Philadelphia, April 25, 1791

Dear Sir,—

I do myself the honor to transmit to you my accounts which remain unsettled, for the last two years and eight months of my administrations abroad in the service of the United States. I have left a blank for my salary. In my own opinion it is but justice that it should be filled up with the sum of two thousand five hundred pounds sterling a year, because this was the contract under which I accepted my commission for the peace in 1779, and that for their High Mightinesses in 1781, which last continued in force until my return home. The resolution of Congress, which stated the salary of a minister abroad at nine thousand dollars, could not reasonably be intended to operate upon ministers and commissions which had been given and accepted upon different conditions. Such an interpretation of it would make it amount to a breach of public faith. Moreover, I have been well informed by Mr. Gerry, who proposed the alteration, that the reason of this resolution was a supposition that, in that time of peace, the expenses of living in Europe were reduced. This motive was so far from being a just one, as applied to me, that I found the expenses of living in London about a quarter part dearer than I had ever known them in Paris or the Hague. This, therefore, was rather a reason for raising my salary to three thousand pounds sterling a year, which I actually spent, than for reducing it to nine thousand dollars. I have been informed by Mr. Barclay that Dr. Franklin charged, and has been allowed, two thousand five hundred pounds sterling a year till his return, and as I am in the same predicament with him, it is at least as just that it should be allowed to me; indeed, it is more so, because I certainly was obliged to spend more than that sum, and he undoubtedly spent less.

I have also requested an allowance for a private secretary. As the business of my mission to Holland, as well as that to England, lay upon me, in addition to my share in all the negotiations with Prussia and the other powers of Europe, as well as the Barbary States, it may readily be conceived that I had a great deal of business and still more writing to do, as copies of all such correspondences must be preserved, and therefore I hope the charge for a private secretary will not be thought unreasonable.

An allowance is asked also for one ministerial or diplomatic entertainment for each year. This is done for three reasons: 1. because it is the custom of the whole Corps Diplomatique; 2. because it seems to be a reasonable custom; and 3. because Mr. Franklin has charged and been allowed for all extraordinary entertainments, as I suppose, as he told me he had charged them or should charge them.

An outfit I have asked for, amounting to one year’s salary. This will be but a very inadequate compensation to me, for the extraordinary expenses I was put to by the variety of services and multiplicity of commissions which were heaped upon me. My case is singular, and distinguished from that of every other gentleman who has ever been sent abroad in the service of the United States. In 1779, Congress sent me abroad, with two commissions, one to negotiate a peace, and another to his Britannic Majesty to negotiate a treaty of commerce with that power. Under these commissions I went to Paris, and resided there, which obliged me to take a house or apartments ready furnished, and establish a household, equipage, and set of servants there. In 1780, Congress sent me a commission to borrow money in Holland, to the amount of ten millions of dollars. This obliged me to live in Holland. In 1781, Congress sent me a commission to treat with that republic, and a letter of credence to the States-General. This obliged me to hire a house and completely furnish it, because there was no such thing to be hired in Holland as furniture, as might be done and was done by Mr. Deane, Mr. Franklin, Mr. Jay, and myself at Paris. My commission for the peace obliged me to make journeys to Versailles. My commission for borrowing money not only augmented my expenses, but gave me more trouble and occasioned more labor and perplexity than all the other services. The frequent removals from one country to another, the continual change of servants and liveries, the wear and tear of baggage, and destruction of furniture, beside the perpetual plunder I was subjected to in my absence from my house in one country, while attending my duty in another, have wasted and consumed my salary in such a manner, that my family must be deprived of that reward for my time, trouble, risk, and services, which all of us were entitled to, and which some may have been happy enough honestly to secure. I say all of us were entitled to it, because Congress, on the 28th September, 1776, resolved, that their ministers should live in such a style and manner as they might find suitable and necessary to support the dignity of their public character, and that, besides their actual expenses, a handsome allowance be made to each of them, as a compensation for their time, trouble, risk, and services.

If the articles I have submitted are allowed me, difficult as it will be to justify myself to my family, I shall be content; but if not, I must crave an allowance of one half per cent., as commissions on nine millions of guilders, by me borrowed in Holland for the United States. When Congress allows four per cent. to the houses of Willink and Van Staphorst, and their undertakers, upon all these loans, which has already amounted to a handsome fortune to each house, it would be extremely hard and unreasonable to oblige me, who had more trouble with every one of these loans than those houses had—nay, who had more trouble with the first of them than they have had with the whole—not only to do this whole business for nothing, but live at my own expense while I did it. This must be my hard fate, if nothing can be allowed me as commissions, nor for extraordinary services. Considerable sums were spent by me, at times, for secret services, and other sums, to no small amount, were advanced to Americans in distress, some of them in prison, and others escaped; but, as I have no vouchers for these and I suppose Congress would not be willing to set a precedent, I make no charge for them, although they were advanced out of my own money—part of my salary. Let me ask the favor of you, Sir, to look over these accounts, and then present them to the auditor, that they may be settled in some way or other by the next session of Congress. With great esteem I have the honor to be, Sir, your most obedient and most humble servant,

John Adams.


April 17, 1791

You will probably recollect that previous to your departure from this place, anticipating the event which has taken place with regard to the death of Mr. Everleigh, I took the liberty to mention to you that Mr. Wolcott, the present Auditor, would be in every respect worthy of your consideration as his successor in office.

Now that the event has happened, a concern as anxious as it was natural for the success of the department, united with a sentiment of justice towards Mr. Wolcott, leads me to a repetition of that idea. This gentleman’s conduct in the station he now fills has been that of an excellent officer. It has not only been good, but distinguished. It has combined all the requisites which can be desired: moderation with firmness, liberality with exactness, indefatigable industry with an accurate and sound discernment, a thorough knowledge of business, and a remarkable spirit of order and arrangement. Indeed, I ought to say that I owe very much of whatever success may have attended the merely executive operations of the department to Mr. Wolcott; and I do not fear to commit myself when I add that he possesses in an eminent degree all the qualifications desirable in a Comptroller of the Treasury—that it is scarcely possible to find a man in the United States more competent to the duties of that station than himself; few who could be equally so. It may be truly said of him that he is a man of rare merit, and I have good evidence that he has been viewed in this light by the members of Congress extensively from different quarters of the Union, and is so considered by all that part of the public who have had opportunities of witnessing his conduct.

The immediate relation, too, which his present situation bears to that of Comptroller is a strong argument in his favor. Though a regular gradation of office is not admissible in a strict sense in regard to offices of a civil nature, and is wholly inapplicable to those of the first rank (such as the heads of the great executive departments), yet a certain regard to the relation which one situation bears to another is consonant with the natural ideas of justice, and is recommended by powerful considerations of policy. The expectation of promotion in civil as in military life is a great stimulus to virtuous exertion, while examples of unrewarded exertion, supported by talent and qualification, are proportionable discour agements. Where they do not produce resignations they leave men dissatisfied, and a dissatisfied man seldom does his duty well.

In a government like ours, where pecuniary compensations are moderate, the principle of gradual advancement as a reward for good conduct is perhaps more necessary to be attended to than in others where offices are more lucrative. By due attention to it it will operate as a means to secure respectable men for offices of inferior emolument and consequence.

In addition to the rest, Mr. Wolcott’s experience in this particular line pleads powerfully in his favor. This experience may be dated back to his office of Comptroller of the State of Connecticut, and has been perfected by practice in his present place.

A question may perhaps, sir, arise in your mind, whether some inconvenience may not attend his removal from his present office. I am of opinion that no sensible inconvenience will be felt on this score, since it will be easy for him as Comptroller, who is the immediate superior of the Auditor, to form any man of business for the office he will leave, in a short period of time. More inconvenience would be felt by the introduction of a Comptroller not in the immediate train of the business.

Besides this, it may be observed that a degree of inconvenience on this score cannot be deemed an obstacle, but upon the principle which would bar the progress of merit from one station to another.

On this point of inconvenience a reflection occurs, which I think I ought not to suppress. Mr. Wolcott is a man of sensibility, not unconscious of his own value, and he doubtless must believe that he has pretensions from situation to the office. Should another be appointed, and he resign, the derangement of the department would truly be distressing to the public service.

In suggesting thus particularly the reasons which in my mind operate in favor of Mr. Wolcott, I am influenced by information that other characters will be brought to your view by weighty advocates, and as I think it more than possible that Mr. Wolcott may not be mentioned to you by any other person than myself, I feel it a duty arising out of my situation in the department, to bear my full and explicit testimony to his worth, confident that he will justify by every kind of substantial merit any mark of your approbation which he may receive.

I trust, sir, that in thus freely disclosing my sentiments to you, you will be persuaded that I only yield to the suggestions of an honest zeal for the public good, and of a firm conviction that the prosperity of the department under my particular care (one so interesting to the aggregate movements of the government) will be best promoted by transferring the present Auditor to the office of Comptroller of the Treasury.


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