Alexander Hamilton Papers
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To Alexander Hamilton from Charles Lee, 29 January 1792

From Charles Lee

Alexandria [Virginia] 29th. January 1792

Sir!

I have received your letter of the 18th. Instant and I shall act conformably to it with respect to the clauses of the Collection Law,1 to which it refers.

As to the appointment of a person to measure vessels,2 in considering the parts of the Coasting Law, which apply to the subject, more particularly the third and thirty first sections,3 I have conceived that the measurement of every vessel ought to be made by the Surveyor when it can be done conveniently with his other official duties. Few or none of the duties of that Office are in their natures so confidential. Putting this construction on the Law, I shall consider myself bound to require the admeasurement to be made by the Surveyor in every case, where it shall not be necessary to be made by another person to be appointed for the special purpose: and in every case where it shall be proper or necessary to appoint a measurer it shall be regularly done. This the Surveyor well knew was the proposed plan of my conduct, and also the one directed by Law. I have been led to be more exact and explicit with the Surveyor here, because in my opinion he has not been so attentive to the duties of his Office as he ought to have been; and as he is scarcely ever called by any occasion from Alexandria, he ought to have performed more of the duties of his Office than he has thought proper to do. I did formerly appoint a person to measure vessels indefinitely; and I have been informed that the certificates sent to my Office were signed by the Surveyor generally, yet the actual measurement was made in his absence, by the person thus appointed in almost every instance. This mode of proceeding being in my opinion improper, I thought it necessary in order that the Surveyor may be compelled to perform the duty of admeasurement when he can conveniently do it, to adopt the present mode, of appointing a measurer from time to time in every particular case that shall require it to be done. This latter mode is more troublesome to me but will be attended with a more proper execution of the Surveyors duties, and seems more perfectly legal.

I beg leave to bring your attention to the 31st. section of the Collection Law,4 because to merchants here have complained of it as inconvenient in requiring the entry to be made on oath by the importer consignee or the known factor or agent of such importer or consignee before the collector of that district where the vessel unladed. The trade of Virginia not being collected to a point, it happens that goods imported by a Merchant at Alexandria are in a Vessel entered in James River, and so vice versa. There is no known factor or agent at the entering port, and the Merchant must go there to take the oath before the Custom House Officer, which inconvenience, it is thought, by altering the Law back to what it was under the first Collection Law,5 might be removed without any injury to the Revenue. That is to say, by permitting the Oath of Entry to be taken in certain cases before a magistrate, and transmitted to the proper Officer of the Customs.

The Case of Mr. Cuthbert6 has lately occurred he resides in Norfolk, and has some goods in a ship entered in this district. He has sent the enclosed paper, supposing it to be a sufficient appointment of an agent to make entry of his goods. As the ice has occluded our navigation, no inconvenience will arise to him while I wait for your opinion, and therefore I have submitted to you to direct, whether the oath of entry ought to be admitted to be taken by a person duly appointed by the importer or consignee to be his agent for the particular purpose of entering the goods; or whether the Law does not mean that the agent ought to be a person who previously and in other instances had acted in the affairs of the importer or consignee, and was known as such at the place of doing the business. The former construction might occasion unfair practices if generally admitted; and as the Law has made no exceptions, if admitted in one case it ought also to prevail in every case.

I am Sir! most respectfully   Your most Obedt. Hble Servant

Charles Lee, Collector
at Alexandria

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

1Lee is referring to Sections 9 and 10 of “An Act to provide more effectually for the collection of the duties imposed by law on goods, wares and merchandise imported into the United States, and on the tonnage of ships or vessels” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America (Boston, 1845). description ends 145–78 [August 4, 1790]). For the contents of these sections, see Lee to H, January 11, 1792, note 2.

2For background concerning the dispute between Lee and Samuel Hanson, surveyor at the port of Alexandria, see H to Lee, January 18, 1792, note 3.

3Section 3 of “An Act for Registering and Clearing Vessels, Regulating the Coasting Trade, and for other purposes” reads in part as follows: “That to ascertain the tonnage of all ships or vessels, the surveyor or other person appointed by the collector to measure the same, shall take the length of every vessel …” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America (Boston, 1845). description ends 55 [September 1, 1789]). For the contents of Section 31, see Lee to H, January 11, 1792, note 4.

4Lee is mistaken, for he is actually referring to Section 21 of “An Act to provide more effectually for the collection of the duties imposed by law on goods, wares and merchandise imported into the United States, and on the tonnage of ships or vessels,” which reads as follows:

And be it further enacted, That the owner or owners, consignee or consignees of any goods, wares or merchandise on board of any such ship or vessel, or in case of his, her or their absence or sickness, his, her or their known factor or agent, in his, her or their names, within fifteen days after report of the master or person having the charge or command of such ship or vessel to the collector of the district for which such goods, wares or merchandise shall be destined, shall make entry thereof with the said collector, and shall specify in such entry the particular marks, numbers and contents of each package or parcel whereof they shall consist, or if in bulk, the quantity and quality, together with the nett prime cost thereof; and shall also produce to the said collector, if any such there be, the original invoice or invoices, or other documents in lieu thereof, and bill or bills of lading; all which shall be done upon the oath of the person by whom such entry shall be made, according to the best of his or her knowledge and belief; who shall thereby also declare that if he or she shall afterwards discover or know of any other goods, wares or merchandise imported in such ship or vessel, belonging or consigned to the person or persons by whom or on whose behalf such entry shall have been made, he or she will forthwith make known the same, in order to the due entry thereof, and the payment or securing the payment of the duties thereupon: Provided always, That where the particulars of any such goods, wares, or merchandise shall be unknown, in lieu of the entry herein before directed to be made, an entry thereof shall be made and received according to the circumstances of the case, the party making the same, declaring upon oath all that he or she knows or believes concerning the quantity and particulars of the said goods, and that he or she has no other knowledge or information concerning the same; which entry, as well the first as the last, shall be made in writing, and shall be subscribed by the party making the same.” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America (Boston, 1845). description ends 160–61 [August 4, 1790].)

5Lee is referring to Section 13 of “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,” which reads as follows:

And be it further enacted, That every person having goods, wares or merchandise, in any ship or vessel, which shall arrive at any port of entry, or of delivery only, shall make entry with the collector of the port or district where the same shall arrive, of all such goods, wares and merchandise, specifying the number of packages, and the marks, numbers and contents of each (or if in bulk, the quantity and quality) together with an account of the nett prime cost thereof; and shall moreover produce to the collector, the original invoice or invoices, together with the bills of loading; and the said collector shall estimate and endorse the duties on the said entry, the party making such entry taking an oath or affirmation, that it contains the whole of the goods, wares and merchandise imported by him, or to him consigned in such ship or vessel, which shall then have come to his knowledge, and that the said invoice contains, to the best of his knowledge and belief, the nett prime cost thereof, and that if he shall afterwards discover any other, or greater quantity than is contained in such entry, he will make due report and entry thereof; and the said oath or affirmation shall be administered by the collector, and the entry shall be subscribed by the person making the same. Provided, That in all cases where the party making entry shall reside ten miles or upwards from such port, the affidavit or affirmation of such party, taken before a justice of the peace, and by him endorsed on the original invoices, shall be as effectual as if administered and endorsed by the collector.” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America (Boston, 1845). description ends 39–40 [July 31, 1789].)

6William Cuthbert was a Norfolk merchant.

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