Lot 193

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Hamilton Re: Famous "Sinking Fund" Rev War States' Debts, Assumption Plan, Rare ALS, PSA Slabbed and Graded

ALEXANDER HAMILTON, Autograph Letter Signed, to [William Seton?], June 4, [ca. 1791]. 1 p, 4.125" x 4," and encapsulated to a size of 6.5" x 10". Slight paper loss to top, toning, foxing and evidence of previous mounting on verso. PSA has authenticated and slabbed the handwritten letter NM-7.

Alexander Hamilton wrote this brief cover note for a letter that he forwarded from George Washington's secretary Tobias Lear to a correspondent, likely William Seton, cashier of the Bank of New York. 

Complete Transcript
Dr Sir
Mr Lear informs me that the letter herewith relates to your purchases of debt for the Trustees of the Sinking Fund & at his request I forward it
I remain Dr Sir
Yr Obedt Svt
A Hamilton
June 4th

Hamilton ALSs have become increasingly rare on the market, especially with such iconic financial content. In a 100-year search of Auction records, we find only two such references to the sinking fund. Both were sent to William Seton. The most recent, a longer letter than ours sold for over $160,000 at Christie's in 2019. 60 years earlier appears the only other one. 

Historical Background
Alexander Hamilton included the sinking fund in his 1790 plan for the federal government to assume the debts the states had incurred during the Revolutionary War and to pay them. Five commissioners managed the sinking fund, which was designed to purchase government securities with any profits from the sale of western lands or specific allocations by Congress. Although the allocations were small, these government purchases had the effect of stabilizing or increasing the price of government securities, an important barometer of public credit for Hamilton.

The second section of "An Act making Provision for the Reduction of the Public Debt," passed on August 12, 1790, appointed the President of the Senate (John Adams), the Chief Justice (John Jay), the Secretary of State (Thomas Jefferson), the Secretary of the Treasury (Alexander Hamilton), and the Attorney General (Edmund Randolph) as commissioners of the Sinking Fund. In 1791, the Commissioners of the Sinking Fund purchased debt of more than $852,000 through the agency of Samuel Meredith, the Treasurer of the United States in Philadelphia; William Seton, the cashier of the Bank of New York in New York City; Benjamin Lincoln (1733-1810), Collector of the District of Boston and Charlestown; and William Heth (1750-1807), Collector of the District of Bermuda Hundred, Virginia. In 1792, the Commissioners of the Sinking Fund purchased debt of more than $325,000 through Meredith and Seton.

William Seton (1746-1798) was born in Scotland and received a good education. He emigrated to New York in 1763 and became superintendent and part owner of an ironworks in New Jersey and a substantial landowner in western New York. He became an active merchant and acquired valuable property in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Although financially ruined at the end of the Revolutionary War, he founded the mercantile house of Seton, Maitland & Company, and served as the first cashier of the Bank of New York, founded by Alexander Hamilton.

Tobias Lear (1762-1816) was born in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and graduated from Harvard College in 1783. At the recommendation of Benjamin Lincoln, Lear served as personal secretary to George Washington to handle his extensive correspondence, oversee Mount Vernon's accounts, and tutor Washington's adopted children. Lear married Mary (Polly) Long in 1790, and they had one child before Polly died in the 1793 yellow fever epidemic. In 1795, Lear married Frances Bassett Washington, the recent widow of the President's nephew, but she died of tuberculosis in 1796. In 1803, he married Frances Dandridge Henley, Martha Washington's niece. He and his family were part of the presidential households in New York and Philadelphia, and he served Washington from 1784 until the former President's death in 1799. Lear also served during the administration of Thomas Jefferson as a commercial agent to Saint-Domingue (Haiti) and a consul general in North Africa during the First Barbary War (1801-1805) and for James Madison during the Second Barbary War (1815). He apparently committed suicide by shooting himself with a pistol.

This item comes with a Certificate from John Reznikoff, a premier authenticator for both major 3rd party authentication services, PSA and JSA (James Spence Authentications), as well as numerous auction houses.


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September 28, 2022 10:30 AM EDT
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