George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Alexander Hamilton, 21 January 1795

From Alexander Hamilton

Treasury Dept. January 21. 1795.


In answer to an enquiry which you were pleased to make—I have the honor to transmit a Communication from the Commissioner of the Revenue of the 25th of December.1

It is true that there have been some defects of execution, but they are by no means such as in my opinion warrant the strong declaration of Mr Butler—and I think it probable that they are to be attributed more to that Agent whom he exempts from blame than to any other person.2

The great difficulty has been from the begining to obtain a man to be on the spot every way competent to the different parts of the business. Men qualified, whose situations afforded adequate security against any inconvenient bias; & who were willing to act for compensations which would not have been deemed outrageously extravagant, were a long time sought without satisfactory success.

Mr Morgan was strongly recommended by some good judges; but a doubt of his competency, in every respect, led to the giving a check over him to Messrs Habersham & Clay.3 Subsequent experience has proved that he ought not to have been left alone.

Mr Copperthwait, the person mention’d in the communication of the Commissioner of the Revenue, is gone upon the business with more extensive powers.4 If I may rely on the accounts given of him by several of the most intelligent men of business of this City, he will answer every reasonable expectation. With perfect respect &c.

Alexandr Hamilton.


1Upon receipt of Pierce Butler’s letter of 30 Nov. 1794, GW on 23 Dec. referred his complaint about the procurement of timber in Georgia to Secretary of War Henry Knox for investigation, and Knox referred the issue to Hamilton. For the conclusion of Tench Coxe’s report to Hamilton of 25–27 Dec., see GW to Knox, 23 Dec., n.2; for the full text, see Hamilton Papers description begins Harold C. Syrett et al., eds. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. 27 vols. New York, 1961–87. description ends , 17:466–75.

2Hamilton was referring to John T. Morgan, appointed to superintend the procurement of timber in South Carolina and Georgia.

3Joseph Clay (1741–1804), a merchant and rice planter, was a leader of the revolutionary movement in Georgia. In 1777 he was appointed paymaster general for the Continental army in Georgia and South Carolina, and he was elected to the Continental Congress in 1778, although he did not attend. He served as state treasurer in 1782. Clay and John Habersham, collector of customs at Savannah, had been appointed agents in Georgia to contract for supplies related to cutting timber for the naval frigates.

4Col. Joseph Cowperthwaite (Copperthwaite; 1740–1809) of Philadelphia served as an officer of the Philadelphia associated battalions in the Revolutionary War and as colonel of a regiment of Philadelphia militia in the Whiskey Insurrection campaign. During the 1780s he was sheriff of the city and county of Philadelphia. For Coxe’s mention of Cowperthwaite, see GW to Knox, 23 Dec., n.2. For information about Cowperthwaite’s appointment and duties, see Coxe to Tench Francis, 3 Jan., and Coxe to Habersham, 5 Jan. (both DNA: RG 75, Letters of Tench Coxe, Commissioner of the Revenue, Relating to the Procurement of Military, Naval, and Indian Supplies).

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