Philadelphia. Nov. [i.e. Dec.] 14, 1790. pp. on recto and verso of a single sheet. Very good. In a half morocco clamshell case. Item #WRCAM42019
An intriguing letter from Egbert Benson, New York's first attorney general after independence, a leading New York jurist, prime mover in the push for a new federal constitution, and Representative from New York in the First Congress. Benson, along with Alexander Hamilton, had introduced the resolution for a constitutional convention at the Annapolis Convention of 1786, and he introduced the resolution for a New York ratifying convention in 1788. He writes to an unnamed correspondent, reporting on the business of the third session, with mention of President Washington's speech, Alexander Hamilton's reports, and New York Supreme Court justices John S. Hobart and Robert Yates; and the recent military campaign against the Miamis in the Ohio Valley. Though Benson dated this letter "Nov. 14, 1790," it was almost certainly written on Dec. 14, as Congress did not meet until December that year. "Dear Sir, Upon Reflection it has appeared to Me, and I am persuaded it will appear to you, most advisable that the intended Correspondence between Us should seem to commence with you. Indeed it will not be easy for me or satisfactory to you for me to write to you generally on the Subject, and therefore wish you would from time to time write to me stating the Questions which you may be desirous to have examined and answered. It will be most prudent that your Letters should be communicated to the other Gentlemen in the Delegation and therefore my answers will in a Degree be public Communications. I do not propose however to confine myself to a mere answer to an Interrogatory; my Letters will contain Suggestions of whatever may occur to Me as useful - "We have scarcely entered on the Business of the Session. The President's Speech with the Answers and his Replies you will see in the Papers; and we have two reports from Mr. Hamilton, the one providing additional means for the Payment of the Interest on the public Debt and the other on the Subject of a Bank. These will be printed and I shall send a Copy to Robert [Yates?] for the perusal of Judge Hobart and Yourself. "Our troops have returned from the Western Expedition and have so far succeeded as to have destroyed a Number of Indian Towns with a great Quantity of Provision. Possibly as far as there was Reason to expect it probably would be, the Object of the Expedition has been effected, but with the Loss of near 200 Men on our Side. It is said that upwards of 100 of the Indians were killed in the two different Engagements." While the recipient of the letter is not named, Kenneth Bowling of the First Federal Congress Project believes it to be Samuel Jones, a prominent Anti-Federalist from Queens County who nonetheless voted for the Constitution at the New York convention. Bowling cites Benson's other letters to Jones, of which several survive, and the roundabout language of the first paragraph, which suggests Benson was concerned what use might be made of his correspondence. Bowling notes that no Benson letters survive from the first two sessions of the First Congress, and only seven from the third: four to Nicholas Low, and two definitely to Jones. He thinks this is a third. ANB 2, pp.602-4. Stan Henkels Auctions, Catalogue 1501, item 585 (when this letter was sold in 1937). Email from Kenneth Bowling, May 17, 2010.