From Charles Lee1
Alexandria [Virginia] 21st. November 1789.
Upon the River Powtomack there are five Collectorships, two in Maryland and three in Virginia.2 I will forbear to give my opinion till more mature consideration, what alterations ought to be made, but, at present I can venture to say that they are not all necessary, either for mercantile convenience, or for the better collection of the revenue. The distance from Georgetown to Alexandria is seven miles and from Alexandria to Dumfries twenty five miles. The trade of the Powtomack being dispersed and not brought to a point does not appear to a stranger to be so considerable as it really is, and especially the exports are immensely great. From the highest tide water which is about twelve miles from this Town to the mouth of the river 160 miles from thence to the Capes is 3 miles from the highest tide water to Fort Cumberland (which is expected to be made navigable for boats and the work is already considerably advanced and in a probable way of success) is 4 miles. The extensive country through which this river passes is remarkably fertile and well inhabited with industrious and healthy people. The trade of the Powtomack is considerable now—at this moment there are 40 sea vessels at this Town and what is very pleasing it is daily increasing. I observe by the Judiciary establishments that the State of Virginia is made a district whereby this river is a boundary, and its inhabitants are remote from the places of holding the Courts and from the Officers of such Courts.5 This will be found very inconvenient to the Revenue Officers in cases of seizure as well as to the Merchants. To send 100 miles or perhaps 150 miles in all cases for the process of the Court and to the officers of the court will be very expensive and tedious for though the district Judge may hold a Court for some purposes whenever he shall please6 yet the inconveniences in the first instance will not be removed. While Virginia remains a district some parts of it will be subject to great expenses and inconveniences and as I conceive it to be too large for a speedy and energetic execution of the continental laws, it ought to be otherwise modified from what it is now. As to the Powtomack Country an agreeable form at once offers itself for a district and the other part of Virginia will be as large as a district should be. Let the western shore of Maryland and the northern neck of Virginia make a district: the law of the revenue might then be executed with certainty dispatch and convenience and unless this should be done I fear many offences will probably pass unprosecuted and unpunished on account of the trouble and expense which will arise to prosecutors and witnesses. Some time ago I had occasion to seize a cask of wine of mean quality it happened to be and not of the value of fifty dollars. The owner was content that the same should be forfeited, and therefore by his consent it may perhaps be sold as condemned goods. To have prosecuted for this under the present system, would have cost more than the wine would sell for. This also may serve to show that though a district court be appointed for the Country on the Potowmack which is almost the unanimous wish of its inhabitants there should be some tribunal more convenient than a district court to try seizures under the value of a certain sum for instance 200 dollars. The district I am suggesting is larger than the State of Maryland, and the eastern shore of Maryland might be united (as indeed it is by nature) to Delaware State—such a modification in this as well as other instances would tend to confirm and consolidate the powers of the present government of the United States. Under the state laws the bonded duties were recoverable in a summary way in our courts, viz: on ten days notice and motion.7 By the act of congress it seems they are to be sued for in the ordinary and tardy forms of law which is a mode of recovery that will be unseasonable some time hence I apprehend.8 I have been at a loss in what manner the Bonds were to be made payable and I now enclose a copy of the form used in my Office which appeared to me to be the most proper. I have not allowed any discount on the bonded duties and shall act according to your letter on this subject.9 Under the State regulations there were two sloops employed concerning the revenue which were armed with a few small cannon and swivels and manned with a few Marines, they drew a small depth of water being intended to penetrate as high as possible up all our tide waters and were under the direction of the executive who occasionally sent them whenever it might be required and generally employed them in the Bay and at the mouths of the great rivers. I think the expense of these vessels, was about six thousand dollars annually and I am of opinion that such an establishment would be of use in preventing frauds that I fear will otherwise be attempted some time hence upon the revenue when the Bonds shall be coming due. The masters of these vessels were in duty bound to examine such vessels as they met with and to know whether the laws had been complied with by inspecting the papers on board each vessel: three vessels would be sufficient for Maryland and Virginia, whether the vessels belonging to Virginia have been sold or not I am not sure but I believe they have been sold. At this port there was in use under that state laws a small row boat for the purpose of boarding vessels which I think is necessary in order that upon an emergency the public officers may not be dependent on the courtesy of others, this boat cost one hundred dollars and one person was hired to take care of her and was paid by the public Officer. As the public revenue hath not yet needed a boat the business having been conducted without much difficulty or embarrassment I have not applied for it, and shall wait your orders as to purchasing any boat of this kind. The 16th section of the act to regulate the collection of the duties10 &c which obliges all vessels to stop at the mouth of our river viz: at St Mary’s or Yeocomico excited a general uneasiness and complaint among the merchants and others on the Patowmack. The regulations was conceived to have a most injurious effect in diverting foreign commerce to Baltimore or Norfolk, where it might freely go without any similar interruption. The regulation was thought useless and unnecessary with respect to protecting the public revenue from fraud or evasion of the laws. It was thought oppressive and detrimental to the merchants, as it would create delay and expense to their vessels in their voyages as it would expose their ships in time of bad weather to danger, as in case of a mistake in the master it would be very troublesome, embarrassing and tedious to rectify the same in consequence of the great distance from their residence to the mouth of the river; for no entry can be made but exactly according to the certified manifest. It was moreover thought partial as a similar regulation was not made as to other parts of America to which with equal reason it might have been applied for example the river Delaware, and to many it appeared unaccountable as the Virginia representatives well knew that a regulation somewhat like it had been made by one assembly and repealed by the next after a trial and conviction of its impropriety impolicy and injustice.11 These sentiments produced a memorial from the people of the Patomack12 to the Congress who suspended this obnoxious regulation till May next13 but they still hope it will be repealed at the next session as in their opinion it will produce the most ruinous consequences to their commerce. For my own part I have no difficulty in declaring that this regulation appears to me to be useless as to the public revenue oppressive as it respects the merchants and in itself unjust and offensive for its partiality. The allowances of drawbacks under any terms is objectionable as it will tend to introduce confusion in the Custom House books than which nothing ought to be more plain and correct.14 I will only observe at present that the term of twelve months is unreasonably long for the exportation of dutied goods. Under the State laws only three months was allowed.15 It is thought by some uncertain what fees are due in some cases to the surveyor and in this respect a collector is placed in a most disagreable situation. On the one hand he is liable to public censure or perhaps to individual loss or punishment if he demands and receives for the surveyor any fees not lawfully due and on the other hand he is liable to a suit from the Surveyor if he omits to receive all that is due. I own if the surveyors fees were ever so explicitly ascertained, I should feel it the most irksome part of my duty to be his cashier and clerk and therefore wish that the law could be so altered as to make the Surveyor his own receiver subject in cases of difference with the masters of vessels to the direction of the Collector. I have no difficulty with respect to the fees due to a collector, they being plainly expressed:16 But the Surveyor17 of my district conceives and others think with him, that every Licensed Vessel18 coming from one district into another should pay a fee of two thirds of a dollar to the Surveyor19 and also all fees under the coasting law:20 my opinion is that a Licensed Vessel ought not to pay any fees excepting directed by the coasting law. The fee of two thirds of a dollar claimed by the Surveyor is under the collection law which I think does not apply to licensed Vessels. I am uneasy that the Surveyor here may possibly be losing any thing to which the law entitles him and there being no counsel for the United States to whom I could apply to with propriety on this subject I have taken the liberty to make this representation hoping that your instruction will settle the doubt. I have been induced to do this also because in a public point of view, it is important that it be universally understood what are the fees of the public Offices that there may be a uniformity. I must beg pardon for this long letter which I fear will be more tiresome than useful and am Sir most respectfully your obedt. servant,
Copy, RG 56, Letters to and from the Collector at Alexandria, National Archives.
1. Lee was appointed collector of customs for the port of Alexandria in August, 1789.
Lee wrote this letter in reply to “Treasury Department Circular to the Collectors of the Customs,” October 2, 1789 (PAH description begins Harold C. Syrett, ed., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton (New York and London, 1961– ). description ends , V, 419–21).
2. The two collectorships on the Potomac in Maryland were Nanjemoy and Georgetown. The three in Virginia were Yeocomico, Dumfries, and Alexandria.
3. Space left blank in MS.
4. Space left blank in MS.
5. Section 2 of “An Act to establish the Judicial Courts of the United States” reads in part: “That the United States shall be, and they hereby are divided into thirteen districts, to be limited and called as follows … one to consist of the State of Virginia, except that part called the District of Kentucky, and to be called Virginia District” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, I (Boston, 1845). description ends 73 [September 24, 1789]). Section 5 of the same act reads in part: “… And the sessions of the said circuit court shall be held … in the district of Virginia, alternately at Charlottesville and Williamsburgh …” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, I (Boston, 1845). description ends 75).
6. Section 3 of “An Act to establish the Judicial Courts of the United States” reads in part: “That there be a court called a District Court, in each of the afore mentioned districts, to consist of one judge.… That the stated District Court shall be held … in the district of Virginia, alternately at Richmond and Williamsburgh … and that the special courts shall be held at the same place in each district as the stated courts, or in districts that have two, at either of them, in the discretion of the judge, or at such other place in the district, as the nature of the business and his discretion shall direct” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, I (Boston, 1845). description ends 73–74).
7. Section 15 of “An Act to amend and reduce the several Acts of Assembly for ascertaining certain taxes and duties, and for establishing a permanent revenue, into one Act” reads in part: “And be it further enacted, That it shall and may be lawful to and for the said Collectors and Clerks to recover the said duties so bonded by motion made in the General Court, or the County Court wherein the principal or either of his securities respectively reside, and such Court shall give judgment for the sum due on such bonds, with costs and interest of five per centum on the same, until paid. Provided always ten days previous notice in writing shall be given by such Collector or Clerk, to the person or persons so to be moved against” (Virginia Laws, October, 1782, Sess., Ch. CIII).
8. Section 19 of “An Act to regulate the Collection of Duties imposed by law on the tonnage of ships or vessels, and on goods, wares and merchandises imported into the United States” reads in part: “That all duties on goods, wares and merchandise, imported, shall be paid by the importer, before a permit shall be granted for landing the same, unless the amount of such duties shall exceed fifty dollars, in which case it shall be at the option of the party making entry, to secure the same by bond …” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, I (Boston, 1845). description ends 42 [July 31, 1789]). Section 21 of the same act reads: “That where any bond for the payment of the duties shall not be satisfied on the day it become due, the collector shall prosecute for the recovery of the money due thereon, by action or suit at law, in the proper court, having cognizance therein; and in all cases of insolvency, or where any estate in the hands of executors or administrators shall be insufficient to pay all the debts due from the deceased, the debt due to the United States on any such bonds shall be first satisfied” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, I (Boston, 1845). description ends 42).
9. See “Treasury Department Circular to the Collectors of the Customs,” October 6, 1789 (PAH description begins Harold C. Syrett, ed., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton (New York and London, 1961– ). description ends , V, 427).
10. Lee is mistaken; he is referring to Section 4 of “An Act to regulate the Collection of the Duties imposed by law on the tonnage of ships and vessels, and on goods, wares and merchandises imported into the United States,” which reads in part: “That the master or commander of every ship or vessel … if bound to any district on the Potomac, shall, before he pass by the rivers St. Mary’s and Yeocomico, and immediately after his arrival, deposit with the surveyor at St. Mary’s, or the collector at Yeocomico, as may be most convenient, a true manifest of the cargo on board such ship or vessel, including a declaration of the port at which the same is to be entered; … and the said surveyor and collector respectively, shall, after registering the manifests, transmit the same duly certified to have been so deposited to the officer with whom the entries are to be made, without which certificate no such entry shall be received” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, I (Boston, 1845). description ends 36).
11. Section XVII of “An Act to amend the several acts of Assembly concerning Naval Officers, and the collection of the Duties” reads in part: “Be it enacted, That no goods, wares, or merchandises, of greater value than ten pounds, shall be waterborne in any one vessel at one time from any port or place, to another port or place within the said district of South Potowmack and river Pocomoke, unless it shall be certified under the hand and seal of the Naval Officer of the district, or of a Searcher, or some justice of the peace within the same, that he has sufficient reason to believe that the duties have been paid or secured to be paid thereon …” (Virginia Laws, October, 1786, Sess., Ch. XL). This provision was repealed by Section LXII of “An Act to amend the several Acts of Assembly concerning Naval Officers, and the Collection of the Duties,” which reads: “The act intituled ‘An act to amend the several acts of Assembly concerning naval officers and the collection of the duties,’ except the twenty-fourth, twenty-fifth, twenty-sixth, twenty-seventh, twenty-eighth, twenty-ninth, and thirty-second clauses thereof concerning importation of goods by land, and all other acts coming within the purview of this act, except the act, intituled, ‘An act to impose certain duties,’ shall be, and they are hereby repealed” (Virginia Laws, October, 1787, Sess., Ch. IV [January 7, 1788]).
12. On August 22, 1789, a “memorial of the merchants and other inhabitants” of the Virginia towns of Alexandria and Dumfries was presented to the House of Representatives “praying that so much of the act of Congress to regulate the collection of duties, as restricts ships or vessels bound up the river Potomac to stop at Saint Mary’s or Yeocomico, and there obtain a certified manifest of their cargoes before entry made, be repealed, or that the like regulation may be made general throughout the United States.” A similar memorial was submitted to the House by Maryland merchants from Georgetown, Bladensburgh, and Piscataway on August 24 (Journal of the House description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States (Washington, 1826). description ends , I, 89, 90, 91, 92, 110).
13. Section 1 of “An Act to suspend part of an Act, intituled ‘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,’ and for other purposes” reads: “That so much of the act, intituled ‘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,’ as obliges ships or vessels bound up the river Potomac, to come to and deposit manifests of their cargoes, with the officers at St. Mary’s and Yeocomico, before they proceed to their port of delivery, shall be and is hereby suspended until the first day of May next” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, I (Boston, 1845). description ends 69 [September 16, 1789]).
14. Section 3 of “An Act for laying a Duty on Goods, Wares and Merchandises imported into the United States” reads: “That all the duties paid, or secured to be paid upon any of the goods, wares and merchandises as aforesaid, except on distilled spirits, other than brandy and geneva, shall be returned or discharged upon such of the said goods, wares, or merchandises, as shall within twelve months after payment made, or security given, be exported to any country without the limits of the United States, as settled by the late treaty of peace; except one per centum on the amount of the said duties, in consideration of the expense which shall have accrued by the entry and safekeeping thereof” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, I (Boston, 1845). description ends 26–27 [July 4, 1789]).
15. Section LX of “An Act to amend the several Acts of Assembly concerning Naval Officers, and the Collection of the Duties” reads in part: “Drawbacks shall be under the limitations and restrictions herein after mentioned: No drawbacks shall be allowed for any merchandise liable to duty, exported out of this state, unless exported within ninety days after importation thereof by the original importer, and by water, and unless exported in the original cask or package in which they were imported unbroken, and in vessels belonging to a citizen or citizens of the United States, or in the vessel in which they were originally imported …” (Virginia Laws, October, 1787, Sess., Ch. IV [January 7, 1788]).
16. Section 29 of “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 44–45) provided that all fees due to the surveyor were to be paid to the collector by the master or owner of the ship and that the collector was to pay the surveyor weekly.
17. Samuel Hanson.
18. For the regulations concerning the licensing of vessels engaged in trade along the coast of the United States, see “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]).
19. Section 29 of “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” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, I (Boston, 1845). description ends 44–45) provided that the surveyor was entitled to two-thirds of a dollar “on all vessels not having on board goods, wares and merchandise, subject to duty.…”
20. Section 31 of “An Act for Registering and Clearing Vessels, Regulating the Coasting Trade, and for other purposes” reads: “That the fees and allowances for the several duties to be performed in virtue of this act, and the distribution of the same, shall be as follows, to wit:
“For the first register or certificate of record granted for every ship or vessel, there shall be paid to the collector granting the same, the sum of two dollars.
“For every subsequent one, one dollar and fifty cents.
“For every certificate of enrolment, fifty cents.
“For every license to trade between the different districts of the United States, or to carry on the bank or whale fishery for one year, fifty cents.
“For every entry of inward cargo directed to be made in conformity with this act, and for receiving of, and qualifying to every manifest of vessels licensed to trade as aforesaid, sixty cents.
“For a permit to land goods of foreign growth or manufacture, twenty cents.
“For every permit to proceed to the place of destination, twenty-five cents.
“And for taking every bond required by this act, twenty cents.
“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 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.” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, I (Boston, 1845). description ends 64.)