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to colonel olney 1 - Alexander Hamilton, The Works of Alexander Hamilton, (Federal Edition), vol. 10 
The Works of Alexander Hamilton, ed. Henry Cabot Lodge (Federal Edition) (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904). In 12 vols. Vol. 10.
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to colonel olney1
Nov. 26, 1793.
Some embarrassment has arisen on the subject of a fit person for District Attorney of Rhode Island. Mr. Howell2 has been strongly recommended on the one hand, and positively objected to on another, and Mr. ——— has been proposed in opposition. Your opinion does not appear on either side.
The President is desirous of further information, and I have undertaken to procure it for him. In addressing myself to you on the point, I proceed on an assurance of your judgment and candor. I request your ideas of the candidates fully and freely, promising that it shall not in any shape compromit you. Be so good as to state not only the qualifications of each, but the collateral circumstances affecting the public service, which will be likely to attend the appointment of either.
It is regretted that the affair has assumed too much a party complexion. This suggests an inquiry whether there be not some third character competent, eligible, and who would not be liable to a similar difficulty. The more speedy your answer, the more it will oblige.
to the united states senate
Feb. 22, 1794.
I have received a late order of the Senate on the subject of a petition of Arthur Hughes. Diligent search has been made for such a petition, and it has not been found. Neither have I now a distinct recollection of ever having seen it. Whether, therefore, it may not have originally failed in the transmission to me, or may have become mislaid by a temporary displacement of the papers of my immediate office, occasioned by a fire which consumed a part of the building in the use of the Treasury, or by some of those accidents which in an extensive scene of business will sometimes attend papers, especially those of inferior importance, is equally open to conviction. There is no record in the office of its having been received, nor do any of my clerks remember to have seen it. A search in the Auditor’s office has brought up the enclosed paper, which it is presumed relates to the object of the petition; but this paper, it will appear from the memorandum accompanying it, was placed in that office prior to the reference of the petition.
The Auditor of the Treasury is of opinion, though his recollection is suppositive, that the claim had relation to the services of John Hughes as forage master. Two objections opposed its admission: (1) the not being presented in time; (2) the name of John Hughes, in the capacity in which he claimed, not appearing upon any return in the Treasury.
If these be the circumstances, I should be of opinion that it would not be advisable by a special legislative interposition to except the case out of the operation of the acts of limitation.
The second order of the Senate on the subject of this petition leads to the following reflections:
Does this hitherto unusual proceeding (in a case of no public and no peculiar private importance) imply a supposition that there has been undue delay or negligence on the part of the Secretary of the Treasury?
If it does, the supposition is unmerited; not merely from the circumstances of the paper, which have been stated, but from the known situation of the officer. The occupations necessarily and permanently incident to the office are at least sufficient fully to occupy the time and faculties of one man. The burden is seriously increased by the numerous private cases, remnants of the late war, which every session are objects of particular reference by the two Houses of Congress. These accumulated occupations again have been interrupted in their due course by unexpected, desultory, and distressing calls for lengthy and complicated statements, sometimes with a view to general information, sometimes for the explanation of points which certain leading facts, witnessed by the provisions of the laws and by information previously communicated might have explained without those statements, or which were of a nature that did not seem to have demanded a laborious, critical, and suspicious investigation, unless the officer was understood to have forfeited his title to a reasonable and common degree of confidence. Added to these things, it is known that the affairs of the country in its external relations have for some time past been so circumstanced as unavoidably to have thrown additional avocations on all the branches of the Executive Department, and that a late peculiar calamity in the city of Philadelphia has had consequences that cannot have failed to derange more or less the course of public business.
In such a situation, was it not the duty of the officer to postpone matters of mere individual concern to topics of public and general concern, to the preservation of the essential order of the department committed to his care? Or, is it extraordinary that in relation to cases of the first description there should have been a considerable degree of procrastination? Might not an officer who is conscious that public observation and opinion, whatever deficiencies they may impute to him, will not rank among them want of attention and industry, have hoped to escape censure, expressed or implied, on that score?
I will only add that the consciousness of devoting myself to the public service to the utmost extent of my faculties and to the injury of my health, is a tranquillizing consolation of which I cannot be deprived by any supposition to the contrary.
With perfect respect, etc.1
Colonel Jeremiah Olney, of Rhode Island, a soldier of the Revolution and Collector of Customs at Providence.
David Howell, of Rhode Island, Professor of Law in Brown University. He had been delegate to Congress, 1782—1785, and Attorney-General and Judge of the Supreme Court of Rhode Island. He was appointed District Attorney, and from 1812 till his death, in 1824, was U. S. District Judge.
Reprinted from American State Papers, “Claims,” p. 77. This letter has also been reprinted in Adams’s Life of Gallatin, p. 116. It is a very interesting and somewhat amusing document, and it may be doubted if any other Secretary of the Treasury ever dared to lecture the Senate in this way.