Thomas Jefferson Papers

From “An Observer & Friend to Justice,” 23 November 1801

From “An Observer & Friend to Justice”

Charleston South Carolina 23 Nov 1801—


I have this day written a letter to Mr Galatin respecting the official Conduct of James Simons Collector of this port & requested him to shew it to you as time will not permit me to send you a Copy—I remain with consideraton of the highest respect

Your Most Obed. Servt.

An observer & friend to justice

PS. Policy will no doubt induce you to keep this communication as secret as possible—

If you think proper to receive any further information respecting the conduct of this Collector in his official Capacity it is in my power to give that which you have no idea off—& by your inserting a hint in the Gazettes I shall be able to know if you approve of my conduct in this business or not.

For instance. Sec. 53 & 55 of the Collection Law of 2 March 1799—Duty of Inspectors & Collectors as regards the returns of Cargoes landed at Charleston, liable to duty—From the manner in which this Business is conducted in the Collectors office it is impossible to Know what is landed or whether the government receives Duty on the whole Cargo or on only a small part thereof—the Inspectors in general are a set of ignorant Brutes in human shape who make their returns, which are not compared by the Collector as the Law directs—consequently it is impossible to Know whether the whole Duties are secured or not—again this Collector sets Clerks to calculate the Duties on Imports, who cannot copy a paper, and who are perfectly ignorant of the principles on which the duty is rated; this calculation is certified in the Naval office as right, by Clerks equally as ignorant as themselves, hence the United States may receive a Duty of only 12½ pr Cent on a large Amount, when they are entitled to 15 or 20 pr Cent—The Collector here receives ¾ of 1 pr ct, the Collector at New York ¼ of 1 pr Cent therefore in the first instance the latter must receive three times the Amount of Duties as the former to be equal to him in this instance, hence it results that the latter must employ a greater number of Clerks to execute the Business (at a more liberal Salary I am told) which is to be deducted from his profits—which will make his office of less value to him than the Collectors office is to the Collector of Charleston.—In short, if you are disposed to notice this information, please direct for me under the fictitious name of Jared [Irid?] Charleston South Carolina

RC (DNA: RG 59, LAR); at foot of first page: “Thomas Jefferson Esqr President of the united States of America”; endorsed by TJ as received 9 Dec. and “Simmons. against him” and so recorded in SJL.

This is the first of several letters addressed to the president by an unidentified person or persons at Charleston using various pseudonyms, all critical of James Simons. The second complaint, signed “An American,” is printed at 11 Dec.

Section 53 of the 1799 Collection Law regarded the duties of inspectors, who were appointed by the customs collector and surveyor of the port to board a vessel and “suffer no goods, wares or merchandise of any nature or kind whatsoever to be landed or unladen or otherwise taken or removed” without a permit from the collector and naval officer of the port. Section 55 of the act provided the form of the return to be filled out and signed by the inspector “under whose superintendence the deliveries shall have been made.” The return was to be examined and certified by the surveyor of the port and transmitted to the naval officer, who would compare it with the manifests and entries in his possession. He would note any differences and then transmit the return to the collector (U.S. Statutes at Large description begins Richard Peters, ed., The Public Statutes at Large of the United States … 1789 to March 3, 1845, Boston, 1855–56, 8 vols. description ends , 1:627, 667–9).

Inspectors in General are a set of ignorant brutes: for the 32 port inspectors employed at Charleston in 1801, see ASP description begins American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1832–61, 38 vols. description ends , Miscellaneous, 1:278.

On 2 Mch. 1799, a separate law was enacted “to establish the compensations of the officers employed in the collection of the duties on imports and tonnage,” setting a fee for the entrance and clearance of each vessel and for the issuance of necessary documents and an additional compensation for collectors based on a percentage of the duties collected. On 10 May 1800, a supplementary act reduced the percentage of compensation for the collector at Charleston from 7/8 to ¾ of one percent. Compensation for the collector at new york remained unchanged (U.S. Statutes at Large description begins Richard Peters, ed., The Public Statutes at Large of the United States … 1789 to March 3, 1845, Boston, 1855–56, 8 vols. description ends , 1:704–8, 2:72).

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