Alexander Hamilton Papers

From Alexander Hamilton to Oliver Wolcott, Junior, 18 March 1793

To Oliver Wolcott, Junior

Treasury Department
March 18. 1793


The XXXIV Section of the Collection law1 provides that certain rates per Cent. shall be allowed for the Tares of Coffee Pepper and Sugar, other than loaf Sugar. Upon this provision, a doubt has existed whether the per centage ought not, in certain cases to be computed on the Cwt. or long hundred; or ought in all cases to be computed on the 100 lb or short hundred. The practice at different ports has on this point been and continues to be dissimilar.2 It is necessary to produce uniformity.

As the subject is not free from ambiguity I wished to avoid interposing a construction from the Treasury by some Legislative explanation. But none having taken place it becomes a duty to put an end to the Question & establish a general rule.

Let it therefore be made known to the officers, by a circular instruction that in time to come the per Centage is in all cases to be computed on the 100 pounds.3 In a doubtful case, this construction is preferred as most accommodating to the Merchant.

I believe at some ports the proviso at the end of the Section has been misconstrued.4 It seems to have been taken for granted that Invoices are to govern in all cases where desired by the Merchants. This is not a just interpretation. The option is mutual. And if there is reason to suppose the tares, as expressed in the Invoices, are excessive, the Officer may follow the specific rates, in respect to articles to which such rates are applied. An intimation on this point will not be improper.

With much consideration & esteem   I am Sir   Your Obed ser

Oliver Woolcott Esq

ADf, Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford.

1“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” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America (Boston, 1845). description ends 166 [August 4, 1790]). H is actually referring to Section 35 rather than Section 34 of this act. For an explanation of the mistake in the numbering of the sections of this act, see “Treasury Department Circular to the Collectors of the Customs,” August 6, 1792.

3Wolcott sent a circular letter to the collectors of the customs on this subject on March 22, 1793 (LS, to James Lingan, Office of the Secretary, United States Treasury Department).

4The “end of the Section” reads as follows: “Provided always, That where the original invoices of any of the said articles are produced, and the tare or tares appear therein, it shall be lawful, with the consent of the importer or importers, consignee or consignees, to estimate the said tare or tares according to such invoice” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America (Boston, 1845). description ends 166).

Index Entries