Alexander Hamilton Papers

To Alexander Hamilton from John Brown, 28 February 1800

From John Brown1

Philadelphia, February 28, 1800. “I have this Day Recd. a Letter from Mr. Bogert,2 Adviseing me that his Ill helth was Such that he Could Not go to Albaney and that he therefore committed the Buissiness of my Petition3 to Genl. Hamilton which would have beene perfectly Agreeable to me if you Could have Attended to the Same. He Informs me of your Return, and does not Advise weither you have Imployd Other Council to Attend in my behalf or Not, but that Colel Burr who he Sas has Some clame Against Angersteen4 is Useing every Effort to Defeat my Title, and that you think I had better Set of for Albaney Immediately. My Dr. Sr. what can I do I am No Law Year and have Confided in Mr. Bogert with Such Aid or Council as he Chose to Get, he and you know Ten times better than I Can how to Conduct the Buissiness, I theirfore Begg Your Attention to the Same.…”

ALS, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.

1Brown was a Providence merchant and a Federalist member of the House of Representatives from 1799 to 1801.

2Cornelius Bogert was a New York City lawyer.

3On February 18, 1800, the New York Assembly referred Brown’s petition to Josiah Ogden Hoffman, attorney general of New York (Journal of the Assembly of the State of New-York; At Their Twenty-Third Session Began and Held at the City of Albany, the Twenty-Eighth Day of January, 1800 [Albany, n.d.], 87), who reported on March 6, 1800: “… That the petitioner states that, in the year 1795, a tract of 210,000 acres of land, in Herkemer county, was mortgaged to him, for the security of a large sum, by James Greenleaf. That in virtue of a decree of the court of chancery of this State, on a bill filed to foreclose the equity of redemption of a prior mortgage, executed to Philip Livingston, a sale of the premises took place in the year 1798, at which the petitioner was the purchaser, for the consideration of 33,000 dollars. That at the time of such sale there was due to him upwards of 46,000 dollars, and that he has since expended in the improvement of the premises about 9000 dollars.

“In consequence of an intimation heretofore given to the petitioner, by the Attorney-General, that the title of James Greenleaf to the premises was derived from an alien, and that measures would necessarily be pursued to vest the right and title to the same in the people of this State, the petitioner prays that the said right and title may by law be vested in and granted to him.

“From the conveyances accompanying the petition, it appears, that on the 8th March, 1793, the premises were conveyed by Samuel Ward, a citizen of this State, to John Julius Angerstein, and that the title of the petitioner is deduced from such conveyance. If John Julius Angerstein was an alien, and of which there is no doubt, he must be considered, as taken for the benefit of the people of this State, and all subsequent conveyances are invalid. On information of this fact being given to the Attorney-General, he conceived it his official duty, to ascertain the same, by the ordinary legal procedure, and accordingly obtained a writ out of the court of chancery for that purpose. No other proceedings have yet been had thereon, but in the course of the ensuing summer it is proposed to execute the same, to the end, that an office may be found, and the title of the State in the premises, thereby perfected.

“It is proper to remark, that before such office is found, the absolute title cannot be considered as vested in the people, and by a decision in the supreme court, sanctioned as the Attorney-General is informed by the highest court of law in the State, it is to be questioned, whether the present imperfect right of the people can pass by any law, granting the same to the petitioner. When the present inchoate right of the people is converted into an absolute estate, it will be competent in the Legislature to grant such relief to the petitioner as his claim may justly merit. For these reasons, and without considering the peculiar merits of the present case, the Attorney-General is of opinion, that the application is premature, and that it would be inexpedient to grant the same.” (Journal of the Assembly of the State of New-York; At Their Twenty-Third Session, 142).

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