From Samuel Hodgdon1
Philadelphia May 9th, 1794
I attended last evening what is here called a Town-meeting—permit me to give you the following description of it. By six o’Clock about three hundred of the lower class of people were assembled, when for want of more respectable characters Colonel Morgan, Mr. Leiper, Neddy Pole and Mr. Pennington2 wer called on to preside. The meeting being thus organized, without further ceremony the Moderator, Morgan, handed to the Secretary Pennington, a number of resolutions cut and dried—and asked the Mob whether they should be read, all vociferated yes. The Secretary after making apologies for want of better lungs, read the resolutions (which were lengthy) through.3 Leiper then came forward to address the rabble, his speech was worthy of such an orator—he attempted to explain, and then bitterly complained of the meditated tobacco and snuff excise as he was taught by the resolution-writer to call the duty. He said the whole fraternity were not able to raise the money, or give the requested security. Pole next came forward to complain of the injuries intended on the Auctioneers,4 having finished his reading and speech, without one word of debate the question on the resolutions was called for. The Moderator desired to be informed whether they would take them up separately or together, all being satisfied with the debates and fully understanding the merits of the resolutions they agreed to pass them in gross; which was instantly done—and three cheers ended the meeting. The spectators of the farce whom I took to be more than two thirds of the persons present, were distress’d to see with what facility a few demagogues could mislead and abuse an ignorant but harmless people. I shall say nothing of the resolutions more than that they were well wrote, impertinent and insidious; a copy of them was directed to be presented to the President, the Vice President as President of Senate and the Speaker of the house of Representatives.5
With respect and esteem I am Sir, Your most obedient servt
ALS, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.
1. Hodgdon was Army storekeeper at Philadelphia for the War Department.
2. These men were all residents of Philadelphia. Jacob Morgan, a local businessman, was a prominent member of the Pennsylvania Democratic Society; Thomas Leiper was a tobacconist and snuff maker; Edward Pole was a notary public and ironmaker; and Edward Pennington (Penington) was a sugar refiner.
3. The resolutions read in part as follows:
“Whereas it is the inalienable right and bounded duty of all freemen vigilantly to observe the operations of government, publicly to declare their sentiments on its measures, and peaceably to remonstrate against every encroachment upon the liberties and interests of the people; and whereas the imposition of and excise upon certain domestic manufactures of the United States, as contemplated by the House of Representatives of Congress, appears manifestly to this meeting, to be at once unjust, impolitic, oppressive, dangerous, and unnecessary: In order therefore to testify the sense of the citizens and particularly of the manufacturers of Philadelphia upon the important occasion, as well as to warn the legislature of the Union against the introduction of a precedent so odious, and so pernicious, it is
“Resolved, that the manufactures of the United States, however fostered by the skill, industry and wealth of individuals, remain in a state of infancy; and rather demand the patronage, than justify the exactions of government. The spirit of enterprize, which led the citizens of America into a patriotic competition with the manufacturers of Europe, is still depressed, and struggling amidst the embarrassments of the unequal contest. The prejudices in favour of foreign manufactures; the inexperience of domestic workmen, the high price of labour, and the inadequate amount of capitals, are obstacles yet to be surmounted in almost every branch of American manufacture. The charge and difficulty of introducing domestic manufactories, may indeed be exemplified in the recent attempt at the town of Paterson; where, notwithstanding, the magnitude of the original fund, the auxiliary of a lottery, and the patronage of states and statesmen: the projected institution of national manufactories has sunk even before its foundation was complete. To demand, therefore, a partial contribution from the individuals, who have thus embarked and are thus contending in an ardous and patriotic task, is obviously unjust, and may be fatal.
“Resolved, that it is the policy of the United States to multiply and encourage domestic manufactures; but the attempt to render them subjects of revenue, at this early period of their existence, is calculated to prevent the introduction of any future, and to undermine the prosperity of every present establishment. If to the embarrassments which already attend the institution of a manufactory, the apprehensions of a tax equal to 50 or 20 per cent. upon its produce (as is proposed in the cases of snuff and sugar,) shall be added, few individuals (and on the exertions of individuals, America must after all, rely for her manufactures) can be so opulent, none will be so daring as to continue, or to commence the experiment; a permanent source of national wealth, will thus be destroyed, by a rash and avaricious anticipation of its emoluments.
“Resolved, that independent of the injustice and impolicy of imposing any tax upon the infant manufactories of America, the nature of the tax which is proposed, demands a firm opposition to the measure. The introduction of an excise system into the administration of a free government, cannot be too strongly reprobated nor too resolutely opposed; in every country in which it is known, it has eventually been fatal; it has depraved, oppressed and enslaved the people, while it exalted their rulers, by the rigor of its dispensations and the insolence of its officers; it is the soul and poisonous source from which flow collusion, fraud and perjury, it cannot be imposed without tyranny, nor be endured without baseness.
“Resolved, That if an excise, at all times oppressive and dangerous, might however be vindicated by necessity, even that plea does not now exist. The federal wants are not so great that they can only be supplied by the exertion of every possible resource; and the terror of war, under whose influence the excise was proposed, is happily vanished.…
“Resolved, That if during the present session a law shall be enacted by Congress, imposing an excise upon any domestic manufactures, the manufacturers of the city of Philadelphia will assemble at the State-House … to take into consideration what measures ought to be pursued to express their sympathy for their oppressed brethren, and with a due respect for their obligations as citizens to demonstrate their abhorrence of so unjust, so impolitic and so pernicious a precedent.…” ([Philadelphia] Gazette of the United States and Evening Advertiser, May 10, 1794.)
On May 1, 1794, a “resolution for a tax on manufactured snuff and tobacco” had been introduced in the House of Representatives, and on May 2 a resolution was read for “a duty of two cents per pound upon all sugar refined within the United States” (Annals of Congress description begins The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States; with an Appendix, Containing Important State Papers and Public Documents, and All the Laws of a Public Nature (Washington, 1834–1849). description ends , IV, 620, 633). The manufacturers of tobacco in Philadelphia had petitioned Congress on May 2, “praying that the articles of tobacco and snuff, manufactured in the United States, may not be subjected to the excise duty proposed to be laid on them by the report of the Committee of Ways and Means now depending before the House” (Journal of the House description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States (Washington, 1826), I, II. description ends , II, 136). On May 5 a similar memorial came from the sugar bakers of Philadelphia “praying that sugar refined within the United States may not be subjected to the excise duty proposed to be laid by the report of the Committee of Ways and Means now depending before the House” (Annals of Congress description begins The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States; with an Appendix, Containing Important State Papers and Public Documents, and All the Laws of a Public Nature (Washington, 1834–1849). description ends , IV, 632). Despite considerable opposition in Congress, “An Act laying certain duties upon Snuff and Refined Sugar” was approved on June 5, 1794 (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America (Boston, 1845). description ends 384–90).
4. The report of the House committee to inquire into the support of public credit had suggested that “there shall be paid, on all sales at auction (except in the cases of property sold upon execution, or by virtue of distress for rent or tax, or in consequence of bankruptcies, and legal insolvencies, or where there have been general assignments for the benefit of creditors … at the rate of one per cent” (Annals of Congress description begins The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States; with an Appendix, Containing Important State Papers and Public Documents, and All the Laws of a Public Nature (Washington, 1834–1849). description ends , IV, 655). Fees for auction sales were provided by “An Act laying duties on property sold at Auction” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America (Boston, 1845). description ends 397–400 [June 9, 1794]).
5. On May 9, 1794, Jacob Morgan, chairman of the meeting, sent a copy of the resolutions to the President (LS, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress), and on May 10 the speaker of the House of Representatives “laid before the House a Letter from the Chairman of a meeting of the manufacturers of the City of Philadelphia, covering certain resolutions.…” The resolutions were laid before the Senate on May 12 (Annals of Congress description begins The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States; with an Appendix, Containing Important State Papers and Public Documents, and All the Laws of a Public Nature (Washington, 1834–1849). description ends , IV, 671, 98).