Alexander Hamilton Papers

From Alexander Hamilton to James Duane, 4 August 1791

To James Duane

Treasury Department, August 4th, 1791


I find myself obliged to remit the proceedings on the Petition of John Osborn1 in order that a further inquiry be had. Having had occasion heretofore to consult the British Acts of Parliament respecting the admeasurement of vessels,2 I am satisfied that there must be some incorrectness in the evidence from which it has been stated that the Tonnage, according to the rule prescribed by the British laws, is so much greater than it appears to be by that which is prescribed by the Laws of the United States.3 It would therefore be satisfactory to me to have the dimensions stated as they are found pursuant to each of those rules and to have a reference to the Act of Parliament from which the British rule is derived. I consider the reality of that rule as a material circumstance in the case.

I should unwillingly give the trouble of this revision had I not reason to suspect that there are examples of collusive registers in the quarter from which the vessel in question comes to evade the provisions of our Act.

I have the honor to be with   great respect & consideration   Sir Your obedt Servant

Alexander Hamilton

The Honorable James Duane Esqr
Judge of the District Court of New York.4

LS, New-York Historical Society, New York City.

1On August 13, 1791, under the terms of “An Act to provide for mitigating or remitting the forfeitures and penalties accruing under the revenue laws, in certain cases therein mentioned” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America (Boston, 1845). description ends 122–23 [May 26, 1790]), H issued a warrant of remission for Osborn (copy, RG 21, Records of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, Warrants of Remission, 1790–1876, National Archives).

213 Geo. III, C. 74 (1773). Section 1 of this law provided that in cases “where the tonage and burthen of any ship or vessel shall be necessary to be ascertained and known by any act or acts of parliament made, or hereafter to be made, concerning the revenues of customs, excise, or salt duty, the rule for admeasuring such ships or vessels shall be as follows; that is to say, the length shall be taken on a streight line along the rabbet of the keel of the ship, from the back of the main stern post to a perpendicular line from the forepart of the main stem under the bowsprit, from which subtracting three-fifths of the breadth, the remainder shall be esteemed the just length of the keel to find the tonage; and the breadth shall be taken from the outside of the outside plank, in the broadest place of the ship, be it either above or below the main whales, exclusive of all manner of doubling planks that may be wrought upon the sides of the ship, then multiplying the length of the keel by the breadth so taken, and that product by half the breadth, and dividing the whole by ninety-four, the quotient shall be deemed the true contents of the tonage; according to which rule the tonage of all such ships and vessels shall be measured and ascertained.…”

3H is referring to Section 3 of “An Act for Registering and Clearing Vessels, Regulating the Coasting Trade, and for other purposes,” which reads: “And be it further enacted, 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, if double decked, from the fore part of the main stem to the after part of the stern post above the upper deck, the breadth at the broadest part above the main wales, and half such breadth shall be accounted the depth of every double decked vessel; he shall then deduct from the length three fifths of the breadth, multiply the remainder by the breadth and the product by the depth, dividing the product of the whole by ninety-five, the quotient shall be deemed the true contents or tonnage of such ship or vessel. To ascertain the tonnage of every single decked vessel, he shall take the length and breadth, as is directed to be taken for double decked vessels, and deduct three fifths in like manner, and the depth from the under side of the deck plank to the ceiling in the hold, and shall multiply and divide as aforesaid, and the quotient shall be deemed the true contents or tonnage of such single decked vessel” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America (Boston, 1845). description ends 55–56 [September 1, 1789]).

4This letter is endorsed “Answered 10th.” Letter not found.

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