Alexander Hamilton Papers
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To Alexander Hamilton from Charles Lee, 11 January 1792

From Charles Lee

Alexandria [Virginia] 11th. Janry. 1792

Sir!

Due pains were taken by me in causing to be published the several parts of the last Collection Law,1 which were necessary to be known to the Merchants, for regulating their conduct. The 9th. and 10th. Sections2 are not accurately observed in scarcely any one instance; for the Manifest thereby required is generally made after the vessels arrival to its port of destination. The account of the Cargo which the master brings from the place of shipment is always very imperfect, and so different from the Manifest required by Law as to most matters, that it deserves not be called a manifest. I have conceived that where there was no reason to suspect fraud the forfeiture ought not to be sought, as the manifest being produced conformable to the several particulars, the Revenue would sustain no damage. If however, more rigor ought to be observed in future, I should be glad to have your instruction.

The Coasting Law, being now under the consideration of Congress,3 I take the liberty of suggesting that the doubts concerning fees may be all removed by attending to this principle, that each service in its self distinct should have its own compensation annexed to it. As the Law4 now stands the Surveyor is entitled to an equal share of the fees under the Coasting Law. This I think ought to be altered, because the whole burden of the services in this Law mentioned is imposed upon the collector. The Surveyor performs no part of the duties, for which the fees are paid, is at no expense concerning them, and in this district the Surveyor refuses to pay any portion of the Stationary used in this branch of the business.

I hope that upon principles of Justice the Law will be altered, either by not allowing any part of these fees to the Surveyor, or by compelling him to perform his share of the duties and contributing his share of the expense.

When I consider the little service and the little responsibility of a Surveyor, I have been led to believe that their compensation would be very adequate, without recurring to an equal share of the coasting fees.

I am Sir!  with the greatest respect  Your most Obedt. Servt.

Charles Lee, Collector.

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

1“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]).

2Sections 9 and 10 of the Collection Law read as follows:

“Sec. 9. And be it further enacted, That from and after the first day of October next, no goods, wares or merchandise shall be brought into the United States from any foreign port or place, in any ship or vessel belonging in the whole or in part to a citizen or citizens, inhabitant or inhabitants of the United States, unless the master or person having the charge or command of such ship or vessel shall have on board a manifest or manifests in writing, signed by such master or other person, containing the name or names of the port or ports, place or places where the goods in such manifest or manifests mentioned, shall have been respectively taken on board, and the port or ports, place or places within the United States for which the same are respectively consigned or destined, and the name and built of such ship or vessel, and the true admeasurement or tonnage thereof according to the register of the same, together with the name of the master or other person having the command or charge of such ship or vessel, and the port or place to which such ship or vessel truly belongs, and a just and particular account of all the cargo so laden or taken on board, whether in packages or stowed loose, together with the marks and numbers, in words at length, of the said packages respectively, with a description of each, as whether leaguer, pipe, butt, puncheon, hogshead, barrel, case, bale, pack, truss, chest, box, bundle, or other cask or package, describing the same by its usual name or denomination.

“Sec. 10. And be it further enacted, That if any goods, wares or merchandise shall, after the said first day of October next, be imported or brought into the United States, in any ship or vessel whatever, belonging in the whole or in part to a citizen or citizens, inhabitant or inhabitants of the United States, from any foreign port or place, without such manifest or manifests in writing, or shall not be included and described therein, or shall not agree therewith, in every such case the master or other person having the command or charge of such ship or vessel, shall forfeit a sum of money equal to the value of such goods, not included in such manifest or manifests: Provided always, That if it shall be made appear to the satisfaction of the collector, naval officer and surveyor, or the major part of them, where those offices are established at any port, or to the satisfaction of the collector alone, where either of the other of the said offices is not established, or to the satisfaction of the court in which a trial shall be had concerning such forfeiture, that no part of the cargo of such ship or vessel had been unshipped, after it was taken on board, except such as shall have been specified and accounted for in the report of the master or other person having the charge or command of such ship or vessel, and that the manifest or manifests had been lost or mislaid, without fraud or collusion, or that the same was or were defaced by accident, or incorrect by mistake, in every such case the forfeiture aforesaid shall not be incurred.” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America (Boston, 1845). description ends 155–56.)

3On November 30, 1791, “Mr. [Benjamin] Goodhue, from the committee appointed, presented, according to order, a bill concerning the registering or recording of ships or vessels; which was received, and read the first time. On motion, The said bill was read the second time, and ordered to be committed to a Committee of the Whole House …” (Journal of the House, I description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States (Washington, 1826), I. description ends , 465).

4“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 (Boston, 1845). description ends 55–65 [September 1, 1789]). Section 31 of this act reads in part as follows:

“The whole amount of which fees shall be accounted for by the collector, and where there is a collector, naval officer and surveyor, shall be equally divided between the said officers, and where there is no naval officer, between the collector and surveyor, and where there is only a collector, he shall receive the whole amount thereof, and where there is more than one surveyor in any district, each of them shall receive his proportionable part of such fees as shall arise in the port for which he is appointed. Provided always, That in all cases where the tonnage of any ship or vessel shall be ascertained by any person specially appointed for that purpose, as is herein before directed, that such person shall be allowed and paid by the collector a reasonable compensation for the same, out of the fees aforesaid, before any distribution thereof as aforesaid.”

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