Alexander Hamilton Papers
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From Alexander Hamilton to Otho H. Williams, 7 November 1789

To Otho H. Williams

Treasury Department Nov. 7th. 1789.

Sir,

Your letters of the 26th and 29th. of October have duly come to hand.

The difficulties you state as arising from some provisions (and the want of others) in the laws of Impost and Tonnage1 are doubtless well founded, and indicate the propriety of some future correction of the System. With regard to the method of keeping accounts, by the establishment of the Treasury Department, the Forms are first to be prepared and reported by the Comptroller, and afterwards decided upon by the Secretary of the Treasury.2 The absence of the Comptroller,3 who is not yet arrived has of course retarded the business; but the Auditor4 and the Chief Clerk5 of the Comptroller are now engaged in it. I have submitted to them your plan, and the reasons for it, which appear to me to deserve attention. The forms as decided upon by me, will ere long be transmitted.

You will have found by my Circular of the 20th. ultimo,6 that my opinion of the Construction of the Tonnage Act agrees with that which governed you in the case of the Polly.7 I am not sure that the law will not in this respect require relaxation; but this must be matter of future regulation by the Legislature.

The oath prescribed by the sixth Section of the Act for registering &c. must of course be your guide in respect to the Brig Sarah.8 Unless that oath be taken, she cannot be registered; and unless registered she can only be considered as a foreign Vessel, and must enter and clear as such. The oath requires some alteration, but this also must be the subject of legislative regulation.

The hurry of Business has prevented my sooner thanking you for having found means to take up the Treasurer’s drafts; though not in Cash for that purpose.9 Your attention to the advancement of the public service on this occasion merits acknowledgement: Though it was not my intention that such a necessity should have existed, and I shall take care that it be avoided in future.

I am, Sir   Your Obedient Servant

Alexander Hamilton
Secy of the Treasury

Otho H. Williams Esqr.
Collector of the Customs for the Port of Baltimore

LS, The Sol Feinstone Collection, Library of the American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia.

1“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” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, I (Boston, 1845). description ends 29–49 [July 31, 1789]) and “An Act imposing Duties on Tonnage” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, I (Boston, 1845). description ends 27–28 [July 20, 1789]).

2See Section 3 of “An Act to establish the Treasury Department” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, I (Boston, 1845). description ends 65–67 [September 2, 1789]).

3Nicholas Eveleigh.

4Oliver Wolcott, Jr.

5Henry Kuhl.

6“Treasury Department Circular to the Collectors of the Customs,” October 20, 1789 (PAH description begins Harold C. Syrett, ed., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton (New York and London, 1961– ). description ends , V, 54–56).

7In Williams to H, October 29, 1789, which is calendared in PAH description begins Harold C. Syrett, ed., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton (New York and London, 1961– ). description ends , V, 477, Williams wrote: “The Ship Polly, a British Vessel … was cleared at Philadelphia on the Ninth Instant ‘for amsterdam, to touch at Baltimore’ and arrived here the 15th.… As I know of no Authority which the Officers of one District have to privilege Vessels to touch at another in the United States I thought it my duty to demand The tonnage agreeably to the third section of the Act imposing a duty on tonnage. This demand has incurred some displeasure against this office as being more rigid than another, for the Master was fortified with opinions of Gentlemen … that I would have no right to receive the tonnage here if he produced a Certificate of its having been paid in Philadelphia.…”

For the text of Section 3 of “An Act imposing Duties on Tonnage” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, I (Boston, 1845). description ends 27–28 [July 20, 1789]), see Sharp Delany to H, February 8, 1790, note 5 (PAH description begins Harold C. Syrett, ed., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton (New York and London, 1961– ). description ends , VI, 250).

8“An Act for Registering and Clearing Vessels, Regulating the Coasting Trade, and for other purposes” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, I (Boston, 1845). description ends 55–65 [September 1, 1789]).

In Williams to H, October 29, 1789, which is calendared in PAH description begins Harold C. Syrett, ed., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton (New York and London, 1961– ). description ends , V, 477, Williams wrote: “… a Citizen of the United States went down the Mississippi to New Orleans where he purchased the Brig Sarah … which he was informed was built in Virginia about five or six Years ago.… this Vessel … Sailed for the United States and arrived here the 21st. Instant without Register Clearances or any other papers. The Master & owner both say the Officer of the Spanish Port would not grant them any thing but a permit to pass the Bellize or out port.…

“The Law for Registering &c Sec 6 requires that one of the Owners shall swear or affirm where the Vessel was built.… The Owner of the Sarah is a consciencious man, and cannot swear Where she was built.… I request to know if he can be permitted to Enter, and Clear without a Register …?”

9See Williams to H, October 23, 1789 (PAH description begins Harold C. Syrett, ed., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton (New York and London, 1961– ). description ends , V, 459–60).

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