Alexander Hamilton Papers

Inhabitants of the City of New York to the Legislature of New York State, [January–March 1786]

Inhabitants of the City of New York
to the Legislature of New York State1

[New York, January–March, 1786]

To The Honorable The Legislature of the State of New York

The Petition of the Subscribers Inhabitants of the City of New York respectfully sheweth

That Your Petitioners anxious for the welfare of the community of which they are members have seen with peculiar regret the delay which has hitherto attended the adoption of the Revenue system recommended by Congress in their resolutions of the  2

That the anxiety which Your Petitioners have all along felt from motives of a more general nature is at the present junction increased by this particular consideration that the State of New York now stands almost alone, in a non compliance with a measure in which the sentiments and wishes of the Union at large appear to unite and by a further delay may render itself responsible for consequences too serious not to affect every considerate man.

That in the opinion of Your Memorialists all the considerations important to a state—all the motives of public honor faith reputation interest and safety conspire to urge a compliance with ⟨these resolutions.⟩3

That Government without revenue cannot subsist. That the mode provided in the Confederation for supplying the treasury of the United States has in experiment been found inadequate.

That the system proposed will in all probability prove much more efficacious, and is in other respects as unexceptionable as the various circumstances and interests of these states will permit.

That any objection to it as a measure not warranted by the confederation is refuted by the thirteenth article which provides that alterations may be made if agreed to by Congress and confirmed by the Legislatures of each State; and the conduct of this state itself in adopting the proposed change of the Eighth article is a precedent in which we find the principle reduced to practice and affords a complete answer to every pretence of the Revenue system being unconstitutional.

That as to danger in vesting ⟨the United States with these funds, Your Memorialists⟩ consider their interests and liberties as not less safe in the hands of their fellow citizens delegated to represent them for one year in Congress than in the hands of their fellow citizens delegated to represent them for one year or four years in the Senate and Assembly of this state.

That Government implies trust; and every government must be trusted so far as is necessary to enable it to attain the ends for which it is instituted; without which insult and oppression from abroad confusion and convulsion at home.

ADf, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.

1The exact date of this petition cannot be determined. It presumably was sent to the legislature between January and May, 1786, for it was written before the New York State legislature on May 4, 1786, passed the bill granting Congress, with important reservations, the impost requested by a congressional resolve of April 18, 1783. It probably was not drafted later than March of the same year. In the second paragraph of the petition it is stated that “New York now stands almost alone in a non compliance” with the congressional request for authority to levy an impost. The last state, save New York, to grant the impost was Georgia, which agreed to the measure late in March, 1786. Assuming that H would have known of Georgia’s action, his draft of this petition must have been written before April.

2Space left blank in MS.

After the refusal of the requisite number of states to grant Congress the impost requested by a congressional resolve of February 3, 1781, Congress, in March and April, 1783, debated plans for renewing the request. On April 18, 1783, resolutions were passed asking the states to grant Congress the power to levy specified duties on a list of imported goods and a five percent ad valorem duty on all other imported goods. Limited to a period of twenty-five years, the duties were to be applied to the interest and principal of debts contracted by the United States. Collectors of the duties were to be appointed by the states, but amenable to and removable by Congress.

By January, 1786, only two states, Georgia and New York, had failed to comply with the congressional resolution of April 18, 1783. The New York legislature had rejected, in both the 1784 and 1785 sessions, an act conforming to the congressional resolution. During its 1786 session, as in previous years, the legislature debated the advisability of compliance. At the end of the session a bill was passed which granted the impost to Congress but reserved to the state the exclusive power of collecting it. Collectors were made amenable not to Congress but to the state courts. An even more significant qualification of the request of Congress was the provision in the New York law which made the impost duties payable in the bills of credit of the state.

3The words in broken brackets are from a JCH transcript.

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