From William Constable
[New York] July 13 . Requests Hamilton’s opinion on whether he and his associates “are liable to the penalty of the Bond” signed as security for a deed of sale of Georgia lands.1
LC, MS Division, New York Public Library.
1. This letter deals with the controversy over the Georgia Yazoo lands. For information on these land grants and their revocations, see H to James Greenleaf, October 9, 1795, note 3; H to Oliver Wolcott, Jr., [May–August 1796]. For information on the Yazoo land companies, which were organized in 1789, see H’s “Defence of the Funding System,” July, 1795, note 24.
On August 22, 1795, Senator James Gunn, a Federalist member of the Senate from Georgia, conveyed thirteen and one-half million acres of the Georgia Company’s land to James Greenleaf. Greenleaf, in turn, on September 23, 1795, conveyed two million acres to Nathaniel Prime and Samuel Ward, New York City merchants. For H’s role as attorney for Prime and Ward and for his opinion on the validity of Greenleaf’s title, see H to Greenleaf, October 9, 1795. See also ASP description begins American State Papers, Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States (Washington, 1832–1861). description ends , Public Lands, I, 218, 224; Goebel, Law Practice description begins Julius Goebel, Jr., ed., The Law Practice of Alexander Hamilton: Documents and Commentary (New York and London, 1964– ). description ends , forthcoming volumes. Greenleaf, a native of Massachusetts, who was appointed United States consul at Amsterdam in March, 1793 (Executive Journal, I description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate (Washington, 1828), I. description ends , 136), speculated extensively in land and securities. He had been a partner with James Watson in the former New York City mercantile firm of Watson and Greenleaf. In 1793, Greenleaf, Robert Morris, and John Nicholson made vast purchases of land in the Federal City. See H to Morris, March 18, 1795, note 21; Morris to H, June 7, 1795, note 7.
By a deed dated February 1, 1796, Prime conveyed a tract of land in Georgia to Samuel Sewall, Samuel Dexter, and George Lane, all of Massachusets. On the same day, Prime, William Payne of Boston, and three New York City merchants, Comfort Sands, Constable, and Samuel Ward, signed a bond as security for the deed (copy, MS Division, New York Public Library). The bond required Prime to provide Sewall, Dexter, and Lane with specific documents to prove that the tract was free of any incumbrances. After the passage by the Georgia legislature in 1796 of the “Rescinding Act” (see H to Greenleaf, October 9, 1795, note 3), which provided for the destruction of all public records of the land sales of 1795, Prime and his associates were unable to fulfill this condition of the bond. Under these circumstances, Constable requested H’s opinion on the liability of the vendors to the penalty of the bond.
In his undated opinion H agreed with Constable that the provisions of the “Rescinding Act” gave Prime and his associates a legitimate excuse for nonperformance of the bond. H further stated that the act violated Article I, Section 10, of the Constitution, which provided that no state should pass any law “impairing the Obligation of Contracts” (ADf, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress; for H’s opinion, see also Goebel, Law Practice description begins Julius Goebel, Jr., ed., The Law Practice of Alexander Hamilton: Documents and Commentary (New York and London, 1964– ). description ends , forthcoming volumes). An entry in H’s Cash Book, 1795–1804, under the date of July 25, 1797, reads: “received Wm. Constable for opinion 50” (AD, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress). For a discussion of the Georgia lands controversy along with relevant documents, see Goebel, Law Practice description begins Julius Goebel, Jr., ed., The Law Practice of Alexander Hamilton: Documents and Commentary (New York and London, 1964– ). description ends , forthcoming volumes.