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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. 10.
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December 2, 1794.
The Secretary of the Treasury has the honor respectfully to make the following representation to the President of the United States, in order that he may determine on the expediency of laying the subject of it before Congress.
The procuring of military supplies generally is, with great propriety, vested by law in the Department of the Treasury. That department, from situation, may be expected to feel a more habitual solicitude for economy than any other, and to possess more means of information respecting the best modes of obtaining supplies.
It is, however, important that the particular arrangement should be such as to enable the department to execute the trust in the best manner. This branch of business forms a very considerable one of the public expenditure. Including supplies for the navy, it is so extensive as, to be well executed, would occupy the whole time and attention of one person, possessing the requisite qualifications. This, with the growth of the country, must be every year more and more the case. It cannot, therefore, be conducted in detail by the head of the department, or by any existing officer of it, now charged with other duties, and without being less well executed than it ought to be, or interfering with other essential duties, or without a portion of both these inconveniences, to the material detriment of the public service. Experience has already verified the position.
It must then, of necessity, either be confided to a special agent, employed by the head of the department, or to a new officer of the department, to be constituted by law, and to act under the discretion and superintendence of that head. The last mode is preferable to the first, for obvious reasons.
Whenever an object of public business is likely to be permanent, it is more fit that it should be transacted by an officer of the government, regularly constituted, than by the agent of a department, specially intrusted.
The officer can be placed, by law, under more effectual checks. In the present case, that idea is particularly important. The person intrusted ought to be prohibited, under penalties, from all dealing, on his own account, in the objects of supply.
The duration and emoluments of mere agency being precarious, a well-qualified man, disposed to make the necessary sacrifices of other pursuits, and to devote himself exclusively to the business, could with much greater difficulty, if at all, be found.
The compensation to such an officer ought, it is conceived, to weigh nothing as an objection. Independent of the equivalent expense, arising from the necessity of employing and compensating an agent, it is morally certain that the close, constant, undivided attention of a person, charged exclusively with this object, and in condition, for that reason, to make the minute as well as extensive inquiries and investigations which are often requisite, would produce savings to the United States with which the salary of the officer could bear no comparison. It is equally evident that it would contribute greatly to punctuality, despatch, and efficiency in procuring the supplies.
Jan. 26, 1795.
Mr. Wolcott has just informed me that the Secretary of State had called upon him as by your direction, to confer on the subject of a person to be appointed Comptroller, in the event of his appointment as Secretary of the Treasury; and intimated that you had concluded to take some gentleman from the South; that Mr. Habersham (brother of the collector of Savannah) was more particularly in your eye, and that if he or I had any different view of the subject, it was your wish that it might be speedily communicated, as you were desirous of coming to a conclusion.
This I accordingly feel it my duty to do.
It is of the greatest importance to the proper conducting the business of the Treasury Department that the Comptroller should be a man of the following description: of strong sense, of clear discernment, sound judgment, indefatigable industry, firmness, and prompt decision of temper; possessing a comprehensive knowledge of accounts, and of course good principles.
As well from the nature of the office as from the particular situation of the department, as it will stand at the moment of my resignation, it is of peculiar consequence that there should be no mistake in the selection of the proper character for Comptroller. It will be easy for the department to run into disorder if such a mistake should happen.
From all the light I have been able to obtain on the subject, though it results in a favorable impression of Mr. Habersham generally, yet it leaves a considerable doubt on my mind that he would be an eligible appointment as Comptroller of the Treasury. I cannot, therefore, add my opinion to the rest of the opinions which may favor it.
There is one gentleman South, whom I have before mentioned, of whose fitness in every respect, from trial of him in different public situations, it appears to me impossible to entertain a doubt—I mean Colonel Edward Carrington. I will pledge my reputation to the President for his proving, if appointed, an excellent Comptroller, and a valuable acquisition to the department.
I have fully reflected on the objection which from the distributive geographical rule, is supposed to be against him—and I beg leave to submit, as my opinion, that it ought not to be conclusive. This rule is doubtless a good one; but if carried so far as to hazard the appointment of unqualified persons to offices of material importance to the general administration of the government, it will become a bad one, sacrificing primary to secondary considerations.
I have offered my opinion with the less reserve because I ought to be explicit in a case not only of much moment to the public service, but when the arrangements which may be made, may, naturally from situation, be presumed to have had the concurrence of my opinion, and where, therefore, my reputation is more particularly concerned.