From Tench Coxe
Revenue-office, Jany 18th 1795
The letter herein inclosed from Mr Dayton1 appears to require a degree of consideration from the executive Department of the Government. It was delivered to me yesterday by Collector2 Burr.3 It seems as if it had never been sealed. The date is at Philadelphia in the Session of Congress. The subject was not mentioned to me at any time to the best of my recollection and belief. Mr Burr says, the letter was delivered to some person attending the Philada. market from West Jersey wherein the kind of Waggons in question, is principally used that it was circulated without a seal thro’ several of the counties of New-Jersey among the people, that he heard of it in Burlington and Gloucester, and I think in Monmouth, before it reached him, that many copies of it were taken in the course of its circulation, that it came to his hands in its present open State several weeks, at least three, after its date.
I am, sir, with great respect Your most Obedient Servant,
Commissr. of the Revenue
The Secretary of the Treasury
LC, RG 58, Letters of Commissioner of Revenue, 1794–1795, National Archives.
1. The letter from Jonathan Dayton, a member of the House of Representatives from New Jersey, has not been found, but it concerned the question of whether the provisions of “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]) applied to certain carriages or wagons in common use in southern New Jersey. On January 18, 1795, Coxe wrote to Aaron Dunham, supervisor of the revenue for the District of New Jersey: “The Tax upon Stage carriages is yet somewhat unsettled in your District. Be pleased to inform me whether my letters in relation to Coaches, light Waggons &ca are sufficient to settle your mind, and to produce an acquiescence on the part of the proprietors.
“Be pleased also to state to me very fully & particularly the arguments for and against collecting the taxes from the West-Jersey light Waggons. It may be well to remember that some of them are upon wooden springs and painted, and that others are not—all clearness and minuteness in your power is desirable.” (LC, RG 58, Letters of Commissioner of Revenue, 1794–1795, National Archives.)
In a letter to Oliver Wolcott, Jr., dated February 5, 1795, Coxe wrote concerning the contents of Dayton’s letter: “A question is pending concerning the description of carriages called ‘covered Waggons’ in New Jersey. It is doubted whether they are taxed by the act of Congress. A letter of Mr. Dayton of the House of Representatives to Collector Burr, may assist to explain the objections. It was transmitted from this office to the late Secretary of the Treasury not long before his retiring. The inclosed extracts from letters of the Supervisor of New Jersey, are concerning that description of carriages. They are used for the conveyance of persons with sufficient frequency to come within the description in the title of the act, but they are so often used for purposes in farming, and in the transportation of articles, both domestic and foreign, to and from the market towns to place them in some degree in questionable state, as under the proviso to the first section.
“The chance of a decision against the government by a Jury of one of the counties of West Jersey, where they are most in use, would be not inconsiderable….” (LC, RG 58, Letters of Commissioner of Revenue, 1794–1795, National Archives.)
The “proviso to the first section,” which Coxe mentions, reads: “Provided always, That nothing herein contained shall be construed to charge with a duty, any carriage usually and chiefly employed in husbandry, or for the transporting or carrying of goods, wares, merchandise, produce or commodities” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America (Boston, 1845). description ends 374).
On February 6, 1795, in a discussion in the House of Representatives on the tax on carriages, Elias Boudinot, a Representative from New Jersey, stated: “That part of the tax which regarded carriages of pleasure was popular; but the collector of the tax in New Jersey, by a construction which never came into the head of anybody except himself, applied the law to the wagons of farmers going to market. This part of the tax was very unpopular, and justly so, but the other part was agreeable” (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, 1204). On February 11, 1795, John Beatty, who was also a Representative from New Jersey, said: “In cases of doubt, what carriages are within the exempting description there is no summary mode of determining—what carriages are ‘usually’ and ‘chiefly’ ‘employed in husbandry,’ but every disputed case must be the subject of a suit in all the legal forms. This was highly objectionable, both on the grounds of delay and expense, and had no doubt occasioned the payment of the tax, in a variety of instances, where the parties were conscious they were within the exempting clause, but had preferred to pay the two dollars rather than to contend with the Collector in a suit at law” (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, 1213).
2. This is a reference, not to a collector of customs, but rather to one of the subordinate officers appointed by a supervisor of the revenue within a district to assist in the collection of excise duties within the district. See Section 18 of “An Act repealing, after the last day of June next, the duties heretofore laid upon Distilled Spirits imported from abroad, and laying others in their stead; and also upon Spirits distilled within the United States, and for appropriating the same” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America (Boston, 1845). description ends 199–214 [March 3, 1791]). Coxe refers to such officials as “Collectors and auxiliary officers of the whole Revenue Service—vizt—Those employed in the collection of the Duties on Spirits, Stills, Carriages, Licences for retailers, Auctions, Snuff Mills and Sugar Refineries” (Coxe to Dunham, March 14, 1795 [LC, RG 58, Letters of Commissioner of Revenue, 1794–1795, National Archives]).
3. This is presumably a reference to William H. Burr, who subsequently became collector of customs and inspector of the revenue for the port of Burlington, New Jersey (Executive Journal, I description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate (Washington, 1828), I. description ends , 466).