Hamilton’s Advice To The Supervisors of Boston

Alexander Hamilton was a Founding Father, soldier, economist, political philosopher, one of America’s first constitutional lawyers and the first United States Secretary of the Treasury.

Self-Educated American, Classics Library

Alexander Hamilton: The Works of Alexander Hamilton, Volume 1, 1774

Finance: Hamilton to Supervisors of Boston

Treasury Department,
July 27, 1791.

A temporary absence from the seat of government has delayed an answer to your letter of the 14th inst.

It is an established rule at the treasury not to disclose the amount of the stock which stands to the credit of any person on the public books to any but the proprietor himself, or his regular representative; and the reasons extend, of course, to the respective loan offices.

One of those reasons is, that as property in the public funds constitutes an usual and a considerable portion of mercantile capital, wherever public credit is well supported, the permitting an inspection into the stock account of individuals to others than the parties respectively interested, would have a tendency to lay open the affairs and operations of merchants more than is consistent with the spirit of trade. Indeed, not only merchants, but other classes of citizens, may often have very fair and valid reasons for being disinclined to such an inspection; and it may be even conceived that it would not at all times be expedient to allow access to the secret emissaries of a foreign power to discover the quantum of interest which its own citizens might have in the funds of a nation.

In thus assigning some of the reasons which have given occasion to the rule that has been mentioned, I yield to a desire of satisfying the Board that it is not unsupported by considerations of weight, and that a relaxation of it, in compliance with their request, could not with propriety be acceded to on my part.

At the same time, I feel myself called upon by the occasion to express an opinion that every thing in the nature of a direct tax on property in the funds of the United States is contrary to the true principles of public credit, and tends to disparage the value of the public stock. If any law of the State of Massachusetts, therefore, gives sanction to such a tax, it is presumed that it must have been passed without an advertence to this important idea; and it is not doubted that in the execution of it there will be all the care and moderation which the delicacy of the operation requires. It is desirable on every account that no occasion should be given to a discussion concerning the regularity of the proceeding.

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Self-Educated American recommends you supplement this read with Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay’s constitutional classic: The Federalist: The Famous Papers on the Principles of American Government

The Works of Alexander Hamilton, ed. Henry Cabot Lodge (Federal Edition) (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904). In 12 vols. The copyright for the original of this document is held in the Public Domain. Font, formatting, spelling modernizations, typo/transcription corrections, and explanatory footnotes for this version of  ”The Works of Alexander Hamilton” Copyright © 2011 Steve Farrell and Self-Educated American.