From Richard Harison1
New York 16th: May 1794
Permit me to call your Attention to the present State of the Laws for mitigating or remitting Forfeitures or Penalties. The first Act upon this Subject was passed the 26th. of May 17902 and has been continued by the Legislature.3 It extends only to such as arise under the Laws for collecting Duties of Impost and Tonnage and for regulating the Coasting Trade. Hence it was supposed necessary when the Excise Law was passed in 17914 to make a particular Provision with Relation to Penalties and Forfeitures accruing in Consequence of it. This Provision was limited to one Year after the last Day of June then next, and I do not find that it has ever been continued. With Regard, therefore, to all the Forfeitures and Penalties under the Excise Laws, there appears to be no existing Provision of the Nature originally contemplated for remitting or mitigating them. How far this Omission has been accidental I am unable to determine, and I must submit to your Judgment the Propriety of remedying it in future, if it shall be judged adviseable.5
Our Friend Lawrance appears very much pleased with his new Appointment.6 The Chancellor’s would have given great Satisfaction to many of his Well Wishers; and it would not be disagreeable if the Appointment should be transferred to some Character equally meritorious.7
Accept my sincere Respects and best Wishes and believe me Dr Sir
Hon. Alexr. Hamilton Esqr.
ALS, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.
1. Harison was United States attorney for the District of New York.
2. “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).
4. “An Act repealing, after the last day of June next, the duties heretofore laid upon Distilled Spirits imported from abroad, and laying others in their stead; and also upon Spirits distilled within the United States, and for appropriating the same” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America (Boston, 1845). description ends 199–214 [March 3, 1791]).
5. The “Omission” was remedied by Section 17 of “An Act making further provision for securing and collecting the Duties on foreign and domestic distilled Spirits, Stills, Wines and Teas” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America (Boston, 1845). description ends 378–81 [June 5, 1794]), which provided that “all fines, penalties, and forfeitures, which shall have been incurred by force of any present or future law of the United States for the laying, levying and collecting of any duties or taxes, other than duties on goods, wares and merchandise imported, and on the tonnage of ships and vessels, shall and may be mitigated or remitted, by the like ways and means, and upon and under the like conditions, regulations and restrictions, as are contained, prescribed, authorized and directed, in and by the act, intituled ‘An Act to provide for mitigating or remitting the forfeitures and penalties accruing under the revenue laws in certain cases therein mentioned’.…”
6. On May 7, 1794, George Washington signed “a Commission for John Laurance, as judge of the District of New York” (JPP description begins “Journal of the Proceedings of the President,” George Washington Papers, Library of Congress. description ends , 291).
7. Harison is referring to the refusal of Robert R. Livingston, Chancellor of New York, to accept an appointment as United States Minister to France to succeed Gouverneur Morris (see “List of Names From Whence to Take a Minister for France,” May 19, 1794). On April 27 Secretary of State Edmund Randolph wrote to the President that he had “conversed with several Gentlemen, who are of the same politics” as Livingston and that “upon the whole, they think that his appointment would be satisfactory” (LC, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress). On April 29 the President offered the post to Livingston (LC, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress). On May 10 and 15, 1794, Livingston replied, declining the position (ADf, New-York Historical Society, New York City; ALS, RG 59 Miscellaneous Letters, 1790–1799, National Archives). In a letter to James Monroe, dated May 16, 1794, Livingston stated that he had refused the offer partly because of the effect his resignation as chancellor might have on the politics of New York, for he believed that the chancellorship would be “filled by a person of a very different political character. Besides that differing so much as I do from the … Administration I am satisfied that I should either be compelled to violate my own Principles by yielding to theirs or risk my reputation by incurring their resentment” (ALS, James Monroe Papers, Library of Congress).