In its entirety, the federal budget for 1792 occupied just three pages of text. Its brevity, however, did not stop 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 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. 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.
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 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. The disillusioned Jefferson resigned from office in 31 December 1793.
Acts of Congress signed by Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson are rare. At most, twenty-eight 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.
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