Alexander Hamilton Papers

To Alexander Hamilton from William Bradford, 14 March 1794

From William Bradford

Philadelphia, March 14th, 1794.


I have the honor of acknowledging the receipt of your letters of the 5th instant1 and have considered the question therein stated for my opinion. It is, at what time does the credit upon the duties imposed on a cargo first entered for exportation and afterwards for landing, begin to run.

Although this case does not appear to have been distinctly foreseen or provided for in any of the Impost Acts, yet the just practical construction of those acts which has obtained at the treasury, and by which in ordinary cases the credit is held to commence from the master’s entry, involves a principle which governs my present opinion. Manifest injustice and hardship would sometimes result from a literal construction of 8th. §. of the act of 4th. May 1792.2 A vessel putting into our ports in distress, may after remaining here a length of time to refit, find it necessary to enter and sell the cargo. In such case, the master’s entry would unquestionably be considered as the period contemplated by that section. The “importation” therefore, meant in that section, seems to be “importation with intent to land,” which in ordinary cases will be evidenced by the entry. As therefore the cargo in question was not so imported at the first Entry, I am of opinion that the Credit will begin to run from the time of the second Entry.

This opinion however proceeds entirely upon the ground that the Entry for exportation was bona fide. These cases, where there is reason to suspect it to be fraudulent, must be governed by their own circumstances. And if it shall be found that this construction is likely to open a door for imposition, it may be easily closed by the interposition of the Legislature.3

I have the honor to be with great esteem,   Sir, Your Most obedient servant,

W. Bradford.

Secretary of the Treasury.

Copy, Circulars of the Treasury Department, 1789–1814, Library of Congress; copy, RG 36, Collector of Customs at Boston, Letters from the Treasury, 1789–1807, Vol. 4, National Archives; copy, Office of the Secretary, United States Treasury Department.

1Letters not found.

2Section 8 of “An Act for raising a farther sum of money for the protection of the frontiers, and for other purposes therein mentioned” provided that “the term of credit for the payment of duties on salt shall be nine months, and on all articles, the produce of the West Indies, salt excepted, where the amount of the duty to be paid by one person or co-partnership shall exceed fifty dollars, shall be for four months, and that the duties on all other articles, except wines and teas, which shall be imported after the last day of June next, shall be payable, one half in six, one quarter in nine, and the other quarter in twelve calendar months from the time of each respective importation” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America (Boston, 1845). description ends 260–61 [May 2, 1792]).

3Bradford’s opinion was enclosed in a Treasury Department circular, dated April 24, 1794, which was signed by Oliver Wolcott, Jr. (LS, Office of the Secretary, United States Treasury Department).

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