From Jeremiah Olney
District of Providence 7th Octr. 1793
The Office of District Attorney for Rhode Island being vacant by the Death of William Channing Esqr.1 and some of the Merchants having recommended to the President of the United States, David Howell2 Esqr. to Succeed to that Office, and knowing him to be very much under the Influence of those Characters who have long and with violence, opposed me in a Just Execution of the revenue laws3—I have considered it my Duty to State in the Enclosed Letter, to the President,4 this Circumstance in the Hope that it may (with other Information he may receive on this Subject) prevent an appointment so much desired by those who have recommended him—and which I fear would very much endanger A due Collection of the revenue, for it is more than probable he would embarrass rather than Support the officers of the Customs in a Just Discharge of their Duty.
I have taken the Liberty to recommend to the President, David Leonard Barnes Esqr. of this Town attorney at Law, as a gentleman well Quallified to fill the Office of District of Attorney. He is a Person of Fair Character and Deportment in life and is deservedly Esteemed for his independent Principles and Tallents in the Law. Should the President not make the Appointment before you See or hear from him—you will Sir render a Service to the Nation by mentioning this Gentleman as a Suitable Person for the District Attorney, and who I am pursuaded will do honor to the Appointment should he be so fortunate as to obtain it—and he will I firmly believe Co-opperate on all occasions with the officers of the Customs in a faithfull execution of the revenue Laws, so Essential to the support of the National Government, and may I be allowed to say, its Existance.
I have the Honor to be &c.
Jereh. Olney Collr.
P. S. Mr. Howell is Attorney against me in the Suits of Messrs. Arnold & Dexter.5
Secretary of the Treasury.
ADfS, Rhode Island Historical Society, Providence.
2. Howell, a member of the Continental Congress and a former Rhode Island Supreme Court justice, was professor of law at Brown University. For the recommendations of Howell by Providence merchants, see William Greene, John Clark, Henry Ward, William Russell, and Stephen Dexter to Washington, October 2, 1793 (LS, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress). A second letter of recommendation, dated October 2, 1793, signed by Welcome Arnold, John Brown, Joseph Nightingale, and other leading Providence citizens, is also in the George Washington Papers, Library of Congress.
3. During Olney’s tenure as collector of customs at Providence he was constantly embroiled in disputes with local merchants over his enforcement of customs regulations. See, for example, Olney to H, March 18, 1793.
4. On October 7, 1793, Olney wrote to Washington: “It appears to me of the first importance that the District Attorney should be a Gentleman of Independent Principles, and that he should co-operate, on all occasions, with the Officers of the Customs, so far as the exercise of their Duty shall be perfectly consistent with the Law, and their Instructions from the principal Officer of the Treasury Department. I should have remained silent on the subject (because I feel a delicacy in an interference) had not the Gentlemen recommended a Man who, I am persuaded, should he be appointed, will … rather embarrass than support me in a just and impartial execution of my Duty; in the exercise of which, I have heretofore experienced very great opposition from an unfriendly Disposition manifested by some influential mercantile Characters, who have taken unwearied pains to swerve me from my Duty, and thereby establish practices in this District, which were inadmissible by Law, and which, had they obtained, would have very much endangered the collection of the Revenue; of which the Secretary of the Treasury has a perfect knowledge, and will, if necessary, acquaint you with” (ALS, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress).