Thomas Jefferson Papers

Report on the Petition of Samuel Breck and Others, 9 December 1791

Report on the Petition of Samuel Breck and Others

The Secretary of State, to whom was referred by the House of Representatives the Petition of Samuel Breck and others, Proprietors of a sail-cloth Manufactory in Boston, praying that they may have the exclusive Privilege of using particular Marks for designating the Sail-Cloth of their Manufactory, has had the same under Consideration and thereupon REPORTS,

That it would, in his Opinion, contribute to Fidelity in the Execution of Manufactures to secure to every Manufactory an exclusive Right to some Mark on it’s Wares, proper to itself.

That this should be done by general Laws extending equal Right to every Case to which the Authority of the Legislator should be competent.

That these Cases are of divided Jurisdiction, Manufactures made and consumed within a State being subject to State Legislation, while those which are exported to foreign Nations, or to another State, or into the Indian Territory, are alone within the Legislation of the General Government.

That it will, therefore, be reasonable for the General Legislature to provide in this Behalf by Law for those Cases of Manufacture generally, and those only, which relate to commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes. And that this may be done by permitting the owner of every Manufactory, to enter in the Records of the Court of the District wherein his Manufactory is, the Name with which he chuses to mark or designate his Wares, and rendering it penal in others to put the same Mark to any other Wares.

Th: Jefferson
Dec. 9. 1791.

PrC (DLC); in clerk’s hand, except for signature and date; endorsed in clerk’s hand: “Recorded and Examined.” FC (DNA: RG 59, SDR); preceded by text of House resolution of 28 Nov. 1791, attested by John Beckley, referring to Secretary of State for examination and report the petition of Samuel Breck and others “praying that they may have the exclusive privilege of using the particular marks for the designation of the sail cloth of their manufactory, and that others may be prohibited from imitating the same, under reasonable penalties.” This report was transmitted to Speaker of House of Representatives by TJ on 9 Dec. 1791 (PrC in DLC; entirely in TJ’s hand). Entry in SJPL reads: “Report Th:J. on Breck’s petition. Marks on manufactures.”

The petition of Breck and associates was one part of a broader effort to secure competitive advantages for a business firm that was then facing the prospect of serious economic problems. Breck, a Boston merchant, was co-proprietor of the Boston Duck or Sail Cloth Manufactory, a firm whose work force of “about 200 Women & Girls together with about 50 Men” employed 30 looms to produce an average of 45 to 50 pieces of duck a week. The firm’s margin of profit was heavily dependent on a bounty for the production of duck from the government of Massachusetts that was due to expire in December 1791. Without this bounty, which was necessary to meet the high cost of flax, Breck was convinced that his firm would either have to raise the price it charged for duck, in which case merchants would probably buy cheaper “Russian Canvas” instead, or discontinue its manufacture. Thus, in addition to asking for the exclusive privilege of using a special mark to distinguish his product from those of his competitors, Breck also hinted to Alexander Hamilton that it would be advisable for the national government to provide a bounty to encourage the manufacture of duck in the United States. Unfortunately for Breck, the House simply tabled TJ’s report after reading it on this date, and Congress ignored Hamilton’s recommendation in favor of a bounty for domestically produced sail cloth in his Report on Manufactures (JHR description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States, Washington, Gales & Seaton, 1826, 9 vols. description ends , i, 464, 470; Breck to Hamilton, 3 Sep. 1791; Nathaniel Gorham to Hamilton, 13 Oct. 1791; Hamilton, Report on Manufactures, 5 Dec. 1791, Syrett, Hamilton description begins Harold C. Syrett and others, eds., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, New York, 1961–1979, 26 vols. description ends , ix, 162–3, 372–3, x, 327).

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