Alexander Hamilton Papers

From Alexander Hamilton to William Ellery, 7 October 1790

To William Ellery

Treasury Department, October 7th 1790


My letter of the 27th of Septr to you1 proceeded on the supposition that the duty of Tonnage mentioned by you under the denomination of light money was for the purpose of supporting the lighthouse establishments in your state and consequently distinct from that imposed by the Act entitled “An Act to incorporate certain persons by the name of the River machine Company in the Town of Providence and for other purposes therein mentioned” to the operation of which act untill the tenth day of January next, Congress have declared their consent, by the Act of which the inclosed is a copy.2 It has since occurred to me that there may possibly have been some misapprehension, and that the duty in question may be the same to which that consent relates in which case the conclusion will of course be different, and that duty must continue to be collected untill the said tenth day of January.

In the hurry of expediting the Letter above mentioned it did not occur to me that there is in the last clause of the 10th Section of the first Article of the constitution of the United States an express prohibition to the Individual States, against laying a duty of Tonnage without the consent of Congress.

I am with great consideration   Sir   Your obedt Servt

Alexander Hamilton

Wm. Ellery Esqr
Collector of the Customs

LS, Sol Feinstone Collection, David Library of the American Revolution, Washington Crossing State Park, Pennsylvania.

1Letter not found.

2The pertinent section of this act (“An Act declaring the assent of Congress to certain acts of the states of Maryland, Georgia, and Rhode Island and Providence Plantations”) reads as follows: “That the consent of Congress be, and is hereby declared to the operation of the acts of the several states herein mentioned, so far as the same relate to the levying a duty on the tonnage of ships or vessels for the purposes therein mentioned until the tenth day of January next—that is to say: an act of the General Assembly of the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, at their session held in January, one thousand seven hundred and ninety, intituled ‘An Act to incorporate certain persons by the name of the River Machine Company, in the town of Providence, and for other purposes therein mentioned’” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America (Boston, 1845). description ends 184–85 [August 11, 1790]).

3This is a mistake. Ellery was collector of customs at Newport, Rhode Island.

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