James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Sylvanus Bourne, 20 January 1802

From Sylvanus Bourne, 20 January 1802


Consular Office of the United States of America January 20th. 1802.


I would hereby beg leave to call your attention to a subject materially interesting to the Commerce of the United States with this country by representing to you that our Citizens are obliged to pay aditional duties on their importations from & exportations to this Country over & a bove, what is paid by any of the European Nations which have intercourse herewith—making according to the best information I have been able to draw from the Arcana of their Commercial laws & practices a difference of One & an half to two Pr. Ct. against the Citizens of the United States.

This difference appears to arise from a positive or constructive right claimed by the West India Company to certain duties on the American commerce—as they see fit to include the US in the term America used in their Charter construing that to comprize our Country as well as their own American West India possessions. I am led to think it must be mere constructive right with which the Govt. from necessity or policy indulges them—Seeing that as the time they received their Charter. The U. S were Colonies of Great Britain & no positive right could have been given them over a commerce that was not then allowed but under very circumscribed conditions.

If the Government here is under obligations or in debt to their West India Company I do not altogether see the propriety of their taxing our Country to discharge it: it appears to me to be equally humiliating to our Natio⟨nal⟩ Character as it is injurious to the Commercial Inter⟨est⟩ of our Citizens that after we had become a free and ⟨in⟩dependent Nation we should be treated as Colonies ⟨of⟩ Holland by having our commerce made tributary to ⟨a⟩ mere Corporate body or Commercial society thereof.

This practice is also in apparent contravention of ⟨our⟩ treaty with this Country (which expressly stipu⟨lates⟩ that our trade Shall be placed on a footing wi⟨th⟩ that of the most favored Nations), as it Expo⟨ses⟩ us to the weight of the difference just explain⟨ed⟩ a bove what is paid by any other Nation so that we pay not only to the West India Comp⟨any⟩ but also to the National Customhouse wh⟨ile⟩ others pay only to the latter: it has also bee⟨n⟩ Represented to me that in addition to the injury we receive in the case alluded to our Navig⟨ation⟩ also Subject (& probably from the same C⟨ause)⟩ to greater Charges on entry and clearance than what is paid by the Vessels of the Eu⟨ropean⟩ powers. These unitedly bear heavy on our ⟨trade⟩ and require a due explanation & remedy ⟨if⟩ it be possible to obtain such

I am aware that as there is so little ⟨re⟩ciprocity in the Commerce between the two countries that ours does not possess the full force of those means of bringing this Govt. to terms which it would have was there a more active Commerce from this Country to the U. States in their own Ships & on their own Capitals. I am however induced to believe from that friendly disposition which this Govt. has ever Shewn towards that of the U. States that an Explicit & firm Representation on this subject on the part of our Govt. would have a good ⟨effec⟩t towards procuring the desired relief & particularly as the Restoration of the Wt. Indian colonies by the peace to the Company here Wi⟨ll⟩ amply Supply the deficit which may accrue to it from the loss of those duties they have been accustomed to receive from the trade of the U. States I have to Sollicit your full Instructions on this Matter & am with the greatest Respect Your obed. Servt.

S Bourne

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