George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Samuel Hanson, 10 March 1792

From Samuel Hanson

Alexandria [Va.] March 10th, 1792


It is not without considerable hesitation & reluctance that I have formed the resolution of troubling you with the concerns of an Individual, by soliciting your relief in a case of official persecution under which I am labouring.

About 6 Weeks ago I submitted a part of my Grievances to the Secretary of the Treasury;1 but, not having been favoured with a reply from that Gentleman, I hope I shall be excused in appealing to yourself, as the last Resort.

Sir, it appears that Mr Lee, from resentment of my information to you of his neglect of duty, is determined to harass and incommode me, as much as possible, in the execution of mine. In confirmation of this charge, I enclose a Copy of his official Letter to me of 9th January last.2

with respect to the Assistant-Measurer of Vessels, I beg leave to state that; upon my request, he appointed one about 18 Months ago, without the smallest objection—that this Person was always paid by me—and performed the duty with fidelity and accuracy, untill the said 9th Jany last, when Mr Lee thought proper to revoke the appointment, without any Complaint against the Assistant. I immediately addressed the Secretary upon the Subject. His reply was as follows: “The Collector has authority to appoint one; and, if you are willing to be at the Expence of such Assistance, and recommend a fit Person, as no doubt you will, I presume the Collector will appoint him. This Assistant to the Surveyor is only contemplated when his other duties shall render one necessary; and therefore you will perceive he is left to be agreed with and compensated by the Surveyor out of his fees for Admeasurement.”3

A Copy of this passage I enclosed to Mr Lee, hoping and expecting he would, upon that Authority, reinstate my Assistant. But, instead of doing so, he writes to me as follows: “Whenever it shall be necessary, I shall appoint a Person to measure each and every Vessel that cannot be measured by yourself Conveniently with your other official duties.”

Thus, Sir, Mr Lee reserves to himself the right of determining the necessity for my Employing an Assistant. I am far from wishing any accommodation not granted to other Surveyors. If it be said that at the great Ports the encreased number of Vessels renders an Assistant necessary, I presume my claim to the same indulgence will not be weakend by the consideration of the small proportion of business at this Port; since that Circumstance obliges me to call in the Aid of a private Employment to procure that Subsistance which my public one alone would be far from affording.

with regard to the 4th Article of Mr Lees instructions, contained in his Letter, I beg leave to ask whether it will not be sufficient to see that the deliveries of goods be conformable to the Permits for landing them; the Permits being Transcripts of the Entries? If it should be thought otherwise—and that my duty requires me to attend at the Custom-House, after the discharge of each Vessel—it is evident that the performance of this Article of my duty must occasion the omission of some other one, since I can not be at two places at one time.

Sir, I beg leave to represent to you that never has it been more necessary for me to have an assistant-Measurer than at this moment—for never has the press of business been greater, upon the Surveyor—And, yet Mr Lee is not here to make the Appointment, tho’ he were inclined to do it. He has been absent about 3 Weeks; and I am well informed means to be very little at this Port till next Winter. Upon this head I beg the favour to be informed whether the Acts of his Deputy, during these his Absences, which are neither occasional nor necessary, be valid? And whether I ought to pay regard to, or Act upon, any documents signed by his Deputy in these Cases?

I presume that the obligation upon all the Port-Officers is the same. If so, with the utmost deference I submit whether, whilst I am so confined as never to have been absent 3 Working Days at any one time since my Appointment, and not 40 days in all—it is proper that Mr Lee (a much more important Officer) should leave the Port for 6 & 8 Weeks together, and, upon the whole, be absent 9 months out of the 12? That the Service suffers both by his Absence, and neglect, even when here, I can prove.

I request the favour that my duties may be precisely defined—that, if the appointment of an Assistant-Measurer be warranted by Law, Mr Lee may be directed to make it—and that the power of harassing and incommoding me, may be taken out of his Hands.

If my duties must be performed in the manner directed by Mr Lee in his instructions (the result of 2½ years Enquiry & deliberation—for, so long has he been in office) it is very evident I must be under the necessity of quitting either my public Employment, or my private one—(both, being too much for any one Man to go through)—tho both together furnish, as is well known, a very scanty Subsistence.4 Relying on your wonted indulgence & benevolence to excuse the length, & freedom, of this Address, I remain, with perfect respect & Esteem, Sir your much-obliged and obedt Sert

S. Hanson of Saml

ALS, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters.

1Hanson’s letter to Alexander Hamilton, which must have been written before 18 Jan. 1792, has not been identified (see Hamilton to Charles Lee, 18 Jan., n.3, 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 10:522–23).

2Hanson had written GW on 14 Oct. 1791 about Charles Lee’s excessive absences from his post as collector of the port of Alexandria. The enclosed copy of Lee’s letter to Hanson of 9 Jan. 1792 reads: “Having revised the Laws of Congress respecting such matters as concern the Custom-House department, it appears to me that every duty assigned to you as Surveyor of this district ought to be performed by yourself, unless occasional and necessary absence or Sickness shall in certain cases render it impossible.

“I refer you to the 6th & 7th Sections of the Collection Law, and the 3d 27th & 28th Sections of the Coasting Law as parts which relate to the duties of your office. The former law requires that you should 1st Superintend and direct all the Inspectors, Weighers, Measurers and Gaugers within this District[;] 2d That you should ascertain the proof of distilled Spirits[;] 3d That you should visit and inspect the Vessels which arrive within this District, and empowers you to put on board each of them one or more Inspectors[;] 4th That you should examine whether the Goods imported in any Ship or Vessel, and the deliveries thereof are conformable to the Entries of such goods and the permits for landing them.

“These two last Articles of your official duty are inseparably connected in their performance, & necessarily require you to inspect the Entries and my Books.

“The measurement of Vessels ought to be made by yourself, unless in any particular case another person be authorized to do it, which in future I shall forbear to do, unless in such special cases where the measurement cannot be conveniently made by you, upon acct of the press of other business.

“The hours of doing business in my Office are from 9 O’Clock in the morning ’till 3 O’Clock in the after-Noon, and will continue so till the 1st day of April, and according to this disposition you will regulate your official intercourse with me.

“In future it is expected you will conform to the instructions contained in this Letter” (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters).

3This letter has not been identified.

4Alexander Hamilton’s draft of Tobias Lear’s reply to Hanson of 21 April reads: “I am directed by the President of the U.S. to acknowlege the receipt of your letter of the 10th of March and to give you the following answer. The law appears to contemplate the surveyor where there is one at a Port, as the person who is ordinarily to perform the service of measuring Vessels, and it may be inferred that the exercise of the power given to the Collector to appoint persons for the purpose is intended to be auxiliary and occasional only. Under this view of the matter and as the power of appointment is expressly vested in the Collector, there does not appear to be propriety in a special interposition to produce the arrangement you desire, contrary to his judgment of what the public service requires” (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters).

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