Committee Report on Tax Status
of Friendly Aliens
MS (NA: PCC, No. 20, I, 9–10). Report entirely in JM’s hand. Docketed “Report of the Committee on Presidt. Ware’s letter of the 20th. of Novr. 1780 part passed Feby 5. 1781.”
[5 February 1781]
The Committee to whom was referred the letter of the 20th. day of Novr. 1780 from Presidt. Ware with the papers enclosed1 having considered the subject to which they relate,2 and consulted the best sources of information within there power as to the law of Nations thereon, Report,
That it does not appear that any principle or usage established among the most friendly powers, or the spirit or tenor of any particular conventions among such powers & still less any article or clause in the Treaties between his most Xn Majesty & the United States, authorize a claim of exemption by the subjects of the former residing in America from any taxes or imposts on their property,3 common to the Citizens of the latter and to the subjects of other nations.
That Alien friends appear to be entitled by their residence to exemption from all military & other personal services except in certain critical situations, from all taxes laid directly on their persons, and in general from all such other taxes as in their nature have immediate relation to Citizenship, and are incompatible with the duties they owe to their lawful4 Sovereigns
With respect to the particular case of Monsr. Delatour a french subject residing in N. Hamshire stated to Congress by President Ware, the Committee are of opinion that the tax on his stock in trade of which he complains, being common to the Citizens of that State and no wise incompatible with his character of a French subject, is liable to no objection; unless such effects be included in his computed Stock as lie out of that State, to which distinction careful attention ought to be paid.5
The Committee further report as their opinion that as the general Law of Nations does not define with any degree of precision the privileges6 and obligations of foreigners with respect to taxes & imposts, and as the Treaties subsisting between France & the U. States contain no particular regulations on that subject, and as it is of the utmost consequence to the inter[est] of commerce & to harmony of intercourse between the U. States & their Allies, that some precise & permanent rules thereon founded on equity liberality & reciprocity should be speedily settled, it is expedient that the Minister Plenipotentiary at the Court of Versailles should be author[ized] to open a negociation with that Court for such purpose, and that a Committee be appointed to prepare the necessary instructions for his conduct therein.7
1. Meshech Weare (1713–1786) was president of the Executive Council of New Hampshire during most of the Revolution. The missing inclosures in his letter of 20 November 1780 to John Sullivan, a New Hampshire delegate in Congress, were a committee report of the state’s General Assembly on the matter at issue (see n. 2) and a copy of a letter from La Luzerne to Monsieur Celeire de La Tour. On 11 December 1780 Congress referred Weare’s letter to JM, Thomas Bee, and Sullivan. The absorption of Congress in more important problems, and Sullivan’s chairmanship of the congressional committee appointed on 3 January 1781 to deal with the mutiny of the Pennsylvania continental line, delayed the submission of the committee’s report to Congress until 5 February. During the committee’s deliberations, it consulted La Luzerne (NA: PCC, No. 64, fols. 152–53, 156; Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, D.C., 1921–36). description ends , V, 480–81, 499, 549; Journals of the Continental Congress, XVIII, 1140; XIX, 116).
2. De La Tour, a French merchant resident in Portsmouth, had refused to pay the tax levied by the town upon his wares on the ground that he was exempt under the terms of the Treaty of Amity and Commerce concluded between the United States and France on 6 February 1778. Unable to contravert de La Tour’s argument, especially since it had the support of the French minister, the town officials appealed to the legislature, and it, via President Weare and Sullivan, to Congress. Although Weare mentioned Article XIII as the portion of the Treaty of Amity and Commerce needing interpretation by Congress, a later paragraph in his letter shows that he had intended to refer to Article XI (Treaties and Conventions Concluded between the United States of America and Other Powers since July 4, 1776 … [comp. for Department of State; Washington, 1889], pp. 299–300).
3. Following “imposts,” JM first wrote “laid on their property within the United States.”
4. JM wrote “lawful” over a deleted “respective.”
5. This paragraph was a part of JM’s report, even though the type size used for it in the printed journal suggests that it was an addition by Congress itself. In the left-hand margin of the manuscript report opposite this paragraph, Charles Thomson wrote “passd.” The printed journal makes it evident that Congress adopted the recommendations up to the end of this paragraph but postponed action upon the balance of the report (Journals of the Continental Congress, XIX, 116–17). Judging from the silence of the printed journals, this postponement never ended.
6. JM at first wrote “rights.”
7. In early February, in accordance with its resolution of 10 January 1781, Congress gave consideration to the appointment of a Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs. The office remained unfilled until the following August, but in February some of the delegates favored Madison for the post. After surmising that Madison would likely be chosen, Thomas Burke added in a letter, probably written on 6 February: “he is a young Gentleman of Industry and Abilities, but I fear a little deficient in the Experience Necessary for rendering immediate Service in that department. however his local Situation makes him more desireable to the Southern Gentlemen …” (Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, D.C., 1921–36). description ends , V, 562–63; Jones to JM, 2 October 1780, n. 6).