James Madison Papers

Tench Coxe to the Virginia Commissioners at Annapolis, 13 September 1786

Tench Coxe to the
Virginia Commissioners at Annapolis

Annapolis the 13th. of Septr. 1786


Prior to the receipt of the Act of Virginia leading to a general Convention of the States, the Governmt. of Pennsylvania had in contemplation the Assimilation of those Commercial Systems, which have been adopted for a time by the several States.

Tho’ difference of Circumstances has led to dissimilar regulations, it was thought that none should be adopted, which might be found to militate against the fundamental and essential principles of the Union.1 In examining the laws of Trade in several of the States, the following facts were found to exist.

1st. That the duty of Tonnage on Vessels built in, or belonging to the Citizens of the Other States was greater than that imposed on Vessels belonging to the Citizens of the State enacting the law; and equal in some instances to the Tonnage laid upon most of the foreign Nations, that have a Commercial intercourse with America.

2dly. That the Duties imposed upon Goods imported in Vessels built in, or belonging to other parts of the Union were greater than those laid on Goods imported in Vessels belonging to the enacting State.

3dly. That Goods of the growth product and manufacture of the Other States in Union were charged with high Duties upon importation into the enacting State—as great in many instances as those imposed on foreign Articles of the same Kinds.

To procure an alteration of these matters, evidently opposed to the great principles and Spirit of the Union, the State of Pennsylvania empowered her Commissioners to the general Convention to treat with Certain Commissioners appointed by the Legislature of Maryland, and with others, who, it was understood, would be appointed by the State of Virginia. As you do not conceive yourselves authorized to enter upon any discussion of this Business, I have thought it my Duty to make this Communication, and to request that you will do me the honor of reporting it to your Legislature.

Having pointed Out the Circumstances in the Commercial laws of the other States which appear to Our Government to require Reconsideration, it will be necessary to inform you how the laws of Pennsylvania Stand in these particulars—They declare as follows:

1st. That all Vessels belonging to the Citizens of the United States, whether Pennsylvanians or others, Shall pay the same Duty of Tonnage, and they do not discriminate against Ships belonging to the Citizens of the other States in any charge whatever. 2dly. They impose the same Duties on Goods imported in Ships belonging to the Citizens of Pennsylvania as are laid upon Goods imported in Ships belonging to Citizens of the other States in the Union. 3dly. They exempt intirely from impost all Goods Wares or Merchandise of the growth, product or Manufacture of the United States.2

It is easy to see that the Legislature of Pennsylvania was influenced to this Kind of Conduct by a regard for the general Commerce of the Nation, and that Foederal considerations have led them to extend their care to that great object without any Discrimination in favour of their Own Citizens.

The Communication of these Circumstances not heretofore Sufficiently Known, and a due consideration of them, will it is hoped, be attended with the best consequences; and as the proceedings of the general Convention must necessarily require considerable time, Pennsylvania, I trust may confidently expect that a State of so much Wisdom and of Views so enlarged as the Commonwealth of Virginia will concur without delay in Measures which by blending the interests, must cement the Union of the States.3 I have the honor of being with the most respectful Consideration, Gentlemen Your Mo’ Obedt Servt.

Tench Coxe
Commissioner for the State of Pennsylvania.

RC (Vi). Addressed to “Edmund Randolph James Maddison Jr & St George Tucker Esquires Commrs for the State of Virginia.” Docketed by a clerk. In a copyist’s hand, but signed by Coxe.

1The Pennsylvania legislature was among the first to sense the latent dangers in individual state commercial controls. In December 1783 that body predicted that a variety of state regulations “controlling trade can result only in discordant systems productive of internal jealousies and competitions … [and were] illy calculated to oppose or counteract foreign measures, which are the effect of a unity of councils” (Nevins, American States during and after the Revolution, p. 563). JM was aware of the need to bring Pennsylvania into the negotiations with Maryland over commerce on the Potomac, and had offered a resolution inviting Pennsylvania’s participation in the conference eventually held at Mount Vernon (Resolutions Authorizing an Interstate Compact on Navigation and Jurisdiction of the Potomac, 28 Dec. 1784, Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (9 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , VIII, 206–7). A further emphasis for a tristate compact arose from the increasing use of Baltimore as a commercial depot by western Pennsylvanians (Albert S. Bolles, Pennsylvania, Province and State, a History from 1609 to 1790 [2 vols.; Philadelphia, 1899], II, 232).

2On 20 Sept. 1785 the Pennsylvania legislature enacted a tariff law that levied duties only on foreign products or goods, excepting rum distilled in the U.S. or carried in American vessels (Jensen, New Nation, p. 341). Coxe quoted almost verbatim from the law (James T. Mitchell and Henry Flanders, eds., The Statutes at Large of Pennsylvania from 1682 to 1801 [16 vols.; Harrisburg, 1896–1908], XII, 99–104).

3Coxe’s early identification with the cause of strengthening the Union made a favorable impression on JM. Thirty-four years later, when Coxe was seeking a public appointment, JM sought to alleviate Coxe’s distress in his old age. “I feel an obligation … to testify in his behalf, that from a very long acquaintance with him, and continued opportunities of remarking his political course, I have ever considered him among the most strenuous and faithful laborers for the good of his Country. At a very early period he was an able defender of its commercial rights & interest” (JM to Monroe, 19 Nov. 1820, Madison, Writings [Hunt ed.] description begins Gaillard Hunt, ed., The Writings of James Madison (9 vols.; New York, 1900–1910). description ends , IX, 33).

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