Alexander Hamilton Papers

From Alexander Hamilton to William Ward Burrows, 10 March 1800

To William Ward Burrows1

New-York, March 10, 1800

Dear Sir,

The anxiety of Col. Smith’s bail to your suit had like to have shut him up yesterday in our prison. The good nature of Col. Troup interposed to save him from the disgrace. You would have been sorry if it had happened—because you are not vindictive, and because it would utterly have ruined him, without doing you the least good. Many considerations induce me to second the advice you will receive from Col. Troup—namely, to accept John Doe and Richard Roe, characters of ancient renown in the law, for your bail, and to proceed to judgment on that basis. If Smith has any real estate, that will secure it; and as to his body, it had better continue fat and jolly, to present a good front to his country’s enemies, than to be sent to pine and grow meagre in a nasty jail. Adieu.

Your’s truly,

A. Hamilton

Timothy Pickering, A Review of the Correspondence between the Hon. John Adams, Late President of the United States, and the late Wm. Cunningham, Esq. Beginning in 1803, and Ending in 1812 (Salem, Massachusetts, 1824), 153.

1Burrows, a resident of Kinderton, Pennsylvania, had been considered for an appointment as commissioner of the revenue in January, 1798 (Jacob Read to H, January 18, 1798). On July 17, 1798, he had been appointed a major in the Marine Corps (Executive Journal, I description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate (Washington, 1828), I. description ends , 286, 290). On May 1, 1800, he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel and made the first commandant of the Marine Corps (Executive Journal, I description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate (Washington, 1828), I. description ends , 350, 351).

The letter printed above concerns a debt which Lieutenant Colonel William S. Smith, the commanding officer of the Twelfth Regiment of Infantry and the son-in-law of John Adams, owed to Burrows. As security for money which he owed to Burrows, Smith in 1796 pledged property which he had previously conveyed to William Constable. Smith did not inform Burrows of this previous conveyance, and Burrows through his lawyer, Robert Troup, instituted a suit against Smith for $194,000. For Smith’s debt to Burrows, see H to Oliver Wolcott, Jr., April 22, 1797, note 10. See also Burrows to Smith, September 29, October 2, 11, 12, 1796; Troup to Smith, October 27, 1796; Burrows to Troup, October 26, 1796 (typescripts, James McHenry Papers, Library of Congress). For Smith’s defence of his conduct, see Southern History Association, Publications (1907), II, 38–43. For the effect of Smith’s debt to Burrows on Smith’s military career, see H’s draft of George Washington to James McHenry, second letter of December 13, 1798. For additional information on Smith’s financial difficulties, see Benjamin Walker to H, October 4, 1796. See also Robert Morris to H, May 10, 1796; H to Charles Williamson, May 17–30, 1796; Walker to H, July 6, 1797; Timothy Pickering to H, July 18, 1798.

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