Oliver Wolcott.

An address to the people of the United States : on the subject of the report of a committee of the House of Representatives, appointed to examine and report whether monies drawn from the Treasury have been faithfully applied to the objects for which they were appropriated, and whether the same have online

. (page 1 of 9)
Online LibraryOliver WolcottAn address to the people of the United States : on the subject of the report of a committee of the House of Representatives, appointed to examine and report whether monies drawn from the Treasury have been faithfully applied to the objects for which they were appropriated, and whether the same have → online text (page 1 of 9)
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Late Secretary of the Treafury of the United States.






OOON after the commencement of the laft
Seffion of Congrefs, the Houfe of Reprefentatives
appointed a Committee with an inftruction "To
" enquire and report, whether monies drawn from
"the Trcafury,had been faithfully applied to the ob-
jects for which they were appropriated,and wheth-
"er the fame had been regularly accounted for ;
"and to report likewife whether any further ar-
"rangements were neceffary to promote economy,
"enforce adherence to legiilative reftridtions, and
"fecure the accountability of perfons entruited
"with public money/ 5

At the clofe of the feffion, a Report was fubmit-
ted to the Houfe, founded, principally, on commu-
nications from Mr. Gallatin, Secretary of the Trea-
fury. I am authorized to affert, that this report
ought to be conlidered, as excluiively the act of
the majority of the Committee; confifting, as is un-
derftood, of Mr. Nicholfon of Maryland, Mr. Giles
of Virginia, Mr. Williams of North Carolina, and
Mr. Elmendorf of New York. Mr. Bayard of De-
laware, Mr. Grifwold of Connecticut, and Mr. Cut-
ler of Maffachufetts, were indeed members of the
Committee, but they were not apprifed of the in-
tentions of the majority, until a few days before
the clofe of the feffion, when the report was al-
ready prepared and ready to be prefented : even
this communication with the minority of the

Committee, produced no effect, as none of the al-
terations, which were fuggefted, were admitted.

The appointment of this committee, was certain-
ly proper, either for the purpofe of collecting in-
formation for the Houfe of Reprefentatives, or for
the fatisfaction of the community at large. To
accomplifh either of thefe objects, the Report
ought, however, to have contained a full view of all
the circumftances, which reafonable men would
deem efTential to affiit their judgments, in form-
ing correct opinions. For the purpofe of prevent-
ing debates from being unneceilarily dilYufive, in
confequence of difputes, refpecting facts, capable
of being precifely afcertained, it has been a prac-
tice to compofe committees, of thofe gentlemen,
who were not only beft informed, on the fubjects
referred to their confederation, but who were alfo,
moil likely to be oppofed in fentiment, on the
fame, or other relative queftions. The utility,
juftiGe and policy, of this practice, are too obvious
to require illuftration. Men are fulliciently prone
to differ, refpecling the proper application of prin-
ciples to facts, even when the latter, are not dif-
puted. NotAvithftanding every precaution, great
difficulties will frequently attend legiflative dif-
cuffions of complex queftions, It is a primary
duty of Committees, to limit the grounds of con-
troverfy ; to fettle in concert, every queftion which
Is fufceptible of a juft compromife ; to prefent di-
gefted and contrafted views of thofe facts and ar-
guments, upon which there remains a diverfity of
opinion ; and to deduce therefrom diilinct pro-
pofitions, fufceptible of an affirmative or negative
determination. When Committees fail of accom-
plifliing thefe objects, they are worfe than ufelefs,
by perplexing thofe fubjccts, which they were in-
ftituted to elucidate.

Judging by thefe principles, the conduct of the
Speaker, in defignating the members of the Com-
mittee, appears to have been candid and impartial ;
and whether in the mode of proceeding, which
they adopted, the majority of the members, have
difcharged their duty to the public, is a point,
which I leave to the judgment of the Houfe of
Reprefentatives and the Community. So far as
my perfonal interefts are affected, I am not dif-
pleafed with the courfe, which the enquiry has ta-
ken. I rejoice, that at length there exifts an of-
ficial flatemcnt of thofe fuppofed errors in the for-
mer adminiftration of the Finances, which have
caufed much public inquietude ; it Is peculiarly
fatisfactory, that this ftatement has been prepared
by Mr. Giles and Mr. Gallatin : both thefe gen-
tlemen are known to have been the moft decided,
efficient and perfevering pppofers of the former ad-
miniftration ; both have, for a feries of years,
watched every operation of the Treafury, with
unceafmg vigilance, and fortunately, as I truft, for
my reputation, the latter has, for a coniiderable
period, been in pofleffion of every poffible fburce
of information, reflecting the whole courfe of
my official conduct.

The manner in which I mean to purfue the pro-
pofed enquiry, and which is intended to be merely
defenfwe^ perhaps requires me to abfolve the com-
mittee of any intention unjiiftly to wound the charaft-
ers of the former adminiflration. When it is recol-
lected, that according to the Conflitution, the aw-
ful fentence of DISHONOUR can only be pronounc-
ed on the concurring votes of two thirds of the
Senate of the United States, the higheil tribunal
of our country, on full proof of mifdemeanors in
office, after a public, hearing, and a folemn impeach-
ment by the Houfe of Reprefentatives, it ought

not to be imagined, that a bare majority of a Com-
mittee, appointed by the Speaker, according to
ordinary forms, would arrogate the power of in-
flicting the fame punishment. Such a fufpicion,
is peculiarly inadmiirible, as there was no hearing ;
as no counterfbitement was admitted ; as the mi-
nority of the Committee were not even confult-
ed. In particular, decorum forbids, that fuch a
deiign ihould be imputed to the Chairman, Mr.
Nicholfon : This Gentleman, was in the preceed-
ing feiilon, a member of a Committee for inquir-
ing into the State of the Trcafury : he concurred
v/ith the other members, in a report upon my of-
ficial conduct, with which I have every reafon to
be fatisfied : I can teftify to the candour and up-
rightnefs of his conducl on that occaiion : he


will declare that I defired the Committee to dif-
mifs every degree of referve, and to extend their
enquiries to every fubject respecting which injuri-
ous furmifes had exifted : he will alfo recollect,
that I was prefent at the feat of government, dur-
ing the laft winter, and that he was informed at
my requeft, that I was willing to appear before
the Committee and anfwer any enquiries, which
might be propofed, and that the abfence of Mr.
Giles, on a viiit to Virginia, was affigned as a rea-
fon, why my propofal was not accepted ; Mr.
Nicholfon, therefore, cannot have intended, that
his laft report fhould be deemed inconfiftent v/ith
the firft : to fuppofe that he imagined it, proper,
or poffible, to injure my character by a partial rep-
refentation, would be to queilion the foundnefs of
his underftanding ; his honour as a gentleman ;
his juftic2, as the arbiter of the Committee.

But though improper motives, will not by me, be
imputed to the Committee, yet fincerity requires
me to declare., that by adopting a novel mode of

proceeding, they have prefented a very imperfect
reprefentation of tranfactions, which, if I do not
greatly err, are fufceptible of a vindication, per-
fectly fatisfactory to the public : this vindication
I now commence, fupported by the recollection
of numerous inftances of the candour of my coun-
trymen ; and with a firm confidence, that they will
examine with patience, and decide with juflice.

I ft. The Jirji Jubjeft of enquiry, relates to the con-
Jlruclion which has been given by the Treafury Depart-
ment , to various Laws, for appropriating money in the
Freafury, efpecialiy thcfe in relation to the expences of
the War and Navy Departments.

An example of the manner, in which appropri-
ations have been generally made for the War De-
partment, will be found in the firft Section of am
Act of Congrefs, paffed on the 3d day of March
1795. By the fecond Section of an Act, paffed
on the 3ift day of December 1794, a fum not ex-
ceeding five hundred thoufand dollars had been
appropriated " towards defraying the expence of
<c the military eftabliftiment for the year 1795."
By this Act, a partial appropriation was made,
'without any fpecificatipn of the ^particular objects, to
which the money was deftined. According to the
ufual courfe of bufinefs, a great proportion of this
five hundred thoufand dollars, mitft have been ex-
pended before the $d of March 1795. On this day,
the Act fir ft referred to, was paffed ; it declar-
ed, " that including the appropriation of Jive hundred
" thoufand dollars, made for the military eftablifh-
" ment for the year 1795, by an Act of the
" prefent Seflion, there be appropriated, for the
" faid Military eftabliihment, a fum not exceeding
" one million, four hundred and fixty nine thou-
" fand, four hundred and thirty nine dollars and
" twenty nine cents." The fame fedion then pro-

ceeds to fpccfj Jt.^e-m diftinct heads of expenditure^
with iu'tts annexed to each, amounting in the
whole, to the aggregate fum of 1,469,439 dollars
and 29 cents, firft appropriated.

By the cafe now prefented, the principles, upon
which the Report of the Committee is founded,
may be fairly tried. Thefe principles are " that
" there are two previous requifites, which are ne-
" ceilary to juftify the expenditure of public mon-
*' ey, and without which no legal expenditure can
" be made : Firft, that the expenditure for the
" object to which it is applied, mould be authoriz-
" ed by Law ; and fecondly, that an appropriation
" fhould be made, to cover that authorized ex-
" pence.' 3

The principles afferted by the Committee, well
underftood, and properly applied, are unqueftiona-
bly correct ; the queftion is, therefore, merely how
the principles ought to be applied.

It fhall be fuppofed that in the month of Febru-
ary 1795, a requifltion had been made, for money
to fatisfy expences in the Quarter Mafter Depart-
ment. No Law has at any time defined what ex-
fences ft all be referred to this head of expenditure or
in other words no " objetts" of expence have been
a authorized by Law :" beiides, there exifted no
appropriation, except in general terms, " towards
" defraying the expence of the military eftablljhment"
In this ftate of things, would it have been proper
to have refufed the money, on the ground, that
there exiiled no legal objects of expence ^ and that no
fpeclfic appropriation for the Quarter Mafter Depart-
ment had been made? It is evident that fuch a re-
fufal would have been improper, as it would have
arrefted the progrefs of the public fermicc^ and defeated
the operation of an Aft of Congrefs. It was fuffi-
cient, to juilify a compliance with the requilition,

that the expenfes of the Quarter Mafter Depart-
ment were fufficiently denned by ufage ; that, with
reference to many objects, an eftablifhed ufage is
equivalent to a written law ; and that a general ap-
propriation had been made towards defraying the
expenfes of the Military Ejlablijhment, which included
thofe of the Quarter Mafter Department.

It is true that the fubject was revived in the act
of March 1795, and that a fum of one hundred
and fifty thoufand dollars was, according to the
conftruction of the Committee, fpecifically appro-
priated for the Quarter Mafter Department, which
fum, upon their principles, could not legally be ex-
ceeded. It might $ however, have happened, that a
fum of two hundred thoufand* inftead of one hundred
and fifty thoufand dollars, had been actually expand-
ed, before the act of March 3d, 1795, was palfed^
Such a fuppofltion is not extravagant, becaufe, ac-
cording to eftablifhed vfage, (the only rule in the
cafe fuppofed,) the expenfes of the Quarter Mafter
Department embrace a great variety of objects ;
and indeed cover every difcretionary and undefin-
ed expenditure, incident to military operations.
In fuch a cafe, the conftruction of the Committee
would lead to no other concluiion, than that a
tranfaction completed in the month of February,
1795, and at that time confijient with eftablifoed ufage,
and contrary to no law whatever, might be rendered
abfolutely illegal, by the operation of a pofterior acl^
palled in March, 1795.

A conilruclion, pregnant with fuch contradic-
tions, and which would have rendered many of the
acts of Congrefs altogether unfufceptible of execu-
tion, has, however, been perfeveringly contended
for, and is the conftruction upon which the Report
of the Committee is principally founded,






The Report is exprefsly predicated on a letter
from Mr. Gallatin, dated March 2d, 1802 ; and on
the balis of this authority the Committee have af-
Icrted, " that the appropriations for the army and
navy refpectivcly, have been confidered as con-
ftituting but one general fund for each of thefe
objects, although in moft of the laws making ap-
" propriations, a variety of heads of expenditure
" are diftinctly fpecificd.^ Confidering this poil-
tion as proved, the Committee remark, " that if
" the general covjiruclion be correct, it may perhaps be
faid 3 that, in moft inftances, monies have been drawn
from the treafury in the manner prefcribed by
" lav/." The prepoffeffions of the Committee are
fufficiently evident from this equivocal comment ;
for though they have not exprefled a decided opin-
ion, that the practice of the Treafury was unfup-
ported by law, yet this idea has unquestionably
been conveyed to the public.

The letter of Mr. Gallatin does not, however, au-
thorize the declaration of the Committee. On the
contrary, he enumerates a variety of accounts, both
in relation to the War and Navy Departments,
which he exprefsly admits " have been confidered
" as diftinct from each other, and from all other,
" made in relation to the Army and Navy refpec-
" tively." It moreover appears, from two ftate-
ments, annexed to Mr. Gallatin's letter, and which
were printed for the Committee, that from the
year 1797, to the year 1801, accounts were opened
with the War Department^ under twefity four, and
with the Navy Department, under fevetrtcen beads of
expenditure. It is therefore manifeft, that on a pofi-
tionciToneoufly afTumed,and exprefsly contradicted
by the document referred to as a voucher, and on
which an hypothetical opinion is cautioully iniin-
uat<:d P the Committee luvc not only feversly cen-


fured particular tranfactions, but have hazarded
the unqualified animadverfion, that in their opin-
ion, " confiderable fums of public money have
" been greatly mifapplied, and that much expenfe
" has been incurred, without any legal authority.' 1

This error, fo eaflly detected, mufl have been ac-
cidental. It could not have happened, if any per-
fon, converfant with the practice of the Treafury,
under the former adminiftration, had been confult-
ed. It is mentioned to prove the extreme infecuri-
ty of reputation, if Reports of Committees are
formed without previoufly confidering the explan-
ations of thofe, whofe characters are to be affected.

The truth is, that all reaibnable means were ex-
erted to confine the expenditures within the par-
ticular eflimates, and that according to a conftruc-
tion never the Treafury, it became ne-
ceffary to open a number of accounts, in the offices
of the Secretary and Comptroller of the Treafury,
beyond what was ufeful. Different views of the
fame fubject by various Committees, and efpecially
the perfevering efforts of individuals of the party
now in power, to limit the operations of the Exec-
utive Departments, by minute fubdiviflons of ap-
propriations, continually tended to produce an in-
convenient complexity in the public accounts, and
to paralize every branch of the public fervice. It
was the duty of the Treafury, fo to interpret the
Laws, as to counteract this tendency as much as
poffible : I contend that the interpretation, adopt-
ed in practice, was, at all times, rcafonable^ that a dif-
ferent interpretation would have been unreajbftab)e 9
and frequently have entirely defeated their operation.
It is, however, a fufficient and unaniwerable defence
of the practice of the Trenfury and the other De-
partments, that it was at all times publlckh avowed ^


'// under flood i and deliberately fanftioncd by Con-

i o prove this declaration, it is neceflary to enter

to a detail of tranfaclions, which may appear te-
dious. It will however be remembered, that I have
to contend againft the weight of authority, appar-
ently due to a Committee of the Houfe of Rep-
refentatives : this I truft will be deemed a fuffi-
cient apology, by a candid public.

The conltruclion and practice of the Treafury,
relative to acts, appropriating money, were for the
fir ft time, queftioned by Mr. Giles. In the month
of February, 1793, this gentleman propofed fev-
cral refolutions in the Houfe of Reprelentatives,
with the view of cenfuring the official conduct of
Mr. Hamilton, then Secretary of the Treafury.
One of the propofed refolutions was expreffed in
the following terms : " Refolved, that it is effen-
; tial to the due adrniniftration of the government
" of the United States, that laws making fpcci/ic ap-
" propriations of monies fhould be JlriElly obferved
" by the adminiftrator of the finances thereof. 5 '
No vote appears to have been taken on this quef-
tion, on the ground, it is prefumed, that it called
for the opinion of the Houfe, on an abilracl prcpo-
fition of indefinite import. The fubfequent propo-

.loris, imputing to the Secretary violations of the
laws and conftitution, which Mr. Giles coniidered
as Inferences from his fuppofed axiom, were, after full

I airy and debate, rejected by a large majority.
As Mr. Giles has, during the laft feffion, alluded to
the fubjecl of thefe deciiions, it may be reafonably
concluded, that his mind is not yet exempt from
the prejudices, which were excited by the difap-

During the feffion of Conffrefs, which commenc-

o o

ed in November, 1794, immediately fubfequent to


the firft infurrecUon, in Pennfylvania, the queftion
of ffecific appropriations was again agitated. With
the exception of Mr. Randolph, who was then
Secretary of State, the heads of departments con-
curred in opinion, that the fums, appropriated for
the fervice of the War Department, might be prop-
erly applied to defray the expenfes of the militia
who were, on that occafion, ordered into fervice,
by Prefident Wamington. On the meeting of
Congrefs, the doubts^ entertained by Mr. Randolph,
of the legality of the expenditures, for the militia
expedition, were extended to certain members of
the Legiilature. On the firft day of February,
1795, I was appointed Secretary of the Treafury,
on- the resignation of Mr. Hamilton. Mr. Fitz-
fimons of Pennfylvania was Chairman of the Com-
mittee, appointed to coniider the efdmates, and
prepare bills, for making appropriations for the
War Department ; and in confequence of difcuilions
relative to thefe appropriations, I received a letter
from this gentleman, inquiring, whether a furpius
appropriation for the military eftabliihment for one
year, could be coniidered as a proper object of de-
duction from the eftimate for the fucceeding year.
To this inquiry, I communicated the following offi-
cial anfwer, which remains, with the other docu-
ments I fliall recite, on record, in the Treafury De-

" TREASURY DEPARTMENT, February 25, 1795.

" THE Secretary of the Treafury refpeclfully in-
" forms Mr. Fitziimons, of the Houfe of Repre-
" fentatives, that the queftion propoied by him
" has never been fully decided by any law, or by
" the practice of the Treafury.

" It has been ufual for the Legiflature to grant
" appropriations for the military fervice, on efti-




" mates of the probable yearly expenfe, and hitherto
c< - the yearly expenditures, at the Treafury, Have been
" referred to the appropriations for the fame year ;
" with the exception, however, cf fuch expenditures as
were fufceptible of an application to feme prccife part
of a general appropriation.

By far the greateft part of the expenditures for
military purpofes are, however, unfufceptible of
fuch a minute diftribution, as are appropriations
for other objects, and of courfe the expenditures
cc for the military Department are kept under more
cc general heads : for inftance, certain fums are
* e granted for pay, rations, forage, clothing, tranf-
cc portation, &c-. It would be very difficult, if not
" impracticable, to ifme money under thefe fever-
" al heads ; and if it were to be attempted, exccf*
*'- five appropriations and advances would become necef-
fary, and an extraordinary rift would be incurred
by the public. It has been my opinion, that the
appropriations for mere military purpofes, ought
to be general grants of fuch fums, as are from

o o

c time to time deemed requisite for the public fer-
vice, to be iiTued according to exigencies, and
<c applied and accounted for according to law;
and, in this point of view, a furplus appropria-
tion for one year, becomes a fair fubject of de-
duction from the eftimate for a fucceeding year.
As you have mentioned the queftion, Ijhall be
if feme mcii^ire can be adopted^ which will cx-
prcfs ihc fcufe of the Legiflature upon





If, with a full knowledge of the events, which
have mice occurred, I were to prepare a communi-
cation to protect myfelf againit fuch a report, as
that under consideration, it would be impofuble
ior me to exprefs my ideas with more precifion,
thin in the terms, which were adopted in this of*



ficial note. I am greatly deceived, if the rerfons >
briefly afligned, for the practice of the Treafury,-
do not afford a conclufive juftification. It was
ftated that fuch expenditures, as \vere lufceptible
of application to a precife part of a general appro-
priation, were fo applied ; but that other expendi-
tures were referred to more general heads, It is
felf evident, that if dlftincl funds, for the different
branches of expenditure, were to be iifued to the pub-
lic agents, that the advances nuijl greatly exceed what
would be neceffary, and that with a fuffident fum of
money on hand, the public fervice would frequently
fuffer, merely becaufe the particular fund was ex-
haitfted. It is evident that fuch a practice would
be unfafe, from the temptation it would exche to
mifapply monies, which would be kmwii to be ufelefs.
It would be impoiTible for the Treafury, or the
other Departments, to prevent monies from being
drawn, or, after being drawn, from being withheld,
Qn fictitious pretences. Upon the principle of appro-
priating dijiind funds, it would be neceflary to pro-*
vide, not only againil contingencies of a general na-
ture, but againft contingencies, in relation to each
fubordlnate branch of the fervice. It might of courfe
happen, that two millions of dollars, grunted under

twenty diltincl heads, would be found a lets eiH-


cient and ufeful fund, than one miilhn of dollars^
fubjecl to a general application. The refult is,
that the practice of the Treafury was alike condu-
cive to order and economy.

That fuch, rt leaft, were my flncere opinions^
cannot be doubted, when my iituation is confider-
ed : I had jufl entered on the duties of a inoft re*
fponiible office ; it was hnpoflible that there could
exift more cogent motives to enforce aitricl econo-
my. The degree of order, which, with much la-
bour, had been introduced in the collection of ths


internal revenue, had been recently difturbed by
an infurrection. An expenfe of more than one
million of dollars had been incurred by this ob-
ject : a loan of eight hundred thoufand dollars had
juft been negociated, with the approbation of all
parties, for effecting a peace with Algiers and the
ranfom of our citizens. Both thefe expenfes were
unexpected charges upon the domeftic refources of
our country ; all expectation of foreign loans had

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Online LibraryOliver WolcottAn address to the people of the United States : on the subject of the report of a committee of the House of Representatives, appointed to examine and report whether monies drawn from the Treasury have been faithfully applied to the objects for which they were appropriated, and whether the same have → online text (page 1 of 9)