Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to William Smith, 16 July 1791

To William Smith

Philadelphia July 16. 1791.


The President of the United States desiring to avail the public of your services as Auditor of the Treasury of the U. S. I have now the honor of enclosing you the Commission. You will readily concieve from the nature of this office that every day’s suspension of its functions adds new instances of inconvenience to the public, and to individuals. While I indulge myself therefore in expressing my hopes and felicitations for the public, that you will undertake a trust so important for them, I am charged to add the desire that you may find it convenient to come on with all practicable dispatch. I have the honour to be with sentiments of the most perfect esteem & respect, Sir Your most obedient & most humble servt.

Th: Jefferson

PrC (DLC); mutilated, so that about a fourth of the line endings are lost, these being supplied from FC (DNA: RG 59, PCC No. 120).

Soon after reaching Mount Vernon on returning from his southern tour, Washington informed Hamilton of his intention to appoint Wolcott to succeed Eveleigh as Comptroller of the Treasury. At the same time he said that he would not name an Auditor until he reached Philadelphia (Washington to Hamilton, 13 June 1791, Syrett, Hamilton description begins The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, ed. Harold C. Syrett and others, New York, 1961–1979, 27 vols. description ends , viii, 470–1; see also Editorial Note and group of documents on Coxe’s candidacy for the Comptrollership, at 16 Apr. 1791). But several weeks before this communication was written, Hamilton, acting on the understandable assumption that his choice of Wolcott would be supported, sought to interest his own candidates in the office of Auditor. His agency in the matter was James McHenry, and, while his letter on the subject is missing, it is clear that his first choice was Otho H. Williams and his second William Smith, both of Maryland. Early in May McHenry approached Williams, mentioned Hamilton’s “power and disposition,” and held out the promise of further advancement. Williams gave the impression that he would have accepted the office of Comptroller but declined the lesser post on the ground of health. McHenry then tried to persuade William Smith, who, he reported to Hamilton, “with less shew of talents will make a much better auditor. He will have as little to learn as the General; is as systematic, a more perfect and correct accountant, of great respectability and of longer standing in society. I found also here that the comptrollership was a more darling object.” McHenry finally persuaded Smith to permit him to use his discretion in the matter, thus giving the same latitude to Hamilton.

“I was obliged to intimate,” McHenry reported, “that from the opinion you had of him, I would entertain no doubt but his appointment would be certain unless the President got entangled to the Southward” (McHenry to Hamilton, 3 May 1791, Syrett, Hamilton description begins The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, ed. Harold C. Syrett and others, New York, 1961–1979, 27 vols. description ends , viii, 321–2). Hamilton understood as clearly as McHenry and others that one of Washington’s leading principles in the distribution of patronage was to see that the various sections were fairly represented, a factor which no doubt induced him to look southward with the Comptrollership being clearly destined for a New Englander.

Thus, within ten days after Washington returned to Philadelphia, Hamilton had put forward the candidacy of William Smith, and this recommendation, like that of Wolcott, was unhesitatingly accepted. TJ’s letter transmitting Smith’s commission on behalf of the President reveals both the urgency with which the matter was being pressed and the uncertainty as to whether the appointment would be accepted. The doubt was well-founded. Smith acknowledged the above letter on 22 July 1791, and, while his letter has not been found, it is clear that he declined the office. Late in November Washington nominated Richard Harrison, a merchant of Alexandria, as Auditor. The Senate, after inquiring which of the several Richard Harrisons in the United States was meant, promptly confirmed him (JEP description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States … to the Termination of the Nineteenth Congress, Washington, 1828 description ends , i, 90).

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