George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Ebenezer Hazard, 17 July 1789

To Ebenezer Hazard

New York July 17th 1789


I have received your letter of the 15th Instant enclosing the Post Office Ac[coun]ts in detail for the years 1784 & 1788.1 But there still remains one point on which I would wish to have further information. By the statement of the Produce and Expences of the Post office which accompanied your letter of the 27th of June, there appears to have been an annual Profit arising from that Department, amounting in the whole to 39.985 Dollars. As it is not shewn, by any documents which you have sent me, whether this ballance has been lodged in the Treasury of the United States, or appropriated to the use of the Post Office Department, I shall therefore thank you for early and satisfactory information on this head. I am, Sir, Your Most Obedient Servant

George Washington


1Letter not found. On 8 June GW informed Hazard that he had requested the heads of the various departments of government to submit to him informal accounts of the state of their departments (see GW to John Jay, 8 June 1789) and asked Hazard “in the same informal manner” for a report on his administration of the Post Office. “I presume,” he wrote Hazard, “the Department has been managed in so methodical a manner, that there can be little trouble or delay in making the necessary Report and Abstracts.” In Hazard’s case, as GW may have already known when he made the request, this was clearly an unwarranted assumption. Neither Hazard’s report of 27 June nor that of 15 July has been found, but either GW noticed, or it was brought to his attention, that discrepancies existed in the accounts. Part of Hazard’s difficulties apparently lay in his failure to collect receipts from his deputy postmasters. In their report to GW, 23 July, on the general state of the Treasury, the Board of Treasury informed the president that the receipts from the Post Office since April 1785 based on warrants drawn by the board on the postmaster general amounted to $12,029 62/90 but “what is the actual state of that Department we cannot determine, the Post Master General having hitherto omitted to accompany his Accounts with the Documents required by the ordinance of the 18th October 1782.” For the difficulties the board encountered in securing information from Hazard, its attempts to compel him to submit his accounts, and his spirited defense, see Statement F in the board’s report. Sometime before mid-August GW instructed Lear to request a statement from the Board of Treasury on the Post Office accounts. As usual, the commissioners replied in exhaustive detail. See the Board of Treasury to GW, 21 Aug. 1789.

Hazard had already applied for a continuation of his post under the new government. See his letter to GW, 7 May 1789. His chances of reappointment were not enhanced by the considerable criticism that had arisen during the late 1780s over some of his policies in the post office. The major objection centered on Hazard’s shift from stagecoaches to post riders for mail delivery. For a discussion of the effect of this decision on the delivery of newspapers during the crucial ratification period, see Kaminski and Saladino, Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution, description begins John P. Kaminski et al., eds. The Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution. 26 vols. to date. Madison, Wis., 1976–. description ends 16:540–42. For comments on its effect on Hazard’s position, see Burnett, Letters, description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed. Letters of Members of the Continental Congress. 8 vols. 1921–36. Reprint. Gloucester, Mass., 1963. description ends 8:793. And for GW’s critical observations on Hazard’s new policies, see his letter to John Jay, 18 July 1788.

In spite of the dissatisfaction with some of his policies and the difficulty over his accounts, Hazard was initially confident of his chances of reappointment as on 8 Aug. he wrote his friend Jeremy Belknap in Massachusetts that “My new masters are silent as to their Servt yet. The President wanted an Accot of the Income & Expences of the department for every year since I have been at the head of it, stated so that he could see the Amot of either, for each year, at a single Glance: then he wanted the Produce & Expences for two particular years in Detail, i.e. the Produce &c. of each Office for that time: he wished to know what I had done with the Profits. To all which I believe I gave him satisfactory Answers, though, as you may suppose, they are rather too lengthy for me to repeat here. I have not heard from him since, & expect the honor of his Nomination” (MHi: Jeremy Belknap Papers). By September Hazard’s confidence had waned. He wrote Belknap on 27 Sept.: “My peculiar Situation can now be explained to you: I was busy electioneering; a friend in Congress intimated that I was in danger of losing my office, & advised me to bestir myself: my friends were to be informed, & urged to Exertions, to prevent the Success of three Competitors, vizt Mr Bache, of Phila. (Dr Franklin’s Son in Law) who had been removed from the same Office before for Neglect of Duty; (he had Mr Robt Morris’s Interest to support him) Mr Tench Coxe of Phila. who publicly & cordially hurra’d in the Streets when Genl Howe took possession of that City; & Col. Wm Smith (Son in Law to the Vice President,) who had his Father in Law’s merit & services to plead in his Favor. This employed me pretty fully, & some very respectable Applications in my favor were made to the President. The 19th Inst. the President sent to me for a List of the outstanding Debts, & the names of the Postmasters from whom they were due: from this Circumstance I became suspicious that my Removal was in Contemplation, & that these Debts were intended as a Plea for it: under this Impression, when I sent him the List on the 21st I wrote him a Letter, intended to counteract the Design (if such there was) & to exculpate myself: the following Extract from it I send for your Information, allowing you at the same time to make a prudent use of it in Case of Necessity.

“‘The amount of the debts is much greater than it ought to be; but when your Excy considers the prostration of morals, the Habits of Inattention to Business, & Inaccuracy in transacting it, which were occasioned by the War, the great number & extensive dispersion of the Persons necessarily employed as Postmasters; that there were only two to superintend these, & do all the other Business of the Department; that debts due to the Union had, in general, no Preference to other debts; that the Laws of some States permitted fraudulent payments in Paper Money, while the tedious Process in the Courts of others tempted to Delay; & that even the Acts of Congress created both additional Business, & Embarrassments in transacting it, without affording the head of the Department suitable Assistance, I flatter myself your Excy will rather think it extraordinary that so much has been collected, than that so much remains unpaid. Nor has this been neglected; for many dunning Letters have been written, & several Journies made with a view to its Collection: a number of the Delinquents have been removed from Office, & in some Cases Security has been obtained.

“‘More Debts would undoubtedly have been collected had I been placed in a Situation more free from distractions, but though I have made repeated applications for more Assistance, & so clearly pointed out the necessity there was for it that a Committee of Congress reported in favor of its being allowed, I have been left to encounter the whole Business of the Department almost alone. Your Excy will have some Idea of my Situation when I mention, that besides the general Superintendance of the Business through an Extent-of 1500 Miles, exclusive of Cross Roads, I have had to maintain a very burthensome Correspondence, to examine the quarterly Returns from all the Eastern Offices, to enter all the Accounts, to keep the Books of the Department (which, since my appointment has been done in double Entry)—to make Communications to Congress, & Committees, which have frequently required lengthy & tedious Calculations, to form & enter into Contracts, & pay the Contractors quarterly, to inspect the dead Letters, and to do the Business out of Doors as well as within. My own Attention has been so constantly necessary that I have not had time for proper Relaxation; & in three years past have not been to the Distance of ten miles from this City. I once hired a Clerk, but found my Salary was not equal to that Expence in addition to the support of my Family, & was obliged to dismiss him. Will your Excy permit me to add, that notwithstanding the Embarrassments of my Situation, the Business has been conducted without the Aid of the Treasury (which before my appointment was frequently applied to) & that the Department has been made productive.’ From the time that Letter was written to this Day I have reed neither Letter nor Message from the President, & after being kept in Suspence ’til last Friday, was informed by a friend that Mr Osgood was nominated for P.M.G.—I don’t know whether you know him or not, but he was formerly one of the Board of Treasury: he was the most attentive to Business of any of the Board, & I believe is a Man of Integrity: he is in my Opinion the most suitable for the Office of any of my Competitors; but I think I may add without vanity that he neither is as well qualified for it as myself, nor has an equal Claim to it—I suppose the Nomination was approved by the Senate yesterday, which seems to be a thing of course, & that this is the last Letter you will receive from me, while P.M.G.—I never heard Mr O. mentioned as a Competitor, nor had any body any Suspicion of this Appointment, that I can find, except Mrs H. who intimated her Suspicions to me some time ago, but could not tell on what they were founded. As I wish to have a good opinion of him I hope he has not solicited for the Office, & yet I think it hardly possible he could have got it without: if he has, the President’s Conduct must be very extraordinary. The three oldest Officers (& I say three of the best) are now turned out of the Service; Mr Thomson, the late Secry—Mr Hillegas, the late Treasurer, & myself: this is the Reward of 14 or 15 Years Fidelity & Fatigue, & of serving the Public even with Halters round our Necks! for you will remember that civil Officers were always excepted when Mercy was offered by the British Proclamations.

The Reason of my Removal, which is whispered about, is Lenity to Postmasters; from which you see I was not wrong in my Conjecture: Upon a Review of my Conduct in Office I find no Reason to accuse myself; the public Good has been my sole Object, & even Envy itself cannot justly accuse me of Malversation. My Situation gave me frequent Opportunities of making personal Advantages, but I suffered them all to slip, from a determined Resolution taken at first to abstain from even the Appearance of Evil. I do not think the bare Loss of the Office a Subject of Regret; but it is accompanied with this disagreeable Circumstance, that at my time of Life, with a Family on my hands, & habituated to official Ideas, I must seek a new Mode of Subsistence in a very different Line. Mrs H. & I are now much in the Situation of Adam & Eve when driven out of Paradise; but we have a larger Family” (MHi: Jeremy Belknap Papers).

Index Entries