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Jefferson Signs Appropriations Bill Funding Federal Government and Making Hamilton’s Assumption Act Payments in 1792
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The “ACT making APPROPRIATIONS for the SUPPORT of GOVERNMENTthe federal budget for 1792—was passed by the Second Congress during its first session and approved by President George Washington on 23 December 1791. It includes appropriations to pay off foreign debts incurred during the Revolutionary War, pay salaries and expenses, and fund the defense of the country and the departments of government. “There shall be appropriated a sum of money not exceeding three hundred and twenty-nine thousand, six hundred and fifty-three dollars, and fifty-six cents…

THOMAS JEFFERSON. Document Signed as Secretary of State, December 23, 1791, Philadelphia [Pa.] Signed in type by Jonathan Trumbull as Speaker of the House of Representatives, John Adams as Vice President of the United States and President of the Senate, and George Washington as President. 3 pp.

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Partial Transcript:

            “BE it enacted by the SENATE and HOUSE of REPRESENTATIVES of the United States of America, in Congress assembled, That for the service of the year one thousand seven hundred and ninety-two, and the support of the Civil List of the United States, including the incidental and contingent expenses of the several departments and the offices thereof, there shall be appropriated a sum of money not exceeding three hundred and twenty-nine thousand, six hundred and fifty-three dollars, and fifty-six cents…

            “…And be it further enacted, That the several appropriations, herein before made, shall be paid and discharged out of the funds following, to wit; first, out of the sum of six hundred thousand dollars, which by the act, intitled “An act making provision for the debt of the United States,” is reserved, yearly, for the support of the government of the United States, and their common defence; and, secondly, out of such surplus as shall have accrued to the end of the present year, upon the revenues heretofore established, over and above the sums necessary for the payment of interest on the public debt during the same year, and for satisfying other prior appropriations.

                 JONATHAN TRUMBULL, Speaker of the House of Representatives.

                 JOHN ADAMS, Vice-President of the United States, and President of the Senate.

            APPROVED, December twenty-third, 1791.

                        Go: WASHINGTON, President of the United States.

            DEPOSITED among the Rolls in the office of the Secretary of State.

                        Th: Jefferson Secretary of State

Historical Background

The entire federal budget for 1792 took up just three pages of text, but that had not stopped Congress from hotly debating its particulars. As the total appropriation was almost double the amount granted in previous years, a Virginia congressman observed, it was the duty of “the Representatives of the people to inquire in what manner the money of their constituents was expended.” Much of the increase was attributable to old debts, still lingering from the Revolution, and a jump in defense spending occasioned by persistent Indian attacks on the frontiers.

The act opens by appropriating money to pay the salaries of the president, vice president chief justice, associate judges and attorney general of the United States – a sum of fifty-three thousand dollars. It then goes on to authorize funds to compensate the remaining members of the government, among them the “officers of the Western territory,” and to defray the incidental expenses, “including firewood [and] stationary,” of the Houses of Congress and Cabinet offices. Also included is a twenty-five hundred dollar payment for “the annual grant to Baron Steuben…” Congress had granted the Revolutionary War drillmaster the lifetime annual stipend in 1790 “for the sacrifices and eminent services made and rendered to the United States during the late war.

Half a million dollars is appropriated for defense spending and veterans’ pensions. Included in that figure is the sum of thirty-nine thousand dollars for “expenses incurred in the defensive protection of the frontiers against the Indians” in 1790 and 1791. With the passage of the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, settlers had begun streaming into the territory, angering tribal leaders. The British, who continued to occupy forts on the frontier in violation of the Treaty of Paris, armed and supplied the hostile Indians. The settlers turned to their government for protection.

Also covered by the budget is “the additional expense of the enumeration of the inhabitants of the United States,” as called for by the Constitution. Conducted in 1790, the nation’s first census had counted four million Americans. Now, the results of the survey were being used to reapportion Congressional representation, a procedure that caused more partisan bickering than all other political issues combined.

Payment for debts stemming from the Revolution is included as well: nine thousand dollars and change “for discharging a balance due on a liquidated claim of his most Christian Majesty [France] …for supplies during the late war” and more than one hundred thousand dollars to Oliver Pollock “late commercial agent of the United States, at New-Orleans, for supplies of clothing, arms an military stores…” During the war, the Irish-born Pollock had served as the western equivalent to Robert Morris, putting much of his own fortune at risk in order to fund and supply the American military. He sustained considerable personal losses as a result. In 1784, while serving as U.S. agent in Havana, Pollock was imprisoned for debts owed by the United States. While this appropriation discharges the debt, it does not directly remunerate Pollock. In fact, it would be another ten years before he regained his financial footing.

Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton’s hand can be seen in the appropriation for “the purchase of hydrometers for the use of officers in the execution of the laws of revenue” (one thousand dollars) and for “building and equipping ten cutters” (two thousand dollars). The schooners had been requested by Hamilton in 1789 “for the security of Revenue against contraband.” Authorized by Congress the next year, they were overseen by the collectors of customs. The armed cutters, which cruised the eastern seaboard for smugglers, were the predecessors of the modern Coast Guard.

The budgetary appropriation for “expenses to the commissioners of loans in the several states” highlights one of the few issues on which the secretaries of treasury and state had actually cooperated. When Jefferson assumed the office of secretary of state in 1790, he and Alexander Hamilton worked out a compromise to gain Southern support for federal assumption of state debts. Soon, however, it was clear that the two men were diametrically opposed on most other financial policies. Disagreement over money and weight standards, the development of manufactures and the constitutionality of a national bank devolved into a fierce political rivalry, factionalizing Washington’s administration. By the end of 1793, the disillusioned Jefferson had resigned from office.

Acts of Congress signed by Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson are rare. At most, twenty-seven copies of each act passed during the First and Second Congress were signed by the Secretary of State for distribution to the thirteen original states.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) Author of the Declaration of Independence, governor of Virginia, secretary of state under George Washington, third president of the U.S. (1801-1809) and Founder of the University of Virginia. Under Jefferson, the country began its westward expansion with the Louisiana Purchase (1803) and the Lewis & Clark Expedition (1804-1806).


A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1875: American State Papers, House of Representatives, 2nd Congress, 1st Session: Finance: Volume 1. American Memory. Library of Congress.

A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1875: Annals of Congress. American Memory. Library of Congress.

A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1875: Journal of the Senate of the United States of America: 1789-1793. American Memory. Library of Congress.