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The Works of Alexander Hamilton, ed. Henry Cabot Lodge (Federal Edition) (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904). In 12 vols. Vol. 9.
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April 17, 1791.
You will probably recollect that previous to your departure from this place, anticipating the event which has taken place with regard to the death of Mr. Everleigh, I took the liberty to mention to you that Mr. Wolcott, the present Auditor, would be in every respect worthy of your consideration as his successor in office.
Now that the event has happened, a concern as anxious as it was natural for the success of the department, united with a sentiment of justice towards Mr. Wolcott, leads me to a repetition of that idea. This gentleman’s conduct in the station he now fills has been that of an excellent officer. It has not only been good, but distinguished. It has combined all the requisites which can be desired: moderation with firmness, liberality with exactness, indefatigable industry with an accurate and sound discernment, a thorough knowledge of business, and a remarkable spirit of order and arrangement. Indeed, I ought to say that I owe very much of whatever success may have attended the merely executive operations of the department to Mr. Wolcott; and I do not fear to commit myself when I add that he possesses in an eminent degree all the qualifications desirable in a Comptroller of the Treasury—that it is scarcely possible to find a man in the United States more competent to the duties of that station than himself; few who could be equally so. It may be truly said of him that he is a man of rare merit, and I have good evidence that he has been viewed in this light by the members of Congress extensively from different quarters of the Union, and is so considered by all that part of the public who have had opportunities of witnessing his conduct.
The immediate relation, too, which his present situation bears to that of Comptroller is a strong argument in his favor. Though a regular gradation of office is not admissible in a strict sense in regard to offices of a civil nature, and is wholly inapplicable to those of the first rank (such as the heads of the great executive departments), yet a certain regard to the relation which one situation bears to another is consonant with the natural ideas of justice, and is recommended by powerful considerations of policy. The expectation of promotion in civil as in military life is a great stimulus to virtuous exertion, while examples of unrewarded exertion, supported by talent and qualification, are proportionable discour agements. Where they do not produce resignations they leave men dissatisfied, and a dissatisfied man seldom does his duty well.
In a government like ours, where pecuniary compensations are moderate, the principle of gradual advancement as a reward for good conduct is perhaps more necessary to be attended to than in others where offices are more lucrative. By due attention to it it will operate as a means to secure respectable men for offices of inferior emolument and consequence.
In addition to the rest, Mr. Wolcott’s experience in this particular line pleads powerfully in his favor. This experience may be dated back to his office of Comptroller of the State of Connecticut, and has been perfected by practice in his present place.
A question may perhaps, sir, arise in your mind, whether some inconvenience may not attend his removal from his present office. I am of opinion that no sensible inconvenience will be felt on this score, since it will be easy for him as Comptroller, who is the immediate superior of the Auditor, to form any man of business for the office he will leave, in a short period of time. More inconvenience would be felt by the introduction of a Comptroller not in the immediate train of the business.
Besides this, it may be observed that a degree of inconvenience on this score cannot be deemed an obstacle, but upon the principle which would bar the progress of merit from one station to another.
On this point of inconvenience a reflection occurs, which I think I ought not to suppress. Mr. Wolcott is a man of sensibility, not unconscious of his own value, and he doubtless must believe that he has pretensions from situation to the office. Should another be appointed, and he resign, the derangement of the department would truly be distressing to the public service.
In suggesting thus particularly the reasons which in my mind operate in favor of Mr. Wolcott, I am influenced by information that other characters will be brought to your view by weighty advocates, and as I think it more than possible that Mr. Wolcott may not be mentioned to you by any other person than myself, I feel it a duty arising out of my situation in the department, to bear my full and explicit testimony to his worth, confident that he will justify by every kind of substantial merit any mark of your approbation which he may receive.
I trust, sir, that in thus freely disclosing my sentiments to you, you will be persuaded that I only yield to the suggestions of an honest zeal for the public good, and of a firm conviction that the prosperity of the department under my particular care (one so interesting to the aggregate movements of the government) will be best promoted by transferring the present Auditor to the office of Comptroller of the Treasury.