Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Hugh Williamson, 3 March 1798

From Hugh Williamson

New York 3rd March 1798

Dear Sir

The Letter you did me the favour to write on the 11th: ult: had been left at my lodging by the Penny Post and was handed me on my return to this City. The Report of the Committee I have returned to be forwarded to whom it concerns in the State of Tennessee on Cumberland River.

Congress as I observe or rather the House of Reps. have given leave to bring in a Bill to repeal the Stamp Act, not as I presume because money is not wanted, but some People object, by antient Prejudice to the Word, Stamp Act. Is it probable that a Tax less oppressive or more tolerable in its Operation will be substituted to the Stamp Tax. I think recourse will be had to a Tax infinitely more severe in its operation, a land Tax. And that Tax will be adopted meerly to save the trouble of devising a more complex System, or to save trouble in legislating.

I took it into my head last spring before the stamp Act was brought forward to attempt a Scheme for raising 2 or 3 million of Dollars ⅌ Annum by a Tax not oppressive to [the] poor in any possible Case and a Measure, the object of my constant wishes, that would lessen our Dependence upon England and assist in stopping that destructive Drain of our vital Strength the universal Use of English Manufactures. The shirt that Dejanira gave Hercules did not poison him more effectually than English Cloaths do the Americans in all their political morals. My plan was an Excise on foreign Cloaths. It was published in Careys News Paper last Summer, perhaps on the second or third week of the Extra session of Congress. I am Dr sir

With great Esteem Your friend & servt

Hu Williamson

RC (CSmH); at foot of text: “Honble Thos Jefferson”; word torn away supplied in brackets; endorsed by TJ and recorded in SJL as received on 5 Mch. 1798.

Report of the committee: the previous spring John Caffery, who discovered mammoth bones near the Cumberland river, had contacted the American Philosophical Society through Williamson. In a letter of 28 Feb. 1798 that is recorded in SJL but has not been found, TJ had evidently sent Williamson information concerning the society’s appointment of a committee on 16 Feb. to determine the best means of preserving the fossils (APS description begins American Philosophical Society description ends , Proceedings, 22, pt. 3 [1884], 267–8; Williamson to TJ, 24, 28 May 1797). To address such issues on a larger scale, in 1797 the society had begun to develop a “Plan for collecting information respecting the remains of ancient natural and artificial productions” in North America. On 6 Apr. 1798 a standing committee was appointed, to consist of TJ, Caspar Wistar, Adam Seybert, Jonathan Williams, Charles Willson Peale, General James Wilkinson of the U.S. Army, who had recently been elected to membership in the society, and George Turner, who had already collected numerous fossils, artifacts, and natural specimens from the Ohio River frontier. The committee issued a circular letter soliciting information on topics relating to America, expecting to address the call “to such persons as were likely, in their opinion, to advance the object of the Society.” In particular the circular requested: recovery of complete skeletons of mammoths and other poorly understood animals; detailed information about prehistoric earthworks and mounds; study of changes in the land’s surface features; and research on the culture and languages of American Indians (APS description begins American Philosophical Society description ends , Proceedings, 22, pt. 3 [1884], 251–2, 253, 258, 260, 261, 266, 269–70; APS description begins American Philosophical Society description ends , Transactions, 5 [1802], ix-xi; printed circular in DLC: Thornton Papers, signed and dated 7 May 1798 by Williams).

Williamson’s scheme for an excise on imported clothing appeared in five “Letters to a Member of Congress, on the Subject of an Additional Revenue,” signed “A Planter,” that appeared in the Philadelphia Daily Advertiser, 15–19 May 1797. The letters, arguing the unlikelihood of raising additional funds from existing taxes, lamented a slavish devotion to European fashion and also touted the suggested excise for the salutary effects it might have on the balance of trade and on domestic manufacturing.

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