Alexander Hamilton Papers
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To Alexander Hamilton from Charles Lee, 31 December 1789

From Charles Lee1

Alexandria [Virginia] 31st. December 1789.

Sir!

The people here concerned in trade have been long accustomed to a due execution of Impost laws and have been in the habit of punctuality in payment of their duties so that I hope there will seldom be occasion to apply to legal remedies. Your instruction as expressed in your letter to me of the 18th. Instant shall be duly obeyed.2 A Vessel which was Registered in Rhode Island in the year 1787 and appears to be the property of two Citizens of that State and one of Virginia claims the benefit of the Act passed the 16th. September 1789,3 so as to pay only American Tonnage and to have a deduction of ten per cent on the Duties on the Goods, but as the vessel is not the property of Citizens of Rhode Island only, I am at a loss what ought to be done.4 It has been treated as an American Vessel as to the Tonnage, which I apprehend is an error. There have several instances occurred at this Office which have exposed me to some uneasy sensations as my conduct has appeared rigid, and the Merchants have not been well pleased. I have demanded from an American Vessel lately Registered at New York, and transporting American produce from that District to this without a License, the same Tonnage as a foreign Vessel in such a case is liable to pay, that is to say 50 Cents per Ton. under the 23rd Section of the Coasting Law.5 The New Yorkers particularly think it hard on them, because they come from the Metropolis where the Laws should be best understood, and they were not told at the Custom House there, that a License was necessary, or useful on such a Voyage.

I am, most respectfully Sir!   Your most Obedt. Humble Servant.

Charles Lee, Collector
at Alexandria

Copy, RG 56, Letters to and from the Collector at Alexandria, National Archives.

1In PAH description begins Harold C. Syrett, ed., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton (New York and London, 1961– ). description ends , VI, 40, this letter is listed as a “letter not found.”

2“Treasury Department Circular to the Collectors of the Customs,” December 18, 1789 (PAH description begins Harold C. Syrett, ed., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton (New York and London, 1961– ). description ends , VI, 18–19).

3Section 2 of “An Act to suspend part of an Act, intituled ‘An Act to regulate the collection of the Duties imposed by Law on the Tonnage of Ships or Vessels, and on Goods, Wares, and Merchandises, imported into the United States,’ and for other purposes” reads: “That all the privileges and advantages to which ships and vessels owned by citizens of the Untied States, are by law entitled, shall be, until the fifteenth day of January next, extended to ships and vessels wholly owned by citizens of the States of North Carolina, and Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. Provided, That the master of every such ship or vessel last mentioned, shall produce a register for the same, conformable to the laws of the state in which it shall have been obtained, showing that the said ship or vessel is, and before the first day of September instant, was owned as aforesaid, and make oath or affirmation, before the collector of the port in which the benefit of this act is claimed, that the ship or vessel for which such register is produced, is the same therein mentioned, and that he believes it is still wholly owned by the person or persons named in said register, and that he or they are citizens of one of the states aforesaid” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, I (Boston, 1845). description ends 69 [September 16, 1789]).

4For H’s answer to Lee’s question, see H to Lee, February 12, 1790 (PAH description begins Harold C. Syrett, ed., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton (New York and London, 1961– ). description ends , VI, 263).

5Section 23 of “An Act for Registering and Clearing Vessels, Regulating the Coasting Trade, and for other purposes” reads in part: “… and if any vessel of the burthen of twenty tons or upwards, not having a certificate of registry or enrolment, and a license, shall be found trading between different districts, or be employed in the bank or whale fisheries, every such ship or vessel shall be subject to the same tonnage, and fees, as foreign ships or vessels” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, I (Boston, 1845). description ends 61 [September 1, 1789]).

For H’s decision concerning unlicensed vessels trading between districts, see “Treasury Department Circular to the Collectors of the Customs,” December 23, 1789 (PAH description begins Harold C. Syrett, ed., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton (New York and London, 1961– ). description ends , VI, 30–31).

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