Skip to main content
View PDF

P[eter] B[uell] Porter to MVB, 31 December 1822


Dear Sir,

You are probably apprised that, two years ago, Congress, in their rage for retrenchment, passed a law, reducing the Salaries of the Commissioners under the Treaty of Ghent from 4444, to 2500 dollars. I feel satisfied myself that the law was unconstitutional, and that ^it^ would never have passed (especially in your house) had there been a moments time for discussion or examination. But the circumstances were peculiar.

The Bill had been repeated in the house of Reps. by Mallory, with special reference I presume to his friend C. P. Van Ness, rather than myself. It was never acted on even in that house until 10 O'Clock in the evening of the 3d. of March. Two hours before the breaking up of Congress! Maj: Delafield was the only person at Washington to superintend the interests of the Commission, and it so happened that in regard to this bill his interests were in direct hostility to three of the Commissioners. No provision had been made in the treaty for the salaries of the agents, who were the separate officers of the respective, & not the joint ones of the two governments. And while this bill reduced the salaries of the Commissioners, it raised & fixed that of Maj: Delefield. By representing to the friends of the Commission that ^the passage of^ this bill was indispensible to its progress, on account of the appropriation it contained, he induced them to be silent, and the radicals were, of course, ready to vote for it under any circumstances. So that in the course of two hours, without remark, & without ^ever^ reading the important explanatory documents which accompanied it, it passed thro' all the forms of legislature of both houses.

That law however will expire by its own limitation some time this winter, and an attempt I presume will be made to renew it. Altho I perceive you are a little tinctured with radicalism, I am sure you have not yet advanced so far in its principles, as to believe that Congress is omnipotent, & has a right to controul at its pleasure, every other officer & department of Government. And should you believe with me that Congress has no right to alter the salaries fixed by the treaty, I cannot but hope you will oppose (and I am confident you might do it successfully) the reversal of the law of 1821.

I enclose you the copy of a letter I have lately received from Mr Van Ness, on this subject, and if his remarks in the unconstitutionality of the late law. I hope you will read them as they will not only give you his views in respect to principles, but will disclose some important facts in relation to the subject.

I received the Presidents Message & documents, under your part, for which I am greatly indebted to you. I shall go, in about 10 or 12 days, to Albany, where I shall probably remain several weeks, & when I should be much gratified to hear from you. I have been engaged for some days past in writing, or rather compiling, a Book, of some 60 pages, on the subject of the western termination of the Erie Canal. As soon as I reach Albany (where the map which is to accompany it is preparing) I will forward you a copy.

How comes on the Presidential Question? I should like to hear something from you on this subject; and altho' my own determination is to go with you & the great body of Republicans in this state (whatever candidate they may eventually light upon) let me caution you to examine, before you commit yourself, all that foresight & circumspection for which you are so distinguished.

very truly yours

P. B. Porter

Source: DLC Library of Congress
Collection: MVB Papers (DLC)
Series: Series 4 (3 December 1821-31 December 1824)