Mason, Joseph Nightingale, and Cyprian Sterry. A second letter is addressed to the committee on February 6. Both letters may be found in the Rhode Island Historical Society, Providence.

3Arthur Fenner was governor of Rhode Island from 1790 until his death in 1805.

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