Alexander Hamilton Papers

To Alexander Hamilton from Tench Coxe, 14 January 1795

From Tench Coxe

Treasury Department,
Revenue-Office, January 14th 1795


It may be useful in the case of the suit for the carriage tax in Virginia,1 that the Attorney General be apprized, that by the laws of Virginia, the magistrates, singly, have exclusive Jurisdiction in all cases wherein the sum does not amount to six Dollars. The Carriage tax on some classes, is only one Dollar. The suit however may be brought for the tax upon a Coach or a Chariot, which are Ten and eight Dollars, if resort should be had to the State Judiciary.2

It is clear that distress can only be levied in case of an Election to pay at the House of the owner of the carriage. This point however does not appear to be of any consequence to the constitutional question tho noticed in the Supervisors3 letter to the attorney of the United States for Virginia.4

Hyltons case was expected to be tried at the March District court.5 But I have instructed the Supervisor to suspend all further movements.

John Marshall6 Esqr, I have desired him to retain instantly, and have apprized him that the case is under the consideration of the attorney general, who probably will attend.7

I am, sir, with great respect,   Your most obedient Servant

Tench Coxe
Commissr of the revenue

The Secretary of the Treasury

LC, RG 58, Letters of Commissioner of Revenue, 1794–1795, National Archives.

1Coxe is referring to the case of United States v Hylton, which was heard in the United States Circuit Court for the District of Virginia on June 2, 1795. The case reached the Supreme Court of the United States in 1796, on a writ of error proceeding, as Hylton v United States (3 MS Record Book 524, under the date of June 2, 1795, United States Circuit Court for the District of Virginia, Virginia State Library, Richmond). At issue was the constitutionality of the tax imposed by “An Act laying duties upon Carriages for the conveyance of Persons” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America (Boston, 1845). description ends 373–75 [June 5, 1794]). In this case, in which H served as auxiliary counsel to the United States Government to defend the carriage tax, he wrote one of his most famous briefs. See Goebel, Law Practice description begins Julius Goebel, Jr., ed., The Law Practice of Alexander Hamilton: Documents and Commentary (New York and London, 1964– ) description ends , forthcoming volumes.

2To give the court the desired jurisdiction over the case, both sides agreed to fictitious “facts.” Thus, plaintiff and defendant agreed that for the purposes of the case Daniel Hylton should be assumed to own one hundred and twenty-five chariots for his own private use, with the tax and penalty for one chariot being sixteen dollars (3 Dallas, U.S. Reports description begins A. J. Dallas, Reports of Cases Ruled and Adjudged in the Several Courts of the United States and of Pennsylvania, Held at the Seat of the Federal Government. Vol. III, Second Edition. Edited, With Notes and References to Later Decisions, by Frederick C. Brightly (New York and Albany, 1882). description ends , 172).

3Edward Carrington, supervisor of the revenue for the District of Virginia.

4Alexander Campbell.

5The case was tried on June 2, 1795. See note 1.

6Marshall was practicing law in Richmond, Virginia.

7On January 14, 1795, Coxe wrote to Carrington: “The question of unconstitutionality under the carriage law is of so much importance that it is thought proper immediately to employ additional legal aid. You will be pleased therefore to retain John Marshall, Esquire, in concert with the present attorney of the United states. You will be pleased to suspend all further proceedings in the suit or suits for the carriage tax, which has or have been commenced, as the Business is placed before the Attorney general, and the joint opinions of the three council, are intended to govern.

“It is proper that notice of the time of trial and the requisite information of all kinds be given to the attorney general, who will attend personally in Virginia with Mr Campbell and Mr. Marshall.” (LC, RG 58, Letters of Commissioner of Revenue, 1794–1795, National Archives.)

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