Tench Coxe to George Washington2
Walnut Street [Philadelphia] Jany. 31. 1795
I trust you will believe my solemn assurance of you, that a very painful sense of duty has impelled me to the Communication, which I have now the honor to make to you. As it will be perceived, that it is one of those cases in which an obedience to that sense may produce inconveniencies, I address you, Sir, as much in confidence as you may conceive the nature of the case to admit.
The inclosed Authorization, by the Secretary of the Treasury, of the Comptroller, to execute in virtue thereof, the duties of the former,3 is the subject of my representation. The Authorization by the first and the acquiescence by the last are in my Judgment contraventions and infractions of the 8th. Section of “the act” (of the 8th. day of May 1792) “making Alterations in the Treasury & War Departments.”4 They also operate a suspension of the Check upon the first Officer of the Treasury provided by “the act” (of the 2d. day of September 1789) “to establish the Treasury department.”5
It is proper, that you should be informed, Sir, that a report was made by a Committee of the Representatives to that House in 1792, calculated to give that duty and that occasional standing in the department to the Comptroller, in the Event of the Absence &ca. of the Secretary of the Treasury.6 That report, which was framed with the Secretary’s co-operation, was not adopted in that and another particular by the House of Representatives. The same parts, in reference to the proposed powers &ca. to the Comptroller, were copiously discussed, and formally rejected by the Senate. The ample provision in the 8th. Section, as it now stands, was adopted by the Senate and confirmed by the House.
Substitutions for a variety of officers, commissioned by you, have been only admitted after regular provision by Law. It appears by the 6th. Section of the altering act7 refered to, that the Legislature duly adverted to the Necessity of explicitly granting to the Secretary the power of transferring the Business of the Customs before he could do it, and of such other transfers of portions of the Secretary’s duties as the public Service might require or admit the Commissioner of the Revenue to perform. It also appears, that the Legislature judged, that even the President of the United States could not commit the powers and duties of the Secretary of the Treasury to any other person without the formal investment of him with Authority so to do.
I sincerely wish my Ideas may be inaccurate, but entertaining them as I really do, it appears to be my duty to submit them to you.
With the highest respect, I have the honor to be, Sir, your most obedt. & most humble Servant
The President of the United States.
2. ALS, RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters, 1790–1799, National Archives.
4. Section 8 of “An Act making alterations in the Treasury and War Departments” reads: “That in the case of the death, absence from the seat of government, or sickness of the Secretary of State, Secretary of the Treasury, or of the Secretary of the War Department, or of any officer of either of the said departments whose appointment is not in the head thereof, whereby they cannot perform the duties of their said respective offices, it shall be lawful for the President of the United States, in case he shall think it necessary, to authorize any person or persons at his discretion to perform the duties of the said respective offices until a successor be appointed, or until such absence or inability by sickness shall cease” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America (Boston, 1845). description ends 281).
5. Coxe is referring to Section 3 of “An Act to establish the Treasury Department,” which reads in part: “That it shall be the duty of the Comptroller … to countersign all warrants drawn by the Secretary of the Treasury, which shall be warranted by law …” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America (Boston, 1845). description ends 66).
6. This report was presented to the House of Representatives on February 29, 1792 (Journal of the House description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States (Washington, 1826), I, II, III, IV. description ends , I, 523). The report is printed in ASP description begins American State Papers, Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States (Washington, 1832–1861). description ends , Miscellaneous, I, 46–47. See Coxe to H, May 6, 1792, notes 2 and 7.
7. Section 6 of “An Act making alterations in the Treasury and War Departments” reads in part: “… That the present office of assistant to the Secretary of the Treasury, be abolished, and that instead thereof, there be an officer in the department of the treasury, to be denominated Commissioner of the Revenue, who shall be charged with superintending, under the direction of the head of the department, the collection of the other revenues of the United States, and shall execute such other services, being conformable to the constitution of the department, as shall be directed by the Secretary of the Treasury …” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America (Boston, 1845). description ends 280).