George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Alexander Hamilton, 18 September 1790

From Alexander Hamilton

[New York] 18 Sept. 1790. Informs GW “that on the 15th inst: your Commission to William Winn as Surveyor of the port of Winton in N. Carolina was brought to my Office by a gentleman from that State.1 Conceiving it an irregular mode of procedure in a case of that nature, I have written to Mr Winn a letter of which the enclosed is a copy. In the mean time I have deemed it my duty to lay the circumstances before you.”2


1GW had appointed Hertford County, N.C., sheriff William Wynns (Williamson Wynne, Winn, Winns; 1760–c.1829), who had previously served in the state legislature, surveyor at Winton in the Edenton district on 9 Feb. 1790 (see GW to the U.S. Senate, 9 Feb. 1790 [third letter] and source note; DHFC, description begins Linda Grant De Pauw et al., eds. Documentary History of the First Federal Congress of the United States of America, March 4, 1789-March 3, 1791. 20 vols. to date. Baltimore, 1972–. description ends 2:58, 61, 531; D.A.R. Patriot Index, description begins D.A.R. Patriot Index. Centennial Edition. 3 vols. Washington, D.C., 1990. description ends 3:3261).

2The enclosed letter reads: “Mr Justin Foote has delivered at this Office a Commission from the President of the United States, vesting you with the office of Surveyor of the Port of Winton in North Carolina. This Gentleman informed me that he was not charged with any letter of resignation from you, but stated the substance of your verbal communication to him at the time.

“Passing over the obligation of every good Citizen, to deport himself with due respect to the Chief Magistrate, and especially of those to whom he and the Senate may have previously given indications of confidence, which I am persuaded you would not intentionally deviate from, I beg leave to observe, that questions may be raised, whether the return of a commission is all that is requisite from gentlemen who decline an appointment to a public trust. Under these circumstances I find myself constrained to request, that you will make Known to the President in a regular way, your intentions as to your late appointment” (Hamilton to Wynns, 18 Sept. 1790, DLC:GW).

According to a 21 Dec. 1790 letter of Hugh Williamson to Tobias Lear, the president’s secretary had informed the congressman that GW made inquiries about a suitable replacement for Wynns (DLC:GW). Wynns apparently changed his mind and continued at his post for another year, or else misdated his letter of resignation to the president. On 23 Oct. 1791 he wrote to GW, “I herewith return the Commission Sent me. and have to say that I am obliged to you for the Confidenc⟨e⟩ you placed in me, but it is not con⟨sis⟩tent with my Business to a⟨mutilated⟩ of it. as I live in a retired Place it woud be no ways profitable to me, beg to be excused for not qualifying” (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters; see also Syrett, Hamilton Papers description begins Harold C. Syrett et al., eds. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. 27 vols. New York, 1961–87. description ends , 7:60, n.1).

Wynns was later appointed to another federal post, that of inspector of the revenue for the port of Winton, which he also resigned in October or November 1792 (see Tench Coxe to Hamilton, 10 Nov. 1792, in Syrett, Hamilton Papers, description begins Harold C. Syrett et al., eds. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. 27 vols. New York, 1961–87. description ends 13:33).

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