Treasury Department Circular
to the Collectors of the Customs
June 25th, 1792.
As it is probable that doubts may arise, in regard to the construction of the fifth section of the Act, entitled, “An Act for raising a farther sum of money for the protection of the frontiers, &c.”1 that is, whether the additional Ten per centum, mentioned in the said section, relates only to the former rates of duties, laid by the Act “making farther provision for the payment of the debt of the United States,”2 or to those imposed by the first recited Act, I think it necessary to communicate my sentiments upon the subject in a circular letter.
I am of opinion (in which the Attorney General, who has been consulted concurs) that the rates of duties prescribed by the Act “making farther provision for the payment of the debt of the United States,” must govern the addition of ten per centum.
To elucidate this by an example, it would stand thus:
It has been suggested that there is a diversity in practice in expressing in the Registers of vessels their respective lengths, which is attended with some disadvantage. To remedy this, it is my desire, that the actual length “from the fore part of the main stem to the after part of the stern post” be expressed in each Register as the length of the vessel—not the remainder of that length, after deducting 3/5th of the breadth, as is sometimes practiced.3
The twelfth section of the Act, entitled, “An Act to establish the Post-Office and Post-Roads within the United States,”4 is deemed to contemplate no other ships or vessels than those arriving from abroad.
Previous to the adoption of the constitution of the United States, by Rhode-Island,5 the duty of fifty cents per Ton was in a variety of instances paid upon vessels of that state, trading between different districts, for want of coasting licenses, pursuant to the twenty third section of the Act for registering and clearing vessels, regulating the coasting Trade and for other purposes.6 Applications have been made for a return of the extra-duties in such cases. I am of opinion that the fourth section of the Act, entitled, “An Act imposing duties on the Tonnage of ships or vessels”7 extends to ships and vessels of North-Carolina8 and Rhode-Island, prior to the respective periods of their adoption of the Constitution.
With consideration, I am, Sir, Your obedient Servant,
L[S], to Benjamin Lincoln, RG 36, Collector of Customs at Boston, Letters from the Treasury, 1789–1807, Vol. 4, National Archives; LS, Office of the Secretary, United States Treasury Department; LS, Rhode Island Historical Society, Providence; LS, MS Division, New York Public Library; LS, Estate of Stuart Chevalier, Pasadena, California; LC, to Samuel Gerry, Essex Institute, Salem, Massachusetts; copy, RG 56, Circulars of the Office of the Secretary, “Set T,” National Archives; copy, United States Finance Miscellany, Treasury Circulars, Library of Congress.
1. Section 5 of this act reads as follows: “And be it further enacted, That the addition of ten per centum made by the second section of the ‘act making farther provision for the debts of the United States,’ to the rates of duties on goods, wares and merchandise, imported in ships or vessels not of the United States, shall continue in full force and operation, after the said last day of June next, in relation to the articles herein before enumerated and described” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America (Boston, 1845). description ends 260 [May 2, 1792]).
2. 1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America (Boston, 1845). description ends 180–82 (August 10, 1790). Otho H. Williams had raised this question. See Williams to H, June 4, 1792, and H to Williams, June 8, 1792.
3. Section 44 of “An Act to provide more effectually for the collection of the duties imposed by law on goods, wares and merchandise imported into the United States, and on the tonnage of ships or vessels” reads in part as follows: “That to ascertain the tonnage of any ship or vessel, the surveyor … shall … take the length thereof from the fore part of the main stem to the after part of the stern post above the upper deck; the breadth thereof at the broadest part above the main wales, half of which breadth shall be accounted the depth of such vessel, and shall then deduct from the length three fifths of the breadth, multiply the remainder by the breadth, and the product by the depth, and shall divide this last product by ninety-five, the quotient whereof shall be deemed the true contents or tonnage of such ship or vessel” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America (Boston, 1845). description ends 169 [August 4, 1790]). See Benjamin Lincoln to H, March 21, 1792, and H to———, May 28, 1792.
4. Section 12 of this act reads as follows: “And be it further enacted, That no ship or vessel, arriving at any port within the United States, where a postoffice is established, shall be permitted to report, make entry or break bulk, till the master or commander shall have delivered to the postmaster, all letters directed to any person or persons within the United States, which, under his care or within his power, shall be brought in such ship or vessel, other than such as are directed to the owner or consignee: but when a vessel shall be bound to another port, than that, at which she may enter, the letters belonging to, or to be delivered at the said port of delivery, shall not be delivered to the postmaster at the port of entry. And it shall be the duty of the collector or other officer of the port, empowered to receive entries of ships or vessels, to require from every master or commander of such ship or vessel, an oath or affirmation, purporting that he has delivered all such letters, except as aforesaid” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America (Boston, 1845). description ends 235–36 [February 20, 1792]).
5. Rhode Island had ratified the Constitution on May 29, 1790.
7. Section 4 of this act reads as follows: “Be it therefore further enacted, That in all cases in which the said foreign duty shall have been heretofore paid on ships or vessels of the United States, whether registered at the time of payment or afterwards, restitution thereof shall be made, and that no such foreign duty shall hereafter be demanded on the said ships or vessels” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America (Boston, 1845). description ends 136 [July 20, 1790]).
8. North Carolina had ratified the Constitution on November 21, 1789.