Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Alexander Hamilton, 13 January 1792

From Alexander Hamilton

Treasury Department January 13. 1792.


In a conference with you, some time ago, I took occasion to mention the detention of the certificate of registry of a vessel of the United States in one of the French offices on occasion of a sale of the vessel. Several new instances having since occurred, I find it necessary to trouble you more particularly upon the subject. As the detention of these papers has taken place, as well in a port of France as in those of the colonies, it will require notice both in the home and in the colonial department.

The instrument in contemplation is of manifest importance to the navigation of the United States, and the legislature has therefore ordained that a heavy penalty shall follow the return of a master of a vessel to th[is coun]try, who shall fail within eight days to surrender the certificate of registry belonging to a vessel lately under his command, which shall have been shipwrecked or sold abroad. The payment of this penalty, in the event of its being incurred, is secured by an obligation taken at the granting of the certificate, and some of those bonds are now in a situation, wherein the la[w] requires them to be put in suit. The plea of detention by a foreign power, whenever it can be truly made, renders the penalty a hardship, and I am persuaded will recommend the measures necessary to prevent such inconveniences to your early attention.—I have the honor to be Sir Your obedt. S[ervan]t,

Alexander [Hamilton]

RC (DNA: RG 59, MLR); at foot of text: “The honorable The Secretary of State”; addressed: “The Honorable Thomas Jefferson Esq. Secretary of State”; in clerk’s hand, except for signature; mutilated, so that parts of signature and of some words are lost; endorsed by TJ as received 13 Jan. 1792 and so recorded in SJL; also endorsed by clerk as “received same day.”

The heavy penalty was levied by the “Act for Registering and Clearing Vessels,” which was passed in 1789 (Annals description begins Annals of the Congress of the United States: The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United StatesCompiled from Authentic Materials by Joseph Gales, Senior, Washington, Gales & Seaton, 1834–56, 42 vols. All editions are undependable and pagination varies from one printing to another. The edition cited here has this caption on both recto and verso pages: “History of Congress.” Another printing, with the same title-page, has “Gales & Seatons History” on verso and “of Debates in Congress” on recto pages. Those using the latter printing will need to employ the date or, where it is lacking, to add approximately 52 to the page numbers of Annals as cited in this volume. description ends , ii, 2218–35).

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