George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Alexander Hamilton, 22 September 1792

From Alexander Hamilton

Treasury Departmnt Septr 22d 1792.


I have been duly honored with your Letters of the 7th and 17th instant, and perceive with much pleasure a confirmation of the expectation which your former communications had given that your view of the measures proper to be pursued respecting the proceedings therein referred to, would correspond with the impressions entertained here.

I flatter myself that the Proclamation will answer a very valuable purpose; but every thing, which the law and prudence will warrant, will be put in train, as circumstances shall indicate, for such eventual measures as may be found necessary. I do not, however, despair that with a proper countenance the ordinary course of legal coertion will be found adequate.1

The enclosed copy of a letter from the Inspector of Kentuckey to the Supervisor of Virginia, of the 12th of July last, and the copy of a letter from one of his Collectors to him of the 1st of June, contain interesting, and comparatively not discouraging matter respecting the state of things in that Survey.2

The Supervisor of Virginia in a letter to the Commissioner of the Revenue, of the 10th instant, expresses himself thus—“I can truly say that the Excise is now fairly on it’s legs in this District—it rests on the good-will of the greater part of the people, and our Collectors are from no cause indisposed to the service, but the apprehension of too much business for too little compensation.” A letter from Mr Hawkins (Senator) to Mr Coxe announces favorable symptoms in the part of North Carolina which is in the vicinity of his residence.3

On the whole, I see no cause of apprehension, but that the law will finally go into full operation with as much good will of the people as usually attends Revenue Laws.

You will be pleased also to find enclosed a letter from the Commissioner of Revenue to me dated the 12th instant, submitting an arrangement for compensating the Officers of Inspection for the period antecedent to the commencement of the permanent arrangement which you lately established; and the plan of an Act for that purpose to be passed by the President, if approved by him; together with an Estimate of the total expence of the proposed arrangement.

The law has made provision for the restrospective increase of compensation at the discretion of The President, and as the outset of the business will have been of course the most perplexing and troublesome, nothing can be more equitable than such a retrospection, except in those particulars in which the encreased compensations would either be inapplicable or liable to abuse. It will have besides, the good effect of stimulating the zeal of the Officers by shewing a liberal attention to their past services, hitherto defectively requited.

The Plan submitted is the result of previous consultation between the Commissioner of the Revenue and myself, and appears to me an eligible medium.4

The Petition from the Keeper of the Rhode Island Lighthouse has been put in a course of enquiry, and the result will be made known.5

The Lighthouse in Virginia being nearly finished, a trusty keeper of it will be speedily necessary. A letter from David M. Randolph Esqr. to Governor Lee, which was transmitted by him to me, and is enclosed, recommends for the purpose the name of John Waller Johnson; but I have no other information concerning him. You will probably recollect, Sir, a person who some time since was recommended by Colo. Parker—a man who it seems was very active during the war and distinguished himself in some water-enterprises; but who appeared much addicted to liquor, a fault peculiarly disqualifying in such a station. I regret that I forgot his name—I believe he was disabled in one of his arms. No other Candidate has been brought forward. A letter has been written to Mr Newton, mentioning Mr Johnson to him and requesting him to communicate his opinion of him to you, and of any other character who might occur.6

Pursuant to the authorisation in your letter of the 7th instant, measures have been taken for discharging the Debts due to foreign Officers. Upon a review of the tenor of the Certificates, in order to this, it appeared that the interest only was payable at Paris—the principal here. Had it been clear, that motives of accomodation would render the payment both of principal and interest there desireable, there might have been difficulty in justifying the regularity of the proceeding, and of course hazard of blame, especially if any mistake or accident in the execution had happen’d. But it is very possible that payment in the United States will be most agreeable to the greatest number. The arrangement of course embraces the payment of Interest at Paris, of principal at the Treasury; but with an option to those who choose it to receive both at the Treasury, as will be more particularly seen by the enclosed copy of an Advertisement by the Treasurer.7

With the highest respect and the truest attachment, I have the honor to be &c.

Alexander Hamilton

P:S. I have the pleasure to transmit herewith a letter from Mr G: Morris which was handed to me by Mr R. Morris.8 The Supervisor has been desired to forward to the Circuit Court at York town, such proof as he should be able to collect addressed to the Attorney General. It will I perceive be satisfactory to that Officer to receive your direction to proceed there. His presence is of importance, as well to give weight to what it may be proper to do, as to afford security that nothing which cannot be supported will be attempted. I submit the expediency of a line from you to him.9



1See the proclamation that GW issued on 15 Sept. 1792 in response to opposition to the federal excise tax on whiskey.

2Thomas Marshall was the inspector of the revenue for the new state of Kentucky, which was designated as the seventh survey in the District of Virginia. Edward Carrington was the supervisor of the revenue for the District of Virginia (see Executive Order, 15 Mar. 1791). The enclosed copies of these letters have not been identified.

3Carrington’s letter to Tench Coxe, commissioner of the revenue, of 10 Sept. has not been identified. Benjamin Hawkins resided in Warren County, which was in the fourth survey of the District of North Carolina. His letter to Coxe may have been the one of 12 Sept., an extract of which was printed in the Gazette of the United States (Philadelphia) on 22 Sept. 1792: “A correspondent from the western part of the state observes, that the people are generally anxious to take out licences for their stills during the season; but there is no county in which there is a person authorised to grant them, owing to the difficulty of executing the former law—that they are tolerably satisfied with the present modification, as better accommodated to their rights.” For background on the federal excise tax on whiskey, see Hamilton to GW, 1 Sept., source note.

4For Coxe’s letter to Hamilton of 12 Sept., see the letter-book copy in DNA: RG 58, Letters Sent by the Commissioner of the Revenue and the Revenue Office, 1792–1807; see also the extract 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 12:368. On 25 July, Coxe had sent Hamilton a draft proposal for changing the compensation rates for the supervisors, inspectors, and collectors employed in enforcement and collection of the excise tax on whiskey (see ibid., 85–98). Coxe’s letter of 12 Sept. included modifications to the 25 July proposal. Section 16 of “An Act concerning the Duties on Spirits distilled within the United States,” of 8 May 1792, provided: “That the President of the United States be authorized to make such allowances for their respective services to the supervisors, inspectors and other officers of inspection, as he shall deem reasonable and proper” (1 Stat. description begins Richard Peters, ed. The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, from the Organization of the Government in 1789, to March 3, 1845 . . .. 8 vols. Boston, 1845-67. description ends 267–71). For GW’s approval of Coxe’s ideas, see GW to Hamilton, 1 Oct., and Orders to Revenue Officers, 29 Oct. 1792. GW included the revised compensation arrangement for revenue officers in his 22 Nov. report to Congress.

5The petition from William Martin, keeper of the Rhode Island lighthouse on Conanicut Island, requesting an increase in his salary has not been identified (see Coxe to William Ellery, 30 Oct. 1792, DNA: RG 58, Letters Sent by the Commissioner of Revenue and the Revenue Office, 1792–1807). In the “List of Civil Officers of the United States, Except Judges, with Their Emoluments, for the Year Ending October 1, 1792,” which Hamilton submitted to Congress on 26 Feb. 1793, Martin’s salary is listed as $140 (see ASP, Miscellaneous, description begins Walter Lowrie et al., eds. American State Papers. Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States. 38 vols. Washington, D.C., Gales and Seaton, 1832–61. description ends 1:68). Hamilton wrote GW on 22 June 1793 recommending that Martin’s salary be increased to $160 per year, and GW approved the increase effective 1 July 1793 (see Tobias Lear to Hamilton, 18 July 1793, 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 15:109–10).

6The enclosed letter from David Meade Randolph, U.S. marshal for the District of Virginia, to Virginia governor Henry Lee, in which he recommended John Waller Johnston (Johnson; 1757–1832) for appointment as the keeper of the lighthouse currently under construction at Cape Henry, Va., has not been identified (see Henry Lee to Hamilton, 23 June 1792, ibid., 11:550–51). On 30 June 1792 Randolph wrote a letter of recommendation for Johnston addressed to Thomas Jefferson (DLC:GW), who forwarded it to GW on 7 July. Johnston, who was the deputy customs collector at Bermuda Hundred, Va., did not receive the appointment as the Cape Henry lighthouse keeper (see Johnston to James Madison, 1 Mar. 1792, Madison Papers, description begins William T. Hutchinson et al., eds. The Papers of James Madison, Congressional Series. 17 vols. Chicago and Charlottesville, Va., 1962–91. description ends 14:239–41). Instead GW appointed William Lewis, inspector of the revenue for Fredericksburg, Va., to that position (see William Lewis to GW, 12 Nov. 1791, Lear to Hamilton, 13 Oct. 1792). When Lewis died in November 1792, Johnston reapplied for the job (see Thomas Jefferson to GW, 8 Dec. 1792, n.2). He again failed to receive the appointment, which went to Lemuel Cornick, who had overseen the building of the Cape Henry lighthouse (see Lear to Hamilton, 22 Dec. 1792, DNA: RG 26, Inventory NC–31, entry 16, Miscellaneous Records Relating to the Lighthouse Service; see also the extract 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 13:356–57). Johnston moved to Spotsylvania County, Va., in 1793 and then to Nelson County, Ky., in 1794.

The person recommended by Virginia congressman Josiah Parker apparently was Capt. Thomas Herbert, who had lost his left hand in battle while serving as a captain in the Virginia navy during the Revolutionary War.

At Hamilton’s request Coxe had written Norfolk merchant Thomas Newton, Jr., on 17 Sept 1792 asking for his help in identifying suitable candidates for the lighthouse appointment and mentioning Randolph’s recommendation of Johnston (DNA: RG 58, Letters Sent by the Commissioner of Revenue and the Revenue Office, 1792–1807). For Newton’s reply containing his opinions on Johnston and other candidates, see his letter to GW of 28 September.

7For background on payment of the U.S. debt to foreign officers who served in the Revolutionary War, see Hamilton to GW, 27 Aug. 1792, and notes 1 and 2. The advertisement by Treasurer of the United States Samuel Meredith, dated 17 Sept. 1792, reads: “WHEREAS pursuant to the fifth section of the act of Congress entitled ‘An act supplementary to the act making provision for the debt of the United States’ passed the eight day of May last, provision has been made for discharging the debts due to certain foreign officers, on account of pay and services during the late war, the interest whereof as expressed in the certificates granted to the said officers, by virtue of a resolution of the United States in Congress assembled, is payable at the house of Mr. [Ferdinand] Grand, Banker, at Paris.

“This is therefore to give notice, that provision has been and is made for the payment of the Principal of the said debt at the treasury of the United States at any time after the fifteenth day of October next, upon demand of the parties respectively to whom the said certificates were granted or their respective lawful representatives or attornies duly constituted and authorised, and the production of the certificates in each case granted; and also for the payment of the interest which shall be due upon the said certificates to the thirty first day of December next inclusively at Paris, in conformity to the tenor of the said certificates.

“Should there be any, who prefer receiving their whole dues, interest as well as principle at the treasury aforesaid, it shall be in their option so to do; but in this case all such who are not within the United States at the date hereof, must make known their election to the Minister Plenipotentiary of the United States at the Court of France, or to the person whom he shall appoint for that purpose, and must obtain from the said Minister Plenipotentiary, or from the person appointed by him, a certificate of his having made and communicated his election so to do.

“In consequence of the foregoing provision, interest, after the said last day of December next, will cease upon all such of the said debts, for the payment whereof, application shall not have been made pursuant to the tenor hereof, prior to the first day of January one thousand seven hundred and ninety-three” (Federal Gazette and Philadelphia Daily Advertiser, 19 Sept. 1792).

8The letter from Gouverneur Morris, which apparently was delivered by Robert Morris, is probably his letter to GW of 10 June 1792 (see GW to Gouverneur Morris, 20 Oct. 1792).

9For background on resistance in western Pennsylvania to the implementation of the excise tax on whiskey and the efforts of the federal government to indict members of this opposition at the U.S. Circuit Court for the Middle District, which met at York, Pa., on 11 Oct. 1792, see Hamilton to GW, 1 Sept. 1792, GW to Hamilton, 7 Sept., 1 Oct., Edmund Randolph to GW, 10 Sept., and GW to Randolph, 1 Oct. 1792. No letter from GW to George Clymer, supervisor of the revenue for the District of Pennsylvania, has been found for this period.

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