To the Select Committee Appointed
to Examine the Treasury Department1
[Philadelphia, March 24, 1794]
I ask the Committee appointed to enquire into the state of the Treasury department, to decide, whether they expect from the Secretary of the Treasury, the production of any other authorities from the President to him, in reference to the loans made under the Acts of the 4th. and 12th. of August 1790,2 except such as regard merely the making of the said loans and the application or disbursement of such part of the proceeds of those loans, as were to be disbursed in foreign countries?
I object to the being required to produce any other authorities, than those excepted, for the following reasons, Viz:
1st Because it results from the constitution of the Treasury department, that all the receipts and expenditures of public money within the United States, must pass through that department, under the sanction of warrants from the Secretary, countersigned by the Comptroller and registered by the Register—consequently, whenever a loan is made either abroad, or at home, on account of the United States, destined for disbursement within the United States, it becomes, ex officio, the province of the Treasury department, to draw the proceeds of such loan into the treasury, and to disburse them thence, according to law.
2nd Because, when it once appears, that the President has constituted the head of a department, his agent, for any general purpose entrusted to him by law, all intermediate authorities from the President to the Agent, being conformable with law, are to be presumed. The proper enquiry for the Legislature must be, “whether the laws have been duly executed or not.” If they have been duly executed, the question of sufficiency or deficiency of authority from the President to his Agent, must be, to the Legislature, immaterial and irrelevant. That question must then be a matter purely between the President and the Agent—not examinable by the Legislature, without interfering with the province of the Chief Magistrate, to whom alone the responsibility is.
All authority from the President, to do any thing not warranted by the laws of the 4th: and 12th: of August, is disclaimed. A complete responsibility, for the due and faithful execution of those laws, is admitted to rest on the head of the Treasury department. He claims no protection from any instruction or authority of the President, for any thing, which may have been irregular or wrong. But he respectfully conceives, that the competency of his authority from the President, to do what, being done, is conformable with the laws, is not, under the circumstances of the case, a proper object of legislative enquiry.3
Secry. of the Treasury.
Two copies, RG 233, Papers of the Select Committee Appointed to Examine the Treasury Department, Third Congress, National Archives.
1. For background to this letter, see the introductory note to H to Frederick A. C. Muhlenberg, December 16, 1793.
The fourth and most detailed question with which the select committee had been charged by the House of Representatives at its appointment was: “What proceedings have been had under the laws of the fourth and twelfth of August one thousand seven hundred and ninety, authorizing loans of money, and what authorities were given for those proceedings; That they also state, in dollars and cents, the gross principal of debt in Holland, produced to the United States by the said loans, and the precise amount of the principal of the foreign debt, which has been discharged thereby; what portion of such loans has been drawn to the United States, at what dates and by what authority; in what manner such drafts have been applied; under what forms and checks these drafts were made; and whether the moneys raised thereby were immediately deposited in the Treasury; if not, in what places, and to what amount, were such moneys deposited; how much time elapsed after such loans, before the said moneys came into the Treasury; whether a compleat fulfilment of our engagements to France, was, in any degree, obviated by such drafts; whether any portion of the French debt remained unpaid, at the end of one thousand seven hundred and ninety-two; and whether any balance of the said debt is yet unpaid; And that the committee do also report the date of the first information to this House, communicating the said drafts; and whether any call of the House was made upon the Treasury Department, which embraced the idea of a previous disclosure thereof” (Journal of the House description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States (Washington, 1826), I, II. description ends , II, 71–72).
In its report to the House on May 22, 1794, the committee stated: “In the course of the present examination, respecting the point of authority, under which, any portion of the moneys borrowed abroad had been drawn to the United States, the Secretary of the Treasury did make the following question” (D, RG 233, Papers of the Select Committee Appointed to Examine the Treasury Department, Third Congress, National Archives). Immediately following this quotation the letter printed above appears.
2. “An Act making provision for the (payment of the) Debt of the United States” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America (Boston, 1845). description ends 138–44 [August 4, 1790]); “An Act making Provision for the Reduction of the Public Debt” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America (Boston, 1845). description ends 186–87 [August 12, 1790]).
3. On March 23, 1794, Edmund Randolph wrote to George Washington: “The intelligence, as derived from Mr. [William B.] G[iles]. thro’ Mr. [John] N[ichola]s. stands thus:
“Colo. H. was asked by the committee, what authority he had for drawing the money borrowed in Europe over here. His answer was, ‘I have verbal authority from the President, and fortunately written also.’ It is supposed by Mr. G., that the written authority, or rather the letter from Mount Vernon, which is referred to, does not support the assertion; but that a reliance will be wholly placed on the verbal.
“A question is now depending, (as is further said) before the committee, whether they have any right to inquire into a verbal authority, given by the President. It is also said, to be one, made by Colo. H. The next week must bring this business to a point; when we shall be able to ascertain facts, without drawing them from any source, which is not well-affected to the gentleman in question. The object in mentioning the thing to the President was to give him time to examine into the fact, from his own memory, and papers. Sunday.” (AL, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress.)
On March 26, 1794, James Madison wrote to Thomas Jefferson: “The enquiry into the Treasury is going on, tho’ not very rapidly. I understand that it begins to pinch where we most expected—the authority for drawing the money from Europe into the Bank. H endeavored to parry the difficulty by contesting the right of the Committee to call for the authority. This failing he talks of constructive written authority from the P. but relies on parol authority, which I think it impossible the P. can support him in” (ADS, James Madison Papers, Library of Congress).
On March 29, 1794, the committee, after considering H’s request, “Resolved, That the Secretary of the Treasury be requested to state to the committee, by what authority any portion of the moneys borrowed abroad, have been drawn to the United States” (D, RG 233, Papers of the Select Committee Appointed to Examine the Treasury Department, Third Congress, National Archives). H complied with the committee’s request on April 1, 1794.