The Reynolds Affair, Phase II (Hamilton 63b)

In which Reynolds accuses Hamilton of speculation: December 1792. [NOTE: My latest thoughts on the Reynolds Affair are available in my hour-long talk “Alexander Hamilton and the Reynolds Affair: A Three-Part Moral and Political Account,” available in video form (given 1/10/2019).]

This is the second in a three-part set of posts on the Reynolds affair: first part (with preliminary comments and a chronology) is here, third here.

In November 1792, Jacob Clingman and James Reynolds were arrested on the orders of Oliver Wolcott, Jr., comptroller of the Treasury. Clingman was a former clerk of Frederick A.C. Muhlenberg, a Republican from Pennsylvania and speaker of the House of Representatives from 1789 to 1797. Reynolds and Clingman were accused of defrauding the government of $400 by paying John Delabar to perjure himself so that they could become executors of the estate of Ephraim Goodenough. Goodenough was a Massachusetts veteran to whom the federal government owed money – and who, as it turned out, was very much alive. Reynolds and Clingman had taken his name off a list of veterans to whom the government owed pay, which they had acquired from someone in the Treasury Department. (For these details, see Introductory Note to Wolcott’s letter of 7/3/1797 and note 14 to the letter.)

23. Deposition of Henry Seckel, merchant of Philadelphia, 11/13/1792

In mid-November, Jacob Clingman requested his former employer, Henry Seckel, to post bail for him. When Seckel declined, Clingman asked him to go fetch James Reynolds. This is Seckel’s deposition, sworn before Hilary Baker, the mayor of Philadelphia. Reynolds Pamphlet, Appendix XXIII:

That the said Clingman again urged this Deponent [Seckel] to become his bail but he declining said Clingman requested this Deponent to go and bring to him one James Reynolds from whom as this Deponent understood the said Clingman expected to obtain assistance towards his release from Custody. That this Deponent went accordingly to the said James Reynolds and in the name of Clingman engaged him to accompany the Depondent to the House of the said Alderman where the said James Reynolds was also apprehended and detained That thereupon the said James Reynolds requested this Deponent to carry a letter for him to Alexander Hamilton then Secretary of the Treasury—that this Deponent carried the said letter as requested and after two or three calls found the said Alexander Hamilton and delivered the letter to him—that the said Hamilton after reading it mentioned to this Deponent that he had known the father of the said Reynolds during the war with GreatBritain, and would be willing to serve the said James, if he could with propriety, but that it was not consistent with the duty of his office to do what Reynolds now requested; and also mentioned to this Deponent that Reynolds and Clingman had been doing something very bad and advised this Deponent to have nothing to do with them lest he might bring himself into trouble. (More here)

24. Jacob Clingman to Oliver Wolcott, Jr., Comptroller of the Treasury, 12/4/1792

Several weeks later Clingman wrote to Wolcott, admitting that he had defrauded the government and offering to give up the name of the person who gave him the list of veterans, in hopes Wolcott will drop his prosecution. Reynolds Pamphlet, Appendix XXIV:

I beg leave to mention that I am ready to refund the money to the Treasury or to the proper owner or his order, and if it can be of any service to the Treasury Department or to the United States, in giving up the lists of the names of the persons to whom pay is due, and to disclose the name of the persons to whom pay is due, and to disclose the name of the person in the utmost confidence from whom the list was obtained, earnestly hoping that may be some inducement to withdraw the action against me … (More here)

25. James Reynolds to Oliver Wolcott, Jr., 12/5/1792

James Reynolds chimes in a day later. I just meant to promise I’d give the name of the clerk who gave us the list of veterans. I didn’t mean to threaten the head of any department. (NOTE: This is the first we’ve heard of such a threat, but see Clingman’s statement, No. 26 below, and Muhlenberg’s, No. 27.)  Reynolds Pamphlet, Appendix XLII:

Honoured Sir,
Too well you are acquainted with my unfortenate setuvation, to give you an explanation thereof, I am informed by a Note from Mrs. Reynolds this Evening, wherein She informed Me that you have bin informed. that I Should have Said, if I were not discharged in two days. that I would make Some of the heads of the Departments tremble. now Sir I declare to god, that I never have said any Such thing, nor never have I said any thing, against any Head of a department whatever. all I have Said, Sir. is that I am under the Necessaty of letting you Know, which of the Clarks in the publick Office has givein out the List, of the ballance due. from the United States. to the individual States, and when it Comes to your knowledge, that the would tremble, Now Can I have an Enemy So base as to lodge such False allegations to my Charge, which is tottely Groundless. and without the least foundation Immaginable. now Sir, if you will give me the pleashure of waiting uppon your honour tomorrow I will give you every information that lies in my power Respecting the Matter. which I hope it will give you final Satisfaction. what I have done never Was with a wish to Rong the United States or any Other person whatever, the person that Administer On this mans pay. which he Received from the United States. had my monies in his hands and would not transfer the Certificate to Mrs. Clingman and myself untill wee signed the bond of indamnification. to him now dear Sir. that was our Situvation. to Secure our own Interest. wee executed the Bond, which was an Oversight of ours. now Sir Can you sSuppose In my present Setuvation, that I would say any thing against you Sir or any Other head of department whatever, where it even was in my power which was not. Espicially where all my hopes and Dependance where. now dear Sir, think of my poor innocent family. not of me, for them I Onely wish to live … [More here]

26. Jacob Clingman’s deposition, 12/13/1792

A week after Reynolds’ letter to Wolcott, Clingman and Reynolds are released (12/12/1792). They promised to tell Wolcott which person in the Treasury Department had given them the list of creditors of the federal government that they had used to run their scam. Clingman made a lengthy statement, including what he know of Reynolds’s connection with Hamilton. This appears in Callender’s History pp. 212-16 (PDF pp. 227-231), as Document IV, and in the Reynolds Pamphlet as Appendix IV(a).

Jacob Clingman has been engaged in some negociations with Mr. Reynolds, the person, who has lately been discharged from a prosecution instituted against him, by the comptroller of the treasury: That his acquaintance commenced in September, 1791: That a mutual confidence and intimacy existed between them; That in January or February last, he saw Col. Hamilton, at the house of Reynolds

Clingman said that after seeing Hamilton at the Reynolds home several more times, he asked Mrs. Reynolds what was going on.

He asked her how long Mr. Reynolds had been acquainted with Col. Hamilton; she replied, some months; That Col. Hamilton had assisted her husband; that some few days before that time, he had received upwards of eleven hundred dollars of Col. Hamilton. Some time after this, Clingman was at the house of Reynolds, and saw Col. Hamilton come in; he retired and left him there. A little after Duer’s failure [March 1792], Reynolds told Clingman in confidence, that if Duer had held up three days longer, he should have made fifteen hundred pounds, by the assistance of Col. Hamilton: that Col. Hamilton had informed him that he was connected with Duer. Mr. Reynolds also said, that Col. Hamilton had made thirty thousand dollars by speculation; that Col. Hamilton had supplied him with money to speculate. … Mr. Reynolds has once or twice mentioned to Clingman, that he had it in his power to hang Col. Hamilton; that if he wanted money, he was obliged to let him have it

Clingman asked Maria why she did not appeal to Hamilton for assistance when her husband was imprisoned.

[S]he replied, that she had applied to him, and he had sent her to Mr. Wolcott, but directed her, not to let Mr. Wolcott know, that he had sent her there; notwithstanding this injunction, she did let Mr. Wolcott know, by whom she had been sent; who appeared to be surprized at the information, but said, he would do what he could for her, and would consult Col. Hamilton on the occasion. …

Clingman asked Mrs. Reynolds, for the letters, that her husband had received from Col. Hamilton, from time to time, as he might probably use them to obtain her husband’s liberty; she replied, that Col. Hamilton had requested her to burn all the letters, that were in his hand writing, or that had his name to them; which she had done; he pressed her to examine again, as she might not have destroyed the whole, and they would be useful; She examined and found  ___ [blank in document, per the Founders Archive; Callender printed “two or three”; see No. 22B above] notes, which are herewith submitted, and which, she said, were notes from Col. Hamilton. 

Clingman ends his deposition by stating that it was William Duer who provided the list of war veterans to whom the government owed money. From late 1789 until April 1790, Duer was Hamilton’s assistant secretary of the Treasury.

Mr. Clingman further adds, that some time ago, he was informed by Mr. and Mrs. Reynolds, that he had books containing the amount of the cash due to the Virginia line, at his own house at New-York, with liberty to copy, and was obtained thro’ Mr. Duer.

The above contains the truth to the best of my knowledge and recollection, and to which I am ready to make oath. (More here)

Wolcott (writing 7/12/1797: see No. 43 below) stated that the list was handed over not by Duer, but by a clerk who was employed after the government moved to Philadelphia. See the Introductory Note to Wolcott’s letter of 7/3/1797 for a discussion.

27. Frederick A.C. Muhlenberg’s statement, 12/13/1792

Clingman asked Muhlenberg, another former employer, for help. This statement is printed in Callender’s History, pp. 209-10 (PDF pp. 224-5) as Document I; Reynolds Pamphlet, Appendix I(a).

Jacob Clingman being a clerk in my employment, and becoming involved in a prosecution commenced against James Reynolds, by the comptroller of the treasury, on a charge or information exhibited before Hillary Baker, Esq. one of the aldermen of this city, for subornation of perjury, whereby they had obtained money from the treasury of the United States, he (Clingman) applied to me for my aid, and friendship on behalf of himself and Reynolds, to get them released or discharged from the prosecution. I promised, so far as respected Clingman, but not being particularly acquainted with Reynolds, in a great measure declined, so far as respected him. In company with Col. Burr, I waited on Col. Hamilton, for the purpose, and particularly recommended Clingman, who had hitherto sustained a good character. Col. Hamilton signified a wish to do all that was consistent. Shortly after, I waited on the comptroller, for the same purpose, who seemed to have some difficulties on the subject; and from some information I had, in the mean time, received, I could not undertake to recommend Reynolds; as I verily believed him to be a rascal; which words I made use of, to the comptroller. On a second interview with the comptroller, on the same subject, the latter urged the propriety of Clingman’s delivering up a certain list of money due to individuals, which, Reynolds and Clingman were said to have in their possession, and of his informing him, of whom, or thro’ whom, the same was obtained from the public offices: on doing which, Clingman’s request might, perhaps, be granted with greater propriety. This, Clingman, I am informed, complied with, and also refunded the money or certificates, which they had improperly obtained from the treasury. After which, I understand the action against both was withdrawn, and Reynolds discharged from imprisonment, without any further interference of mine whatsoever. During the time, this business was thus depending, and which lasted upwards of three weeks, Clingman, unasked, frequently dropped hints to me, that Reynolds had it in his power, very materially to injure the secretary of the treasury, and that Reynolds knew several very improper transactions of his. I paid little or no attention to those hints, but when they were frequently repeated, and it was even added, that Reynolds said, he had it in his power to hang the secretary of the Treasury, that he was deeply concerned in speculation, that he had frequently advanced money to him (Reynolds) and other insinuations of an improper nature, it created considerable uneasiness on my mind, and I conceived it my duty to consult with some friends on the subject. Mr. Monroe and Mr. Venable were informed of it yesterday morning. (More here)

28. James Monroe and Abraham Venable, statement of 12/13/1792

The same day as Muhlenberg made the statement above, Senator James Monroe and Representative Abraham Venable, both Republicans, stated that they went to visit Reynolds in prison because they had heard he was a fellow Virginian. When they discovered he was from New York, they questioned him anyway. Reynolds has changed his tune: he’s accusing Hamilton of malfeasance and of being too frightened to do anything but submit to Reynolds’s demands. From a document signed by Madison, and quoted in Callender, History, pp. 210-11 (pp. 225-6 of the PDF), as Document II. Reynolds Pamphlet, Appendix II(a):

 [H]e informed us, that he could give information of the misconduct, in that respect, of a person high in office, but must decline it for the present, and until relieved, which was promised him, that evening: that at ten to-day, he would give us a detail of whatever he knew on the subject. He affirmed, he had a person in high office, in his power, and has had, a long time past: That he had written to him in terms so abusive, that no person should have submitted to it, but that he dared not to resent it. That Mr. Wolcott was in the same department, and, he supposed, under his influence or controul. And, in fact, expressed himself in such a manner, as to leave no doubt, he meant Mr. Hamilton. That he expected to be released by Mr. Wolcott, at the instance of that person, altho’ he believed that Mr. Wolcott, in instituting the prosecution, had no improper design. That he was satisfied the prosecution was set on foot, only to keep him low, and oppress him, and ultimately drive him away, in order to prevent his using the power he had over him; that he had had, since his residence here, for eighteen months, many private meetings with that person, who had often promised to put him into employment, but had disappointed: That, on hearing the prosecution was commenced against him, he applied to this person for counsel, who advised him to keep out of the way, for a few days: That a merchant came to him, and offered, as a volunteer, to be his bail, who, he suspects, had been instigated by this person, and after being decoyed to the place, the merchant wished to carry him, he refused being his bail, unless he would deposit a sum of money to some considerable amount, which he could not do, and was, in consequence, committed to prison: As well as we remember, he gave, as a reason why he could not communicate to us, what he knew of the facts alluded to, that he was apprehensive, it might prevent his discharge, but that he would certainly communicate the whole to us, at ten this morning; at which time, we were informed, he had absconded, or concealed himself. (More here)

29A. James Monroe and Frederick A.C. Muhlenberg’s statement of their visit with Maria Reynolds, 12/13/1792

The same day as they spoke with James Reynolds, Monroe and Muhlenberg visited the Reynolds home and spoke to Maria. After some difficulty, they persuaded her to give them information. She backed her husband’s story that he and Hamilton had had a purely business relationship. Quoted in Callender’s History, pp. 211-12 (pp. 226-7 of the PDF), as Document III. Reynolds Pamphlet, Appendix III(a):

That since Col. Hamilton was secretary of the treasury, and at his request, she had burned a considerable number of letters from him to her husband, and in the absence of the latter, touching business between them, to prevent their being made public; she also mentioned, that Mr. Clingman had several anonymous notes addressed to her husband, which, she believed, were from Mr. Hamilton (which we have) [NOTE: 22B?] with an endorsement “from secretary Hamilton, Esq.” in Mr. Reynolds’s hand writing: That Mr. Hamilton offered her his assistance to go to her friends, which he advised: That he also advised that her husband should leave the parts, not to be seen here again, and in which case, he would give something clever. That she was satisfied, this wish for his departure did not proceed from friendship to him, but upon account of his threat, that he could tell something, that would make some of the heads of departments tremble. That Mr. Wadsworth had been active in her behalf, first at her request; but, in her opinion, with the knowledge and communication of Mr. Hamilton, whose friend he professed to be; that he had been at her house yesterday and mentioned to her, that two gentlemen of Congress had been at the jail to confer with her husband; enquired if she knew what they went for; observed, he knew, Mr. Hamilton had enemies, who would try to prove some speculations on him, but, when enquired into, he would be found immaculate: to which, she replied, she rather doubted it. We saw in her possession two notes; one in the name of Alexander Hamilton … [More here]

29B. James Reynolds to Jacob Clingman, 12/13/1792

Quoted in Callender, History, pp. 221-3 (PDF pp. 236-8), as the letter referred to in Document V (No. 29C below). This torn letter is referred to in the Reynolds Pamphlet (as having a “chasm of three lines”), but is not printed in the appendices.

My Dear M. Clingman,

I hope I have not forfeited your friendship, the last night’s conversation, dont think any thing of it, for I was not myself. I know I have treated ******** [sic in Callender] ill, and too well I am convinsed [Callender notes: “Here about three lines are torn out”] to have satisfaction from him at all events, and you onely I trust too. I will see you this evening. He has offered to furnish me and Mrs. Reynolds with money to carry us off. If I will go, he will see that Mrs. Reynolds has money to follow me, and as for Mr. Francis, he sas he will make him swear back what he has said, and will turn him out of office. This is all I can say till I see you.

I am, dear Clingman, believe me, forever your sincere friend,
James Reynolds [Here, p. 221, PDF p. 236]

29C.  Monroe, Venable, and Muhlenberg, note on a meeting with Clingman, 12/15/1792

Quoted in Callender’s History, pp. 216-17 (PDF pp. 231-2), as Document V (part 1). This bit is hearsay: the only document printed in support of it is an invitation to James Reynolds to meet Oliver Wolcott (p. 223). Here’s what Clingman says Reynolds said.

Mr. Clingman informs us, that Mr. Reynolds returned to town, on Thursday night, and told him, he had written him a letter which he then had; not having had an opportunity to send it to him, and which he then tore; part of which was thrown into the fire. Other parts he presented to us, and which we now have. [No. 29B above]

That Reynolds, at the same time, told him, he had been received by Mr. Hamilton, the morning of that day, when they parted, about sunrise. That he was extremely agitated, walking backward and forward the room, and striking, alternately, his forehead and his thigh; observing to him, that he had enemies at work, but was willing to meet them, on fair ground, and requested him not to stay long, lest it might be noticed.

Mr. Clingman also informs us, that he received a note from Mr. Wolcot, to meet him, on Friday morning, at half past nine (which note we have). That he attended, and had an interview with him, in presence of Mr. Hamilton; when he was strictly examined by both, respecting the persons, who were enquiring into the matter, and their object; that he told Mr. Hamilton, he had been possessed of his notes to Reynolds, and had given them up to these gentlemen: and to which, he replied, he had done very wrong. That he also told Mr. Hamilton of the letter he had received from Reynolds, since his enlargement, mentioning that he (Mr. Hamilton) would make Francis swear back what he had said; and to which Mr. Hamilton replied, he would make him unsay any falsity he had declared.

Mr. Hamilton said, Reynolds was a villain, a rascal, and he supposed, would swear to any thing.

Mr. Wolcot said, that unless Clingman used the same candour to him, that he had done to Clingman, he should not consider himself bound.

Mr. Hamilton wanted to know, what members of Congress were concerned in the enquiry, and desired him to go into the gallery, where he would see them, and enquire their names of the bystanders.

Mr. Hamilton observed, he had had some transaction with Reynolds, which he had before mentioned, as well as Clingman remembers, to Mr. Wolcot, and need not go into detail.

Clingman also informs us, that Reynolds told him, since his enlargement, that when he was about to set out to Virginia, on his last trip to buy up cash-claims of the Virginia line, he told Mr. Hamilton, that Hopkins would not pay upon those powers of attorney; and to which he, (Mr. Hamilton) replied, he would write to Hopkins, on the subject.

30. James Monroe, statement on his meeting with Muhlenberg, Venable, and Hamilton on 12/15/1792

Muhlenberg, Venable, and Monroe met Hamilton on the evening of December 15. They showed him documents that Reynolds and Clingman had given them, which the pair offered as proof that Hamilton had been part of their speculation. [No. 22B above.] Hamilton then showed them documents in his possession from Maria and James Reynolds, to support his assertion that he had had an affair with Maria and been blackmailed by her husband. [Nos. 1-22A.]

Wolcott attended this meeting at Hamilton’s request. According to Wolcott’s later statement (7/12/1797; see No. 43 below), the three Congressmen “severally acknowledged their entire satisfaction, that the affair had no relation to Official duties.” But Monroe’s note dated 12/16/1792 suggested otherwise. Hamilton did not know about that note until Callender published it in the History, pp. 217-18 (PDF pp. 232-3), as Document V (part 2).

Last night we waited on Colo. H when he informed us of a particular connection with Mrs. R—— the period of its commencement & circumstances attending it, his visiting her at Inskeep’s—the frequent supplies of money to her & her husband on that acct.—his duress by them from the fear of a disclosure & his anxiety to be relieved from it and them. To support this, he shewed a great number of letters from Reynolds & herself—commencing early in 1791. He acknowledged all the letters in a disguised hand, in our possession, to be his. We left him under an impression our suspicions were removed. He acknowledged our conduct toward him had been fair & liberal—he could not complain of it. We brot. back all the papers even his own notes, nor did he ask their destruction.

He said, the dismission of the prosecution agnst. the parties Reynolds & Mr. Clingman had been in consideration of the surrender of a list of pay improperly obtaind from his office, and by means of a person who had it not in his power now to injure the department—intimating he meant Mr. Duer—That he obtained this information from Reynolds. [More here]

31A. Hamilton to Muhlenberg, 12/18/1792

Hamilton requested copies of the letters and documents that Monroe, Muhlenberg and Venable had shown him (Reynolds Pamphlet, Appendix XXVI; cf. Callender’s History, p. 224, PDF p. 239).

On reflection, I deem it adviseable for me to have Copies of the several papers which you communicated to me in our interview on Saturday evening, including the notes, and the fragment of Mr. Reynolds’ letter to Mr. Clingman. I therefore request that you will either cause copies of these papers to be furnished to me, taken by the person in whose hand writing the declarations which you shewed to me were, or will let me have the papers themselves to be copied. It is also my wish, that all such papers as are original, may be detained from the parties of whom they were had, to put it out of their power to repeat the abuse of them in situations which may deprive me of the advantage of explanation. Considering of how abominable an attempt they have been the instruments, I trust you will feel no scruples about this detention. [More here]

31B. Frederick A.C. Muhlenberg to Hamilton, 12/18/1792

Muhlenberg replied the same day. Reynolds Pamphlet, Appendix XXVII:

I have communicated your Letter of yesterday to Mrs. Venables & Monroe. The latter has all the papers relating to the Subject in his possession, & I have the pleasure to inform you that your very reasonable Request will be speedily complied with. [More here]

32. James Monroe to Hamilton, 12/20/1792

Monroe replied two days after Hamilton’s request. Reynolds Pamphlet, Appendix XXVIII:

I have the honor to enclose you copies of the papers requested in yours a few days past – That of the notes you will retain; the others you will be pleased, after transcribing, to return me. [More here]

The copying was done by a clerk of John Beckley, a Republican, who served as clerk of the House of Representatives 1789-1797 and 1801-1807. One of the many disputed issues about the Reynolds Affair is whether it was Beckley who gave the documents to Callender for publication in 1797. See the discussion here (“Like almost every other aspect …”), particularly Monroe’s letter of 12/1/797 to Aaron Burr (“You know I presume that Beckley published the papers in question …”).

33. James Monroe, note of a meeting with Jacob Clingman on 1/2/1793

From an autograph document in Monroe’s hand, written several weeks after Monroe’s meeting between Muhlenberg, Venable, and Hamilton. This is, again, hearsay from Clingman with no documents to back it up. Printed for the first time in Callender’s History, p. 218 (PDF p. 233):

Mr. Clingman called on me this evening and mentioned that he had been apprized of Mr Hamilton’s vindication by Mr. Wolcott the day or two after our interview with him. He further observed to me that he communicated the same to Mrs. Reynolds, who appeared much shocked at it & wept immoderately. That she denied the Imputation & declared that it had been a fabrication of Colonel Hamilton and that her Husband had joined in it, who had told her so, & that he had given him rects. for Money & written letters, so as to give countenance to the pretence—that he was with Colo. H. the day after he left the jail when we supposed he was in Jersey. He was of opinion she was innocent and that the defense was an imposition. (More here)


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