in my power, to enable him to form a proper judg-
ment on such of the subjects referred to as the actual
state of things renders it important to know.
In compliance with this, I request the favor of
your Excellency to inform me what steps have been
taken on the several heads of which the above is an
abstract; and what progress has been made in the
business ; particularly with respect to the first arti-
cle. I shall also be much obliged to you to direct
268 Alexander Hamilton
Mr. Holt to furnish me, without delay, with the Acts
mentioned in the inclosed list.
Your Excellency must have been too sensible of
the necessity of enabling the Director of the Finances
of the United States to form a just judgment of the
true state of our affairs, to have omitted any measure
in your power to procure the fullest information on
the several matters submitted to you: and I am
persuaded the business is in such a train that little
will be left for me to do.
I entreat you will do me the honor to let me hear
from you as soon as possible on the subject.
It would promote the public business, if you would
be so good as to direct Mr. Banker to supply me with
such information as I might call upon him for. He
is very obliging, but without some authority for the
purpose, there is a delicacy in calling upon him. I
wrote at the same time to Mr. Holt, printer for the
State, desiring him to forward me the copies of
the Acts above mentioned ; and telling him that if the
Governor did not make satisfaction, I would do it.
These Acts were all those relative to finance and
supply, from March i8, 1780, to this time.
TO THE COUNTY TREASURERS
Albany, August 5, 1782.
It will be of great utility to the State, and essential
to the execution of my instructions from the Super-
intendent of Finance, that I should be able to ascer-
tain, as speedily as possible, the expense attending
Private Correspondence 269
the collection of taxes within this State. In order
to this, I shall be much obliged to you to send me
without delay an account of what you have received
in your county, since the beginning of the year '80 to
this time, as well for the taxes laid for county pur-
poses, as for those imposed by the Legislature; and
of the expenses of every kind attending the collec-
tion; those of the supervisors, assessors, the allow-
ance to the collectors and to myself.
When I assure you I want this information for an
important purpose, I doubt not you will forward it
to me as speedily as it can be prepared, and with
as much accuracy as circumstances will permit; by
doing which you will serve the public and oblige,
TO ROBERT MORRIS
Albany, August 13, 1782.
I promised you in former letters to give you a full
view of the situation and temper of this State. I
now sit down to execute that task.
You have already in your possession a pretty just
picture of the State, drawn by the Legislature, per-
haps too highly colored in some places, but just, and,
in the main, true.
It is the opinion of the most sensible men with
whom I converse, who are best acquainted with the
circumstances of the State, and who are least dis-
posed to exaggerate its distress as an excuse for in-
activity, that its faculties for revenue are diminished
at least two thirds.
270 Alexander Hamilton
It will not be difficult to conceive this when we
consider that five out of the fourteen counties of
which the State is composed, including the capital,
are in the hands of the enemy ; that two and part of
a third have revolted; two others have been deso-
lated the greater part by the ravages of the enemy
and of our own troops, and the remaining four have
more or less suffered partial injuries from the same
causes. Adding the fragments of some to repair the
losses of others, the efficient property, strength, and
force of the State will consist in little more than four
In the distribution of taxes before the war, the
city of New York used to be rated at one third of the
whole; but this was too high, owing probably to
the prevailing of the country influence. Its proper
proportion I should judge to have been about one
fourth, which serves further to illustrate the prob-
able decrease of the State.
Our population, indeed, is not diminished in the
same degree, as many of the inhabitants of the dis-
membered and ruined counties, who have left their
habitations, are dispersed through those which re-
main; and it would seem that the labor of the ad-
ditional hands ought to ensure the culture and value
of these. But there are many deductions to be
made from this apparent advantage: the numbers
that have recruited the British army; those that
have been furnished to ours; the emigrations to Ver-
mont and to the neighboring States, less harassed
by the war, and affording better encouragements to
industry, both which have been considerable.
Private Correspondence 271
Besides these circumstances, many of the fugitive
famihes are a burthen for their substance upon the
State. The fact is, labor is much dearer than be-
fore the war.
This State has certainly made, in the course of the
war, great exertions, and, upon many occasions, of
the most exhausting kind. This has sometimes
happened from want of judgment; at others, from
necessity. When the army, as has too often been
the case, has been threatened with some fatal calam-
ity — for want of provisions, forage, the means of
transportation, etc., — in consequence of pressing
applications from the Commander-in-Chief, the
Legislature have been obliged to have recourse to
extraordinary expedients to answer the pressing
emergency, which have both distressed and disgusted
the people. There is no doubt that, with a prudent
and systematic administration, the State might have
rendered more benefit to the common cause, with
less inconvenience to itself, than by all its forced
efforts; but there, as everywhere else, we have
wanted experience and knowledge. And, indeed,
had this not been the case, every thing everywhere
has been so radically wrong, that it was difficult, if
not impossible, for any one State to be right.
The exposed situation of the frontier, and the fre-
quent calls upon the inhabitants for personal service
on each extremity, by interfering with industry, have
contributed to impoverish the State and fatigue the
Deprived of foreign trade, our internal traffic is
carried on upon the most disadvantageous terms.
272 Alexander Hamilton
It divides itself into three branches : with the city of
New York, with Jersey and Pennsylvania, and with
That with New York consists chiefly of liixuries
on one part and returns of specie on the other. I
imagine we have taken goods from that place to the
amount of near ;^3o,ooo. The Legislature passed a
severe law to prevent this intercourse, but what will
laws avail against the ingenuity and intrepidity of
From Jersey and Pennsylvania we take about
;^3 0,000 more, and we pay almost entirely in cash.
From Massachusetts and other parts of New Eng-
land we purchase to the amount of about ;^5o,ooo,
principally in tea and salt. (The articles of tea and
salt alone cost this State the annual sum of ;^6 0,000.)
We sell to these States to the value of about ;^3 0,000.
The immense land transportation, of which the
chief part is carried on by the subjects of other
States, is a vast incumbrance upon our trade.
The principal article we have to throw in the op-
posite scale is the expenditures of the army. Mr.
Sands informs me that the contractors for the main
army and West Point lay out in this State at the
rate of about $60,000 a year; Mr. Duer, for these
northern posts, about $30,000. If the Quartermas-
ter-General expends as much more in his depart-
ment, the whole will amount to about $180,000. I
speak of what is paid for in specie, or such paper as
answers the purpose of specie. These calculations
cannot absolutely be relied on, because the data are
necessarily uncertain, but they are the result of the
Private Correspondence 273
best information I can obtain, and, if near the truth,
prove that the general balance of trade is against
us — a plain symptom of which is an extreme and
universal scarcity of money.
The situation of the State with respect to its in-
ternal government is not more pleasing. Here we
find the general disease which infects all our consti-
tutions — an excess of popularity. There is no order
that has a will of its own. The inquiry constantly
is what will please, not what will benefit the people.
In such a government there can be nothing but
temporary expenditure, fickleness, and folly.
But the point of view in which this subject will be
interesting to you is that which relates to our finances.
I gave you, in a former letter, a sketch of our plan
of taxation, but I will now be more particular.
The general principle of it is apparent, according
to circumstances and abilities collectively considered.
The ostensible reason for adopting this vague basis
was a desire of equality. It was pretended that this
could not be obtained so well by any fixed tariff of
taxable property, as by leaving it to the discretion
of persons chosen by the people themselves to deter-
mine the abihty of each citizen. But perhaps the
true reason was a desire to discriminate between the
Whigs and Tories. This chimerical attempt at per-
fect equality has resulted in total inequality, or
rather this narrow disposition to overburthen a par-
ticular class of citizens (living under the protection
of the government) has been retorted upon the con-
trivers or their friends, wherever that class has been
numerous enough to preponderate in the election of
VOL. IX.— IB.
2 74 Alexander Hamilton
the officers who were to execute the law. The ex-
terior figure a man makes, the decency and mean-
ness of his manner of living, the personal friendships
or dislikes of the assessors, have much more share in
determining what individuals shall pay, than the
proportion of property.
The Legislature first assesses or quotas the several
counties. Here the evil begins — the members cabal
and intrigue to throw the burthen off their respective
constituents. Address and influence, more than con-
siderations of real ability, prevail. A great deal of
time is lost, and a great deal of expense incurred,
before the juggle is ended and the necessary com-
The supervisors, of whom there are upon an aver-
age sixteen in each county, meet at the notification
of the county clerk, and assign their proportions to
the subdivisions of the county, and, in the distribu-
tion, play over the same game which was played in
The assessors, assembled on a like notification, ac-
cording to their fancies, determine the proportion of
each individual ; a list of which being made out and
signed by the supervisors, is a warrant to the collect-
ors. There are near an hundred upon an average
in each coimtry. The allowance to these officers
has been various. It is now six shillings a day, be-
sides expenses. In some cases they have been lim-
ited to a particular time for executing the business;
but, in general, it is left to their discretion, and the
greater part of them are not in a hurry to complete
it, as they have a conpensation for their trouble and
Private Correspondence 275
live better at the public charge than they are ac-
customed to do at their own. The consequence is
not only delay but a heavy expense.
It now remains for the collectors to collect the tax,
and it is the duty of the supervisors to see that they
do it. Both these offices are elective as well as that
of the assessor; and, of course, there is little dis-
position to risk the displeasure of those who elect.
They have no motive of interest to stimulate them
to their duty equivalent to the inconvenience of per-
forming it. The collector is entitled to the trifling
compensation of sometimes four, sometimes six
pence, out of each pound he collects, and is liable to
the trifling penalty of twenty or twenty-five pounds
for neglect of duty. The supervisors have no in-
terest at all in the collections, and it will not on this
account appear extraordinary, that, with continual
delinquencies in the collection, there has never been
a single prosecution. As I observed on a former oc-
casion, if the collector happens to be a zealous man
and lives in a zealous neighborhood, the taxes are
collected; if either of these requisites are wanting,
the collection languishes or entirely fails.
When the taxes are collected they are paid to
the county treasurer, an officer chosen by the super-
visors. The collectors are responsible to him also;
but as he is allowed only one fourth or one half per
cent., he has no sufficient inducement to incur the
odium of compelling them to do their duty.
The county treasurer pays what he receives in to
the State treasurer, who has an annual salary of
;)^3oo, and has nothing to do but to receive and pay
276 Alexander Hamilton
out according to the appropriation of the Legisla-
Notwithstanding the obvious defects of this sys-
tem; notwithstanding experience has shown it to
be iniquitous and inefficient, and that all attempts
to amend it without totally changing it are fruitless;
notwithstanding there is a pretty general discontent
from the inequality of the taxes, still ancient habits,
ignorance, the spirit of the times, the opportunity
aiforded to some popular characters of screening
themselves by intriguing with the assessors, have
hitherto proved an overmatch for common sense and
common justice, as well as the manifest advantage of
the State and of the United States.
The temper of the State, which I shall now de-
scribe, may be considered under two heads — that of
the rulers and that of the people.
The rulers are generally zealous in the common
cause, though their zeal is oftentimes misdirected.
They are jealous of their own power; but yet, as
this State is the immediate theatre of the war, these
apprehensions of danger, and an opinion that they
are obliged to do more than their neighbors, make
them very willing to part with power in favor of the
Federal Government. This last opinion and an idea
added to it, that they have no credit for their past
exertions, has put them out of humor and indisposed
many of them for future exertions. I have heard
several assert that in the present situation of this
State, nothing more ought to be expected than that
it maintain its own government and keep up its
quota of troops.
Private Correspondence 277
This sentiment, however, is as yet confined to
few, but it is too palpable not to make proselytes.
The rulers of this State are attached to the alli-
ance, as are Whigs generally. They have also great
confidence in you personally, but pretty general ex-
ception has been taken to a certain letter of yours
written, I beheve, in the winter or spring. The idea
imbibed is that it contains a reflection upon them
for their past exertions. I have on every account
combated this impression, which could not fail to
have an ill effect, and I mention it to you with free-
dom, because it is essential you should know the
temper of the States respecting yourself.
As to the people, in the early periods of the war,
near one half of them were avowedly more attached
to Great Britain than to their liberty, but the energy
of the government has subdued all opposition. The
State by different means has been purged of a large
part of its malcontents; but there still remains, I
dare say, a third, whose secret wishes are on the side
of the enemy; the remainder sigh for peace, mur-
mur at taxes, clamor at their rulers, change one in-
capable man for another more incapable, and, I fear,
if left to themselves, would, too many of them, be
willing to purchase peace at any price— not from in-
clination to Great Britain or disaffection to inde-
pendence, but from mere supineness and avarice.
t The speculation of evils from the claims of Great
Britain gives way to the pressure of inconveniences
actually felt, and we required the event which has
lately happened — the recognition of our independ-
f See page 280.
278 Alexander Hamilton
ence by the Dutch — to give a new spring to the
public hopes and the public passions. This has had
a good effect, and if the Legislature can be brought
to adopt a wise plan for its finances, we may put the
people in better humor, and give a more regular and
durable movement to the machine. The people of
this State, as far as my observation goes, have as
much firmness in their make and as much submission
to government as those of any part of the Union. It
remains for me to give you an explicit opinion of
what is practicable for this State to do„
Even with a judicious plan of taxation I do not
think the State can afford, or the people will bear, to
pay more than ;^7 0,000 or ;^8o,ooo a year. In its
entire and flourishing state, according to my mode
of calculation it could not have exceeded ;^23o,ooo
or ;^24o,ooo; and reduced as it is, with the wheels of
circulation so exceedingly clogged for want of com-
merce and a sufficient medium, more than I have
said cannot be expected. Past experience will not
authorize a more flattering conclusion. Out of this
is to be deducted the expense of the interior adminis-
tration and the money necessaries for the levies of
men. The first amounts to about ;^i 5,000, as you
will perceive by the inclosed slate; but I suppose
the Legislature would choose to retain ;^2 0,000. The
money hitherto yearly expended in recruits has
amounted to between ;^2o,ooo and ;^3o,ooo; but on
a proper plan ;;^i 0,000 might suffice. There would
then remain ;^4o,ooo for your department.
But this is on a supposition of a change of system ;
for with the present I doubt there being paid into
Private Correspondence 279
the Continental treasury one third of that sum. I
am endeavoring to collect materials for greater cer-
tainty upon this subject. But the business of sup-
plies has been so diversified, lodged in such a variety
of independent hands, and so carelessly transacted,
that it is hardly possible to get any tolerable idea of
the gross and net product.
With the help of these materials I shall strive
to convince the committee, when they meet, that
a change of measures is essential; if they enter cor-
dially into right views, we may succeed; but I con-
fess I fear more than I hope.
I have taken every step in my power to procure
the information you have desired in your letter of
July 1 8th. The most material part of it, an ac-
count of the supplies furnished since March, '80, has
been committed to Col. Hay. I have written to him
in pressing terms to accelerate the preparation.
You will perceive, sir, I have neither flattered the
State nor encouraged high expectations. I thought
it my duty to exhibit things as they are, not as they
ought to be. I shall be sorry to give you an ill opin-
ion of the State for want of equal candor in the
representations of others; for, however disagreeable
the reflection, I have too much reason to believe that
the true picture of other States would be, in pro-
portion to their circumstances, equally unpromising.
All my inquiries and all that appears induce this
opinion. I intend this letter in confidence to your-
self, and therefore I endorse it private.
Before I conclude I will say a word on a point that
possibly you could wish to be informed about. The
28o Alexander Hamilton
contract up this way is executed generally to the
satisfaction of the officers and soldiers, which is
more meritorious in the contractor, as in all prob-
ability it will be to him a losing imdertaking.^
TO JOHN LAURENS '
August 15, 1782.
I received with great pleasure, my dear Laurens,
the letter which you wrote me in last. Your
wishes in one respect are gratified. This State has
pretty unanimously elected me to Congress. My
time of service commences in November. It is not
probable it will result in what you mention. I hope
it is too late. We have great reason to flatter our-
selves. Peace on our own terms is upon the carpet.
The making it is in good hands. It is said your
father is exchanged for Comwallis, and gone to Paris
to meet the other commissioners, and that Gran-
ville, on the part of England, has made a second trip
there; in the last instance, vested with plenipoten-
I fear there may be obstacles, but I hope they may
Peace made, my dear friend, a new scene opens.
The object then will be to make our independence a
blessing. To do this we must secure our Union on
1 This long and interesting letter is now first printed entire from the
Hamilton papers in the State Department. A small portion beginning
at the sentence, "The speculation of evils," marked thus t, [page 277]
and continuing to the end, has been printed in the edition of 1850, vol.
2 In those days of slow mails, this letter probably never reached
Laurens, who fell near the Combahee in a skirmish Aug. 27th
Private Correspondence 281
solid foundations — a herculean task, — and to effect
which, mountains of prejudice must be levelled! It
requires all the virtue and all the abilities of the
country. Quit your sword, my friend; put on the
toga. Come to Congress. We know each other's
sentiments; our views are the same. We have
fought side by side to make America free; let us
hand in hand struggle to make her happy. Re-
member me to General Greene with all the warmth
of sincere attachment. Yours forever.'
TO GOVERNOR CLINTON
Albany, August 25, 1782.
By advices from Philadelphia, I find that the
present is a period rather critical on the subject of
money, and concentres a variety of demands which
it is not easy to satisfy.
It becomes, therefore, of importance to the Fi-
nancier to avail himself of every immediate resource.
This induces me to request you will be so good as
to inform me whether there is any near prospect of
obtaining the loan directed to be applied to Con-
tinental use; also, whether any measures can be
taken to accelerate the collection of the late tax im-
posed for the same use.
I would willingly write to the county treasurers
myself, but, unauthorized as I am, I could expect no
good effect from it.^
^ Reprinted from the History of the Republic, ii., 300.
* Now first printed from the Hamilton papers in the State Depart-
282 Alexander Hamilton
TO ROBERT MORRIS
Albany, August 25, 1782.
This letter serves only to transmit the two last
papers. I wish the measures I have taken to satisfy
you on the points you desire to be informed of had
been attended to with so much success as to enable
me now to transmit the result. But I find a sin-
gular confusion in the accoimts kept by the public
officers from whom I must necessarily derive my in-
formation, and a singular dilatoriness in complying
with my application, partly from indolence and
partly from jealousy of the office. I hope, by the
next post, to transmit you information on some
TO COLONEL RICHARD K. MEADE
Albany, August 27, 1782.
I thank you, my dear Meade, for your letter of the
first of this month, which you will perceive has
travelled much faster than has been usual with our
letters. Our correspondence hitherto has been un-
fortunate ; nor, in fact, can either of us compliment
himself on his punctuality, but you were right in
concluding that, however indolence or accident may
interrupt our intercourse, nothing will interrupt our
friendship. Mine for you is built on a solid basis of
a full conviction that you deserve it, and that it is
reciprocal; and it is the more firmly fixed because
you have few competitors. Experience is a con-
tinual comment on the worthlessness of the human
Private Correspondence 283
race ; and the few exceptions we find have the greater
right to be valued in proportion as they are rare. I
know few men estimable, fewer amiable; and when
I meet with one of the last description, it is not in
my power to withhold my affection.
[You reproach me with not having said enough
about our little stranger. When I wrote last I was
not sufficiently acquainted with him to give you his
character. I may now assure you that your daugh-
ter, when she sees him, will not consult you about
the choice, or will only do it in respect to the rules
of decorum. He is truly a very fine young gentle-
man, the most agreeable in his conversation and
manners of any I ever knew, nor less remarkable for