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EXPLANATION 1 - Alexander Hamilton, The Works of Alexander Hamilton, (Federal Edition), vol. 8 
The Works of Alexander Hamilton, ed. Henry Cabot Lodge (Federal Edition) (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904). In 12 vols. Vol. 8.
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November 11, 1795.
A very virulent attack has recently been made upon the President of the United States, the present Secretary of the Treasury, and myself, as his predecessor in office, on the ground of extra payments to the President on account of his salary.
The charges against all the three are no less heinous than those of intentional violation of the Constitution, of the law, and of their oaths of office. I use the epithet intentional, because though not expressly used in the terms of the attack, it is implied in every line of it, since an involuntary error of construction, if that could ever be made out, would not warrant the imputation “of contemning and despising every principle which the people have established for the security of their rights, of setting at defiance all law and authority, and of servile submission and compliance with the lawless will and pleasure of a President.”
Were considerations personal to myself alone to be considered, the present attempt would be treated with no greater attention than has been shown to all the anonymous slanders by which I have been so long and so implacably persecuted. But convinced by a course of observation for more than four years, that there exists in this country an unprincipled and daring combination, to obstruct by any means, which shall be necessary and can be commanded, not short even of force, the due and efficient administration of the present government, to make our most important national interests subservient to those of a foreign power, and as means to these ends to destroy, by calumny and misrepresentation, the confidence of the people in the truly virtuous men of our country, and to transfer it, with the power of the state, to ambitious hypocrites and intriguing demagogues, perhaps corrupted partisans; perceiving likewise, that this infatuated combination, in the belief that the well-earned esteem and attachment of his fellow-citizens towards the Chief Magistrate of the United States, is the principal remaining actual obstacle to the execution of their plan, are making the most systematic efforts to extinguish those sentiments in the breasts of the people, I think it a duty to depart from my general rule of conduct, and to submit to the public with my name, an explanation of the principles which have governed the Treasury Department on the point in question.
I shall state in the first place, that the rule with regard to expenditures and appropriations which has uniformly regulated the practice of the department is this, viz.: to issue no money from the Treasury, but for an object for which there was a law previously passed making an appropriation, and designating the fund from which the money was to arise; but there being such a law, and an adequate fund to support the expenditure, it was deemed justifiable, as well before as after the service was performed, or the supply obtained, for which the appropriation was designed, to make disbursements from the Treasury for the object, if it appeared safe and expedient so to do. If made before, it was an advance or anticipation, for which the party was charged, and held accountable till exonerated by the performance of the service, or the furnishing of the supply. If afterwards, it was a payment, and went to some general head of account as such.
Thus, if a sum was appropriated for provisions for the army for a particular year, it was common to make advances on account to the contractors, long before the supplies were furnished. If the law was passed in one year for the next, there would be no hesitation to make the advance immediately after the passing of the law, and before the year to which the appropriation was applicable had commenced. So also sums would be furnished to the Department of War, in anticipation of the monthly pay of the officers and soldiers, and advances on account of pay, in particular circumstances, and for good reasons, would be actually made by that department to the officers and soldiers. And so likewise advances have been made for the use of the President and the members of both houses of Congress, in anticipation of their respective compensations.
It will without difficulty be comprehended, that this practice of the Treasury has in some cases been essential to the due course of the public service.
Every good judge will be sensible that from the insufficiency of individual capitals to such large advances as the supplies of an army require, it was indispensable to the obtaining of them, that anticipations from the Treasury would enable the contractors to do, what otherwise they would have been unable to do; and that these anticipations must also have had the effect of procuring the supplies on cheaper terms to the United States.
When it is answered to us, that the army has operated for several years past at several hundred miles’ distance from the seat of government; and a considerable part of the year, from the rudeness of the country, and obstructions of the waters, it is impracticable to transmit moneys to the scenes of payment, it will be perceived that without advances from the Treasury in anticipation of the pay, not only a compliance with the engagement of the government would have been impossible, but the troops must have been always left most unseasonably in arrear. In June, 1794, Congress passed a law, declaring that the army should in future be paid in such a manner as that the arrears should not exceed two months. Compliance with this regulation renders anticipations a matter of physical necessity, yet that law gave no special authority for the purpose.
A particular case, by way of example, in which, different from general rules, advances or anticipations in the War Department are necessary, respects the recruiting service. The officers, who are for a long time distant from their corps, require the accommodation of an advance of pay to be able to discharge their duty. Toward the possibility of enlisting men, it is indispensable they should carry with them the bounty money. Another, upon conjecture of what may be done, and with the possibility that from not being able to obtain the men the ultimate expenditure may not take place. This instance will suggest to reflection an infinite number of cases in the course of service in which a disbursement from the Treasury must precede the execution of the object, and may exceed the sum finally requisite for it.
These cases indicate the expediency and even necessity of the construction which has regulated the practice of the Treasury. And it might be shown, if necessary, that it is analogous to the practice under the other government of the United States, and under other governments; and this too when the theory of expenditure equally is, as expressed in our Constitution, that no money shall be expended, but in consequence of an appropriation by law.
It remains to see whether this rule of conduct, so indispensable in the practice of the department, be permitted by a fair interpretation of the Constitution and the laws.
The general injunction of the Constitution (article i., § ix.) is, that “no money shall be drawn from the Treasury but in consequence of appropriations made by law.”
That clause appears to me to be exactly equivalent to this other clause: “No money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but for which there is an appropriation made by law”; in other words, before money can legally issue from the Treasury for any purpose, there must be a law authorizing an expenditure, and designating the object and the fund. Then such a law is passed. This being done, the disbursement may be made consistently with the Constitution, either by way of advance, or anticipation, or by way of payment. It may precede or follow the service, supply, or other object of expenditure. Either will equally satisfy the words “in consequence of,” which are not words of strict import, but may be taken in several senses—in one sense, that is “in consequence of” a thing which being followed upon it, follows it in order of time. A disbursement must be either an advance, or anticipation, or a payment. ’T is not presumable that the Constitution meant to distinguish between these two modes of disbursement. It must have intended to leave this matter wholly to convenience.
The design of the Constitution in this provision was, as I conceive, to secure these important ends, —that the purpose, the limit, and the fund of every expenditure should be ascertained by a previous law. The public security is complete in this particular, if no money can be expended, but for an object, to an extent, and out of a fund, which the laws have prescribed.
Even in cases which affect only individual interests, if the terms of a law will bear several meanings, that is to be preferred which will best accord with convenience. In cases that concern the public, this rule is applicable with still greater latitude. Public convenience is to be promoted; public inconveniences to be avoided. The business of administration requires accommodation to so great a variety of circumstances, that a rigid construction would in countless instances arrest the wheels of government. It has been shown that the construction that has been adopted at the Treasury is in many cases essential in practice. This inclines the scale in favor of it,—the words “in consequence of,” admitting of various significations.
The practice of the Legislature as to appropriation laws favors this construction.
These laws are generally distinct from those which create the cause of expenditure. Thus the act which declares that the President shall be allowed twentyfive thousand dollars per annum; that which declares that each senator and representative shall be entitled to so much per day; that which determines that each officer and soldier shall have so much per month, etc.,—neither of these acts is an act of appropriation. The Treasury has not considered itself authorized to expend a single cent upon the basis of any such act; regarding it merely as constituting a claim upon the government for a certain compensation, but requiring, prior to an actual disbursement for such claim, that a law be passed, authorizing the disbursement out of a specified fund. This is what is considered as the law by which the appropriation is made, from which results to the public a double security.
Hence every year a particular act (sometimes more than one) is passed, appropriating certain sums for the various branches of the public service, and indicating the funds from which the moneys are to be drawn. The object, the sum, and the fund are all that are to be found in these acts. They are commonly, if not universally, silent as to any thing further.
This I regard as constructive of the clause in the Constitution. The appropriation laws are in execution of that provision, and fulfil all its purposes, and they are silent as to the distinction between anticipation and payment; in other words, as to the manner of disbursement.
Hence I conclude, that if there exist a law appropriating a certain sum for the salary of the President, an advance upon that sum in anticipation of the service is as constitutional as a payment after the service has been performed. In other words, that the advance of a quarter’s salary at the beginning of a quarter is as much warranted by the Constitution as the payment of it at the end of a quarter.
It is in this sense that the present Secretary of the Treasury has affirmed, that “not one dollar has at any time been advanced for the use of the President for which there was not an existing appropriation.” He did not mean to say that no money had been advanced in anticipation of the service, for the fact is otherwise; but nothing is more true than that the sums disbursed were within the limits of the sums appropriated. If there was an excess at the end of one year, there had been a previous appropriation for a succeeding year, upon which that excess was an advance.
It is objected to this practice, that the death of the party between the advance to him and the expiration of an equivalent term of service, by superseding the object of the advance, would render it a misexpenditure of so much money, and therefore a violation of the Constitution.
I answer, that the same casualty might have the same effect in other cases, in which it would be against common-sense to suppose that an advance might not be made with legality and propriety. Suppose, for example, a law was to be passed directing a given quantity of powder to be purchased for public use, and appropriating a definite sum for the purchase; and suppose intelligence brought to the Secretary of the Treasury that the quantity required could be procured for prompt payment at Boston. It cannot in such case be doubted that the sum appropriated might legally be advanced to an agent to proceed to Boston to make the purchases. Yet, that agent might die, and the money never be applied according to its destination, or the desired quantity might be procured for a less sum, and a balance remain in his hands. In either case, this would be money disbursed which was not applied to the object of the law. In the last case, there is no final object for the disbursement, because the balance is a surplus. This proves that the possibility of a failure, or falling short of the object for which an advance is made, is not an objection to its legality. Indeed, the consequence is a possible one in every case of an anticipation, whether to contractors or to other public agents, for a determinate or an indeterminate purpose.
The only consequence is, that the sums unapplied must be accounted for and refunded. The distinction here again is between an advance and a payment. More cannot certainly be finally paid than is equal to the object of an appropriation, though the sum appropriated exceed the sum necessary. But more may be advanced, to the full extent of the appropriation, than may be ultimately exhausted by the object of the expenditure, on the condition, which always attends an advance, of accounting for the application, and refunding an excess. This is a direct answer to the question, whether more can be paid than is necessary to satisfy the object of an appropriation. More cannot be paid, but more may be advanced on the accountability of the person to whom it is advanced.
But risk of loss to the public may attend this principle? This is true, but it is as true in all the cases of advances to contractors, etc., as in those of advances upon salaries and compensations. Nor does this point of risk affect the question of legality. It touches merely that of a prudent exercise of discretion. When large sums are advanced, it is usual to obtain security for their due application, or for indemnification. This security is greater or less according to the circumstances of the parties to whom the advances are made. When small sums are advanced, especially, if for the purposes quickly fulfilled, and to persons who are themselves adequate sureties, no collateral security is demanded. The head of the department “is responsible to the government for observing proper measures and taking proper precautions.” If he acts so as to incur justly the charge of improvidence or profusion, he may be dismissed, or punished, according to the nature of his misconduct.
But the principle which is set up would (it is said) be productive of confusion, distress, and bankruptcy at the Treasury, since the appropriation for the support of government is made payable out of the accruing duties of each year; and an established right in the officers of government to claim their compensations, which amount to several hundred thousand dollars per annum, either on the first day of the year, or on the first day of a quarter, before the services were rendered, would create a demand at a time when there might not, and possibly would not, be a single shilling in the Treasury, arising out of that appropriation, to satisfy it. These ideas with regard to the administration of the fund are very crude and incorrect, but it would complicate the subject to go into the development.
It is not pretended that there is an established right in the officers to claim their salaries by anticipation, at the beginning of a year, or at the beginning of a quarter. No such right exists. The performance of the service must precede the right to demand payment. But it does not follow that because there is no right in the officer to demand payment, it may not be allowable for the Treasury to advance upon account for good reasons. A discretion of this sort in the head of the department can, at least, involve no embarrassments to the Treasury, nor the formidable evils indicated; for the officer who makes the advance, being himself the judge, whether there is a competent fund, and whether it can be made with convenience to the Treasury, he will only make it when he perceives that no evil will ensue.
Let me recur to the example of advances to contractors for supplying the army. Suppose that in the terms of the contract certain advances were stipulated and made, but it turned out, nevertheless, that the contractor, disappointed in the funds on which he had relied, could not execute his contract without further advances. Here there would be no right on his part to demand such further advances; but there would be a discretion in the Treasury to make them. This is the example of a discretion to do what there is not a right to demand. The existence of this discretion can do no harm, because the head of the Treasury will judge whether the state of it permits the required advances. But it is essential that the discretion should exist, because, otherwise, there might be a failure of supplies which no plan that could be substituted might be able to avert.
Yet the discretion is in neither case an arbitrary one; it is one which the head of the department is responsible to exercise with a careful eye to the public interest and safety. The abuse of it—in other words, the careless or wanton exercise of it, would be a cause of dismission for incapacity, or of punishment for malconduct.
Thus, advances on account of salaries, or to contractors for procuring public supplies, might be carried so far, and so improvidently managed, as to be highly culpable and justly punishable; but this is a different question from the violation of Constitution or law.
In all the cases it is a complete answer to the objection of embarrassment to the Treasury, that not the will of the parties, but the judgment of the head of the department is the rule and measure of the advances which he may make, within the bounds of the sums appropriated by law.
I consider the law which has been cited with regard to the pay of the army, as a legislative recognition of the rule of practice at the Treasury. The Legislature could not have been ignorant that it was impracticable at certain seasons of the year to convey the money to the army to fulfil their injunction, without an advance from the Treasury before the pay became due. They presuppose a right to make this advance, and enjoin that the troops shall not be left more than two months in arrear. The origin of this law enforces the observation. It is known that it passed in consequence of a representation that the pay of the army was left too long in arrear, and it was intended to quicken the measures of payment. No person in either house of the Legislature, I believe, doubted that there was power to precede the service by advances, so as to render the payment even more punctual than was enjoined.
Indeed such advances, when the army operated at a distance, were necessary to fulfil the contract with the army. It became due monthly, and in strictness of contract, was to be made at the end of each month,—a thing impossible, unless advanced from the Treasury before it became due. No special authority was ever given for this purpose to the Treasury, but it appears to have been left to take its course on the principle that the disbursement might take place as soon as there was an appropriation, though in anticipation of the term of service.
The foregoing observations vindicate, I trust, the construction of the Treasury as to the power of making disbursements in anticipation of services and supplies, if there has been a previous appropriation by law for the object, and if the advances never exceed the amount appropriated; and at the same time evince that this practice involves no violation of the constitutional provisions with respect to appropriations.
I proceed to examine that clause which respects the pay of the President. It is in these words: “The President shall, at stated times, receive for his services a compensation which shall neither be increased nor diminished during the period for which he shall have been elected, and he shall not receive within that period any other emolument from the United States or any of them.”
I understand this clause as equivalent to the following: “There shall be established by law for the services of the President a periodical compensation, which shall not be increased nor diminished during the term for which he shall have been elected, and neither the United States nor any State shall allow him any emolument in addition to his periodical compensation.”
This will, I think, at first sight appear foreign to the question of provisional advance on account of the compensation periodically established by law for his services.
The manifest object of the provision is to guard the independence of the President from the legislative control of the United States or of any State, by the ability to withhold, lessen, or increase his compensation.
It requires that the law shall assign him a definite compensation for a definite time. It prohibits the Legislature from increasing or diminishing this compensation during any term of his election, and it prohibits every State from granting him an additional emolument. This is all that the clause imports.
It is therefore satisfied as to the United States, when the Legislature has provided that the President shall be allowed a certain sum for a certain term of time; and so long as it refrains from making an alteration in the provision. All beyond this is foreign to the subject.
The Legislature having done this, an advance by the Treasury in anticipation of the service cannot be a breach of the provision. ’T is in no sense an additional allowance by the United States. ’T is a mere advance or loan upon account of the established periodical compensation; will legal ideas, or common parlance, warrant the giving the denomination of additional compensation, to the mere anticipation of the term of an established allowance? If they will not, ’t is plain such an advance is no breach of this part of the Constitution.
If the clause is to be understood literally, it leads to an absurdity. The terms are, “The President shall at stated times receive,” etc.; and again, “he shall not receive within that period,” etc.
His allowance is at the rate of 25,000 dollars per annum, 6,250 dollars quarter-yearly. Suppose at the end of a year an arrear of 5,000 dollars was due to him, which he omits to receive till some time in the succeeding year, and in the succeeding year actually receives that balance with his full salary for the last year. ’T is plain, that he would not have received in the whole more than he was allowed by law, and yet in the stated period of one year he would have received 30,000 dollars, five thousand more than his salary for the year. In a literal sense, then, constitutional provision as to actual payment would not have been complied with; for within the first stated period he would not have received the compensation allotted, and within the second of them he would have received more. In a literal sense it would be necessary to make the payment at the precise day, to the precise amount, neither more nor less, which as a general rule the indispensable forms of the Treasury render impossible. It follows that actual receipt or payment are not the criterion—but the absolute definitive allowance by law. An advance beforehand, or a payment afterward, are equally consistent with the true spirit and meaning of this part of the Constitution.
Let us now see if the construction of the Treasury violates the law which establishes the President’s compensation.
The act of the 29th of September, 1789, allows to the President at the rate of 25,000 dollars per annum, to commence from the time of his entering on the duties of his office, and to be paid quarterly out of the Treasury of the United States.
The question is, what is to be understood from these words, “to be paid quarterly out of the Treasury of the United States”?
The conception of the Treasury has been, that these words, as used in this and in the analogous cases, were meant to define the time when the right of an individual to the compensation earned became absolute, not as a command to the Treasury to issue the money at a precise day and no other.
As mentioned above, the indispensable forms of the Treasury, in compliance with the law establishing the department, and to secure a due accountability, make it impracticable to pay at the day; and if expressions of the kind in question are to be construed literally, and as a positive injunction to the Treasury to issue the money at the period defined, it will be as much a breach of the law to pay afterward as to advance beforehand.
The position that an after-payment would be a breach of the law, will hardly be contended for; and if not, the alternative seems to be the construction adopted by the Treasury. Such expressions denote simply, that at certain periods individuals acquire a perfect right to particular sums of money for their services, which it becomes a matter of course to pay; but they are not obliged to receive it at the day, nor is the Treasurer restrained from paying it afterward, or from anticipating by way of loan, if there are adequate reasons for such anticipation.
It is not true, as alleged, that the invariable practice of the Treasury as to compensations for services differs in principle from what was done in the case of the President.
Instances to the contrary have been stated. As to what regards the army, there has been sufficient explanation.
But it will be useful to be more particular as to the course which has been pursued with reference to the two houses of Congress.
The law that regulates their compensations (passed the 29th of September, 1789) allows to each member a compensation of six dollars for every day he shall attend the House to which he belongs, together with six dollars for every twenty miles of distance to and from his place of residence; and directs that the compensation which shall be due shall be certified by the President of the Senate or Speaker of the House of Representatives, and shall be paid as public accounts are paid out of the Treasury.
By an arrangement between each house and the Treasury Department, the course actually pursued has been as follows:
Certain gross sums, usually at the commencement of each session, and from time to time afterward, have been advanced from the Treasury, at request, to the President of the Senate for the members of the Senate, to the Speaker of the House of Representatives for the members of that house, on account, and frequently in anticipation, of their accruing compensations. The President of the Senate in the Senate, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives in that house, disbursed the moneys to the individuals, and afterward, upon the close of each session, settled an account at the Treasury, accompanied with the certificates required by the law, and the receipts of the members, which were examined, adjusted, and passed, as other public accounts.
Whether there were any advances actually made to the members, in anticipation of their compensations, was a point never discussed between the Treasury and the presiding officers of the two houses with whom the money was deposited. But I understand that examples of such advances did exist in relation to the House of Representatives. The fact is, however, immaterial to the point in issue; that must be tested by the times of the advances from the Treasury; and it is certain that these were usually made in anticipation of compensations to grow due; and it is also certain that the course was well understood by both houses, and is exhibited by the accounts of the Treasurer laid before them in each session.
If, therefore, the advances for the President were unconstitutional and illegal, those for both houses of Congress were equally so; and if the President be chargeable with a violation of the Constitution, of the laws, and of his oath of office, on account of extra advances to his secretaries, whether with or without his privity, the members of both houses of Congress, without exception, have been guilty of the same crimes, in consequence of the extra advances, with their privity, to the presiding officers of their respective houses. A distinction may possibly be attempted to be taken in the two cases from this circumstance, that the law which allots the compensation of the members of the two houses does not use the words, “to be paid every day out of the Treasury,” while that which establishes the President’s compensation does use the terms, “to be paid quarterly out of the Treasury.” But this distinction would be evidently a cavil. When a law fixes the term of a compensation, whether per day, per month, per quarter, or annum, if it says nothing more, it is implied that it is payable at each epoch out of the Treasury, in the same sense as if this was expressly said. This observation applies as well to the monthly pay of the army as to the daily pay of Congress.
Having examined the question as it stands upon the Constitution and the laws, I proceed to examine the course of the fact.
But previous to this I shall take notice of one point about which there have been doubts—and which it is not within my present recollection whether definitely settled or not by the accounting officers of the department. It respects the time of the commencement of the President’s compensation. The law establishing it refers to the time of his entering upon the duties of his office, but without defining that time.
When in a constitutional and legal sense did the President enter upon the duties of his office?
The Constitution enjoins that before he enters upon the execution of his office, he shall take a certain oath, which is prescribed. This oath was not taken till the 30th of April, 1789. If we date the entrance upon the duties of his office at the time of taking this oath, it determines the epoch to be the 30th of April, 1789.
The purpose of the arrangement which was made for the payment of the members of Congress was twofold. It was to obviate embarrassment to them by facilitating and accelerating the receipt of their compensations, and to avoid an inconvenient multiplication of adjustments, entries, warrants, and payments. The theory of the provision admitted of as many Treasury settlements, entries, warrants, and payments, each day, as there were members in both houses.
But there is room for another construction. The 3d of March, 1789, is the day when the term for which the President, the Vice-President, and the members of the Congress were first elected, was deemed to commence. The Constitution declares that the President shall hold his office for four years; and it is presumable that the clause respecting his compensation contemplates its being for the whole term for which he is to hold his office. Its object may otherwise be evaded.
It is also, I believe, certain, that the President may execute his office and do valid acts as President without previously taking the oath prescribed; though in so doing, if voluntarily, he would be guilty of a breach of the Constitution, and would be liable to punishment. The taking the oath is not, therefore, necessarily, the criterion of entering upon the duties of office.
It is a fact, if I remember right, that the President was at New York, the place assigned for the first meeting of the government, on the 3d of March, 1789, which might be considered as an entrance upon the duties of his office; though from the delays which attended the meeting of Congress, the oath was deferred till the 30th of April following.
On the strength of these facts, it may be argued, that by force of the Constitution, dating the commencement of the President’s term of service on the 3d of March, 1789, the law respecting his compensation ought to be considered as referring to that period, for a virtual entrance upon the duties of his office.
In stating this construction, I must not be understood to adopt it. I acknowledged that the other, as most agreeable to the more familiar sense of the law terms, has appeared to me preferable, though I had reason to believe that an important officer of the government (I do not mean the President) once thought otherwise. The result, in point of fact, will vary, as the one or the other is deemed the true construction.
I return to an examination of the course of the transaction.
Authentic statements which have been published, with some supplementary ones received from the Treasury upon the occasion, exhibit the following results.
1st Result. The sums advanced for the use of the President from the Treasury have never exceeded the sums previously appropriated by law: though they have sometimes exceeded, sometimes fallen short, of the sums actually due for services. This is thus explained:
The residue of the proposition is illustrated by the quarterly statement of salary and advances at foot.
2d Result. The Treasury has never been in advance for the President beyond the sums actually accrued, and due to him for services, to the amount of one quarter’s salary. The largest advance at any time is $6,154. A quarter’s salary is, $6,250. Deduct the sums at certain times in arrear from those at other times in advance, the average of the advances for the whole term of his service is about ——
The particulars of this result appear in the statement at foot. This statement is digested by a quarter of the calendar year, which is the established course of the Treasury, and a course essential to the order of its affairs; that is to say, it is essential there should be certain fixed periods to which the ordinary stated disbursements are referred, and in conformity with which the accounts of the Treasury are kept.
3d Result. On the 1st of October, 1795, there was actually due to the President, for his compensation, over and above all advances for his use, the sum of $846. This likewise appears from the statement at foot, and entirely refutes the malevolent suggestion which has appeared, of an accumulation of advances to twelve or fifteen thousand dollars.
4th Result. The sums advanced for the President prior to the commencement of the term of his second election, the 3d of March, 1793, fall short of the sums appropriated for his compensation, $2,850. Thus:
It is nevertheless true, that not only have there been frequent anticipations of the President’s salary, as appears more particularly in the statement at foot, but, counting from the 30th of April, 1789, as the commencement of his compensation, the sums advanced for his use prior to the 3d of March, 1793, the expiration of his first term of election, exceed those actually due up to that period, by $1,108.34.
If, on the contrary, the construction were adopted which dates his compensation on the 4th of March, 1789, there would have been a balance due to him on the 4th of March, 1795, of 2,850 dollars.
But proceeding on the first supposition, the whole question still turns upon the legality of the advances. If it was legal to make him an advance, in anticipation of his salary, within any period of his election—within one quarter, on account of a succeeding quarter,—it was equally legal to do it within one year, on account of a succeeding year; and within one term of an election, on account of a succeeding term. The only inquiry would be, in either case, Will the sum advanced be within the bounds of the sums before that time appropriated? It has been seen that the sums appropriated for the first four years of service exceeded those advanced prior to the commencement of the second period of election by 2,850 dollars; besides this, on the 28th of February, 1793, there was a further appropriation of 25,000 dollars, so that at the beginning of the second term the total appropriations exceeded the total disbursements by 27,850 dollars.
Thus has it been shown that the advances for the use of the President have been governed by a rule of construction which has obtained in analogous cases, or, more truly, which has regulated the general course of disbursements from the Treasury—a rule which, I trust, has been demonstrated to be consonant with the Constitution and the laws.
It is requisite to inquire a little further, whether there has been any improper use or rather abuse of the discretion which is contended for; for here there is likewise an unquestionable responsibility. It is seen that the advances have at no time equalled one quarter’s salary.
I ask, Was it unreasonable or unfit, if constitutional and legal, to afford the President of the United States an accommodation of this extent?
I pledge my veracity that I have always understood, and to this moment I have good reason to be satisfied, that the expenses of the President—those of his household and others incident to his official situation—have fully equalled, if not on some occasions exceeded, the allowance made to him by the United States. Under this conviction especially, how could the head of a department hesitate by so small an accommodation as the advance of less than a quarter’s salary, to enable the President of the United States to meet his expenses as they accrued, without being obliged to encroach upon his own private resources, or to resort to the expedient of borrowing, to defray expenses imposed upon him by public situation? I knew that no possible risk could attend the advance, little considerable as it was. The estate of the President was answerable in case of death or other premature vacancy for the indemnification of the government.
Reasons of a peculiar kind forbade hesitation. The scale of expense was such as to render the income even of what is deemed a large landed property in this country, a slender auxiliary; without an advance from the Treasury, it was not impossible borrowing might be necessary. Was it just to compel the President to resort to that expedient, for a purpose in fact public, at his private expense? Was it for the dignity of the nation that he should have been exposed to a necessity, an embarrassment of this sort?
My judgment and feelings answered both these questions in the negative. I entertained no doubt of the constitutionality and legality of the advance, and I thought the making of it due to the situation, due to propriety, due to every public consideration connected with the subject. I can never regret it.
How far the President was privy to the course of advances I cannot say; but it is certain that they have been all made to his private secretaries upon a general arrangement, and not by special directions from him. And I think it proper to add, that very early in the day, and probably before any was made, on an application to Mr. Lear for a sum which would constitute an advance, he qualified it by this observation: “If in your opinion it can be done with legality and perfect propriety.” I answered that I had no doubt of either. I shall not attempt to assume any greater responsibility in this transaction than belongs to me; but I have been accustomed to think that the responsibility for the due and regular disbursement of moneys from the Treasury lies exclusively with the officers of the department, and that, except in a very palpable and glaring case, the charge of blamable participation could not fall on any other person.
As between the officers of the Treasury, I take the responsibility to stand thus. The Secretary and Comptroller, in granting warrants upon the Treasury, are both answerable for their legality. In this respect, the Comptroller is a check upon the Secretary. With regard to the expediency of an advance, in my opinion, the right of judging is exclusively with the head of the department. The Comptroller has no voice in this matter. So far, therefore, as concerns legality in the issues of money while I was in the department, the Comptroller must answer with me; so far as a question of expediency or the due exercise of discretion may be involved, I am solely answerable. And uniformly was the matter so understood between successive comptrollers and myself. Also it is essential to the due administration of the department, that it should have been so understood.
I have stated my reasons for considering the advances made, for the use of the President, constitutional, legal, and proper. But I pretend not to infallibility; ’t is possible I may have erred; but to convert error into guilt, it must be supposed to have been wilful. To suppose it wilful, it is necessary to trace it to some interested or sinister motive. If any appear, let it be pointed out. It is not common for men to commit crimes without some adequate inducement.
What criminal inducement would have probably influenced the rule of construction as to advances which has been stated to have been adopted and acted upon at the Treasury? What criminal inducement particularly could have led to the application of this rule to the President’s compensation, in so restricted a form as never to equal one quarter’s salary? Who in his senses will believe that the President would consciously have hazarded the imputation of violating the Constitution, the laws, and his oath of office, by imposing on the officers of the Treasury the necessity of making him so paltry an advance, falsely and ridiculously called a donation? Who will believe that those officers would have consented to expose themselves to the same imputation, by compliance, when they knew that the evidence of their guilt must regularly be communicated in each succeeding session, to both houses of Congress, and to the public at large? To believe either, is to believe all the parties concerned foolish, as well as profligate in the extreme, destitute equally of intellect as of principle.
To an observation made by Mr. Wolcott in the communication from the Treasury, it has been answered, that there was no merit in the disclosure, because the number of agents and the forms of the Treasury rendered it unavoidable. The fact is so—but the force of the observation turns upon the egregious folly of intentionally committing the crimes imputed; when it was certain, beforehand, that the means of detection must be furnished, and without delay, by the Treasury itself.
It is certain, that there never has been the least attempt at mystery or concealment. The documents reported by the Treasury to both houses of Congress, carried in their face the prominent evidence of what was done. Frequent and indiscriminate personal suggestions regarded the principle of action. It is evident that it must have been understood and acquiesced in by all the members of the two houses of Congress.
Hard would be the condition of public officers if even a misconstruction of constitutional and legal provisions, attended with no symptom of criminal motive, carrying the proof of innocence in the openness and publicity of conduct, could justly expose them to the odious charges which on this occasion are preferred. Harder still would be their condition if, in the management of the great and complicated business of a nation, the fact of misconstruction, which is to constitute their guilt, is to be decided by the narrow and rigid rules of a criticism no less pedantic than malevolent. Pre-eminently hard in such circumstances was the lot of the man who, called to the head of the most arduous department in the public administration in a new government, without the guidance of antecedent practice and precedent, had to trace out his own path, and to adjust for himself the import and bearings of delicate and important provisions in the Constitution and in the laws.
Reposing myself on a consciousness which, in no possible situation, can fail to prove an invulnerable shield to my tranquillity, I leave to a candid public to pronounce the sentence which is due to an attempt, on such a foundation, to erect against the President of the United States, my successor in office, and myself, the heinous charges of violation of the Constitution, violation of the laws, exaction of arbitrary will on the one side, abject submission on the other, misapplication of the public money, and, to complete the newspaper group, intentional perjury.
This personal explanation appeared in the newspapers, and the attacks which made such a defence necessary give a vivid idea of the bitterness of party politics at that time. The Democrats did not hesitate to accuse Washington of abusing his high trust for pecuniary advantage.